In the supermarket, it's paper or plastic. In many restaurant restrooms, it's paper towels or electric hand dryers – and a new study from England adds to a body of research suggesting that paper towels may be the healthier choice.
Conventional (warm air) and high-velocity (jet air) dryers alike spread bacteria into the air, according to the study. Airbornegerm counts near warm-air dryers were found to be 4.5 times higher than the counts near paper towel dispensers, andthe counts near jet air dryers were a whopping 27 times higher.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what's going on here. Quoting the study leader, Professor. Mark Wilcox, Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of Leeds,
"While jet air dryers are good at hand drying, they achieve this by using air velocities of about 400 miles an hour…Unfortunately, this means that the dispersed water droplets (containing more or less bacteria and/or viruses depending on how hands were washed and how contaminated they were in the first place) will be [projected] longer distances and some will remain suspended in the air for many minutes (possibly hours)."
"Next time you dry your hands in a public toilet using an electric hand dryer, you may be spreading bacteria without knowing it. You may also be splattered with 'bugs' from other people's hands."
For the study, the researchers contaminated people's hands with harmless Lactobacillis bacteria. Then they measured levels of the bacteria in the air at distances of up to two meters away from the dryer after the people had dried their hands.
Wilcox said he had no proof that germs spread by dryers could cause illness but added that the findings suggest this "could happen. I believe that the results of our work mean that electric dryers should ideally not be installed in settings where microbe transmission is a greater risk."
Previous studies have shown mixed results, some finding air dryers spread more bacteria and others showing they’re as safe as towels. A review of past studies published in 2012 in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggested that, in healthcare settings, where the most stringent disease prevention protocols exist, “paper towels should be recommended.”
That sounds a lot like the conclusion of a 2012 study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection comparing paper towels and hand dryers, which read in part: "From a hygiene standpoint, paper towels are superior to air dryers; therefore, paper towels should be recommended for use in locations in which hygiene is paramount.”
What level of disease prevention is appropriate for your facility? How hygienically sound are your restrooms and your public and common areas? We offer a complimentary Restroom Hygiene and Disease Prevention Scorecard – no fuss - no muss – just plain facts and straight talk. Call us at (678) 496-3303 to schedule yours.
Information in this post includes cites and excerpts from excerpted articles by Science Daily, 11/20/14, Janice Neuman, Reuters, 11/26/142:19am EST, and David Freeman, The Huffington Post, 11/21/2014, 12:31 pm EST.