Hand Dryer or Paper Towels? New Study Pinpoints the Least Germy Bathroom Choice

Hand Dryer or Paper Towels? New Study Pinpoints the Least Germy Bathroom Choice

After you wash your hands, what’s the healthiest way to dry them: paper towels or hand dryer? (Photo by Corbis)

By Arden Dier, Newser.com

Given the choice between noisy hand dryers and tree-felling paper towels, dryers are the better option, right? Maybe not, at least when it comes to your health.

A University of Leeds study finds hand dryers, especially “jet-air” models, can actually spread germs around a public bathroom.

To simulate what could linger after poor handwashing, researchers coated participants’ hands with a harmless bacteria not typically found in bathrooms. Participants then dried their hands, and scientists tested bacteria in the air near the various hand-drying options. What they found: The air around jet-air dryers held 27 times more bacteria than was found around paper towels, and 4.5 times more than around warm-air dryers. Further, “a similar pattern was seen for bacterial counts [3 feet] away.”


The average number of bacteria in the air after drying hands with a jet air dryer, a warm air dryer, and a paper towel. (Image from University of Leeds)

And that bacteria lingers: Half was collected in the air around dryers five minutes after use, with bacteria still hanging around after 15 minutes.

“Next time you dry your hands in a public toilet using an electric hand dryer … you may be splattered with bugs from other people’s hands,” said lead researcher Mark Wilcox, of the University of Leeds School of Medicine.

He concludes “air dryers may be unsuitable for use in healthcare settings, as they may facilitate microbial cross-contamination.”

But a rep for jet-dryer maker Dyson points out that the “paper towel industry” (specifically, the European Tissue Symposium) funded the “flawed” research, which “tested glove-covered hands, which have been contaminated with unrealistically high levels of bacteria, and not washed.” (It’s not the first study to come to this conclusion.)

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This article originally appeared on Newser: Air Around Hand Dryers Is Pretty Germy

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