Electric dryers or disposable hand towels?

Which is the most hygienic method? What role do beliefs and prejudice play in determining that “feeling of cleanliness”?


If washing one’s hands is a foundationally important gesture in daily life, drying them properly is just as important. It is an established fact that bacteria are transmitted more readily in the presence of wet skin. Based on this conviction, Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis back in the 19th century obtained important results in terms of post-natal maternal health by obliging doctors to pay scrupulous attention to washing their hands. And still today for the World Health Organization, washing hands is a strategic asset for maintaining high standards of hygiene.


And if it is true that in the most developed countries washing hands is now a routine, the new challenge begins just one second after turning off the tap: drying them.


What is best to use, disposable hand towels or electric hand dryers?

Many official studies tip the scale in favor of paper, like the works of Dr. Huang published in the “Mayo Clinic Proceeding Journal”: paper is the best instrument because it allows drying hands more effectively, removing bacteria and preventing contamination of the surrounding environment. Indeed, from a hygienic point of view, paper towels are superior to electric hand dryers because they do not spread germs in the air. Their use is recommended above all in places where hygiene is fundamental such as clinics and hospitals.


Another aspect to consider is the time factor. According to the findings of microbiologists from the University of Westminster in London, electric hand dryers need about 45 seconds to dry hands. An eternity if we consider that the average “patience” span for women is around 13 seconds, while men do not go beyond 17 seconds. A disposable hand towel allows 96%-effective drying in just 12 seconds!


In all this, the role of beliefs and of the perception of cleanliness has a major influence. Air-drying with a strong jet generates a skin reaction that leads to a sensation of absolute “dryness”. For this reason, a good rolled or folded hand towel must guarantee total absorbency, yielding a sensation of complete dryness. Marketing and communication can do much but the tactile sensation of drying – and hence a specific requirement of product innovation – remains important in diffusing good hygienic practices.


But in all cases, in order not to negate the positive effect of proper drying, it is essential to dispose of used paper by emptying waste bins and containers on a regular basis.