Facilities have more restroom fixture options to choose from than ever before, meaning that while there is something to fit every customer’s needs, building service contractors need to hone their towel dispenser and hand dryer expertise to know which product best fits the facility.

Waste prevention

The issue of wasting resources — in this case, energy through electricity to power hand dryers and paper products — is one that some customers value over all else. Though there are mandates that require certain sectors, such as education or government, to adhere to green practices, customers in all markets are now choosing to be more environmentally friendly.

Hand dryers have become much more energy efficient in recent years, using a fraction of the electricity they once needed — but restrooms still need to have the proper electrical wiring. Hand dryers do not just plug into the wall, and their installation often requires an electrician’s handiwork. Today’s energy-efficient hand dryers, which are touchless and activated by sensors, have seen a resurgence of interest from facilities. Hand dryer use can even count for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification points, says Arely Castellón, president of SparkleTeam in Boca Raton, Fla..

“That’s the thing I really like to sell about anything that’s green: if it’s new, this is high-tech,” she adds. “Cleaning is not the old cleaning of yesteryear. It really is about introducing technology to make this more of a health-conscious segment and [hand dryers] really fit in beautifully.”

Of course, hand dryers also greatly reduce the amount of paper products being thrown into landfills, a significant environmental benefit.

“That’s the advantage to the electric hand dryers, is that you don’t have all that paper mess,” says George Brite, president of Brite Janitorial in Fort Worth, Texas.

Paper waste is a concern for any facility that uses towel dispensers. Not only does it make financial sense to reduce paper waste, but it’s also good for the environment and makes less work for janitors. One benefit to using touchless roll towel dispensers — either the battery-automated or mechanized type — is that the paper segments are pre-measured and because of the wait-time between dispensations, occupants are less likely to use large amounts of paper.

“The buildings that I do have automatic dispensers in, I’m going through less paper than I normally would with a multifold or a c-fold towel and generally getting the same amount of dries with less paper,” says Eli Rodriguez, president of Rodriguez Industries in Dallas.

Paper towel waste is an issue in any restroom that provides towels, and dispensers that control the amount of product occupants are allowed to use have been found to control that problem somewhat. To help lessen the environmental impact of paper products, many BSCs choose to use and recommend recycled towels.

The cost factor

A hand dryer will almost always cost more up-front than a towel dispenser. On the low end, hand dryers start at about $200, whereas dispensers start as low as $25. There is a wide range of fixture options for both, however, that are appropriate for any facility’s budget, says Barbara Casse-Bender, president of BCB Janitorial Supply in Hackensack, N.J.

Whereas the cost to wire a restroom electrically, buy a hand dryer and install it is much more than it would be for the purchase of a towel dispenser, ongoing costs are significantly less.

“You can get a hand dryer for a couple hundred dollars, but that’s not a top of the line one,” Casse-Bender says. “Your up-front costs are a little bit more with a hand dryer, but then you’re not putting towels in it. So I would imagine within a couple of months you’d make up your costs.”

Towel dispensers require restocking, and though paper products can be inexpensive, they do add up and are a continuous expense. This is why hand dryers have remained a niche product, popular in large and high-traffic restroom settings such as stadiums, airports, movie theatres and arenas, where restocking in a timely manner isn’t easy to do and where towel waste can build up in a hurry.

However, BSCs with small- to medium-sized customers don’t see many hand dryers.

“I’ve only had one customer, a doctor, with an interest in hand dryers in the last 20 years,” Brite says. “When he found out the cost for dryer, installation, and electrician he quickly decided on a nice new chrome multifold dispenser.”

But even in smaller facilities, when traffic increases, hand dryers can be helpful. Castellón says she’s been seeing more hand dryers, especially with customers such as local unemployment offices that have had problems with paper waste.

“Traffic has increased, it’s tripled in the past four months, so they were going through so much paper, so hand dryers have been the solution to go with,” Castellón says.

Some smaller high-traffic facilities that have a limited amount of hand dryers may also provide a towel dispenser as a back-up in case one or two of the dryers go down.

“If your hand dryer breaks, you’ve got nothing — even if it breaks in the morning and you get someone to fix it in the afternoon, you’ve got a few hours where you have no way for anybody to dry their hands,” says Casse-Bender.

Another cost concern regarding towel dispensers is product theft. Any time paper products are readily available for occupants to take away with them, such as in a stack on the counter or from a multi-fold dispenser, there should be theft concern. If BSCs don’t choose a hand dryer in vandal-prone environments, locked touchless dispensers that limit towel output per use help to cut down on theft issues.

The continual improvement of touchfree fixtures — including towel dispensers and hand dryers as well as soap dispensers, faucets and toilets — has been part of a public health movement to reduce cross-contamination in restrooms. Both dispensers and hand dryers can be activated without the touching of a button. However, according to some studies, paper towels have been shown to be more hygienic, eliminating more bacteria from hands than air dryers. Electric dryers can even increase the number of bacteria found on hands after washing and drying them.

With both hand dryers and towel dispensers utilizing the technology that results in increased energy efficiency and reduced touch points, customers in all markets have a variety of options — and BSCs need to know how to properly recommend the right ones for the job.