When using public toilets you will usually be met with three hand drying options: paper towels, air hand dryers, and jet dryers. Jet dryers, such as the ones made by Dyson, technically fall into the air dryer option so when it comes to making decisions as to how you should dry your hands it comes down to two choices.
Reasons to Choose Between Paper Towels and Air Dryers
The question as to whether to use paper towels or air dryers may seem mundane and something that you do not really think about too much. However, with the very increasing focus on climate change and sustainability, we must be fully aware of our carbon footprint.
As well as considering environmental impacts of how you dry your hands you will also need to consider the efficiency of each method, the cost (especially if you run a business), and how hygienic they both are.
If you run a business or are operating a bathroom as part of an organization then the cost of all bathroom supplies and equipment is an important factor. While the initial cost of investing in high-quality hand dryers will set you back around $500 per item you will likely save money in the long run even when you take in to account the electricity costs of running a hand dryer.
For a medium-sized business, one or two hand dryers per bathroom should be sufficient for up to 200-400 uses per day.
When looking at paper towels, each dispenser will cost around $50 but the cost of stocking up on towels, providing trash cans, and paying for cans to be cleaned regularly soon adds up.
If you are on a budget and are thinking that the paper towel option may be better for you it is important to think about how many towels will be used per visit as most people will take more than one each time they make a trip to the bathroom.
First of all, it is important to note that hand dryers have been around for many years and some of the older models will not be as effective as some of the newer models that are designed to be as efficient as possible. Similarly, when we talk about paper towels there is a large variance in the quality of the paper in terms of whether it has been recycled and how thick it is.
If you work for a company and you are aiming to reduce your carbon footprint then the question you need to ask is “does the electricity and emissions used by hand dyers outweigh the impact paper towels have on the environment”?
The answer is that pepper towels usage and air dryer usage have roughly the same environmental impacts. The newer air blades do have a lower carbon footprint (about one third less) but they are much more expensive than standard air dryers so they may not be an option for small to medium-sized business.
If you are not running a business and are simply thinking of what is best for personal bathroom use then you should use a jet air dryer over paper towels if you have the choice. If the choice is between a standard air dryer and towels then don’t worry yourself too much about making the right choice from an environmental perspective.
Effectiveness and Hygiene
While cost and environmental impacts of using hand dryers versus paper towels are fairly straightforward, when it comes to which method of drying hands works best it can be a little more complicated. For many, the paper towel is the winner as it dries hands much more quickly, according to a review carried out in 2012.
The review by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research found that that there was no agreement, or very little, in the effectiveness sod air dryers and paper towels but paper towels proved to dry hands quicker as well as removing bacteria more effectively.
The scientific review carried out from the Mayo Foundation showed that paper towels are recommended when it comes to hygiene reasons, which may be one reason they are commonly found in schools and hospitals. Paper towels are also recommended in restaurants and other places where food is served.
There is food for thought in the findings, however, as much of the effectiveness of the method of drying our hands comes down to how much time we spend on it. When a busy bathroom has just one air dryer users will not spend enough time drying their hands and will leave the bathroom with wet hands, instead unhygienically wiping them on their clothes.
This point also supports that argument that it is not one method of drying hands that is more hygienic than the other, it is the act of fully drying the hands that matter.
Once again, it modern jet hand dryers that lead this argument as just a few seconds of having your hands in the jet will leave your hands fully dry. You may not see jet air hand dryers in hospitals and other settings where hygiene is key as some studies have shown an increase in bacterial aerosolization when using air dryers instead of paper towels.
This means that cross-contamination of bacteria is possible when several people, some of them who are ill, using the same bathroom.
When it comes to choosing as to what method of hand drying you should follow, it seems that personal choice comes in to play much more than science. While paper towels appear more hygienic and will dry hands more effectively, they are not kind to the environment compared to air dryers and jet dryers.
If you want to do you but for climate change then do use an air dryer, particularly if it is a jet dryer. Conversely, if you work in a hospital setting then the primary goal is to reduce the risk of bacteria spreading throughout the building so air drying is best.
Regardless of what option you choose, you must ensure that you carry it out fully. Washing hands thoroughly, using soap, and making sure they are fully dry is the most important thing that you need to think about.