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Paper Towels vs. Hand Dryers: Which is The More Hygienic Choice?

Person drying hands with paper towel

Hand drying is an important part of hand hygiene and can easily become overlooked. Since some people believe the germ-killing takes part in the sink with water and soap, it is often forgotten that drying your hands is just as important as washing them. Did you know that drying your hands effectively can kill more germs compared to not drying them all the way or just simply skipping the step? That’s right. The better you dry your hands after washing them, the more germs that are killed making your hands cleaner.

Drying helps to remove moisture from the hands, which can prevent the spread of bacteria and other viruses post-hand wash. So basically, the less water and moisture you have left on your hands after drying them, the less germs will be spread. There are two main methods of hand drying in high traffic places such as businesses, stores, gyms, and other large facilities: single-use paper towels and hand dryers.

While both methods can be effective, there is growing evidence that paper towels can be the more hygienic choice for drying our hands. This is because paper towels physically remove bacteria from the hands, while hand dryers can blow bacteria back into the air, where it can settle on surfaces and be spread to other people and surfaces. Yuck!

Here are some examples of the growing evidence showing that paper towels are the more hygienic option when it comes to drying your hands:

Paper Towels

  • Drying your hands with a paper towel can reduce bacteria on hands by up to 77%.
  • The rubbing process of paper towels physically removes bacteria along with moisture.
  • Faced with a choice of drying methods, 90% of people chose paper towels over jet air dryers in the restroom.
  • Paper towels are the recommended hand-drying method of the World Health Organization (WHO) “Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care.”
  • Given the strong preference for using paper towels, hand hygiene adherence would possibly decrease if paper towels were not available in washrooms, according to a review article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Hand Dryers

  • Using a jet air dryer dispersed 1,300 times more germ particles than drying with paper towels.
  • The inner surfaces of jet air dryers can harbor up to 48 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.
  • Coliform bacteria were found on 52% of jet air dryers tested.
  • Jet air dryers can increase the bacteria on fingers by up to 42%.
  • When drying your hands with a jet air dryer, water droplets that could contain bacteria and germs are expelled into the air, traveling as far as 6.5 feet, and lingering in the air for up to 15 minutes.

It may seem like the more environmentally friendly way to dry our hands is to use the hand dryer, but according to the evidence and research, we can spread more germs using the hand dryer compared to using a single-use paper towel. If using single-use paper towels poses a concern for the environment, there are alternative ways to help protect the planet such as:

  • Recycling more
  • Carpooling to work or school
  • Using energy-efficient light bulbs
  • Using less single-use plastic

Kimberly-Clark is a leading company that offers paper towels and paper towel dispensers. Kimberly-Clark’s brands of paper towels are known for their high quality, durability, and are also very absorbent. They can dry hands quickly and thoroughly no matter the circumstance. W.B. Mason carries a wide variety of paper towel options from Kimberly-Clark’s family of brands, including:

Kimberly-Clark also offers a variety of paper towel dispensers that are designed to be hygienic and easy to use. For example, the Kimberly-Clark Professional Scott Slimfold Towel Dispenser is touch-free, which helps to prevent the spread of germs. Here are a few more of our favorites:

In addition to the information above, here are some other reasons why paper towels are more hygienic for drying hands compared to hand dryers:

  • Paper towels are less likely to be contaminated with bacteria than hand dryers are. This is because paper towels are single use, while hand dryers are used by many people throughout the day.
  • Paper towels are more effective at drying hands than hand dryers. This is important because wet hands are more likely to spread bacteria.
  • Paper towels are less likely to cause skin irritation than hand dryers. The hot air or jet air from hand dryers can be drying and irritating to the skin, especially if you use them all the time either at work or school.

If you are looking for the most hygienic way to dry your hands, using single-use paper towels is the way to go, according to recent evidence provided to us by Kimberly-Clark. Kimberly-Clark offers a variety of high-quality paper towels and paper towel dispensers to meet your needs, so stock up today on some of the most absorbent paper towels and touch free dispensers today. Keep those hands clean and dry, folks!

For more information and for references, please see the graphics from Kimberly-Clark below: