Here’s something we don’t think much about. You go into a restroom, use the bathroom, then wash your hands. Depending on where you are, the restroom might have traditional paper towels to dry your hands, or they may have converted to electric hand dryers. While you may be more familiar with the weak past hand dryers that are more like blow dryers on low softly blowing lukewarm air on your hands (and never getting them dry), more high-tech approaches involve brands like Dyson that use much higher speed gusts of air to help dry your hands. While the good news is that this approach seems to help the environment and cuts down on paper waste, there’s also some bad news to go with it.
The bad news: Studies show that hand dryers can actually spread around germs way more than paper towels ever could.
According to a scientific study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, Dyson “airblades” style hand dryers can spread germs 60 times more than a traditional “weaker” hand dryer, for a grand total of 1,300 times more than a traditional paper towel.
How does this happen?
According to the study, researchers took an innocuous virus and put it on their wet hands. They then put a “target area” 40cm away, and went through each process of hand drying — airblades, traditional hand dryer, and paper towels. What they found was that the airblade style hand dryer actually shot the germs up to 3 meters away. What that means is that the rushing air from the hand dryer blew those germs everywhere — sometimes even back onto you.
What should I do?
To help reduce the spread of germs, we suggest using paper towels to dry your hands, as in 2005 a German Pulp and Paper Association-commissioned study showed that it can reduce bacteria load by 24%, while a regular hand dryer can make that shoot up to 117% (that’s an increase rather than a reduction). If you can opt for paper, it’s better to do that. But if you come across a hand dryer — especially a Dyson airblade dryer — you might want to consider washing your hands again somewhere else.