Hand Dryers or Paper Towels?

     Have you ever ventured into the bathroom and wondered, which was more clean - the fast and convenient "eco-friendly" automated hand dryer .. or the old fashioned paper towel dispenser? This question has recently been turning in my head whenever I get out of the stalls. Is there a difference to which appliance reduces the most amount of bacteria on my hands? By how much? I decided to take the plunge and figure this mystery out. The results that came back were absolutely shocking to me! 
     Whilst searching for my answer, I found out that Mythbusters actually did a segment on this phenomenon with an experiment of their own. 
"First, to find out if washing hands even leaves behind any bacteria to be removed by hand dryers, Adam and Jamie tested three different, commonly used methods of "washing" hands, each followed by swabbing and incubating in Petri dishes. Their methods included rubbing their hands together without placing them under the water, getting their hands wet but neglecting to use any soap, and washing their hands with soap and water (the proper method). They discovered that washing their hands with soap and water yielded no bacteria whatsoever, whereas washing without soap left a fairly substantial amount of bacteria and attempting to wash without water left far too much to count.

     Next, they enlisted 16 volunteers to have their hands sprayed with a harmless strain of Escherichia coli bacteria, then swabbed for a sample, had the volunteers wash using water but no soap, swabbed again, dried using paper towels, and finally swabbed a third time. Jamie and Adam then repeated the process with the same volunteers, bacteria and washing technique, but used hand dryers instead. On average, the paper towels removed 71% of the bacteria on the volunteers' hands, while the hand dryers only removed 23%, confirming the first part of the myth." (summary of episode can be found here)


     Samples taken from swabbing the testing areas yielded 3 strains of bacteria for the paper towel area and 41 strains of bacteria remnants for the hand dryers, confirming the second part of their myth that indeed... hand dryers are filled with more bacteria simply because the person's bacteria in front of you is essentially being blown off their hands and spread all around the surface of the dryer itself.

     Aside from the fact that the automated hand dryer does reduces the amount of paper consumed from your hands.... it does NOT mean that it is actually doing the job of properly cleaning your hands.
     This information has left me in a tangle because I realize that there are two conflicting factors. Cleanliness vs. Environmentally Friendliness. I've weighed the benefits and potential environmental costs... now it's your turn to decide given this information! 

Happy Drying!


Hi Jessica,

Wow, thanks for such an interesting article! I'm absolutely shocked to learn that paper towels remove so much more bacteria than hand dryers. I've never actually taken the time to think about which one seems to be cleaner, but it makes perfect sense. I usually always go for the paper towels because of the difference in time (hand dryers take more time). One thing did come to mind though, have you heard of the Dyson Airblade hand dryer? If not, check it out here...
The interesting thing about this dryer is that it is said to remove 99.9% of bacteria! I guess future research will only tell if this is true or not!


I must say, the information you provided in this article shocked me. I always thought that since hand dryers required no direct contact (other than pressing the button), they would remove more of the bacteria. While they are much more eco-friendly, is it really benefitting us if less bacteria is being removed? Regardless of which of the two you use, I think another part of this issue is not enough people even wash their hands... Disgusting. Nonetheless, I thought this blog post was very informative and well-written!

I loved reading this article because I was planning to write an article on this topic as well! I remember when I was younger, someone told me that hand dryers blow bacteria onto your hands. As a young kid it scared me, I spread the messgage to friends but never really looked into the matter. I eventually stopped believing it because everyone seemed to use them. However, being at school, in the dorm, I find myself never using the blow dryer. Before bed, I purposely use the bathroom before brushing my teeth...if I brush my teeth my hands are wet and then I am forced to use the dryer, which freaks me out. So I've just been going to the bathroom, washing my hands (not drying them), then brushing my teeth. I've started to keep a hand towel hanging on my wardrobe so I can use it right when I get back to my room! Lucky for me, my room is directly accross from the bathroom. Well thanks so much for sharing this article because someone has finally given me a better explanation about the longing wonder in my mind since I was little.

Jessica, this blog answers one of my many questions that I've always wondered as well: Do the hand dryers make your hands dirtier? Your blog answers my question though as that they don't make the hands dirtier they just don't cause them to become as clean as paper towels. I always thought that the air the dryers shot out had bacteria in it. I think that engineers are working towards a more environmentally friendly way to stay clean by installing the paper towel dispensers that only allow you to have one paper towel instead of unraveling a roll or pulling out 20 paper towels for one person.

Hand dryers annoy me. They always have, not quite sure why, but they do. It's probably because I'm too impatient to use them. Now I have an actual reason not to like them.

As a self-proclaimed 'germophobe,' I'm taking the side of cleanliness. Diseases spread all to easily and slowing the spread can only do good. Also, with paper towels ability to be recycled, the environmental effect would not be as damaging as it would appear.

I know Penn State has different types of disposals for paper towels with the intentions to recycle them and I think this is the best option to satisfy both cleanliness and environmentally friendliness.

I've never thought of this. I usually opt for the hand dryer when available due to the eco-friendliness of it, and I probably will continue to until we have another cold outbreak on campus! I guess I always assumed germs were killed when you lathered soap. I never considered the ones that still need to wiped off!

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