There has been a lot of debate over whether paper towels or hand dryers are better for reducing the spread of pathogens in public restrooms--both methods have advantages and disadvantages, and it's difficult to say which is better definitively.
What Spreads More Pathogens--Paper Towels or Hand Dryers?
Research has shown that paper towels effectively remove bacteria and viruses from hands and are less likely to spread germs than hand dryers.
This is because paper towels physically remove moisture and bacteria from hands, and then the used paper towels are thrown away, reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
Hand dryers, on the other hand, can increase the spread of pathogens if they are not adequately maintained and cleaned.
According to a recent study published by Frontiers in Public Health;
Our study investigated potential mask contamination associated to the hand drying method and determined that hand drying can cause aerosolization of microbial/viral particles, promote their spread to the washroom environment and contaminate other users up to a 15 min period post-hand drying.
The risk of facemask contamination was significantly increased when using a jet air dryer compared with paper towels.
As such, it is important to consider the potential for virus dissemination during hand drying.
Based on our observation, hand drying with paper towels is associated with a lower risk of droplet and aerosol dispersion compared with use of a jet air dryer.
Assessment of potential for viral contamination of user and environment via aerosols generated during hand drying: A pilot study
Where Do the Bacteria in Hand Dryers Come From?
The bacteria forced through hand dryers in restrooms has been proven to come from the restroom air instead of growing inside the air dryers themselves.
According to a paper published by the American Society for Microbiology;
Several results from this study indicate that bacteria dispersed by hand dyers are from general bathroom air passing through the hand dryer.
These results include the following observations:
(i) very low numbers of bacteria were found on hand dryers' internal nozzle surface;
(ii) there was an ∼4-fold reduction in bacteria deposited by air from hand dryers retrofitted with HEPA filters; and
(iii) when corrected for airflow and exposure time, there were similar levels of bacterial deposition from bathroom air moved by small fans and hand dryers.
Heat treatment of samples from hand dryer air or directly from bathroom air and identification of collected heat-resistant forms further indicated that many of the sporeformers were dispersed by hand dryers as spores, in particular, some spores produced at high levels in a basic research laboratory.
Deposition of Bacteria and Bacterial Spores by Bathroom Hot-Air Hand Dryers
Issues With Paper Towel Use
There are several known issues with using paper towels in restrooms, including:
- Environmental impact: Paper towels are made from trees, and their production requires a significant amount of energy and water. When used, they contribute to deforestation and waste disposal problems.
- Cost: Paper towels can be expensive, particularly when used in high-traffic areas such as public restrooms. The cost of paper towels can quickly add up, especially when considering the cost of disposing of them properly.
- Hygiene concerns: In busy restrooms, paper towel dispensers can run out quickly, leading people to use alternative methods for drying their hands, such as their clothing. This can lead to increased transmission of germs and bacteria.
- Maintenance issues: Paper towels can easily become jammed in dispensers or clog pipes, leading to maintenance and repair issues.
- Sustainability concerns: While some paper towels are made from recycled materials, many are not. Even those made from recycled materials still have an environmental impact, specifically when considering the energy and resources required to recycle them.
- Accessibility issues: Some people may have difficulty using paper towels due to disabilities or other physical limitations, such as arthritis, making hand dryers a better option.
There are several ways that businesses can address the issues associated with using paper towels in restrooms:
- Offer recycled paper towels: If businesses choose to continue using paper towels, they can opt for products made from recycled materials. This reduces the environmental impact of paper towel production and reduces waste.
- Encourage handwashing best practices: By encouraging handwashing best practices, businesses can reduce the amount of paper towel use in restrooms. This includes providing clear signage on how to properly wash hands and encouraging employees and customers to only take the amount of paper towels they need to dry their hands.
- Regular maintenance: To prevent paper towel dispensers from jamming or clogging pipes, businesses should ensure that they are regularly maintained and cleaned. This can reduce repair costs and downtime.
- Accommodate accessibility needs: To accommodate individuals with disabilities or physical limitations, businesses can provide both paper towels and hand dryers in restrooms, ensuring that all users have a choice.
- Educate employees and customers: By educating employees and customers on the environmental impact of paper towels and the benefits of alternative options, businesses can encourage the adoption of more sustainable practices. This can include providing information on how to properly use hand dryers and reduce paper towel waste.
It's essential to note that the overall hygiene of a restroom depends on many factors, such as the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting, the number of people using the restroom, and how effectively people wash their hands.
Regardless of whether paper towels or hand dryers are used, it's crucial for restroom operators to follow proper hygiene protocols and for individuals to practice good hand hygiene by washing their hands thoroughly and drying them completely.
Onboarding and managing the requisite labor and material resources necessary to ensure the highest standards of cleanliness are achieved and maintained may prove cost-prohibitive for many organizations.
Outsourcing is a proven method for onboarding highly in-demand cleaning and disinfection services and experience for a fraction of the price of maintaining a similar service in-house.
If you would like more information regarding the effectiveness of high-performance infection prevention and control measures, or if you would like to schedule a free, no-obligation on-site assessment of your facility's custodial needs, contact us today for a free quote!
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