Hand Dryers vs Paper Towels: Which is More Sanitary?

hand dryers vs paper towels graphic

Updated on December 21, 2023

In today’s hygiene-conscious world, the debate between hand dryers and paper towels is more than just a choice; it’s a statement of health and sustainability. Hand dryers vs paper towels? It’s a question that will come up when you’re planning your company or facility’s hygiene strategy.

As you step into any restroom, be it in a bustling airport or a quiet office, the question looms large: To dry or not to dry? And if to dry, then how? With the rise of bacterial spread concerns and environmental implications, making an informed decision has never been more crucial. Whether you run a school, manage an office, or supervise in a hospital, you want the people who use your facility to be safe and healthy. And after the previous years of the pandemic, hygiene and stopping the spread of infection have moved even higher up on your priority list.

Imagine a world where your choice not only ensures optimal hygiene but also aligns with your commitment to the environment. Whether you’re a facility manager, a concerned citizen, or someone just curious about the best hand-drying method, the insights that follow promise to guide your decision.

But why should how people dry their hands in your facility be such a difficult problem to approach? Can it really make that much of a difference using hand dryers vs paper towels? Well, that’s what we are about to explore.

Bacterial transmission is significantly higher from moist skin than from its dry counterpart. This underscores the importance of effective hand drying as an integral component of hand washing techniques in commercial settings. So, let’s dive deep into the research and settle the score: hand dryers or paper towels – which is more hygienic?

Key Takeaways:

  1. Bacterial Transmission: Wet hands are a breeding ground for bacteria, making the drying process a crucial step in hand hygiene.
  2. Hand Dryers: Modern hand drying technology has evolved, with some models offering advanced features that reduce bacterial spread. However, not all hand dryers are created equal, and their efficacy can vary based on power, design, and placement.
  3. Paper Towels: While often preferred for their quick drying capability, the quality of paper towels and their dispensers play a significant role in their hygiene effectiveness. Moreover, their environmental impact, from production to disposal, is a factor to consider.
  4. Environmental Considerations: Hand dryers, with their long lifespan, primarily impact the environment through electricity consumption. In contrast, paper towels have a more pronounced carbon footprint due to their production, transportation, and disposal processes.
  5. The Pebble+ Advantage: Merging the best of both worlds, the Pebble+ by Citron Hygiene not only ensures dry hands but also purifies the surrounding air, setting a new standard in modern hand drying technology.

Hand dryers vs paper towels: Are hand dryers sanitary?

There has been a lot of viral content going around recently about hand dryers. Maybe you’ve seen a TikTok or two about how hand dryers are actually “bacteria bombs” and will spread germs all over your bathroom.

But should you believe everything you see on social media?

The research about how hygienic hand dryers are, has to be looked at carefully as there are so many makes and models, with different settings that can impact whether or not they spread germs into the air.

A study from the Journal of Applied Microbiology found powerful hand dryers can spread a virus up to one and a half meters or almost five feet across the room.

This indicates that the more powerful hand dryers can be less sanitary than lower-powered alternatives as the same study found these 60 times more likely to spread germs into the air.

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Should these studies and viral content talk about “bacteria bombs” have you worried? Yes, if you are looking for the most hygienic hand-drying solution for your facility, you should gather all the information available to you while being aware of the problems some hand dryers can cause.

But do the studies paint a clear picture of whether or not hand dryers are sanitary? No.

You have to also consider how these studies were taken. Factors such as the overall design of the hand dryer, its power, and its location impact how hygienic it can be.

Learn more about how hygienic hand dryers may or may not be in our blog: Are Hand Dryers Sanitary? 

So if hand dryers can spread germs, are paper towels a more sanitary alternative?

Paper towel dispenser and hand dryer in a public washroom.

How hygienic are paper towels? 

The WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care recommends single-use paper towels for health care workers. And if it’s recommended for health care, it should be good enough for your facility right?

If you want to stop bacteria from dispersing in your facilities’ bathrooms, paper towels are a good product to choose. They will spread less bacteria into the air than hand dryers and will probably make the people who use your facility happy as they are often the preferred hand drying method.

The European Tissue Paper Association (ETS) study of 4,000 people showed that 90% of men and 91% of women prefer using paper towels versus hand dryers.

