Paper Towel or Air Dryer - Which is the Best for Hand Drying?

Paper Towel or Air Dryer - Which is the Best for Hand Drying?

I've just finished watching a very topical episode of Mythbusters for those of us with a challenged immune system. And isn't that all of us to some degree? This episode set out to assess the myth that drying your hands with a paper towel left your hands cleaner than the alternative of a forced (and noisy) air dryer - which also takes longer.

Early in the episode, the two hosts checked for bacterial contamination after washing their hands with water and then with soap and water. A hand wash with just water showed some bacteria cultured from a hand swab, but none showed up on the culture after a soap and water wash.

They then conducted a trial with a group of 16 volunteers and found that paper towel drying was far better. 116 samples were cultured - 96 from the volunteers who had their hands sprayed front and back twice with a safe e-coli bacterial solution and 20 from around the dryers.

Bacterial Load Reduction

Air Dryer................23%

Paper Towel...........71%

The samples taken from the wall and floor around the air dryer and paper towel dispenser were cultured to determine if there was any truth to the myth that an air dryer spread bacteria around the room. They confirmed this was indeed the case, with 41 bacterial colonies cultured when testing around the air dryer and only 3 cultured from around the paper towel dispenser.

In the second part of the program, they checked which of 4 toilet stalls in a in a public building men's toilet were used most often and also which were the cleanest. The outside stalls had around a third less use than the inner stalls and the stall closest to the door had the lowest number of bacterial colonies.

So, in summary, if you use a public toilet, use an outside stall, preferably the one closest to the door, then wash your hands with soap and water and use the paper towel, assuming of course both are available! Then because unfortunately many men don't bother washing, you have to exit the room without touching the door handle, which is usually impossible as the door invariably opens towards you...

Episode Summary:

(Found this after writing the above - should have done a search first!!)

Related posts:

Medical Breakthrough to save Millions of Lives!/#cllsu...

CLL - a Cancer of the Immune System!/#cllsu...


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8 Replies

  • Why do toilet doors open inwards. Putting them on hinges that swing either way (like saloon doors) might be best.

    I did try 'hovering' inside the door one day waiting for someone to come in, but after about a minute I felt a bit uncomfortable about being caught and accused of something other than fear of a dirty handle!

    Electronic sensing taps to avoid turning after washing might be best as well.


  • Having washed and dried my hands, I use a paper towel or toilet tissue to grasp the door handle and open it. No idea how effective it is against bacterial infection but it gives me a bit of comfort.

  • That's exactly what I do. Provided the towel/tissue is dry and you discard it before touching the surface that touched the door handle, I'd say it would be quite effective and definitely better than the alternative!

  • Love your idea of having saloon style doors for public toilets Rob! Seems so appropriate, given what goes in must come out...

  • Ah ! my particular soapbox. I would like all public toilets to have doors that open out when leaving, and all to have paper towels. I too use clean toilet tissue if I must handle the doors to leave the toilet area. Then just to be fussy I rub a dab of antibacterial gel into my hands. I use gel a lot after handling trolleys, bus rails, escalators, money etc. The list goes on. Best tip I had though, was keep your hands away from your nose and mouth. OK, maybe I'm a bit paranoid but since following this regime I have not had any infections. There now I've witched myself ! because I can't use that tip against airbourne germs.

  • I agree with you Bubnjay on the optimal design for public toilets. Unfortunately here you are lucky to score soap and working dryer/paper towel. The Mythbuster episode noted that there were 12 million air dryers in use in the USA. Locally there's a mix of the autosensor variety (less common) and the push button variety where you HOPE the previous person washed their hands thoroughly... I use my elbow.

  • I've used my elbow on dryers if possible, but we are seeing more of the airblade type here which have no button. I always have preferred paper towels, cll or no cll.

    I do use the gel as well and have a number of the small pocketsized bottles in various places as well as jacket and trouser pockets. Had an accident with one of those last week. The yop came off in my fleece pocket, yak! Will be more careful in future, but the fleece survived!


  • Thanks for a giggle Oleboyredw, I well remember putting my hand into my gym bag and going yuk yuk! with goo on my hands. I don't know what I thought it was until I saw my topless gel. Note made to self. It's only shut when you click but that no good if the top has become loose. :-)