When it comes to drying our hands after washing them in a public toilet or staff restroom, it seems everyone has their favourite method. One person prefers using a hot air dryer, another prefers a paper towel, and still another would rather not touch anything and just shake their hands off. But which is the best method for preventing the spread of bacteria?
Why hand drying is important
Experts agree that drying our hands is just as important as thorough washing when it comes to good hygiene. This is because bacteria are attracted to moisture and so dry hands are far less likely to pick up and transmit bugs than moist ones.
It’s also generally agreed that shaking hands dry is not a good method, as it is likely to spread bacteria-containing droplets around, and cause cross- contamination. In fact, it might be better to dry hands on clothing rather than shake them around to get rid of the water.
When it comes to the difference between using air dryers or paper towels, so far there doesn’t appear to be solid agreement regarding which method is best. Results from studies on bacteria levels using both methods have been rather mixed.
One study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found little difference in hand bacteria after drying between the two methods, while others have found air dryers actually increase bacteria on the hands. Still other studies have found that air dryers spread many more times the bacteria into the environment than paper towels – including this one published in the Journal of Hospital Infection.
Pros and cons of each method
One of the main benefits of using a paper towel is that drying can be done quickly. Some studies show that it’s possible to get our hands dry within 10 seconds using a towel. And since most of us like to be in and out of restrooms as fast as possible, the ability to dry our hands well really quickly is definitely a good thing.
Paper towels involve using friction when drying, and this has been demonstrated to be very effective in removing bacteria from washed hands. Paper towels are also discarded after drying and are removed from restrooms, which may aid hygiene.
On the down side, paper towels can create a lot of waste. Dispensers also have to be regularly checked and topped-up, making paper towels more labour-intensive than air dryers.
Air dryers don’t involve constant restocking, and there’s no issue with paper waste. However, air dryers have been demonstrated to take a lot longer to dry hands properly. To get the same level of dryness that comes with 10 seconds of towel drying can take 45 seconds with an air dryer, making them far less efficient, especially if people are rushing.
Air dryers can be very noisy, which can be a factor to consider where a quiet environment is preferred. Bacteria can also build up on the surface of warm air dryers, although this can be easily managed by your professional commercial cleaning services.
Also, some research has found that rubbing hands together under a dryer actually increases bacteria levels on the hands.
All-in-all the research on which method is best is not solidly conclusive. Certainly it seems paper towels can be very efficient in removing bacteria, and air dryers can also be effective in cases where the hands are not rubbed together.
Either way, it’s possible to use any method inefficiently and to end up with hands that are less-than-adequately dry. The most important thing to aim for is a thorough wipe-off!