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Analysis: Hand Dryers -vs- Paper Towels

There are a number of studies that compare the use of hand dryers vs paper towels and purport to show which is more sanitary/hygienic. Here, we will list a number of those studies. Where the studies were commissioned by an interested group, the results are not surprising and so we will try to show unbiased reports, and we will add to the list as new reports arise.

  [UPDATE]  This article was updated to reflect recent COVID-19 related developements.

Hand Washing is Most Important

CDC recommendations are that hands are washed with soap and water and dried thoroughly with an “approved” drying method, which include paper towels or hand blowers. And all independent studies confirm that the most important thing is what your mother always told you: wash your hands with soap and water.

Myth Busters, for example, set out to tackle the myth that hand dryers spew bacteria over the bathroom. Interestingly, they never actually tested hand dryers but they did test hand washing. What they found was that if hands were washed with soap, there was no identifiable bacteria left on the hands. If they were washed without soap there was some bacteria, and if they were not washed at all there was a relatively large amount of bacteria. In a more scientific study in 2011, the Mayo clinic showed that there was no difference between paper towels and hand dryers in hygienic effectiveness. Also in 2011, the Mayo Clinic reviewed a number of other studies from the 1970s until that time. They found that some studies show that hand dryers are more hygienic and others show that paper towels are more hygienic. Based on their review, the Mayo Clinic gave the edge to paper towels. (However at least one of the studies was sponsored by the paper towel industry.)

On the other hand, a University of Laval study reported by the American Journal of Infection Control in 2012, showed that bacteria can be harbored in unused paper towels. They cited the paper towel manufacturing process one of the culprits. There could be others, like towels stored in damp conditions.

Do Hand Dryers Spread Bacteria In Bathroom Air?

Airmid Health Group study shows there is no significant difference found in bacteria levels for restrooms with hand dryers or paper towels. Results also showed the increase of aerosols and bacteria numbers after drying with any of the Dyson Airblade™ hand dryer models is comparable to the numbers obtained when hands are dried with paper towels.

This work indicates that both hand drying methods, i.e., electric hand dryers and paper towels, have a relatively small impact on aerosols and bacteria concentrations in indoor air compared to other common activities, such as walking and washing hands. See the full article here: Airmid Health Group Study.

Paper Towel versus Hand Dryer Studies

Dyson Airblade looks at the paper towel industry studies in a Youtube video. It shows why they believe the studies are biased and flawed. [ Dyson paper towel study video ]

A 2018 / 2019 study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection shows that Dyson Airblade hand dryers removed more ecoli from hands than paper towels. You can find that article here.

Myth Busters show that washing hands with soap leaves virtually no bacteria. [ Myth Busters Hand Dryer Study ]

The US National Institute of Health conducted a study comparing paper towels to hand dryers. The study "revealed similar numbers of bacteria on the hands after drying by either method. Hot air hand driers appear safe from a bacteriological viewpoint." [ National Institute of Health paper towel vs hand dryer hygiene study. ]

Dr. William Schaffner, Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Newschannel 5 with a simple statement: “The important thing is to wash your hands thoroughly and then of course to dry them, whether it is with a towel or a hand dryer.” [ Channel 5 Video ]

Mayo Clinic, 2011: In their study, the Mayo Clinic concludes that there is no measurable difference between paper towels and hand dryers. [ Mayo Clinic Hand Dryer vs Paper Towel Study ]

American Journal of Infection Control - University of Laval study shows that bacteria can be harbored in unused paper towels. [ Article Abstract ]

Cleanlink Cleaning Industry Articles
   Are Hand Dryers Sanitary?
   Debunking the Hand Drying Hygiene Myth

And one more.. [ Refinery 29 Article ]

[Update] Hand Dryers and COVID-19

The discussion of "Paper Towels vs Hand Dryers," as relates to environmental concerns, cost of operation, and hygiene, has been going on for years. You can read about the hygiene studies in detail in our earlier article here.

With the advent of the Coronavirus, however, much, much more attention has been given to this topic. And with more outlets than ever (I'm looking at you FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube), anyone with an opinion can broadcast it to a wide audience, whether or not they are actually in a position to offer expert advice (or benefit from publicity one way or the other).

Fortunately, there are experts in the field, and they are not hard to find. Here are some recent quotes from three highly respected sources that have extensive experience, and a track-record of public service, in this area:

In addition, considerably prior to the pandemic, many hand dryer manufacturers were already adding HEPA filters (which are tested to filter at least 99.99% of viruses) to further enhance the benefits of their products, even allowing them to meet the strictest standards set out by the FDA for food processing areas. Dyson has lead this development with the AirBlade series of hand dryers, but World Dryer, American Dryer, Saniflow, and Excel Dryer quickly followed suit. Excel has even introduced a HEPA filter retrofit kit that can be added to existing XLERATORs that were purchased without one.

TLDR: All research to date shows that hand dryers are as safe as any method for drying hands. And all autorities agree that washing hands and drying them is important to preventing the spread of viruses and bacteria.

If you still have questions on this topic or need further information, please feel free to call us at (704) 937-2673, or email info@berls.com and we will be happy to assist you!

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