Hand dryers have become widely used since their invention in 1948 by George Clemens, a Chicago-based inventor. It is fair to say, however, that the device has met with a certain resistance by the public.
There are a number of reasons for this reluctance. For several decades after their introduction, hand dryers remained noisy, inefficient machines. They turned the simple process of drying your hands into a time-draining task. Five seconds with a paper towel turned into 30 seconds of less than perfect results with an electric dryer.
Newer models, however, are rapidly eliminating those objections. Manufacturers have introduced units that are now quieter, faster and more efficient. You no longer have to stand for 30 seconds, rubbing your hands together while humming your favorite song. The newer devices are also automatic, so you don’t even have to touch them to get the job done.
People also hesitated to use hand dryers because of an unsubstantiated concern for hygiene. Those who were a bit worried spoke of germs and microbes being propelled from the dryer, adhering not only to the user but to anyone else unlucky enough to find themselves within a few feet of it. This almost reached the status of urban myth, and can still be heard today. Most of the scientific literature refutes this concern. The preponderance of research has found that there is no health risk at all inherent in the use of hand dryers.
There was, however, an unpublished study conducted by researchers at the University of Westminster, London, in 2008 that came to a different conclusion. These researchers found an increase in the total number of bacteria on hands after drying with an electric dryer, and a decrease of bacteria on hands dried with paper towels. It should be noted that this study, although widely circulated to the media, was never submitted to a scientific journal for peer review; the methodology used by the researchers has been criticized by other scientists as flawed; and the research was conducted at the behest of the European Tissue Symposium, a paper products trade body.
It is also worth mentioning that the interior of a hand dryer is a particularly unwelcoming environment for bacteria. In fact, studies have shown that the dry, repeatedly warmed surfaces within a dryer have bacterial counts that are two to four times lower than those found on other surfaces in a bathroom – including the paper towel dispenser.
It would appear, then, that a hand dryer is a nifty little device that makes life a bit easier. But let’s face it, using a paper towel is hardly a difficult task. Many people are indifferent to dryers at best, and many others simply prefer not to use them. So, what’s the point? They’re not cool or trendy. It’s not likely that you’ll run into Madonna drying herself off at one anytime soon. But, if you look a bit more closely, maybe they really are cool and trendy after all. There might actually be some advantages to them.
First of all, hand dryers save money. Estimates run as high as 90% savings when compared to the costs of paper towels. Up front costs are certainly higher than the cost of paper towels. But operating costs, once installed, can be much cheaper. Paper towels have to be restocked continually. This can become a substantial recurring expense. A dryer requires almost no maintenance, except for a recommended yearly cleaning. Paper towels, on the other hand, create significantly greater labor costs. Towel holders must be filled and replenished periodically, and the waste towels discarded by users must be collected and removed from the bathroom.
There are many different automatic bathroom dryers including Bobrick, the Mitsubishi Jet Towel, World Dryer and the now-famous Dyson Airblade. Most modern restrooms now come equipped with the Airblade. It’s costly but super cool, effective and hygienic, not too mention fast.
Beyond the cost savings, there is an even bigger issue to consider – hand dryers benefit the environment. They’re not entirely without impact, of course, since they run on electricity. Energy usage in the newer models is 80% less than older models, however, and those equipped with motion sensors minimize waste. Paper towels, of course, don’t consume any energy when used, but significant resources are required in their production. It is estimated that every ton of paper towels requires 2 to 4 tons of trees and 20,000 gallons of water for chemical cleansing. Once used, paper towels cannot be recycled because the fiber is too weak. Used paper towels become part of the estimated 40% of municipal waste that is composed of paper products.
Times have changed. There is a growing need in business to reduce costs. There is also a growing awareness among businesses that they have a responsibility to help protect the environment. Products that can help businesses do both are well worth considering. Hand dryers simply make sense.
A battle is being waged, hand dryers vs. paper towels, for our hearts, minds…and hands.
On one side is the old standby, the lowly and unassuming paper towel. On the other is the ever evolving hand dryer, screaming its presence for all to hear. Who’ll win?
There are several criteria upon which to base a choice – hygiene, cost and environmental impact. Taking them in order, many people have expressed a concern for the possible threat of bacterial contamination that hand dryers may pose. This view is supported by an unpublished, never submitted for peer review (but widely disseminated to the media) research paper authored by researchers from the University of Westminster, London. The preponderance of other research, however, has found no such threat at all.
Even the paper industry doesn’t make much of a case for the cost effectiveness of paper towels. Despite the higher initial cost for hand dryers, the ongoing costs of purchasing paper towels, refilling the dispensers and removing the waste paper, far outstrips the costs of operating a hand dryer. Customers of some models of newer hand dryers report cost reductions as high as 90%.
Finally, which is the best choice for the environment? This is, no doubt, an enormously complex question, requiring consideration of everything from the initial mining of ore or the felling of trees, to the moment the dryer goes off or the paper towel reaches the landfill. Virtually every study available, however, has come to the same conclusion. Hand dryers have a distinct advantage over paper towels, impacting the environment in a much smaller way.
The choice seems clear, don’t you agree? In the epic battle of hand dryers vs. paper towels, hand dryers are the clear winner, hands down.