electric hand dryers vs. paper towels

This or That: Paper Towels vs. Electric Hand Dryers

Your hands are dripping wet, but what’s the healthy, ecofriendly way to dry them?

This or That: Paper Towels vs. Electric Hand Dryers

Are paper towels a better choice than hot-air hand dryers?

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Do swine flu worries or allergy-driven sneezes have you washing your hands more often than usual? That’s probably a good thing, since washing your hands frequently is a very effective way to prevent the spread of germs. But then you have to dry them off, and if you’re in a public restroom, that may leave wondering about the best option: paper towels or electric hot-air dryer?

This: Electric Hand Dryer

Pros: They’re efficient and they’re sanitary—and the newer models, at least, are fast. Old hand dryers required as much as 45 seconds to dry your hands (a hard sell compared to paper towels that wipe away water in a few seconds). But newer, hyperefficient dryers blast your hands dry in as little as 8 to 10 seconds. As for keeping your hands germ-free, a 2000 study from the Mayo Clinic found no difference between air dryers and paper towels at removing bacteria from wet hands.

Cons: Although new models have drastically cut down on electricity use, standard hand dryers use as much as 2,200 watts of power, making them a big drain on energy resources.

That: Paper Towels

Pros: They’re fast, they’re efficient, you don’t have to stand in one place, and they provide a convenient barrier between you and germy surfaces like faucet and door handles.

Cons: Unless the operator of your public restroom has a particularly strong environmental conscience, chances are the paper towels are made from virgin paper fibers and not recycled content. It takes a very large amount of energy to turn that raw fiber into paper, and if the towels are bleached, the process also involves polluting the environment. Plus, towels are messy, in many cases winding up on the floor and not in a trash bin, leading to unsanitary conditions.

Filed Under: THIS OR THAT

Published on: May 5, 2009

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I think I'll prefer the electric hand dryer. Aside from being a peak potential of being efficient, it is more sanitary than the paper towels.

Many thanks for this

Many thanks for this oh so informative article. This is a question I've pondered for years and it always seemed an ecological 'wash' for me (no pun intended). Glad to finally get the straight scoop.Electric Showers


Paper towels should definitely be an option in public restrooms, since most people use them for purposes other than just drying their hands.


Is it really more Eco friendly to use a 20 amp dryer? That's a ton of power and making electricity isn't always Eco friendly.

paper towels and electric driers

I find this report quite fascinating, but one of the things that so many people OVERLOOK in evaluating washing methodology are of course the CHRONIC NON-hand-washers.
Taking the comparison myself, and struggled with the amount of time I have spent in front of a hand dryer waiting.. WAITing, and walking away with still damp hands, I cannot count how often. More often than not, I have looked around the washroom discouraged not seeing paper towel anywhere. I of course, endure the electric blower, but SO many, I am sure out of frustration, walk right past them, not bothering to wash at all.

Latest concern? Paper towel users DO like to use the damp towel to wipe the handle of the door as they open it as another way of staying clean. THe electric dryers disable this procedure entirely. There we have the NON-washers leaving germs behind, and the part-dryers touching the handles getting them wet, conveying the germs to everyone.

Got an answer for this one??


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