The Dirty Truth About Hand Dryers
Washing your hands often and well is an important step in preventing flu and other illnesses. But the way your dry your hands can unintentionally spread bacteria.
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But, if you can, avoid high-speed jet air dryers in public restrooms. Research shows that they spread — rather than remove — germs. The same is true to a lesser extent for warm air dryers.
The clear winner: Good old-fashioned paper towels.
“We often say that handwashing is the key to preventing the spread of illness. But wet hands increase the risk of transmitting bacteria, so drying is an equally important step in prevention,” says urgent care specialist Theresa Lash-Ritter, MD.
The healthcare and food industries are obsessed with hand hygiene. That’s because in a hospital, transmitting viruses and bacteria can mean life or death. And in a restaurant or on a cruise ship, foodborne illnesses like e. coli and norovirus can make people severely and even critically ill.
Lots of research has focused on hand-washing — and hand-drying — techniques as a result.
In one study, microbiologists compared jet air dryers to warm air dryers and paper towels. What they found was disturbing:
The way each method works helps to explain the results. Jet air dryers force air out sideways at ultrahigh speeds. Warm air dryers work by evaporation. Paper towels absorb water.
“Drying your hands with paper towels not only dries them faster, but the friction also dislodges bacteria to leave them cleaner,” notes Dr. Lash-Ritter.
And those cloth towel dispensers? It’s best to avoid them. The patch of cloth at the end of the roll tends can get used over and over again. This transmits germs from hand to hand to hand.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following:
Hand sanitizers are better than nothing, according to the CDC. But they won’t clean visible dirt or grease, they can’t kill all germs, and they can’t remove all harmful chemicals.
If hand sanitizers are your only option, make sure they are at least 60% alcohol.
And when you’re in a public restroom, remember that low-tech is sometimes better than high-tech — stick with paper towels.