Hand dryers or paper towels- what is the most hygienic way to dry my hands?
In light of the recent pandemic, hand hygiene has never been higher on the public radar. Rated as one of the best forms of protection from contamination and illness, hand hygiene needs to be a priority for those returning to the office post Lockdown.
One part of the handwashing process that is often overlooked is drying your hands - in a busy working world, some may opt to abandon paper towels or hand-dryers entirely for a few quick shakes to stop the drips. The NHS advise against this - even when in a rush, drying your hands is an essential part of the hand hygiene process. Leaving your hands to drip-dry only increases the risk of spreading germs around the office.
With more people hyper-aware of hand hygiene now than ever, it’s important that office washrooms have the best hand-drying facilities possible, to help staff feel safe and comfortable in the workplace.
According to research by the World Health Organisation, 80% of infections are transmitted by touch. To reduce the spread of bacteria, incorporating touch-free facilities into office washroom design is widely advised - particularly sensor-activated taps and automatic toilet flushes. There are also touch-free hand drying facilities available, including the popular Dyson Airblade, which have been approved for use by the World Health Organisation and the British Government throughout the pandemic. Low maintenance and powerful, sensor-activated hand-drying facilities reduce the amount of waste usually generated by paper towels.
However, recent research has suggested that, although touch-free, hand-dryers can do more harm than good - with some suggesting that they can spread germs around the bathroom and back onto us with airpower alone. For many, paper towels remain the reliable alternative - not only do they dry your hands quicker than a hand-dryer, but they also remove more bacteria, reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
It’s worth noting that these claims are still up for debate - in more recent studies, no significant difference in hand hygiene between the use of paper towels and hand-dryers has been found. Interestingly, some of the studies raising concerns about the hygiene risks of hand-dryers were in fact sponsored by paper towel companies - which may suggest an ulterior motive.
Whilst paper towels have been proven to be the most time-efficient way to dry wet hands, they have a few obvious downsides, the major one being the large amounts of waste they produce when compared to hand-dryers. Additionally, paper towel dispensers have to be restocked regularly, whereas, once installed, hand-dryers can be left alone. Hand towels may well be the cheaper option, but in terms of ease of use, they require the most hands-on maintenance. Paper towel dispensers themselves, as well as wet paper towels left in bins, also remain hot spots for germs and bacteria.
Touch-free hand-dryers aren’t themselves free from risk - with some running slower than others, those in a rush may not properly dry their hands. Hand-dryers can also disperse water - it’s suggested that users shake their hands over the sink before use.
It is very useful to know that recent research from Doctor David L Webber, an independent microbiologist, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that hand-dryers do not contribute to the spread of coronavirus.
It may be that a combinationof both hand-dryers and paper towels can be used in office washroom design once staff return to work post-Lockdown to ensure you are catering for all your team's requirements..
In summary, since both hand-dryers and paper towels have their own advantages and disadvantages, it’s best to give employees the option to choose their preferred hand-drying method. The key to good hand hygiene practice is thorough washing and drying - it is essential, regardless of the chosen method, that staff dry their hands completely before returning to their desks, as wet hands are more likely to transfer germs. Helping employees feel comfortable with their hand drying option is more likely to result in a thorough regular practice and subsequently increased hand hygiene around the office.