Hands dryers vs hand towels….is one more hygienic than the other?

Posted by Edward Jonkler on May 3, 2021

After a ban was imposed in March 2020, Keidanren, otherwise known as the Japanese Business Federation, has lifted its year-long ban on the use of hand dryers in toilets at production sites and offices across the country. 

The ban was originally imposed for fear that hand dryers increased the risk of spreading coronavirus. Informed opinion and research into the virus shows that COVID-19 is spread by droplet transmission and by contacting contaminated surfaces and touching your face. This is most commonly through coughing and sneezing and close contact with contaminated persons. The concern, therefore, was that hand dryers would increase water droplet and micro droplet transmission and therefore increase the risk of the virus. 

It has been a popular opinion for the past year that hand dryers are potentially unhygienic and can contribute to the spread of pathogenic bacteria and viruses in the bathroom. This is a stance taken, unsurprisingly, by paper towel manufacturers, potentially with a hope to scaremongering public opinion. Market research shows that the paper towel industry actually experienced significant growth this year, possibly as a result of coronavirus fears. 

On the other hand, the hand dryer industry has bitten back with an equally scathing message, reporting that paper towels and their dispensers can actually harbour significant amounts of pathogenic bacteria and viruses, whilst also highlighting the fact that used paper towels cannot be recycled and are therefore not as environmentally friendly as hand dryers. 

In reality, research has shown that potentially dangerous bacteria is spread in bathrooms by users not washing or drying their hands correctly and a single use of a typical hand-dryer would only disturb 2-3% of the volume of air and is therefore unlikely to significantly contribute to the spread of microbes.

Aside from Japan, most countries have continued to use hand dryers throughout the pandemic because of this fact. 

In conjunction with this informed opinion, Keidanren have recently concluded that the risk of hand dryers actually spreading coronavirus is negligible, and the lifting of the ban in offices and production sites could now expand to other industries that also follow the same guidelines, such as the restaurant sector. 

Keidanren’s research showed that the risk infection from water droplets in the air from a hand dryer was ‘extremely low’. However, one of the guidelines to keep hand dryers in operation is that they are frequently cleaned and disinfected with alcohol to maintain cleanliness; aside from the pontential for water droplets to spread in the air, as a frequent touchpoint in a bathroom there is a risk of bacteria spreading when users touch the surface of their hand dryer and then touch their mouth or nose. 

As well as frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using an alcohol-based sanitiser, the World Health Organisation guidance for hand washing is also that ‘once your hands are cleaned, you should dry them thoroughly by using paper towels or a warm hand dryer.’

Keeping hands dry as well as clean is therefore a key factor in preventing the spread of the virus and, despite some opinion surrounding hand dryers, the World Health Organisation do not see any potential risk as long as the dispenser is regularly cleaned and it is used to dry hands correctly, and with social distancing in place.