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Dryers vs. Towels

By David Lawton | December 14, 2017 << Back to Articles

Which method should your building use for hand drying in the restrooms? The correct answer will depend on your goals. The question of hygiene was finally settled, if you can take the formal researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the quirky science stars on Mythbusters seriously.

But hygiene may not be the only, or at least ultimate, reason to install one system and not the other. Cost of use and impact on the environment may also be factors. All things considered, though, you may be better off stocking the restrooms with paper towels even if you also have air dryers. 

Eliminate the Most Bacteria...
Both the Mayo Clinic and the Mythbusters’ research concluded that drying hands with paper towels will eliminate more bacteria than by forced air drying. Keep in mind, though, that properly washing hands with soap clears most undesirable microbes best of all. But how many times do you encounter empty soap dispensers in public restrooms?

If a water-only wash is the best you can do, you’ll want to be able to dry your hands on paper. The studies clearly demonstrated that towel drying actively removed bacteria from the hands, and a lot of it. While the operative factor for microbe removal was drying (bacteria remains in the water on hands), and both systems eventually complete the job, paper towels could remove about 70 percent of the germs while the best the dryers could do was 23 percent, and that was when they weren’t actually increasing bacteria. 

A rather interesting surprise discovered by the Mayo Clinic team was that rubbing your hands under the air stream while drying also increased the amount of bacteria left on the hands.

.... In the Least Amount of Time
You do not need to earn a degree in microbiology to know that air dryers take a long time to work. Paper towels require only about three to five seconds to dry your hands while even the jet dryers that produce a high volume of focused air still take at least 10 seconds—if you vigorously shake the water off your hands first. The more pedestrian dryers take upwards of 45 seconds. When time is money, few people want to stand around taking between 3 and 15 times longer to dry than they would with a paper towel option.

Lower Installation Costs
Yes, it’s probably true that the operational costs of using an electric hand dryer are pennies on the dollars spent for towels. The overall environmental impact for long-lasting dryers may be less as well, if you don’t consider the industries that produce the components of the machinery that causes cold air to become warm air spewing rapidly from a nozzle.

However, the least expensive dryer (which may need frequent replacement) is about US$200 before installation. The top-of-the-line jet dryers come in at about $1,300 or so. The fanciest, no-touch automatic feed towel dispensers might set you back about $100, and plain folded towel dispensers much less than that.

Of course, you do have to continually supply paper towels, and that expense can be sizeable in a high-use restroom. It’s understandable to want to save costs by switching to electric, but bear this next truth in mind.

Happiest Patrons
Most people do not like electric hand dryers. According to the finding of the Mayo Clinic researchers, 62 percent of 2,000 European people polled on the subject preferred paper towels. The rest either liked hot air dryers or cloth towel rollers. In the United States, 55 percent of 2,516 people went for paper towels. The rest were split between jet, then hot air dryers, cloth towels, or were undecided. So why do more people favor paper towels?

First, towel drying is quick and efficient. Second, air dryers can crank out over 90 decibels of sound. People with sensitive hearing can find the noise fairly earsplitting. Set two or more going at the same time, and people may skip the drying process altogether, an unhygienic option. In fact, observation shows that some people dislike electric dryers enough that, without an alternative, they will blot their hands on large wads of toilet tissue. Considering the cost of this premium paper product, plus the mess this methods tends to make, it may be more economical—not to mention kinder—to simply give your employees or patrons what they want: paper towels. 

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 edition of ISSA Today.

David Lawton is vice president of Lawton Brothers, Inc. a distributor of janitorial and sanitary supplies.

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