But paper towels, much like hand dryers, can present their own problems simply because there are so many options available on the market. The type of towels you buy, where you buy them, and the dispenser you use can also impact the spread of germs.

For example, one global study analyzing paper towel samples from around the world found the dirtiest paper towels in Paris, where 99% of unused paper towels contain bacteria. Not far behind was New York with 88 % and then Chicago with 70%. In comparison, Shanghai, China had only 45%.

Some things to think about when choosing paper towels for your facility include:

1. Paper quality

Have you ever been in a bathroom at a gas station and gone to dry your hands only to have the paper towels fall apart as soon as a drop of water gets on them so you need to use about 20 of them to get your hands dry. But then you use the public bathroom at a fancy restaurant in your neighborhood and 2 sheets dry your hands without a problem.

This is because paper towels come in a lot of different qualities. High-quality paper is often more expensive than low-quality paper as you would expect. However, the higher-quality paper has greater suction capability (it can absorb more water), which often means people need to use less of it.

A higher quality paper choice not only provides a better user experience and dries hands better, but it can also be more economical in the long run.

2. Selection of dispenser

For paper towels to be used hygienically, you need a good dispenser solution.

Paper towel dispensers come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and are designed for different types of paper. If you are thinking of using paper towel sheets, you might want to choose a  dispenser with an opening that only releases one sheet at a time, as it will be a more economical and sustainable choice.

For example, Tork paper towel dispensers are designed to withstand wet environments, reducing bacteria and supporting effective hand hygiene practices.

tork paper towel dispenser

You also want to consider the design of your dispenser. Paper towel dispensers are often designed with a transparent window at the front. This makes it easy for you to keep track of how many are being used and helps you know when it needs to be refilled.

Paper towels vs hand dryers: Environmental impact

Another factor to consider when choosing whether to use hand dryers or paper towels is their environmental impact.

While this does not impact hygiene, it is important to choose a hand-drying solution that aligns with your company values and that considers the environmental impacts.

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Calculate your cost savings and impact to the environment

See how much money you could be saving in your washroom by switching from Paper Towels to the Pebble+ Hand Dryer.

Take two minutes to try our hand drying cost savings calculator to see how much you can save in expenses and annual carbon emissions.

Cost savings calculator for hand drying with the Pebble+ hand dryer

Hand dryers typically last around seven to ten years. They will often have a lower environmental impact than paper towels because while they require a fair amount of initial energy investment in manufacturing, their lifetime helps offset this.

The majority of a hand dryer’s environmental impact comes from the electrical consumption to run and be left on standby.

It should come as no surprise that in comparison, paper towels far worse for the environment. There is more to consider than simply use and waste, but also you need to take into account the production, transportation, and disposal.

Paper towels are single-use products that must be restocked and disposed of. Therefore, their carbon footprint is bigger. And it’s not just greenhouse gas emmissions to think of. The pulping process for creating paper towels is energy-intensive and can result in pollutants entering nearby waterways.

Hand dryers vs paper towels: Which should you choose?

All of the above might read as a bit doom and gloom. So, there is no perfect answer to whether or not paper towels are better than hand dryers. While neither one is perfect, they both do help stop the spread of bacteria in comparison to walking around with wet hands.

When choosing the right hand-drying solution for your facility you need to look at all the options available to you and what your end user wants.

Some hand-drying solutions are better than others because they spread fewer bacteria. And some paper towels are better than others because they are more absorbent.

If you are still on the fence about what solution will work best for your facility, we recommend taking a look at the Pebble+. This is a new type of hand dryer that removes bacteria in the air, eliminating many of the problems that many other hand dryers cause.

What should you look for when considering hand drying options?

The great debate of hand drying is: paper or machine?

While studies differ on which one is more effective from a hygiene standpoint, there are other criteria like cost, carbon footprint and foot traffic to take into account when selecting the best hand drying technology for public washrooms.

Let’s start with the cons of each option:

Paper Towel Hand Drying Air Blowing Hand Dryers
Using paper is less eco-friendly.

Paper waste creates more work for maintenance and janitorial staff to clean up (especially in busy public restrooms).

Paper towels need to be continually filled.

Commercial hand dryers may break down over time if they don’t have regular maintenance.

Some commercial hand dryer models may contain germs and bacteria if not professionally sanitized at regular intervals.

