Hand Dryers Versus Paper Towels in Public Restrooms

By Andrew Smith

  • Overview

    You've just finished washing your hands in a public restroom and you go to dry your hands. Then, you find that you have two options to choose from. You can either dry your hands using paper towels or with a hand dryer. Here are some things you should think about before making your choice.
  • Types

    There are two basic types of hand dryers found in public restrooms. One kind will automatically turn on if you move your hands underneath the chute. The other kind needs to be turned on by pressing a button. Most hand dryers will run for about 20 to 30 seconds. Paper towels can be retrieved in the same manner. Newer machines allow you to get a paper towel by waving your hand in front of a "red eye" that is located on the paper towel machine. For others, you need to press down on a button in order to get paper towels. Other paper towel machines keep a lone paper towel at the bottom which you can grab. When you grab the towel, another one is released and hangs down in place of the towel you took.
  • Benefits

    Hand dryers eliminate the waste caused by discarded paper towels. Many public restrooms have hand dryers set in a low place on the wall so that kids can dry their hands without assistance. Some people will choose to use a hand dryer simply because it feels nice on their hands. Paper towels allow you to dry off your entire hand without having to turn a machine back on. Paper towels are also very convenient if you need to wipe something off, such as a stain on your pants. A hand dryer would be no help in that situation.


  • Misconceptions

    Paper towels located in dispensers in public restrooms may be made from recycled materials, making the towels not as bad for the environment as you may believe. Hand dryers are not necessarily "green," either. That all depends on how much energy is used each time the machine turns on. Some individuals worry that bacteria grows on the inside of hand dryers, making them a health risk. A study published by the Mayo Clinic in 2000, though, showed that to not be the case (see Resources below).
  • Warning

    Not everybody who uses public restrooms washes their hands as they should (or at all). Because of this fact, hand dryers and paper towel dispensers with push-buttons may be filled with bacteria and germs. You should always remind children that a hand dryer is not a toy. Many kids like to stand underneath the dryer with the air blowing on their heads or faces. This could be very uncomfortable after a couple of seconds and even cause a slight burn if the child has sensitive skin.
  • Expert Insight

    In reality, it doesn't matter a whole lot whether you use a hand dryer or paper towel dispenser while in a public restroom. After all, there is no 100 percent guaranteed way to keep yourself free of germs and bacteria while out in public. Remember that you'll be opening a door to the restroom right after you dry your hands and you don't know who touched the door handle last. Neither a hand dryer nor a paper towel dispenser in a public restroom should keep you from walking out with wet hands. Those who are extremely concerned about germs should simply use a hand disinfectant upon leaving the restroom.
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