The Age Old Argument: Hand Dryers, Paper Or Roller Towels?

Which of these common washroom solutions; the hand dryer, the roller towel or the paper towel is the best solution?

There are several things to consider, costenergy efficiency and environmental impact, hand drying speed, washroom cleanliness, hand hygiene and the overall drying experience.

In Summary

Hand TowelRoller TowelHigh Speed Hand Dryer
(out of 10)(out of 10)(out of 10)
Energy Efficiency and Environmental Impact249
Hand Drying Speed988
Washroom Cleanliness269
Hand Hygiene9710
Total Score26 / 5028 / 5046 / 50

Please read on for more detail regarding each consideration above


A paper towel typically costs between 0.3p and 0.5p per towel. Roller towels are calculated to be 40% cheaper than paper towels. The latest hand dryer models such as the Dyson Airblade cost just 0.035p per dry.

Let’s put that into perspective, most people typically go to the toilet 6-7 times in a 24 hour period** and 4-5 of these are during the working day as this is when the most coffee and tea is consumed and breaks needed! Each time a person goes they tend to grab a minimum of 2 paper towels, often more, depending on the efficiency of the system. So in a medium office with 50 staff, that is 200-250 visits per day consuming 400 to 600 paper towels at a cost of between £364 and £780 per year based on a 260 day working calendar.

For 50 employees, the government body HSE states there should a provision for a least one male and one female toilet, with 6-7 cubicles and 2-3 washbasins in each***. The general rule of thumb for hand dryers is that 1 traditional hand dryer per 2 washbasins and 1 high speed hand dryer per 3 washbasins should be provided. Therefore 2 Dyson Airblade AB14 hand dryers including fitting will cost the facilities between £1500 and £1600 depending on the current electrical set up and therefore these will pay for themselves in between 2 and 5 years depending on the current costs and levels of paper wastage.

Typically, averaged priced high speed hand dryers including fitting would pay for themselves within months to 2 years  

Hand towels 4/10
Roller Towels 5/10
High Speed hand dryers 10/10

Energy Efficiency and Environmental Impact

Dyson states that the Airblade hand dryer emits just 3g of carbon compared with 12.5g for each paper towel, so typically 25g per dry. The Dyson airblade is by no means the most energy efficient hand dryer, it actually consumes 3 times more than the eXtremeAir GXT (heater disengaged) 2.5 times more than the Mitsubishi Jet Towel and 1.5 times more than the Airforce hand dryer. As standard, a low energy, high speed hand dryer will consume between 2 and 5W per dry. Compare this with traditional models that would use anywhere from 20 to 30 watts per dry!

Think about the continuous cycle of carbon emissions and energy wastage created by disposable hand towels.

Paper towels (carbon production):

  1. energy to cut down trees
  2. transport trees for processing
  3. energy to process
  4. pulp is transported to a paper convertor
  5. energy to convert
  6. transport to warehouse
  7. transport to local warehouse
  8. transport to facility
  9. Plus the energy needed to manufacturer dispensers that frequently get damaged and need replacing.

Hand dryers (carbon production):

  1. Energy to manufacturer
  2. energy to transport
  3. plus electricity they consume
  4. There is no continuous cycle.

Roller towels (carbon production):

  1. Energy to manufacturer
  2. energy to clean continuously
  3. energy to transport from facility to cleansing facility.
  4. This is a continuous cycle.

Hand dryers take vehicles off the roads and reduce emissions! Also in 2008, 30% of landfill waste in America was accounted for by paper towels!

Hand towels 2/10
Roller Towels 4/10
High Speed hand dryers 9/10

Hand Drying Speed

This is where paper towels traditionally made their come back over hand dryers. A few seconds to pull out the towels and a few seconds to wipe your hands, probably about a 8 to 15 second experience.

Traditionally hand dryers could take 30 to 60 seconds and hands still wouldn’t be dry but now with hand dryers such as the eXtremeAir GXT, the G-Force MKII, the JetDri MKII the D-Flow, the Turboforce, the Airforce and the Dyson airblade there is very little between paper towel drying and high speed hand dryers.

Hand towels 9/10
Roller Towels 8/10
High Speed hand dryers 8/10

Washroom Cleanliness

Hand dryers create no waste; the only downside is in high traffic areas where a lot of water ends up on the floor or around the parameter, as is common with the Dyson Airblade that doesn’t have a drainage system. Models such as the Mitsubishi Jet Towel, the D-flow, The Stealthforce PLUS and the Jet Force have easy service drainage systems that prevent water from messing up the floor and causing hazards.

