Electric hand dryers or paper towels? The University of Arizona study
When I was a kid, I loved to ride my bike. But my best friend, Javi, preferred to ride his scooter without motor (apparently he was ahead of his time). We were always arguing about which was better: my bike or his scooter. I, of course, defended bikes to the death and, as you can imagine, my friend Javi fiercely defended scooters, as was only normal. Each of us was trying to convince the other that we were right and we never reached a consensus on this issue. It was a tireless battle but it never came to blows.
Something similar is currently happening in my work life between my company, Mediclinics, and the paper industry. As experts in the design, manufacture and marketing of hot air hand dryers, Mediclinics defends, without a doubt, the use of electric hand dryers for drying hands, because we know perfectly well that they are very safe products (they incorporate antimicrobial technologies and HEPA filters that prevent the transmission of diseases) that are ecological (energy consumption is very low), efficient (they dry hands in between 8 and 15 seconds) and of high quality (we manufacture in an ISO 9001:2015 environment). On the other hand, paper manufacturers defend the use of paper towels for hand drying, as is only natural. So the question is: Who is right?
Nowadays, you can find endless reports that try to explain which of the two methods for drying hands is the best. Many proclaim paper as the winner, while others are in favour of electric hand dryers. It is the same as I explained at the beginning of this post: Who was right: my friend Javi or me? Which is the better mode of transport: a scooter or a bike? We are currently having the same discussion with paper and hot air hand dryers
Fortunately, for all of us, a research team from the University of Arizona Health Sciences has conducted a very extensive two-year study that has shed light on this matter and made a decision on which of the two methods (hand dryers or paper towels) is the best for drying hands. The title of this study is: "Comparison of electric hand dryers and paper towels for hand hygiene: a critical review of the literature." This study drew on the large amount and variety of current data we have, included in most published studies, news and online content on paper towels and hand dryers.
The results obtained by these researchers from the University of Arizona are fully in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), which says that hands should be washed frequently and dried completely with paper towels or a hot air dryer, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which say that both paper towels and hand dryers are effective tools for drying hands.
The team of researchers examined some 293 published papers and studies to be included in their analysis in order to reach this conclusion. It rejected 270 for their lack of scientific rigour. The 23 studies that were accepted, having met all the inclusion criteria, were categorised and prioritised according to their scientific rigour. The score of each chosen paper was determined by considering factors such as the size of the sample used in the study, the methodology, the quality of the data, whether the study was created to represent real-life scenarios or not, etc
The highest-scoring study was found to be an independent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic "Effects of 4 hand-drying methods for removing bacteria from washed hands: a randomized trial". Their findings were that there is no difference in bacterial counts when drying hands with paper towels or hand dryers. In other words: there is no one method that is better than another when it comes to drying hands, either in terms of bacteria or human health. Both methods are equally safe for people and can therefore be used interchangeably.
So now you know: both hand drying methods are good from a health point of view and, therefore, there is no one method that is better than the other in this respect. Another discussion is which of the two is better in terms of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. If you want to learn more about how energy efficient and sustainable each method is, the following post talks precisely about this on our blog: "Debunking the 4 big myths about electric hand dryers".
Finally, next time I meet my friend Javi for a few beers, I'll tell him, now that I'm older and a little more well-read than my younger self, that I still sincerely believe that bikes are better than the scooters.