For professional sanitization and maintenance services of commercial hand dryers, inquire here.

There are several things that any restroom maintenance manager needs to consider when making the hand drying decisions for a restroom.

When looking at paper towel options, you’ll need to consider:

  • How efficient and eco-friendly are your hand drying options in a busy restroom?
  • How many janitorial staff do you have on hand to clean up the paper that inevitably lands on the floor around the waste bin.
  • Does your restroom design include space for bulky waste paper bins?
  • Are you looking to decrease absenteeism through reducing contact with contaminated materials?

When exploring commercial hand dryer options, there are some different considerations

  • How noisy is the machine – and how close to the offices are the restrooms?
  • How economic is it to operate these machines regularly on a budget?
  • How successful is your hand dryer at eliminating germs from the air in a busy public restroom?

The Pebble+: A Game-Changer in Public Restroom Hygiene

If the technology existed to dry hands at the same time as eliminating germs and bacteria from the air in public washrooms, would you use it?

Take a look at the splash Citron Hygiene has made with our new hand drying technology that

How to equip your washrooms with the best hand dryer

Citron Hygiene is dedicated to providing public and workplace washrooms with an elevated hygiene experience.

Our hand hygiene solutions target 80% of the cold and flu germs that spread by our hands – which means that you’ll be able to help keep your colleagues healthy during the cold and flu season to avoid a major impact on revenue caused by sick leaves.

We’d love to hear from you about your particular restroom needs. How can we elevate your experience today? Speak with a Citron Hygiene representative to schedule a free professional consultation today.

The Pebble+: A Game-Changer in Public Restroom Hygiene

If the technology existed to dry hands at the same time as eliminating germs and bacteria from the air in public washrooms, would you use it?

Take a look at the splash Citron Hygiene has made with our new hand drying technology that really does eliminate germs from the air of even the busiest public restrooms: The Pebble+.

A high-quality, eco-friendly, low-cost option now exists to help stop the spread of contagious illnesses in public restroom settings by removing bacteria from the air with specialized technology

The Pebble+ is a hand dryer that removes bacteria in the air. With advanced hygiene protocols that are energy-efficient, and good for the planet, developed with best-in-class engineering, it’s one of the most sanitary methods for drying your hands.

Local air sterilization and UV-C disinfection on the dryer work to remove 99.9% of bacteria. Not only is it good for your hand hygiene, but it’s also good for the planet and your business’s bottom line. It has a low environmental impact and produces 90% less CO2 compared to other conventional dryers, offering a paperless, high-efficiency, sustainable solution.

To get a bit technical, it works to sterilize the air with an intelligent H13 filter and is TUV SUD-certified for the removal of bacteria and viruses from the air around it.

Discover more about the science and technology that the Pebble+ uses: https://www.citronhygiene.com/solutions/hand-drying-solutions/pebble-plus/

If you want some of these dryers at your workplace or in school bathrooms, Pebble+ are now exclusively available through Citron Hygiene in a first-of-its-kind full-service rental program where businesses can avail of their hand dryers for a monthly fee without a significant upfront capital outlay.

Check out our range of commercial hand drying solutions below –


  1. Why is hand drying important?
    Hand drying is essential because wet hands are more likely to spread bacteria than dry hands. Proper hand drying can prevent the spread of germs effectively.
  2. Are all hand dryers unhygienic?
    No, while some old-fashioned commercial hand dryers might collect and disperse bacteria, modern hand dryers like the Pebble+ by Citron Hygiene are designed to eliminate germs from the air.
  3. What are the benefits of using the Pebble+ hand dryer?
    The Pebble+ uses a combination of UV lighting, silver ions, HEPA filters, and more to ensure hands are dried hygienically while also cleaning the air, making it an eco-friendly and germ-killing solution.
  4. Paper towels vs. hand dryers: Which is better?
    While some studies favor paper towels for their drying efficiency and germ elimination, hand dryers, especially modern ones, offer benefits in terms of cost, sustainability, and hygiene.
  5. How can I ensure the best hand hygiene in public restrooms?
    Investing in modern hand drying technology, regular maintenance, and professional sanitization are key to ensuring optimal hand hygiene in public restrooms.

Find out how we can elevate your washroom experience today.

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