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Hand Dryers Vs. Paper Towels – What’s the Latest Advice?

Hand Dryers Vs. Paper Towels – What’s the Latest Advice?
17 September 2020 | Updated 12 January 2021

How best to dry your hands after washing them seems to be an ever-changing debate in the hygiene and washroom sector, but what is the most up-to-date advice?

Most of us will have some lingering memories of early on the coronavirus pandemic, being urged by Boris Johnson to wash your hands for the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” Observing proper hand hygiene is still stated as one of the best ways of stopping the transmission of COVID-19, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) still recommends the “Happy Birthday” rule as a guide.

However, when it comes to hygienically drying our hands, there seems to be an ongoing debate between suppliers, service providers, scientists, researchers and official bodies. Although WHO, NHS and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed the safe use of hand dryers during the pandemic, some still feel reticent about using them in their buildings.


WHO, CDC and UK Government Approves Safe Use of Hand Dryers


As reported in ThisWeekinFM, back in May, the UK government joined WHO and the CDC in approving the use of hand dryers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and this information remains up-to-date.

This followed a campaign from the hand drying industry requesting the government to update its official guidelines. The government’s “Working safely during Coronavirus” guidance now states that to help everyone keep good hygiene throughout the working day, businesses should provide hand drying facilities in the form of either paper towels or electrical dryers.


Scoping Review Shows no Negative Effects of Paper Towel or Hand Dryer use on Human Health


Additionally, a recent scoping review published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology claims that there is “no data to support any human health claims relative to hand dryers versus paper towel use.”  

The research examined 23 studies which met the researchers’ criteria of being scientifically valid and peer-reviewed. Each study was rated according to parameters such as methodology and data quality, and ranked accordingly. The highest scoring study was “Effects of 4 Hand-Drying Methods for Removing Bacteria From Washed Hands: A Randomized Trial conducted by the Mayo Clinic”. 

It found that: “…there is no difference in bacteria counts when drying with paper towels or hand dryers.” None of the studies reported any negative effects of paper towel or hand dryer use on human health.


Hand Wash

Picture: A photograph of a person washing their hands in a sink


Some Researchers Continue to Maintain Hand Towels Are Safest Option


Despite the published guidance by WHO and its related bodies, some researchers maintain that there is still an argument for opting to provide paper towels as the safer option.

A study carried out by Dr Ines Moura, from the University of Leeds concluded that there are clear differences, according to hand drying method, in the residual microbial contamination of the subject’s hands and body:

“Crucially, these differences in contamination translate into significantly greater levels of microbe contamination after JD (Jet Dryer vs PT (Paper Towel use from hands and body beyond the toilet/washroom”, the paper’s abstract states.

Dr Charlotte Fowler, a senior NHS consultant, also led a campaign in the summer for hand dryers to be switched off, due to their potential to generate “contaminated aerosols or micro-droplets”. Speaking to Sky News, Dr Fowler alleged that “The government's own advisers have asked that hand dryers be turned off,” although this claim remains unsubstantiated.


Is Offering a Choice the Only Solution?


UK government and WHO guidance aside, there are clearly still doubts for many individuals when it comes to using hand dryers. Whether this is due to the appearance of scientific studies that appear to counter the advice that these dryers are safe, or personal preference for using disposable towels instead.

It seems that a sensible approach in light of the above, would be to expect some building visitors to feel actively uncomfortable at using hand dryers and therefore provide both options in washrooms.

The environmental impact of the widespread use of disposable PPE, the increased use of chemical disinfectants and the prominence of single-use packaging that this pandemic has resulted in, has been widely noted. Will a continued suspicion of the safety of hand dryers encourage an over-reliance on single-use paper towels, and what are the waste management implications for this?

Join the conversation, and let us know your thoughts over on our LinkedIn page.

Picture: A photograph of a public bathroom, showing cubicles and sinks

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 17 September 2020


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