Hand dryers vs paper towels: which is more sanitary?

hand dryers vs paper towels graphic

Hand dryers vs paper towels? It’s a question that will come up when you’re planning your company or facility’s hygiene strategy. 

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. 

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. 

Bacteria are more likely to be transmitted from wet skin than from dry skin. Proper hand drying is therefore an important part of the hand hygiene process in any commercial facility. 

So let’s jump into the research and see if we can conclude once and for all, which is better, hand dryers or paper towels. 

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. 

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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. 

The hand dryer that removes bacteria in the air

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.

Find out how we can elevate your washroom experience today.

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