When you use a public bathroom, you probably assume that using the hand dryer is the most hygienic option, right? You don’t have to go near the germ-filled garbage cans as you do when you use paper towels, and you’re cutting down on waste as well. Well, while that all sounds logical, it turns out it’s not exactly the case.
According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, jet air dryers spread 1,300 times more viral plaques than paper towels do. What’s more, because of the force of the air, the viruses can spread about 10 feet. Yikes!
If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around this statistic, one woman decided to put it to the test and posted the results on social media. Nichole Ward placed a petri dish in an enclosed hand dryer of a public bathroom for a total of three minutes. Check out what grew in the dish after just a few days:
“This is the several strains of possible pathogenic fungi and bacteria that you’re swirling around your hands, and you think you’re walking out with clean hands. You’re welcome,” she wrote.
Ward’s post has been shared more than 500,000 times.
A 2014 study published in The Journal of Hospital Infection compared the use of warm-air dryers, high-powered “jet-air” dryers or paper towels and found higher amounts of germs around both types of dryers than around towel dispensers. Jet-air dryers were found to be the worst, with bacteria levels in the air around them 4.5 times higher than around warm air dryers and 27 times higher than around paper towel dispensers.
However, not everyone is convinced that the hand dryers are as unsanitary as these studies would suggest. Dyson, the manufacturer of the hand dryer seen in Ward’s post, gave the following statement to ABC Action News: “We’re very surprised to see these results, and unclear on the methodology employed. All Dyson AirbladeTM hand dryers have HEPA filters that capture particles as small as bacteria from the washroom air before it leaves the machine. Dyson AirbladeTM hand dryers are proven hygienic by university research and are trusted by hospitals, food manufacturers and businesses worldwide.”
A 2000 study published by the Mayo Clinic, found no statistically significant hygienic difference between dryers and paper towels.
Whatever drying method you choose, it’s important to wash your hands properly in the first place to prevent the spread of germs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, you should wash your hand for at least 20 seconds. If you don’t have access to soap and water, you should at least use a hand sanitizer.