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The Dirty Truth About Electric Hand Dryers

You often see notes on electric hand dryers in public restrooms, assuring you that they are cleaner than paper towels; that the machines are there for your protection. But scientists sampling air, dust and other surfaces in three hospitals found out these dryers send bacteria flying in all directions.

Bathroom

 

Across the board, restrooms with jet dryers “had much higher levels of bacteria compared to bathrooms with paper towels,” Sciworthy reports. While restrooms with paper towels also had bacteria, the difference was big enough for the study authors to say they would not recommend electric hand dryers in health care settings.

With drug-resistant infections on the rise, disinfecting yourself and your surroundings may seem like a good idea. However, research has clearly shown that this may exacerbate problems rather than solve them.

For example, handwashing tops the list of effective strategies to prevent the spread of contagious diseases, both at home and in health care settings. But what happens when you find out that the very process you thought was best is actually worse? If you’re surprised that air hand dryers aren’t all they’re made out to be, then you may also be surprised to learn that disinfecting everything with sanitizers and antibiotic washes is also not a good thing.

When it comes to preventing the spread of contagious disease, handwashing definitely tops the list of effective strategies — as long as you follow up with a good hygienic and proper drying. And that entails using a sterile, clean paper towel rather than an air dryer.

That said, as the authors of the featured study found, not all bacteria are bad; neither do fewer bacteria mean everything is better. The fact is diverse communities of bacteria thrive on perfectly healthy skin. In fact, they're very much needed for optimal health. Hence "clean" does not mean bacteria-free.

The problem with hot air and jet dryers is that they blow heated air for up to 40 seconds per use — a practice that may increase the number of bacteria on your hands, the reasons being:

• Bacteria inside the dryer mechanism being blown out during use

• Bacteria-enriched air being recirculated

• Bacteria found in the deeper layers of skin being liberated when rubbing your hands together beneath the hot air stream

• The air coming out of the dryers is not hot enough to kill bacteria

• Some combination of the above

The bottom line is, in health care settings, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) both advise using paper towels to dry your hands.

The reason for this is because the bulk of the data suggests paper towels can effectively remove surface bacteria from your hands, and effectively prevent the spread of contaminated water droplets from your hands into the environment.

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