paper towels clean better than air-based dryers

This new study shows why paper towels are 10x cleaner than a hand dryer

A new study finds that paper towels do a better job of cleaning your hands than a typical high-speed, air-based hand dryer does.

A new study finds that a typical air-based hand dryer leaves more contamination on poorly washed hands than paper towels. A hand dryer can also also spread germs and bacteria onto clothing and other surfaces.

 “On average, the levels of contamination were 10-fold higher following jet air dryer use than after paper towel use,” the authors conclude.

The study was published today (March 17) in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Hand dryer vs paper towel: past research

Prior research has shown that healthcare workers often ignore the recommended handwashing practices. In fact, average adherence is only 40%.

So to better understand hand drying’s impact on hygiene, the researchers, based at the University of Leeds in the UK, conducted an experiment to learn the role of different hand drying methods. They wanted to see which methods were most likely to spread germs from poorly washed hands beyond the restroom.

For the study, volunteers sanitized their hands with 70% alcohol disinfectant, and then dipped them in a nonharmful viral solution. Next, they dried their hands using either using an air-based hand dryer or paper towels. Paper towel drying took an average of 12 seconds, using 3–5 towels. Jet air drying lasted 10 seconds, on average.

During the experiment, volunteers wore an apron to test the contamination of clothing. The subjects then walked along a predetermined path through the hospital. On the way, they touched commonly used surfaces, such as elevator buttons.

The researchers then collected samples from the surfaces that volunteers touched, and also from the aprons. For example, they placed a stethoscope around their neck, leaving it in contact with the apron for seven minutes. They also crossed their arms across their chest for two minutes, and placed them on the arms of a chair for three minutes. 

Results: jet air dryers lead to more contamination

On average, the levels of contamination to surfaces volunteers touched with their hands were ten times higher after hands were dried with an air dryer than with paper towels, the study found.

“Bacteriophage dispersal across hospital surfaces was more frequently detected after hands were dried using a jet air dryer than using paper towels,” the authors write. “On average, the levels of contamination were 10-fold higher following jet air dryer use than after paper towel use.”

And contamination from apron or torso or arms transferred onto surfaces only following jet air dryer use, not paper towel use. The authors suggest this is due to “splattering” when using a jet hand dryer.

Researchers also saw greater microbial transfer to the apron when volunteers used the air dryer. Furthermore, the transfer of microbes to the study participants’ clothing after using the air dryer also contributed to the spread of germs.

Hand dryer vs paper towels germs

Based on the contamination levels following hand drying using a high-speed air dryer, said co-author Ines Moura, “we question the choice of air dryers in healthcare settings.”

“Microbes remaining after hand drying can transfer to surfaces via contaminated hands and clothing,” Moura said.

“The study was performed in a healthcare setting,” Moura said, “and has important lessons for health institutions that still have high speed air dryers in restrooms.”

But, she added, “the results are also relevant for public restrooms with high foot traffic.”

Future research on the paper towel vs.hand dryer question

Future studies on hand dryer germs should look at how the method and length of handwashing affect the degree of bacteria transfer and surface contamination.

Contamination of hands during hand drying in a restroom, the authors summarize, can result in microbe dissemination to multiple surfaces in the hospital environment.

“This phenomenon,” they write, “is significantly more likely to occur after hand drying with a jet air dryer as opposed to a paper towel.”


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Study: “From the hospital toilet to the ward: a pilot study on microbe dispersal to multiple hospital surfaces following hand drying using a jet air dryer versus paper towels.” 
Authors: Ines Moura, Duncan Ewin, Mark Wilcox
Published in: Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology
Publication date: March 17, 2021
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/ice.2021.43
Picture: by Martin Slavoljubovski from Pixabay 


Extra: paper towel vs.hand dryer

When choosing paper towels vs hand dryers, there are several factors to consider.

Paper towels are often perceived as being more environmentally friendly than hand dryers as they don’t require a power source and can be recycled easily.

Most people also believe that paper towels are cheaper than hand dryers, but this isn’t always the case — especially if you consider that you may need to replace your high-quality paper towels more frequently due to their absorbent nature when compared with cheaper, low-grade versions. But which option really takes top spot?

1. There are several reasons why paper towels are better than hand dryers

hand dryers vs paper towels

Paper towels are better than hand dryers in several ways. First, paper towels are more eco-friendly than hand dryers. Really? Yup.

Paper towels are made of natural, renewable materials that can be recycled. They’re also less expensive than hand dryers. They’re easier to use and more sanitary.

