Hand Dryers vs. Paper Towels: Which Is More Hygienic?

10 February 2023

Hand Dryers vs. Paper Towels: Which Is More Hygienic?

Every business has to choose between paper towels and hand dryers when designing a bathroom or upgrading their facilities. When it comes to the question of whether to use paper towel dispensers or hand dryers, the primary concern should always be hygiene.

When bathroom facilities are unhygienic, employees get sick more frequently and miss more days of work. Similarly, customers cannot patronize an establishment when they are ill. If an illness outbreak can be traced back to a business, it can hurt sales for months. 

So, when it comes to hand dryers vs. paper towels, which one is the more hygienic choice? Keep reading to find out.

What the Research Supports

Because the issue of hygiene is paramount in lab and hospital settings, many government studies have investigated which option is the best when hygiene is the highest priority. Across the board, paper towels win this battle hands down. 

A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012 found that paper towels are superior to hand dryers because they dry hands more thoroughly, allowing them to better stop the spread of bacteria. Not only does this help ensure people washing their hands avoid bringing bacteria with them out of the bathroom, but it also stops the spread of bacteria within the bathroom and washroom area. When bacteria can be confined to a smaller space, it helps keep the entire business cleaner.

Benefits: Paper Towels vs. Hand Dryers 

Why are paper towels more hygienic than hand dryers? Why can’t patrons use hand dryers to effectively dry their hands and stop the spread of bacteria just like paper towel users? 

Theoretically, there should be no difference between the efficacy of the two options, but putting theory into practice revealed a number of truths that support the benefits of paper towels over hand dryers when it comes to hygiene. Here are some of them:

  • Efficacy: It can take one minute or longer for someone to completely dry their hands using a hand dryer. Unfortunately, most people will not take the time to do so. Most people will use a hand dryer for only 30 seconds, which means they leave the bathroom with damp hands that may still have bacteria on them, touching door handles and other places in the bathroom along the way. Paper towels can dry hands thoroughly in just a few seconds. 

  • Convenience: When there are multiple people in line in a bathroom, everyone is in a rush to leave. Though there is no way to reduce the wait to get into a stall, many will cut the handwashing process short to leave more quickly. If there is a line for the hand dryers, many people will simply bypass the whole thing and leave with wet hands or wipe them on their clothes, which is even more unsanitary. With paper towels, there is no line because it takes only a second to pull some paper towels from the dispenser and dry your hands on the way out. 

  • Cross contamination: Although cross contamination is not a benefit, the lack of cross contamination certainly is. Several studies show that the high-velocity ejection of air from the dryer means that whatever is on the patron’s hands is disseminated throughout the bathroom. Bacteria are now airborne and on every surface that would not have otherwise come into contact with it. Paper towels, on the other hand, do not have the same issue. They keep bacteria confined to the towel, and patrons usually throw them away before leaving the bathroom. 

  • Bacterial growth: Again, bacterial growth is a hazard to be avoided at all costs. Paper towels inhibit bacterial growth, but hand dryers actually promote it. The air that comes out of hand dryers is exceedingly hot because heat helps water to evaporate off the hands more quickly, aiding in the drying process. Unfortunately, this heat makes the wet environment of a bathroom feel swampy, creating the perfect environment for bacterial growth. Add this to the fact that hand dryers blow bacteria around the room, and it makes the bathroom a hotbed for bacteria replication. 

Which Hand Drying Device Is Best for Your Business?

Because hygiene is a priority, paper towels are clearly the best choice for any business that prioritizes the health and wellness of their employees and patrons. 

Many businesses still lean toward hand dryers because they believe the cost and maintenance will be lower than using paper towels. That is, they believe that paper towels will cost more over time and require restocking. They may also believe the bathroom may become messier because paper towels may be discarded on the floor rather than thrown away. 

However, the net loss over time still supports the use of paper towels. Hand dryers are far more expensive than paper towel dispensers and even a few years’ worth of paper towels. Hand dryers can break with repeated use from patrons. Repairs are expensive and can take time to set up, which means that businesses are then putting paper towels on the counter anyway.


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