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It’s been estimated that less than 5% of us do this after visiting the restroom, but let’s assume that we’ve scrubbed our hands for the 20 seconds recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.  In most public restrooms, you’ll find paper towels and perhaps a choice of a warm air or a jet air dryer.  At your place of work you may be using cloth towels, which round out the four main methods for hand drying away from home.  Towels, of course, dry hands by absorbing moisture; a warm air dryer evaporates the water; and a jet air dryer displaces the water from your hands.

A review of these options can be framed by cost, environmental or sustainability considerations, and effective hygiene.  Here’s a brief rundown.  It isn’t all-inclusive, but hopefully it will spur you to ask the right questions the next time your facilities services representative visits.


Towels dry hands quicker and more thoroughly than air dryers.  Per a recent Mayo Clinic study1, you can remove 96% of the moisture from your hands in ten seconds with a towel.  Achieving maximum dryness is important from a hygienic perspective, because the damper your hands after drying, the more bacteria remain and the more easily transmitted they are.  An air dryer can take up to 40 seconds to achieve the same dryness.  The study found that paper towels were most effective at removing bacteria from hands and that air dryers can actually transfer bacteria to the hands and the immediate area.

However, the convenience and better hygiene of towels comes with a price:  Although you avoid the up-front investment -- which can be significant, especially with a jet air dryer -- towels are more costly over the long term and are less friendly to the environment than a jet air dryer.

Air Dryers

Air dryers can be costly to purchase and install.  You may need multiple units for peak time usage and may want to back them up with towels anyway.  While the warm air dryer is not high on the sustainability scale due to its high power consumption, the jet air dryer is more environmentally friendly because it does not require heat.  Maintenance experience is quite good, so ongoing expense is mainly attributed to utility cost.  Air dryers are not recommended in places demanding the highest hand hygiene standards, such as health care and food preparation settings, because the air stream disperses bacteria into the environment.

Take Aways

  • Depending upon the specific handwashing situation, you might want to employ a different option to take advantage of the particular benefits each offers.  Talk to your facilities services representative for more in-depth information.
  • The hidden costs of hand hygiene – such as missed work with minor illnesses – make it important in all situations.



  1.  The Hygienic Efficacy of Different Hand-Drying Methods: A Review of the Evidence; Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2012.        

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