Over 99 percent of paper towels are manufactured to be bleached, which means that even though they offer less energy than traditional dryers, they produce less carbon dioxide and reason per hour when compared with conventional dryers, which rely on electricity and emit nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 68 times more powerful than carbon dioxide (source).

You get all of these major perks with paper towels, but did you know paper towels absorb 99 percent of water, making paper towels even more environmentally friendly than conventional dryers? They also take up less space and are more durable than fiddly technology. And paper towels still might end up being cheaper in the long run given the higher costs of electricity in some places.

A jetair hand dryer isn’t perfect either. is nice to use after a workout — they only take seconds and are less messy. But fewer people around the world use hand dryers than paper towels. And compared with traditional dryers, hand dryers don’t dry hands so well, and don’t filter out pollen, mold, and other airborne pollutants..

2. A jet air hand dryer doesn’t save as much time as paper towels

jet air hand dryers

Researcher Hristina Nikolova conducted a study in which she timed how long it took for her to dry her hands using a variety of dryers in public restrooms. She found that it took her an average of 47 seconds to dry her hands with a jet air dryer and an average of 21 seconds to dry her hands with paper towels..

High-quality paper towels are essential for safety and productivity in some locations. So if you’re considering purchasing paper towels to dry your hands, be sure to get the highest-quality ones available. Since paper towels require a larger area of space to dry, buying more than you need will result in fewer wasted paper towels.

As more and more people are choosing to embrace the use of a jet hand dryer, even at home, it can be hard to determine which one is the best option.

3. Hand dryer vs paper towels germs: paper towels are more hygienic than hand dryers

Paper towels are the most hygienic way to dry your hands. When you use a hand dryer, you’re putting your hands on a nozzle that’s been very close to someone else’s hands, and who knows what they were doing with their hands before they dried them. That’s one more thing you have to worry about.

Also, jet hand dryers aren’t portable, so you can’t just stuff a few in your pocket for later. If you live somewhere with limited access to supplies, paper towels are a great option.

Some of the other differences between paper towels and hand dryers include:

Hand dryers can be more expensive because they requires investment. Of course, paper towels can be kind of messy and need to be thrown away (or, ideally, recycled). Hand dryers can also be more energy efficient.

One of the differences between paper towels and hand dryers is the materials that are used. Paper towels are mostly made from recycled paper. Air hand dryers are usually made of all kinds of components, many of which are bad for the environment. Which one is less environmentally damaging may seem like a minor difference, but there are important differences when deciding the ultimate eco-friendly choice.

Hand dryers can be more expensive due to their overall cost. Paper towels have a lower overall cost. But because of the water-intensive processes that are necessary to produce paper towels, the environmental price can still be still higher. Additionally, paper towels may be more expensive.

When purchasing your equipment, look for items that are made from recycled materials, and have quick-dry capabilities. In terms of maintenance, paper towels are easier on the budget because there are fewer parts that can break.

When choosing between the two solutions, the best option may not be obvious at first glance.

4. Paper towels can be recycled in a way that hand dryers can’t

paper towel vs hand dryer - washing hands in sink

In fact, paper towels are more environmentally-friendly than hand dryers because they can be recycled in a way that hand dryers can’t. Paper towels are made of 100% recycled paper and are recyclable. Hand dryers on the other hand are made of plastic and metal components, many or even most of which are not recyclable.

It’s natural to think that paper towels would be more expensive than hand dryers. After all, paper towels are made from more natural materials. Therefore, buying paper towels is still a more eco-friendly option than buying hand dryers. It is also important to note that paper towels tend to be made (at least in part) of cotton. For disposing of your used towels responsibly, you should consider purchasing paper towels made from recyclable materials

When it comes to hand dryers, the reality is that they require a high degree of energy to run.

Conclusion: paper towel vs hand dryer

Air hand dryers or paper towel? As we’ve seen, hand air dryers have their benefits, but many of these have been oversold over the years. As the study at the top of this page shows, they’re just not all that hygienic: hand dryer germs spread quickly throughout an enclosed space like a public bathroom, and they don’t really have anywhere to go.

Plus, they’re not even that good at drying your hands. Even though they’re advertised as high speed, stainless steel, warm air magic, in fact goog old-fashioned towel dispensers using paper towels are just as efficient, probably even more so.

A jetair hand dryer also creates a lot of noise. And the fact that it’s “automatic” is kind of meaningless these days, as towel dispensers are also automatic these days.

To dry hands, factors like cost and hygiene come into play. And here again, most of the evidence points to the towels. They’re not free, but in a commercial space or office, there’s usually money available for such costs. Plus the fact that they’re quiet could be a factor, especially at work.

Ou conclusion: paper beats jet air hand dryers.