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Paper Towels Better Than Air Dryers to Stop Virus Spread

Paper Towels Better Than Air Dryers to Stop Virus Spread
  • The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant attention on handwashing and hygiene.
  • A new study has concluded that using paper towels is more effective than jet air dryers for removing germs when drying washed hands inefficiently.
  • The study group discovered there was a much higher level of environmental contamination after jet air dryer use.

A research which was recently published by U.K.-based scientists, and presented at the 2019 European Congress on Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, found that the use of paper towels is better than using jet air dryers for removing microbes when hands have not been properly washed.

There has been an ongoing debate over which hand-drying method is best, which must have begun shortly after the first air dryer was created in the 1920s. But the recent COVID-19 pandemic has brought a great focus on handwashing and hygiene.

“The problem starts because some people do not wash their hands properly,” according to the author Mark Wilcox, a University of Leeds microbiologist. “When people use a jet-air dryer, the microbes get blown off and spread around the restroom.”

Inadequately washed hands

The U.K.-based scientists conducted their research using a virus that infects bacteria and is harmless to humans, to four volunteers.

The participant’s hands weren’t washed after contamination to imitate poorly washed hands. Afterwards, they were dried with either paper towels or a jet air dryer.

“We often say that handwashing is crucial to preventing the spread of disease. Nonetheless, wet hands increase the risk of transmitting bacteria, so drying is an equally important step in prevention,” says care specialist Dr. Theresa Lash-Ritter .

Each volunteer was given an apron so that clothing contamination during hand-drying could be measured. Drying was done in a hospital public toilet and samples were collected from public areas after the participants exited. Virus samples were taken from areas that had doorknobs, chairs, phones, and clothing worn by the study participants.

Hand dryers don't just blow hot air

The study showed that both paper towels and hand dryers removed a large amount of bacteria, however later findings showed that there had been a much greater environmental contamination via air dryer use.

The results showed there were five times more virus disperse to clothing. Surface contamination was more than 10 times greater after air dryer use compared to paper towel use for hand drying.

According to the findings, germs can’t only be transferred directly from hands that are still contaminated after drying, but also from the same person’s body, which was contaminated by viruses blown by the air dryer.

The scientists support that the findings are relevant to controlling the SARS-CoV-2 virus that’s spreading worldwide, and that “paper towels should be the preferred way to dry hands after washing and so reduce the risk of virus contamination and spread.”

The results of the study can surely be questioned as there has only been few people taking part in it, however it has to be noted that this is the latest study among many more which discovered the same thing.

European study finds jet air dryers contaminate surfaces

Researchers in the UK, France and Italy created a team which would conduct a study to determine whether hand dryers or paper towels are the best in preventing microbes’ contamination and spread.

For a 4-week period, the scientists tracked how several bacteria known to cause disease in hospitals spread in numerous public restrooms of different hospitals. Each of the bathrooms taking part in the study, had both paper towels and air dryers, but only one hand-drying way was permitted per bathroom. This would allow them to compare how each drying method performed inside the same hospital.

The results showed that bathrooms using air dryers were covered with a larger number of germs than those where only paper towels were used.

“The dryer behaves as an aerosol that contaminates the restroom, including the dryer itself and in all probability other parts and appliances inside the room, depending on the dryer design and where it is installed” said Wilcox the supervisor of the study.

An older study concluded there was no difference

Another study that took place in 2000, used data from 100 participants and four different types of hand-drying:

  • cloth towels accessed by a rotary dispenser
  • paper towels from a stack on the handwashing sink
  • warm forced air from a mechanical hand-activated dryer
  • spontaneous room air evaporation

Those researchers concluded back then that there was no significant difference between hand-drying methods. However, they were only measuring the presence of certain bacteria and not viruses like SARS-CoV-2, which are likely to be carried farther.

The bottom line

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, routinely hands wash is a crucial practice to prevent infection.

However, non-proper handwashing can leave hands still contaminated with viruses. The above-mentioned research found that using air dryers to dry inadequately washed hands can spread bacteria and diseases on the clothing and surfaces too. This is why hand drying with paper towels is preferbale in public restrooms.