Do Jet Hand Dryers Really Spread More Germs Than Paper Towels?

Jet hand dryers may spread germs

There’s a good reason why some folks avoid public restrooms altogether. Germs are everywhere — toilets, toilet paper, faucets and doorknobs. And now it seems that those same nasty germs could also be blowing into your face.  

Jet dryers or paper towels?

Most restrooms have them — those fast and furious jet hand dryers. But are they actually more sterile than paper towels? Well, according to research, they could make you and others around you sick.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology compared three hand-drying methods: paper towels, a warm air dryer and a jet air dryer. Researchers tested them for their potential to scatter viruses and contaminate the immediate environment with each use.

Researchers asked participants to dip their gloved hands into a solution of a harmless virus called MS2. After quickly shaking their hands, participants used one of the three drying methods. Researchers collected samples from the air and surfaces at various distances away from the drying procedure.

In turns out, jet air dryers were significantly the worst offenders. They sprayed 1,300 times more viral plaque than paper towels — sending it nearly 10 feet in circumference from the dryer.

More controversy on jet dryers

Jet hand dryers may spread germs in public restrooms

Study researchers suggest different types of hand-drying devices should be carefully considered, particularly in areas where infection prevention is paramount, such as hospitals, health care settings and the food industry.

Unsurprisingly, similar studies conducted by the same researchers stirred controversy back in 2014. Dyson spokespeople noted that participants’ hands were more covered with viruses than they would naturally be in a real-world restroom scenario. They claimed that paper towels are also covered with germs from previous users.

However, in 2005, a German Pulp and Paper Association-commissioned study showed that bacteria on hands decreased by 24 percent when wiped on paper towel.

Dyson hit back. In 2008, the company had the first hand-dryer to be kite-marked by the Royal Society for Public Health. They noted that the Dyson Airblade filters 99.9 percent of bacteria out of the air it ingests. Meanwhile, a Dyson spokesperson accused scientists of “scaremongering.” They complained that the research was being funded by the paper towel industry… yikes!

Germs versus the environment

So, will restrooms switch back to paper towels anytime soon? Probably not. But there’s good reason for that, and it could very well be environmental. There’s no question that hand dryers are far less expensive to operate than paper towels. In fact, it takes more energy to manufacture and even recycle paper towels than it does to operate a hand dryer. And that doesn’t include the price of chopping down trees, transporting the paper towels and the chemicals that go into the paper towel manufacturing process.

Hand dryers also create less waste than paper towels. According to Restroom Direct, one big complaint for many companies is that people flush paper towels down toilets, causing them to be clogged. And when that happens, the cost of having paper towels goes through the roof. And finally, after bagging and trucking them to a dump, valuable landfill space is taken. So, it’s easy to see why hand dryers win out environmentally — hands down.

Some people, on the other hand, want paper towels. The mere thought of touching a door handle when leaving a restroom is gross. You many even want a paper towel to turn off the tap. For very dirty restrooms, this is a legitimate issue. And don’t even think about using toilet paper. It turns out, the toilet paper in dirtier than toilet seats — 150 percent filthier with bacteria, in fact, than toilet seats.

One solution might be for restrooms to keep some towels and a basket next to the bathroom door. However, restrooms without doors — like those you see at the airport — are ideal for us germaphobes.

How to stay germ-free in public bathrooms

The real problem may not be with drying, but with poor hand washing. In 2005, handwashing statistics reported that 97 percent of women and 96 percent of men claimed they always washed their hands in the bathroom. But the fact is, only 75 percent of women and 58 percent of men actually did, according to the study. So, how can you protect yourself from the germs that lurk in public restrooms?

Avoid touching any surfaces in a public restroom, especially the floor. That means if you see a roll of toilet paper on the floor, don’t pick it up and certainly don’t use it. And of course, never place your belongings on the floor either. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona who studied germs in public restrooms, found that one-third of the women’s purses that were placed on bathroom floors harbored fecal bacteria on the bottom.

Also, beware the flush. If you see someone walking out of a stall, steer clear. The germs from their flush will probably still be in the air. When you’re finished, get fully clothed and ready to exit just before you flush. That way germs in the bowl, from the person who was there before you, can’t reach exposed areas.

And of course, make sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds — one round of “Happy Birthday.” In addition, if you use your phone while on the toilet, make sure to disinfect.    

When washing your hands, use a paper towel to turn on the tap and use antibacterial soap. You should also use a paper towel to turn off the tap and to open the bathroom door, to avoid picking up someone else’s nasty bacteria.

Create your own restroom kit

Improper hand washing may spread germs

Take into account the many restrooms only use hand jet dryers, so you may want to consider creating your own potty kit. You can carry it in your backpack, purse or pocket. Include surface cleaning wipes, good quality toilet paper or personal wipes, paper towels, soap, hand sanitizer and anything else you regularly use in the restroom.  

All things considered, public restrooms won’t kill you. But a little thought to your restroom activity and exit plan could prevent the spread of germs.

— Katherine Marko

Recommended Articles



  1. redhead67 says

    Foolish advice to use antibacterial soap. It’s far more detrimental to your health than germs are. In the FDA is starting the process of banning it due to the harmful ingredient triclosan and another similar one. Until that actually happens being your own regular soap.

  2. livefree1200cc says

    I agree. ‘Germaphobia’ is making the human race weak. We need to be fighting off germs naturally every day to keep our immune systems in top condition. Antibacterial soaps and antibiotics are also killing our good bacteria we need to stay healthy

  3. Steve G says

    Very true I get the impression they are making us weak for a reason by destroying our immune system.

