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.


  1. When I am in a place with a revolting smell I to want out ASAP. Paper or air dry is not as big a deal as getting me fresh air to breath. This is a vote for paper if you are slow…

  2. I’m no microbiologist, but isn’t it true the presence of bacteria alone doesn’t pose a threat? Certain types of bacteria are harmful, and certain types are necessary for human survival. The characterization as bacteria always being harmful is in itself harmful.

  3. Regardless of which is better for removing germs. The simple fact is that air driers take longer (yes, even the turbo ones) and if you only put these in the restroom, people will reduce hand washing just because it takes more time.

    You have to include the human element into bathroom design and equipment. We have sinks after the door and prior to the toilets. This way people have to physically walk past the sink. Towels are on the wall closer to the door with a bin below so people can use the towel to open the door and then dispose of it in the bin as they walk out.

  4. Alot of people use paper towels to open the washroom door when they exit and then dispose of the paper towel in a rubbish bin placed by the door. Everyone knows alot of people don’t wash their hands, and leave their germs on door handles etc…How does the area drier perform better than a paper towel in this situation.?

  5. LOL at Jet Dryer!!!! Which paper companies? I’d like to thank them for doing their part to spread truth,as opposed to “watermelon” propaganda. Tell me, where can I find the Jet Dryer-funded study that compares their product to paper towels? Surely there is one….right?

    • The University of Westminster paper was for the European Tissue Symposium and Georgia-Pacific is a paper manufacturer. Google: Effects of 4 Hand-Drying Methods for Removing Bacteria From Washed Hands: A Randomized Trial
      This study was done by some doctors at the Mayo Clinic. It says it doesn’t matter what you use.

  6. Jet Dryer Hand Dryers use antibacterial filters and antibacterial fragrances to reduce bacteria on the hands
    Drying them without heated air and in seconds.
    Some of these reports/studies were paid for by paper companies

    • Jet Dryer.. you are correct in the factory installed filters. But no one know how many hand dries per filter and whent to change them. Furthermore … no one EVER changes these filters. You need to look inside these units at the urine crystals that form on the filters. The bacteria are thrown away with the paper towels.. not breeding inside the air dryer.

  7. It has been proven since the 1930s that paper towels remove an additional 20% of “germs” from hands. So who is going to let the public know this information on a repetitive basis.

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