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Jet Hand Dryers vs Paper Towels: Battle over hand drying hygiene

Date Posted: 29.07.19
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There have been some alarming headlines recently about the cleanliness of jet air hand dryers, more specifically Dyson’s Airblade hand dryers.

One story read “using a jet hand dryer is like setting off a viral bomb in a bathroom” and another said “Jet hand dryers ‘spread germs 1,300 time more than paper towels”

Being the leading manufacturers of jet air hand dryers, Dyson are understandably unhappy about these accusations. But the arguments over the cleanliness of different hand drying-methods is one that has been waged quietly for decades via studies, papers and conferences.

There are a handful of major questions regarding the hygiene of jet hand dryers like the Airblade: Do they eject bacteria into the air during drying? Do they help remove bacteria from the hands? and are they any good at actually drying hands?

The recent study looked at the first question. It had subjects dip their hands in a bacterial solution and were asked to shake their hands 3 times (no more – no less) then use a variety of hand drying methods. Researchers found that jet air dryers dispersed 60 times more bacteria into the air than warm hand dryers and 1,300 times more than paper towels. Sounds pretty damning don’t you think?

After the recent study, Dyson pointed out that the test wasn’t entirely fair. The test was conducted using gloves – making it easier for bacteria to be pushed off with air. The solution used for the testing was teaming with around 10 million infectious particles per millilitre.

Dyson’s in-house microbiologist Toby Saville called the recent study “flawed”. He added that the washing methods of shaking your hands were also insufficient.

It sounds like Dyson is being set-up considering that one of the researchers on the recent study Keith Readway had previously worked on a number of studies dedicated to paper-towels.

Although Readway stands by his recent study, he said: ” This study was about showing the potential for risk with different types of hand drying.” Readway says “it was a high level of contamination” he admits ” but it is possible if people don’t wash their hands properly anyway, especially with pathogenic viruses” Readway also adds that subjects were gloved to prevent them from getting infected by the bacteria solution used in the study, and says although this may have influenced the test, the facts that the conditions were the same for each drying method gives a clear idea of risk “Unfortunately this is not conveyed in headlines like (Dyson hand dryers spread thousand of germs).

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A 2008 report by Readway commissioned by the ETS (European Tissue Symposium) asked 20 test subjects to visit a public washroom. They returned to the lab where their hands were tested for bacteria before and after washing and drying their hands.

The report found that those who dried their hands using paper towels reduced bacteria on their palms by between 32.3% and 85.2%, while those who used jet hand dryers saw an increase by 9.1% to 82.2%.

Tony Saville criticised that the experiment didn’t sample subjects hands between washing and drying – only before and after. Saville says ” when you’re washing your hands, although you do wash bacteria off the surface, your skin is made up of multiple layers and in between them there are layers of bacteria. So when you break a layer of skin, you bring up a layer of bacteria that was lying underneath up to the surface. “

Although there is a shared animosity between the two researchers included in this recent study, both will agree that jet air dryers are effective at drying a persons hands – Just as good as a paper towel in fact. Wet hands are magnets for bacteria. The moisture gives them a home, and if you touch dirty surfaces in a washroom the bacteria is going to leap on board like it’s a pool party.

Saville says ” drying isn’t about removing bacteria, that’s not what it’s there for. Washing is about removing bacteria” the drying step is about drying and the reason why it’s important is because if your hands are still damp, the moisture will act as a bridge for you to move bacteria onto your skin.

On this point, both researchers are willing to compliment each other. Both sides agree that it is warm hand dryers that are the bigger danger as their heat and age often means they’re home to bacteria themselves and because they work more slowly, people are most likely to become bored mid dry and walk off with wet hands.

With the discussion all about drying, it’s easy to ignore the obvious and overwhelming fact: it’s washing your hands that’s key to personal hygiene, and face it people just don’t wash their hands enough. In a UK study, 99% of people visiting a public bathroom said they washed their hands after using the toilet. Recording devices shows that 32% of men and 64% of women actually had.

Using proper soap is the official advice and sing ‘Happy Birthday ‘ twice before you even think of finishing up. Then you can think about drying your hands.

A&R Contract cleaning services have over 40 years of experience in the cleaning industry – providing tailored cleaning solutions from general cleaning to janitorial and washroom services. If you would like to know more about our services contact us on 01656 713950 or visit our website

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