  4. livefree1200cc says

    Your ‘gut’ is 80% of your immune system. Semi-toxic processed foods, and heavy use of antibiotics have most people’s digestive systems functioning well below 50%. There is an epidemic of autoimmune disorders and cancer, all caused by the foods we eat

  5. Phil says

    Article obviously written by a germophobic person or people. I’ve used public restrooms all my life (65 years and counting) and have never gotten sick from contamination (naturally I’m more cautious in restrooms that appear to be filthy and unclean), at least no more so than being out in public and interacting with people and surfaces in general (restaurants, stores, offices, recreation facilities, etc.). So use normal good hygienic practices and you will be okay.

  6. Murphy says

    I am fortunate, I did not grow up in the USA so I have one of those terribly old fashioned attributes – an active immune system. It was created by eating mud pies as a child, or the three second rule when the bread landed (butter-side down) on the floor where the dogs and cats had walked.

    Toilet seats are dangerous, really? If you have an intact, i.e., unbroken, skin surface how are bacteria you sit on going to invade the system? The skin has a mass of bacteria resident – most of whch seem to be there to combat non-resident bacteria.

    The hi-speed driers may/may not spread viruses as an aerosol so why not simply run your hands under running water and shake dry? We’ve managed that all through my seventy years without mass outbreaks of disease or any upset at all. May be I’ve just been lucky though – as have most of my generation. So my pity goes out to these frightened wee people who fear to leave home … just “in case we get sick”. One positive, for me, my world is the less crowded.

  7. livefree1200cc says

    I prefer paper towels because they are easier and faster, but when there is a blow dryer I shake my hands and dry them the rest of the way on my cloths. I don’t like using them, it usually takes two cycles to dry

  8. wendygoerl says

    So what if the dryers have air filters in them? They’re STILL blowing the stuff off your hands and into the air! And since most public restrooms don’t bother offering brushes, how are you supposed to scrub anything off? My hand towels ALWAYS darken as they age–that’s all grime that soap (and my always-present fingernail brush) don’t get off.

    The only restroom that can justify blow-dryers are high-volume ones that would have to be serviced every hour minutes if they used towels, or rarely-serviced restrooms, like in outdoor parks.

  9. wendygoerl says

    I’ve got a memoir written by some Brits that retired to a sailboat. They mentioned about getting sick after leaving the “ultra-clean” United States, but then their “Mediterranean immunity” reasserted itself.

    And on Dr. Oz, they compared cast iron cleaned traditionally (salt and water while the pan was hot) with some doused in “sanitary” cleaners by a clean-freak. The salt-cleaned pans were at least as germ-free as the chemically-doused ones.

  10. wendygoerl says

    Don’t forget “dead” food. America is sorely lacking in a tradition of naturally-fermented foods.

  11. wendygoerl says

    There are plenty of people in America with “old fashioned attributes”–the mainstream media just pretends we don’t exist and Big Government tries to convert us with a host of laws and ordinances to shove their paranoia down our throats.

  12. wendygoerl says

    Yeah. I can’t believe an Alternative Daily article would be advocating “antibacterial” soap when none of them has proven to be more effective than old-fashioned soap and the most popular, triclosan, is a proven carcinogen.

  13. livefree1200cc says

    Exactly. Now days I go into the grocery store and never touch the inner aisles. I just walk the outside perimeter of the store. The more raw/organic food you can eat the better off you’ll be. I recently switched to grass fed beef and butter as well

  14. livefree1200cc says

    I use a cast iron pan to cook meat in. All I do is scrape it with the spatula and wipe with a paper towel! Once a week or so I season it with bacon grease. It seems to me it has to be better than ingesting the silicon coating that falls off non-stick cookware

  15. wendygoerl says

    My mom just washes them with the other dishes. Only difference is they sit out for a while after being towel-dried before getting put away to make sure they’re dry.They’ve been living that way for 60+ years.

  16. wendygoerl says

    The outside’s no relief. Liquid dairy products get “ultrapasteurized” (even egg nog and kefir aren’t immune), the produce is coated with chemistry, and even the eggs get a chemical shower. (but you’ll have to go down the inner aisles to find sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tofu, and tabasco)

  17. livefree1200cc says

    Most of that stuff is on the outside in my store in the organic section of the produce dept. I dont drink pasteurized milk, or eat store yogurt. I buy grass fed butter, (Kerrygold from Ireland is awesome tasting). I make my own sauerkraut. I wouldnt touch tofu with a 10 foot pole or anything made from soy. 90% of soy products is made with GMO soy. Even organic soy is high in estrogen mimicking compounds. I drink organic almond milk and buy free range eggs. I pick up hot sauce at the dollar store

  18. wendygoerl says

    Where do you live that you’re allowed to buy unpasteurized milk? I live in the dairy belt of Wisconsin and the only time I even had unpasteurized milk was when my dad held back a couple of quarts on the way to the dairy–or when I rode with him and got to drink some right out of the tank. (he’s 20 years retired, now)

  19. wendygoerl says

    “Almond milk” is barely almond and definitely not milk. It falls into the category of “so heavily processed it bears no relation to what it claims to be”

  20. livefree1200cc says

    Oh I dont know about that. Its organic, it tastes good, and there are no bovine growth hormones or antibiotics in it. Much healthier than commercial milk, and definitely better for you than soy or rice milk IMHO. Its also very high in Vitamin D and has more calcium than cows milk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *