Air Drying Machines Versus Paper Towels: Which Are Better to Use?
T hose air drying machines found in public washrooms at airports and elsewhere seem to have minds of their own: push the power button for them to start; and they stop just before your hands are completely dry. It is almost a law — unless you happen to be fortunate enough to find one of those air drying machines which rely on your hands breaking a beam of light, which means that they will stay on until you remove your hands when you feel that they are completely dry…
…and even then, some of them are finicky, wanting you to move your hands to ensure that you are still there lest they shut down from perceived inactivity.
Then there is the power of the air being blown: sometimes it is too weak that it seems to take forever to dry your hands — even while vigorously rubbing them — while at other times, they are so powerful that the skin on your hands starts rippling in waves, similar to the faces of people while they are skydiving before deploying their parachutes.
“Fortunate enough”, I wrote earlier in this article? Perhaps not, according to this article from one of the official weblogs of McGill University in Montréal which suggests that you might want to reach for that paper towel instead of an air drying machine the next time you want to dry your hands in a public washroom.
Proponents for air drying machines reportedly argue that costs can be cut by as much as 99.5 percent versus using paper towels; and that the machines are supposedly “green”: less waste and fewer trees needed to manufacture those paper towels, for example — never mind that paper can be recycled and that paper towels can be manufactured from as much as 100 percent recycled paper…
…but the results from as many as twelve different studies — as well as an episode of the television program Mythbusters from 2013 — claim that drying your hands with an air drying machine is significantly less sanitary than simply using paper towels.
“16 subjects had their hands swabbed three times: once after going to the bathroom, once after washing their hands, and once after drying them. The experiment was performed twice: the first time with the air dryer; the second, with the paper towel. And the results were significant. When the subjects dried their hands with the air dryer, the bacterial load was reduced by 23%. The paper towels, on the other hand, reduced the bacteria by 71%, almost three times as much! Once they were on this bathroom kick, the mythbusters decided to go a little further, taking a look at whether the number of bacteria present in the bathroom environment differed based on having used an air dryer or paper towel. And again, the results were downright dirty. There were a total of forty-one colonies of bacteria around the air drier as compared to a total of three around the paper towel dispenser.”
One other negative aspect is that if you dry your hands with an air drying machine, you then might have to touch the door if you have to pull it to exit the public washroom; and you will most likely have unwanted germs use your clean hands as a vehicle to travel to sensitive parts of your body — such as if you rub your eyes with those hands, which could lead to illness.
I carry at least one paper towel in my pants pocket in case there are no paper towels or other mechanism for drying my hands after washing them in a public washroom — as well as to possibly use it for turning the faucet on or off if it is not electronic and automatic; for pumping soap out of the dispenser if it is not electronic or automatic; and to pull the door if I cannot push it.
For years, I have professed the importance of washing your hands to prevent illness — such as in this extensive article — as washing your hands regularly is amongst the best ways to prevent the spread of diseases, infections, and even illnesses such as the common cold. I speak from experience: with one or two minor exceptions that are too negligible to even mention, I have not suffered from a cold, fever or other illness in several years since I adopted the aforementioned habits in order to avoid getting sick or catching an illness. I have never even had a flu shot. That is because I am diligent about washing my hands, as it has worked for me for years — and it can work for you as well if you are diligent about washing your hands properly to increase your chances of avoiding illnesses in the future.
Interestingly, my track record is also despite using various air drying machines at different public washrooms. Still, if you are going to go through the trouble of washing your hands, you might want to keep them as clean as possible; so if you have a choice, you are apparently better off using paper towels instead of air drying machines.
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.