WEB EXCLUSIVE: Paper Towels vs. Air Dryers
This web exclusive comes from Dave Mesko, senior director of marketing for Cintas Corporation.
With nearly 85% of adults washing their hands after using the restroom, hand washing rates are at an all-time high, according to an observational study conducted by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute. For years, proper hand hygiene has been a topic of concern in hospitals, schools, restaurants, and office facilities with more awareness campaigns happening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports Global Hand washing Day and dedicates an entire day to raise awareness of global hand washing.
By now, most are familiar with standard hand washing procedure; wet hands with warm water, apply soap, lather, scrub hands for 20 seconds (which is the same timing as humming the “Happy Birthday” song), rinse hands for 10 seconds, dry hands and turn off tap with paper towel.
But several factors alter the effectiveness of hand washing, especially the method used to dry hands. When faced with the decision of offering paper towels or air dryers, facility managers have several factors to consider that can make or break the end result of hand hygiene.
Research completed by the University of Westminster measured differences in bacteria levels after people dried their hands with paper towels and air dryers. The study revealed air dryers increase the average level of bacteria on finger pads by 194% and 254% on palms. This significant increase in bacteria levels creates serious issues in the foodservice industry where bacteria on hands can contaminate food.
Similar issues exist in the medical field, where patients are placed at increased risk of hospital acquired infections (HAIs) with higher levels of bacteria. Conversely, bacteria levels decreased by 76% on finger pads and 77% on palms when paper towels were used.
High power or “jet” air dryers were also shown to increase the average level of bacteria, but it was significantly lower compared to standard air dryers. However, the increased power associated with “jet” air dryers has the ability to spread germs throughout the restroom. Tests revealed measurable bacteria levels more than six feet away from the “jet” air dryer.
In addition to spreading germs, air dryers take a considerable amount of time longer to dry hands compared to paper towels. A standard dryer requires more than 40 seconds of hand drying for hands to be 95% dry. In comparison, paper towels take around 10 seconds to dry 95% of the hand surface.
Many people do not take the time required to dry hands when using an air dryer, which leaves restroom visitors with damp hands. As a commonly known notion, bacteria and germs thrive in damp areas. Without taking the necessary time to dry hands, the susceptibility to spread germs significantly increases.
Paper towels enable users to dry hands quickly and efficiently, resulting in healthy patrons and a cleaner restroom environment. Likewise, a study completed by Georgia-Pacific Professional and a housekeeping publication revealed a preference for paper towels over air dryers.
But not all paper towels are equal. When selecting paper towels, select ones that are strong and textured to help absorb more water and germs, which results in cleaner hands. To reduce the spread of germs further, install hands-free dispensers close to sinks so paper towels are easily accessible for patrons. Finally, implement frequent restroom checks to ensure paper towels remain stocked at all times.