The Jewel of Infection Control
Over the past decade or so, the hand drying industry has been clashing over the prestigious title of the ‘King of Cleanliness’.
Some circles believe that paper towel is still considered to be the crown jewel of infection control among the hand drying methods used in public washrooms.
The advocates of air dryers believe that the paper towel crew are full of hot air and assert their method is best.
It appears that the age-old debate of paper towels versus air dryers may still be a bit murky and no one side has completely won the title.
Although there is research to support both sides of the hand drying debate, some consider these studies biased and more concerned about selling product and pushing their agenda-based propaganda rather than offering informed insights into the most hygienic practices.
However, solid and unbiased research studies do exist and offer best practices in which to guide infection control.
Putting aside the issues of environmental impact and cost savings for another time, public health considerations should be first and foremost in deciding whether to go paper or paperless.
The hands remain a breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria after handwashing.
Poor handwashing habits and harmful micro-organisms that can live for days on tap faucets and soap dispensers can significantly contribute to outbreaks of disease and illness.
The role of hand drying in infection control is often underestimated, yet plays a critical role in keeping these pathogens under control.
Various studies confirm that the actual physical removal of water with the aid of single-use, disposable paper towels are far superior in eliminating stubborn bacteria and preventing cross-contamination than air dryers.
Microbial testing has proven that significant amounts of germs are found on used paper towels after handwashing.
Further research concludes that paper towels spread the least amount of pathogens into the surrounding environment by containing these used paper towels within the waste bin.
Paper towels also play an important role in disease prevention with their use of turning off dirty taps and opening contaminated door handles.
This is a practice used by many patrons to help ward off infection that is lingering around common hot spots of contamination.
Air dryers, on the other hand, have been proven to be efficient propagators of disease. For instance, jet air dryers have the potential to disseminate bacteria to an area of up to two meters.
Traditional warm air dryers can disperse micro-organisms less than one meter away.
If there is the presence of E. Coli or Staphylococcus on patrons’ hands, the risk of infection to others increases dramatically, especially since the germs can remain suspended in the air for up to 15 minutes.
If you consider that the actual air dryer can also become a hot bed for bacterial growth due to users dripping contaminated water on the machine or the recirculation of bacteria in its airflow then you can appreciate the increased risk of illness among washroom patrons.
To counter this, new versions of air dryers have been fitted with HEPA filters that are said to remove up to 99% of bacteria and particulates in the air.
Despite these improvements, most air dryers still leave your hands damp which is the perfect scenario for transmitting infection since pathogens are more easily spread through wet hands.
Is There a Winner?
If you look strictly at infection control, it appears that paper towels may be the most powerful way to halt disease dissemination.
The friction that is required to manually dry hands with paper towels seems to be effective enough to remove the majority of bacteria that may still be lingering on patrons’ hands.
However, hand drying cannot be looked at in isolation. The whole cycle of vigorous hand washing and proper drying are a robust duo that will make public infection control a success.