Hand Dryers: Clearing The Air
By Nick Bragg, Deputy Editor
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Once notorious for poor performance and long drying times, hand dryers have come a long way from the push-button model days. In fact, today’s electric hand dryer manufacturers are working tirelessly to quash past negative stereotypes by making a concentrated effort on hand hygiene by improving drying times, lowering facilities’ energy bills and embracing the green movement.
“Public opinion is beginning to change in favor of today’s hand dryers because of their improved performance, cost effectiveness and for their environmental benefits,” says Bill Gagnon, vice president of marketing, Excel Dryer Inc., East Longmeadow, Mass.
Riding the industry’s green wave, hand dryer manufacturers have taken an initiative to design and produce more energy efficient and fast, high-speed jet hand dryers. These green hand dryers include design features that expedite the hand drying process, and at the same time have a major emphasis on lowering energy consumption. These units are manufactured with efficient motors and blowers that consume less energy and at the same time shorten the dry time. Manufacturers have also fitted these units with automatic activation devices, which eliminates wasted run time.
“New hand dryer models are designed with energy efficiency in mind,” says Jean Degener, sales specialist with Palmer Fixture Co., Green Bay, Wis. “A typical conventional hand dryer operates around 2,400 watts. Today’s high-speed units operate as low as 1,000 watts. The units generally operate for a shorter time, drying hands in 10 to 15 seconds rather than the conventional 45 to 60 seconds. Together, the lower wattage and shorter drying time result in less energy used.”
Some of today’s newer, green hand dryers use 80 percent less energy than conventional hand dryers, according to manufacturers. These models, which conserve energy and protect the environment, also help facilities earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits by the U.S. Green Building Council and meet GreenSpec standards.
Some green models allow for the heating element to be turned off, so the energy usage is considerably less (nearly 500 watts less) than a high-speed unit. As a result, facilities are able to save money on electricity usage. However, there is a tradeoff to using less energy — the air temperature being blown out is nearly 50 degrees colder than a high-speed unit that uses 1,000 watts of electricity. The colder temperature will increase dry times.
On top of going green, hand dryer manufacturers have also been busy addressing other problematic areas to enhance their identity.
Hand dryers have often drawn complaints from building occupants because of the noise level emitted during use. Manufacturers have recognized that sound level is a concern for some consumers, and as a result, have made improvements in both the sound level and quality of the sound with today’s units.
“Some sounds, at the same sound level, are naturally more appealing to users because of the pitch and the quality of the sound,” says John Potts, vice president of sales and purchasing, World Dryer Corp., Berkeley, Ill. “Innovative hand dryer manufacturers have incorporated various and specific features in motor technology, proactive and passive noise reduction techniques as well as structure designs to improve and optimize the sound quality, reduce the sound level in use and provide flexible control options on the hand dryers so the consumer can tailor the sound level, hand drying performance and energy efficiency to their personal preference and environment.”
Hand dryers manufacturers today produce a range of sound levels — from just slightly above normal conversation sound level (in the 60s dBA) to sound levels similar to the sound of a vacuum cleaner in use (70 to 80 dBA). And with average air speeds of 160 to 225 miles per hour in today’s high-speed units, it is understandable that there will be some noise.
With high-speed hand dryers, manufacturers say facilities want the best of both worlds — fast dry times and low noise. Some of today’s units allow facilities the flexibility to adjust the sound and speed. The tradeoff for a reduced noise level, however, is that the time to dry hands gets extended. However, manufacturers tout the dry times are still better than traditional dryers.
“High-speed hand dryers used to be big and loud,” says Michael Robert, vice president of sales and technology, American Dryer Inc., Livonia, Mich. “[Today’s units are] more compact and quiet. What sets them apart is the ability to adjust the sound and speed for the application. For example, a sports stadium can set the dry time to 10 seconds. A library might want to turn it down to a quieter setting without concern over a few seconds of dry time.”
Promoting Hand Hygiene
Along with lowering energy consumption, another major focus by hand dryer manufacturers is on improving the personal hygiene of restroom patrons. With today’s units, manufacturers are developing technology that promotes handwashing by making the units more appealing to use whether it be in its appearance or function.
Functionality speaking, lowered dry times coupled with improved technology is making hand dryers more enticing to use. Electric hand dryer manufacturers have recently introduced hand dryers that tout drying times anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds faster than their traditional counterparts — and actually do what they’re meant to do — dry restroom patrons’ hands.
Wet hands have been known to transfer pathogens much more readily than dry hands or hands not washed at all, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, studies have found that damp hands encourage the transmission and survival of bacteria on hands.
Hand dryer manufacturers have responded to these studies and the rash of communicable diseases in recent years by introducing units that utilize touch-free technology. Automatic activation promotes hand hygiene by permitting hand drying without the risk of cross-contamination by touching push-buttons that others may have touched with soiled hands.
“An automatic hand dryer, which easily turns on and off by use of motion sensor, promotes cleanliness and usage,” says Degener. “Unlike many typical conventional hand dryers where the user tends to be left with a semi-dry and damp feeling, high-speed units actually dry your hands and do so with speed and efficiency. No longer does one feel the need to wipe their hands on their clothes in order to feel dry or push a button for a second attempt at drying their hands. The high-speed hand dryer accomplishes the task in the first try.”
With recent studies suggesting that hand dryers can be unhygienic since they are sucking in and blowing out “polluted” restroom air onto hands, hand dryer manufacturers have introduced units that use anti-microbial filters. These filters help clean the air being sucked in by the units before air is blown onto restroom patrons’ hands. They capture at least 90 percent of large airborne particles and capture submicron particles that make up 99 percent of the particles in the air.
HEPA filtration, the same technology that vacuum manufacturers have used for years, is currently being implemented by one hand dryer manufacturer. This level of filtration captures and eliminates 99.97 percent of particles 0.3 microns or smaller from the air used to dry hands, says David Walker, managing director of US commercial business, Dyson Inc., Chicago.
As technology continues to improve, manufacturers expect more public restrooms to install hand dryers. Doing so goes a long way to show a facility’s commitment to improving public hand hygiene and its sustainable practices.