Paper Towels or Hot Air Dryers?

For years, factors such as cost and hygiene have dictated that hot air dryers are the preferable method for drying hand in public restrooms. As is well document, the vast majority of the most common infectious diseases are spread through hand contact. Preventing the spread of disease therefore relies heavily on proper hand washing, so the question about whether paper towels or air dryers are better is an important one. Still, while most of us believe dryers are the superior hand drying method when it comes to hygiene, recent research has called this belief into question. hand dryers

Hand drying is a crucial element in the hand drying process – as the spread of microbes is considerably more likely with wet hands than dry ones; as such, researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia endeavoured to compare hand-drying methods by reviewing twelve independent studies that pitted towels against hot dryers. Factors they considered included rate of drying, level of dryness, removal of bacteria, and prevention of cross contamination. Somewhat surprisingly, their results indicated that paper towels were superior to electronic air dryers both from a hygiene perspective and even from a cost perspective. Indeed, they concluded that paper towels should be considered as an improvement to hand hygiene during drying.

More specifically, the researchers commented on each of the factors they considered in their research. When reviewing drying efficiency, they found that water was more effectively removed from the hands when using cloth or paper towels. Paper towels were a considerably quicker method of drying hands, and with just 15 seconds of hand drying only 1% of residual water remained. On the other hand, dryers required more than 45 seconds to reduce residual water to 3%.

With respect to removing bacteria, paper towels were also the better choice. In order to measure the effectiveness of both methods in removing bacteria, researchers tested finger pads with contact plates and swabbed palms. Ultimately, they discovered that paper towels significantly reduced the amount of all types of bacteria on the hands and that hot air dryers were least effective in removing bacteria.

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