Reviewed and updated 2018 post - originally posted 24th May 2016

There is certainly a need to question whether hand dryers are hygienic and if there is a safer way to dry the hands.  Especially because there seems to be constant scaremongering in the press aimed at why hand dryers are unsanitary, usually stirred up from paper towel manufacturers if you peek beneath the surface of the hype. So, do hand dryers spread germs?

This post aims to:

  1. Give reason why lazy journalism and fake news needs to be scrutinised for allowing such meaningless propaganda to enter mainstream media outlets
  2. Show you a couple of videos explaining why there is no need to be scared of using a hand dryer after reviews of the scientific research
  3. Explain why washing the hands properly and then drying the hands thoroughly, whatever the method of choice, is key to keeping things hygienic
  4. Provide you with the history of how the hand dryer has developed to improve hand hygiene in the washroom

First of all, hand dryers or paper towels? Which is better?

This post is not here to slate paper towels in general although we will be biased to some degree of course.  The type of method used will be dependent upon the location and the unique requirements of the end user. We are just highlighting the point that hand dryers are getting a bad press due to the only way paper towel manufacturers can get at them.  By scaremongering and promoting germs.  We have already shown in our comparison of paper towels vs hand dryers here that when comparing the 2 methods:

  1. Hand dryers are significantly cheaper to run year on year and can save substantial amounts of money compared to yearly costs of paper towels.
  2. The most important aspect of hand hygiene is the hand washing process to actually remove germs, then making sure they are fully dry before touching anything else.  Whichever method you use as long as they dry, then that’s the main point
  3. Paper towels create zero noise
  4. Paper towels are not good for the environment, creating a massive amount of carbon to produce, and they cannot be recycled and mostly end up in landfill

Paper towel companies know the above can be proven through science and mathematical calculations, so continue to run with trying to discredit hand dryers as being a disaster to public health.  But as you will read, if you actually look between the lines and get all the evidence available, there is no real difference between paper towels and hand dryers when it comes to hygiene.

Should you believe everything you read about hand dryers and germs?

A lot has been publicised in newspapers such as the Telegraph and Mail regarding paper towel industry funded research into the debate of which hand drying method is the most hygienic.  The NHS has commented on these published articles here and here, which draw conclusions that they do not give adequate information in terms of validity, limitations etc to make substantial and creditable headlines and claims.

Did you see the hand dryer petri dish?  Our response to the future of lazy journalism

In a recent post we have submitted a response to the scaremongering of a picture that went viral that appeared on Facebook.  The “story” was manufactured from a few spores of bacteria grown in a Petri dish after exposure to the area around a hand dryer. Again, this was a prime example of the media running with something not backed with science and promoting fake news.  Of course, a scary headline and a photo of something that looked nasty growing will lead to people making their own conclusions that hand dryers are bad.  But as the post states, the bacteria grown was more than likely mould, which is harmless and also found in any part of the washroom not just the hand dryer.

In summary the post highlighted:

  • Journalism is becoming increasingly lazy and trying to sensationalise story’s rather than providing facts
  • This type of propaganda headline writing has of course been around for years, however due to online capabilities and social media, it is getting out of control to cause a stir
  • The bacteria grown in the Petri dish was more than likely to be mould and not harmful in the slightest
  • That there is just as much, if not more bacteria found on your household bathroom towel or your daily clothes than what was found
  • Bacteria has been found to grow in paper towels, yet this is never reported as it wouldn’t sit right for propaganda and scaremongering if all hand drying methods were the same

The full post can be read here

Here's a look at the credibility of the evidence and the case against the scaremongering articles

A more balanced view can be seen below which is located on a Huffington Post article.  It gives a very good account of how to look at this debate as well as best practice for hand drying in general:

Key points from the above video:

  • A lot of studies that claim paper towels are better than hand dryers are funded by paper towel companies, how trustworthy can this be?
  • Paper towels are more harmful for the environment
  • Wet hands easily transfer far more bacteria than dry ones, germs love a wet breeding ground
  • Don’t wipe wet hands on your clothes or touch any surface before they are fully dry as you will just pick up a load of bacteria and may as well not washed them at all
  • Paper towels can actually harbour bacteria, with recycled hosting more.  This is due to paper towel holders not being sterile as well as paper being made in a factory which again is not a sterile environment
  • Paper towels and high-speed hand dryers can dry your hands as effective and as fast as each other
  • If people actually washed their hands properly it doesn’t matter which method is used regarding bacteria transfer – a study showed that only 5% of people correctly wash their hands to actually get bacteria off the hands

So, if people don’t wash their hands properly is one drying method better than another for making sure bacteria is removed from the hands? No statistical difference found between cloth towels, paper towels, warm air hand dryers and leaving to dry naturally for removal of bacteria from hands.  Get them washed properly first!

Dyson have published their own response to the scaremongering which can be viewed below:

Key points from the above video:

  • Studies were commissioned and paid for by the paper towel and cotton towel industry
  • Washing is the key to bacteria removal, drying is then the preventative measure to make sure bacteria doesn’t spread around from place to place with germs loving to hop on a wet hand to travel and grow.
  • Using a Dyson Airblade reduces the transfer of bacteria by up to 40%
  • Using a hand dryer like the Dyson Airblade puts fewer bacteria in the air than taking your coat off
  • Even though a vast amount of bacteria are added to the hands in some studies, a far greater amount than would even be found on the hands anyway, only a very small amount of bacteria was transferred into the air.  Levels of bacteria blown about are shown to make an insignificant contribution to bacteria that is already in the air around you all the time.
  • Studies that have been commissioned by paper towel companies that show there is no difference in the amount of bacteria put in the air using paper towels or Dyson Airblade’s have been published in scientific journals but have never been chosen to be reported in the main press.
  • There is just as much bacteria found on a tap, hand dryer, paper towel dispenser and door handle.
  • 1 in 5 paper towel dispensers can be found empty.  If there is no paper there is no way to dry the hands.  Damp hands spread up to 1000 times more bacteria than dry ones
  • Bins full of paper towels create an area full of germs.  These can overflow and create an unhygienic environment.  Hand dryers do not need this constant maintenance to keep hygiene levels up.

