Most of us know that the risk of spreading bacteria is much higher on wet or moist skin than it is on dry skin (which explains why drying so essential in good hand hygiene). But which method is better for getting rid of all those public bathroom bacteria – paper towels or electric hand dryers?

Choosing between paper towels and hand dryers might seem trivial to some people. But for those who work in environments with a high risk of bacterial transmission, such as in health care facilities where patients are more susceptible to infection, the question is extremely relevant.

On the one hand, electric hand dryers create much less waste, making them a better choice from an environmental standpoint. But on the other hand, electric dryers – no matter how sophisticated they may be – are powerful vectors of contamination and spread bacteria. Sure, hand dryers may seem faster and easier to use (not to mention downright more fun in the case of certain models), but they also emit 27 times more bacteria into the air than a paper towel.

Regrettably, good hygiene can’t always be fun.

Let’s be clear. The importance of properly washing one’s hands cannot be overstated. A poor job will leave germs between your fingers, under your fingernails and around your jewelry. In such cases, electric hand dryers blow these lingering germs into the air, which we then inhale directly into our lungs. As absurd as it may seem, it’s almost better to wipe your hands on your shirt than to use a hand dryer! That’s because with a hand dryer, you simply re-contaminate your freshly-decontaminated hands!

Another problem with hand dryers is that they often lack sufficient air flow. Most people manage to stand with their hands under the warm air for about 30 seconds before losing patience and walking away with their hands still wet. Keep in mind that bacteria and microbes thrive in wet environments. Thoroughly wiping with paper (or tissue) is by far more effective.


In the end, hand washing is good, but properly drying them afterward is even better. Paper towels are a more hygienic solution than warm air hand dryers – even when it comes to those new high-powered hot air models. When given the choice, always choose paper towels.