Paper Towels vs. Air Blowers: Who Wins?

There are certain fundamental life preferences that we make at very early ages that define us: Beatles or Stones? Kirk or Picard? Betty or Veronica?  To this short – but very telling – list, we would add, “Paper Towels or Hot Air Blowers?”

Paper towels, of course, do the job faster and with much less noise. But they leave a mess, and the folks who open public bathroom doors with their elbows (you know who you are...) seem to appreciate the warm sterility of that blast of drying air from the blowers.

But now a team of researchers from the University of Westminister in London, UK, decided to test if – all personal preferences aside – there was one objective winner in the Hands Drying Olympics.

For the study, published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, researchers asked participants to dip their hands into a solution swimming with a harmless virus called MS2. Petri dishes were placed around the area to collect any traces of the virus as participants dried their hands. Researchers also collected samples from the air as participants used each one of the three drying methods.

The team found significantly different rates among the spread of germs. The study’s authors wrote that "these differences in results between the three hand-drying devices can be largely explained by their mode of drying the hands.”

Participants who used the Airblade jet dryer manufactured by Dyson spread 60 times more germs than standard air dryers and 1,300 times more germs than those who used paper towels. The germs were spread nearly 10 feet away from the dryer itself, making anyone surrounding the dryer at risk for being exposed to germs. Yikes!

Previously, makers of jet driers, such as Dyson, have pointed out problems in another study’s findings, highlighting how unrealistic the results were because hand washers wouldn’t have such a high level concentration of germs on their hands. Because the research wasn’t carried out in a real-world scenario, Dyson claims scientists are manipulating the study in order to scaremonger consumers into using paper towels.

Hut in 2014, Kimberly-Clark, the manufacturer of air driers, teamed up with the European Tissue Symposium (a tissue paper trade association), to produce a body of research that found jet dryers create “significant hygiene risks.” In addition, the study concluded that paper towels reduced bacteria by up to 77 percent while jet driers increase bacteria on the hands by 42 percent.