The fact of the matter remains.  The most important aspect of hand hygiene in the first place is actually washing the hands in the right manner, for the correct duration. This ensures that germs are actually removed from the hands using the best substances for the job, soap and water.  Then ensuring that the hands become completely dry, whatever the method of drying is the next essential step.  This is so you don’t leave the hands open to pathogens that thrive on wet environments as you leave the washroom.   

The history of hand dryer hygiene

You will read below the history of how hand dryers have evolved to enhance hand hygiene with various methods.  

In summary, this is a historical timeline of how hand dryers have developed their hygienic properties:

  • Commercial, warm air hand dryers were under constant testing as it is thought they were a breeding ground for bacteria
  • High speed hand dryers were introduced, without heater elements, quicker at drying the hands and therefore diminishing wet hands (the breading ground of germs).  Antimicrobial materials were also used in the making of the hand dryers
  • The HEPA filter was invented, which filtered the air being sucked into the hand dryer of dirt and bacteria, making sure clean air is blown over the hands
  • New technology has been added to the HEPA filtered hand dryer to actively clean the filter, because if a HEPA filter is not maintained and serviced regularly, dirt can build up and render the filter ineffective.

The Advances in Hand Dryer Technology

It is important when answering a question like “Are Hand Dryers Hygienic?” to make the distinction between traditional commercial hand dryers and the new breed of energy efficient hand dryers. Also within the new breed there is the distinction between blade hand dryers, hybrid hand dryers and hands under hand dryers.

Traditional commercial hand dryers

These are the type of hand dryers that typically have a motor with a RPM (revolutions per minute) of between 2000 and 7500. The airflow is a vehicle for warm air to be passed over the hands, thus evaporating the moisture. These types of hand dryers typically have a dry time of between 20 and 50 seconds.

The paper towel industry always argued that hand dryers were unhygienic as they essentially suck in dust and dirt, are not regularly cleaned inside and then heat up bacteria and blow it onto the users hands. There have been many studies into this and certainly they had a point, although the extent of bacteria protection has varied considerably depending on who commissioned the test. There were counter studies that showed if the airflow was heated enough, this was enough to kill the bacteria rather than multiply it.

The other argument was that hand dryers were ineffective and therefore the user didn’t tend to dry their hands completely. This again was true and wet hands have been demonstrated to carry more pathogens than dry hands, again another big plus for the paper towel industry.

All in all, traditional hand dryers were cheaper, more eco-friendly, required less servicing and kept washrooms tidier, but certainly lost out when it came to effectiveness and hygiene. Hand hygiene has to be considered a priority otherwise you have to question the need to wash your hands in the first place.

The new breed of hand dryers

First we had high speed, hands under hand dryers that relied on air speed as opposed to heat, the first of which was the Xlerator. These were certainly much more effective at drying hands thoroughly and bacteria production was reduced. These new high speed hand dryers still suffered from sucking in dirt and dust and gently warming it, so bacteria multiplication continued to occur albeit to a lesser extent. There was also an argument that the dirty air was spread a greater distance than before. Then along came the Airforce hand dryer from World Dryer. This had no heater element and had antibacterial plastics and a filter to prevent the unit from clogging up with dirt.

Even earlier, Mitsubishi launched a completely new concept ‘the blade hand dryer’ called the Jet Towel. The Jet Towel was available in a non-heated version and dust and dirt was filtered creating a cleaner dry. The Jet Towel was not seen in the UK market until the early part of 2000 and wasn’t widely adopted; presumably as it just didn’t look like a hand dryer was supposed to at the time and they didn’t market the concept as effectively as Dyson.

Dyson put some serious resources behind developing and marketing their own clean air, high speed hand dryer and gained NSF approval for the Airblade. The P335 protocol was developed in conjunction with Dyson as a way of testing hygiene and dry speeds. It was certainly a big positive for the industry to establish a credible protocol. 

The Mitsubishi Jet Towel and Jet Towel Smart are now both NSF certified.  They also have an antibacterial resin injected into their plastic parts.

Other hand dryer manufacturers have followed suit by incorporating HEPA filters and antibacterial surface protection, some have even innovated further. The issue is that not many hand dryer manufacturers can afford to pay the large fees NSF required to officially test with the NSF and become certified and a similar more affordable approval needs to become available. Tests also need to be longitudinal, to test the continued protection the new breed of hand dryers offer.

You can see that modern hand dryers have come a long way from the dirty, unhygienic warm air versions that the paper industry had a field day with. Hand dryers are now hygienic, fast drying, environmentally friendly and help maintain cleaner facilities.

If you would like to view a range of hand dryers with enhanced hygiene properties, please click here

You will see on these hand dryers a cost calculator that will compare the running costs and the payback period against paper towels, as well as the amount of Carbon saved.

For more information or for help in finding your ideal hand dryer or washroom product, please call us UK offices: North: 0114 3540047 South: 0203 3270448; Eire office: +353 19036387, use our contact us page by clicking here or click to visit the website.  You can also use our Intelligent Search Tool that helps you identify the perfect dryer for your location by clicking here.

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