Hand Dryers vs. Paper Towels in the Spread of Bacteria in Hospital Bathrooms

By David Weinstein

hand dryer vs. paper towels

Hand dryers have been considered an environmentally-friendly hygienic solution to hand drying, however a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut at Quinnipiac University have found that is not the case. In fact, their research points to quite the opposite conclusion—that hand dryers in public restrooms actually spread bacteria onto freshly cleaned hands.

Scientists exposed petri dishes to ambient bathroom air and compared the results to petri dishes that had been exposed to bathroom hand dryer air. The comparison showed that the hand dryer petri dishes had on average 50 times more bacteria colonies growing.

At first, the researchers questioned whether the bacteria were colonizing inside the machines, however after testing it was found that hand dryers were pulling bacteria from the ambient bathroom air and concentrating it onto freshly washed hands.

While the study’s results may sound alarming, it is important to note that the majority of bacteria cultures detected in the study were harmless to healthy people in everyday environments. However, greater caution is needed in hospital environments, as the researchers found Clostridium difficile, Staphylococcus aureus, and Acinetobacter to be present—all known to be infectious threats in hospital settings.

Paper Towels Minimize Bacterial Contamination

A separate study, which compared 120 hospital bathroom samples over a 12-week period across three hospitals, found that bacterial contamination was lower in bathrooms where paper towels were used instead of hand dryers. Moreover, the research found that hand dryers aggressively spread methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), finding it six times more frequently than when paper towels were used. The authors of the study clearly support the use of traditional paper towels over hand dryers, stating “hand-drying method(s) affects the risk of (airborne) dissemination of bacteria in real world settings.”

The information in these studies should be actionable for hospitals around the world. Paper towels should be the default hand drying method to help decrease the spread of infectious disease. Moreover, hospital personnel should implement systems that restock paper towel supplies so that staff are always properly equipped. Additionally, administrative staff should evaluate paper towel brands to find cost-effective and environmentally-friendly products.

Adopting Hand Sanitation Best Practices

When trying to control the spread of infectious disease in a hospital setting, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. It may seem obvious to forgo using hand dryers in favor of paper towels; however, that still may not be enough to properly mitigate the risk of spreading infectious disease.

Employers, nurses and building staff should work together to support a network of conveniently placed sinks, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, lotion dispensers and hand sanitizer dispensers—ensuring that they are always stocked.

It is always best for staff to fully wash hands in a sink with anti-bacterial soap and to dry hands with paper towels, although alcohol-based agents may be used in specific situations between washes. It is important to note that alcohol-based solutions are less effective if the manufacturer’s instructions are not followed and if the solution is not fully applied to the entire hand.

Moreover, some health care professionals may dislike the drying effects of alcohol-based solutions and may choose to use these products less often. For this reason, healthcare-grade lotions should be available to staff so that they don’t use personal moisturizers and do not forgo using alcohol-based solutions.

A Modern Solution to Hand Hygiene

At Vitalacy, we’re not reinventing the way hands get washed, but we are building modern technological solutions that help staff adhere to hand hygiene protocols and help facilities to keep critical products stocked. Our Smart Dispense solution tracks dispenser activity and can notify personnel for product refills. Workflow Monitoring counts every patient room entry and exit along with hand-hygiene event frequencies. Individual Reporting gathers individual hand-hygiene events using a Bluetooth-enabled smart bracelet.

Evidence-based research helps shed light on the ongoing battle against infectious disease, but it’s up to staff and employers to turn scientific findings into actionable policy.

Together, we can help mitigate the spread of infectious disease.

David Weinstein is an American born researcher who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. After studying biology at UCLA he went on to focus on emerging IoT protocols, specifically around distributed mesh networks. He also focuses on the application of artificial intelligence in medicine. He studied Biology at UCLA.




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