Published on July 21, 2022

Are Hand Dryers Making Your Hands Dirty?

Washing your hands helps to prevent you from getting sick. What if the hand dryers that you are using to dry your hands after you wash them are putting bacteria right back on them?

In an effort to eliminate touch points, and be more environmentally aware, many businesses and organizations have turned to using hand dryers in their restrooms as opposed to paper towels. However, a study published by Cambridge University suggests that this might not be a good idea.

We touch a lot of different things throughout the day and are exposed to a lot of bacteria and germs. The best practice for staying healthy and eliminating those germs is hand washing. It is important that you wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day and especially in certain situations such as after going to the bathroom and before eating. We have always been taught good hand washing etiquette and told that improper hand washing is what leads to the spread of bacteria, but maybe the bigger problem that we should be looking at is if hand dryers are the best method for drying our hands after washing them.

The results of the study showed that there were significantly more bacteria present on the individuals’ hands that were dried in a hand dryer than the ones that used paper towels. Additionally, all of the surfaces that were touched, in this study, after using the hand dryer displayed higher bacterial levels than the surfaces that were touched after paper towel use.

What does this mean for drying your hands from now on? What if there are only hand dryers available?

Tamara Binger, an infection preventionist here at Fisher-Titus, provided us with some advice about navigating hand dryers and some other important tips about hand washing.

“While it is something to consider when you are using public restrooms, you can still use a hand dryer and have relatively clean hands,” Binger said. “Germs spread more when your hands are wet, so it is more important that you dry your hands than how you choose to dry them. If a hand dryer does not completely dry your hands and you end up wiping them on your clothes to dry them completely, use some hand sanitizer to be sure that your hands are clean. Additionally, there are different types of hand dryers, and some require you to stick your hands in them. If you touch a hand dryer while you are drying your hands, you should use hand sanitizer after you finish drying them just to be sure your hands are still clean.”

Binger continues, “when you wash your hands, it is important that you wash the backs of your hands, in-between your fingers, under your nails, and up to at least your wrists. This should take you 15-20 seconds to do. Once you finish washing your hands, it is important that you avoid touching a dirty surface. If there are paper towels available, use one to turn off the faucet. If there are none, use a clean tissue, or clean piece of toilet paper to turn it off.”

Ultimately, there is no way to completely avoid the germs that are present in public restrooms, but it is important to be aware of ways that you can limit your exposure to them. No matter the bathroom situation, remember to carry hand sanitizer with you because you never know when you might need it.