Paper towels are commonly not put in the bins provided or overflow in high usage areas. They are also a problem in schools and other facilities that are open to misuse as they can block sinks and toilets.

Roller towels are neater but require large, imposing dispensers and traces of the last persons dirt are often evident for the next user making the washroom look unsanitary.

Hand towels 2/10
Roller Towels 6/10
High Speed hand dryers 9/10

Hand Hygiene

Traditionally warm air hand dryers have received criticism in this respect. The argument is that dust and bacteria gets inside the hand dryers and the continuous warm air becomes a breeding ground for bacteria that is then blown onto the hands and into the facility.

Paper Towels have always been used in hospitals and clinical areas because of these potential hygiene issues, however new technology now means that this traditional argument has lost its weight. Modern High speed hand dryers such as The Dyson airblade and the G-Force Turbo no longer use warm, unfiltered air but now use ambient, HEPA filtered air and anti-bacterial surface areas to eliminate any bacteria forming inside or outside the hand dryer. The Stealthforce Plus also incorporates UVC lights that cleanses its HEPA filter continuously. All hand dryers tend to be non-touch these days which also eliminates the old cross contamination argument directed at push button hand dyers.

The eXtremeAir CPC hand dryer is revolutionary because it is no longer just a hand dryer, it is a hand dryer that has effectively ended the argument over the most hygienic method of drying hands; it is the only hand drying solution that actively destroys bacteria, small viruses and moulds as it dries, in a safe, quick and highly effective manner.

Independently tested in US by EMSL and Antimicrobial Test Labs it has been shown to kill MRSA, Influenza A, E.coli, C.diff, Salmonella and Staph with extremely high kill rates.  Please click here to view more information regarding this hand dryer and its superior technology.  For more information about the hygienic properties of modern day hand dryers and how they have improved please click here

Roller towels are relatively clean but sometimes have the issue of transferring dirt from one user’s hands to the other if not rolling round properly and if they are not serviced in time. Hand dryers remove this as a possible outcome.

Hand towels 9/10
Roller Towels 7/10
New Hygienic, high speed hand dryers 10/10

Overall experience

Hand dryers are now really cool! Users always rave about the latest high speed hand dryer they have used and the funky, modern LED’s. They have become a washroom accessory that enhances the washroom experience rather than cluttering and making them messy as paper towels do.

Some people still prefer paper towels, either because they still believe hand dryers to be dirty or they don’t like the additional noise. Noise is a problem still, The Dyson Airblade emits 85db and the Xcelerator 85 to 90db which is the equivalent to a lawn mower from about 3 meters, which is quite annoying especially if you used to enjoy a chat in the toilet! If this is you there are great low noise products on the market. Check out our quiet hand dryer section if noise is a concern by clicking here 

Quick Facts

  • Hand Dryers offer a lower cost per dry up to 98% less
  • Hand Dryers reduce maintenance costs, vandalism and mess associated with paper towels
  • Hand Dryers are positive for the environment as they require less energy to produce and emit fewer greenhouse gases than the manufacturing of paper towels.
  • Most Paper towels end up in landfills, hand dryers have no waste!
  • Paper towels accounted for 30% of landfill waste in 2008, hand dryers accounted for none
  • Each Ton of paper towels used requires 24 full grown trees to produce. Using hand dryers require no trees to be cut down!
  • Hand Dryers reduce the need for vehicles to be on the road, replenishing and distributing bulky paper towels.
  • Paper towels take up space to stock and replenish, Hand dryers take up no extra space.
  • Each dry with a paper towel uses 12.5g of C02

*based on a 8p per Kwh unit cost (typical of most commercial bills)

*** 2017 update – please note the above information regarding CPC technology was correct at the time and date the post was published.  We are awaiting further guidance from the manufacturer regarding the efficacy of these claims.


For more information or for help in finding your ideal hand dryer, please contact us on 0114 3540047, 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

In the trade? Don’t forget we can set you up with a trade account for your purchases.

We have wholesaler, contractor, public sector and charity discounts available, please don’t hesitate to ask or find out more information by clicking here.

Please post your comments & reviews

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *