Hand dryers can spread bacteria in public toilets, research finds

November 20, 2014
Credit: Tomwsulcer/Wikipedia

Modern hand dryers are much worse than paper towels when it comes to spreading germs, according to new University of Leeds research.

Scientists from the University of Leeds have found that high-powered 'jet-' and warm air hand dryers can spread in public toilets. Airborne germ counts were 27 times higher around jet air dryers in comparison with the air around paper towel dispensers.

The study shows that both jet and warm air hand dryers spread bacteria into the air and onto users and those nearby.

The research team, led by Professor Mark Wilcox of the School of Medicine, contaminated hands with a harmless type of bacteria called Lactobacillus, which is not normally found in public bathrooms. This was done to mimic hands that have been poorly washed.

Subsequent detection of the Lactobacillus in the air proved that it must have come from the hands during drying. The experts collected air samples around the hand dryers and also at distances of one and two metres away.

Air bacterial counts close to jet air dryers were found to be 4.5 times higher than around warm air dryers and 27 times higher compared with the air when using . Next to the dryers, bacteria persisted in the air well beyond the 15 second hand-drying time, with approximately half (48%) of the Lactobacilli collected more than five minutes after drying ended. Lactobacilli were still detected in the air 15 minutes after hand drying.

Professor Wilcox said: "Next time you dry your hands in a public toilet using an electric , you may be spreading bacteria without knowing it. You may also be splattered with bugs from other people's hands.

"These findings are important for understanding the ways in which bacteria spread, with the potential to transmit illness and disease."

The research, funded by the European Tissue Symposium, was published in the Journal of Hospital Infection and presented at the Healthcare Infection Society (HIS) International Conference in Lyon, France.

Explore further: Hand me a towel, it's more hygienic

More information: Microbiological comparison of hand-drying methods: the potential for contamination of the environment, user, and bystander" by Best et al. dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhin.2014.08.002

Related Stories

Hand me a towel, it's more hygienic

June 5, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Next time you wash your hands, it is worth remembering that it is more hygienic to dry your hands using paper towels than electric air dryers, according to a QUT-led study.

Recommended for you

new study that shows breastfeeding saves mothers' lives, too

September 28, 2016

Breastfeeding as recommended—for a total of one year and exclusively for six months—could protect babies and their moms from premature death and serious diseases and save the U.S. more than $4.3 billion in health care ...

9 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wiyosaya
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 20, 2014
I've had this sneaking suspicion that dyson is good at marketing but not so much so at making high-quality products. I hate to say this, but IMHO, they are the Bose of the vacuum/hand dryer/fan world.
pntaylor
1 / 5 (3) Nov 20, 2014
I've had this sneaking suspicion that dyson is good at marketing but not so much so at making high-quality products. I hate to say this, but IMHO, they are the Bose of the vacuum/hand dryer/fan world.

So, why do you post this here?
This article mentions no brand names.
pntaylor
5 / 5 (2) Nov 20, 2014
This information has been reported by several other studies, over the past 10 or so years.
However, this study lacks credibility, simply because who did it.
"The research, funded by the European Tissue Symposium..."
Obviously, they are not without bias.
Doug_Huffman
3 / 5 (2) Nov 20, 2014
Air dryers are a product in search of a market, a solution in search of a problem. Paper towels are recyclable and the paper phenols are demonstrated anti-bacterial.

I'll use my pocket before an air-dryer.
dogbert
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 20, 2014
I have always avoided the blower dryers. They forcefully blow air from the restroom (which may reasonably expected to be contaminated) on to your wet hands. The only reason people install them is to avoid the cost and effort of paper towels.

Lets not even discuss the painful sound pollution of most of these products.
verkle
Nov 20, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
verkle
Nov 20, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
barakn
5 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2014
Toilets produce bacteria- and virus-laden aerosols http://greenclean...2_13.pdf so anyone that uses bathroom air to dry their hands may just as well have washed their hands in the toilet bowl. I personally use the squeegee method whereby I use the thumb and forefinger of one hand to strip water off the other (repeated with both hands several time). This forces the last bits of dirty water down the sink drain. My hands are usually completely dry 20 feet out of the bathroom just by the natural swinging motion of my arms while walking. I open the door with my elbow when leaving where possible.
satanfornoreason
5 / 5 (2) Nov 20, 2014
I use them all of the time, and have found them useful and quick. Saves on lots of waste and cutting down of trees. I won't let one biased study move my opinion.

You know these things use electricity - which we get from burning coal or nuclear fission - right? So yes, it may save waste in the form of paper towels not being used, but paper towels decompose relatively quickly and trees can be replanted and regrown in a lifetime, but it takes millions of years to produce coal and hundreds of thousands of years for the waste from nuclear power plants to become non-radioactive. So your reasoning is not sound.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.