Users once shied away from using high-speed hand dryers because of the prevailing thought that they were not as hygienic as paper towels. But the reality is, these units are comparable when it comes to hygiene.

“There have been studies published about dryers blowing germs onto your hands,” Gagnon admits. “But an independent study performed by the Mayo Clinic showed that when hands are washed with soap and rinsed for the appropriate amount of time,  the amount of bacteria on hands is the same whether you use a paper towel or a hand dryer. In other words, the way you dry your hands was insignificant, but the way you wash them is critical.”

The difference lies in the fact that hand dryers eliminate bacterial and paper towel waste from the restroom environment.  Manufacturers have also addressed bacterial concerns by making these units touch-free, coating the units with antimicrobial surfaces, installing HEPA filters and adding water troughs to collect excess water.

“Today’s automatic hand dryers are very hygienic,” says Storto. “Some models incorporate antimicrobial technology that inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold and fungus, and extends the dryer’s service life.”

Throw In The Paper Towel?

Once a department decides to use high-speed hand dryers, a few decisions remain. They must decide on the type, quantity and placement of the units, says Culler.

How many dryers a restroom requires depends on restroom traffic and the type of facility. A rule of thumb is one dryer per two sinks in a restroom, but a high traffic restroom may require one dryer for every sink or two dryers for every three sinks. And the units should be as close to the sink as possible, says Culler.

In a facility where restroom patrons have a penchant for paper towels, departments can opt to install one hand dryer and one towel dispenser instead.

“Some companies will just take out their hand towel dispenser and replace it with a hand dryer, while others keep the towel dispenser and then add a hand dryer, too,” Culler says.

When it comes to hand drying options, there is no one-size-fits-all philosophy. It’s important to work with a distributor to spec the right one for the job.

“The correct hand-dryer choice can vary not only between buildings but also between areas within the same building,” says Storto. “Traffic flow is a big determinant, as is requirements for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant fixtures. Some hand dryers are surface mounted ADA compliant, eliminating the need for costly recessed installation kits.”

When selecting the right hand dryer, noise can also be a concern. High-speed hand dryers are noisier than paper towel dispensers or conventional dryers, says Culler, so they may not work as well in quiet office buildings, but do well in industrial settings, malls or busy schools. A conventional dryer, he says, has a range of 55 to 75 decibels, whereas a high-speed unit outputs 85 to 105 decibels.

“There can be sound sensitive areas but there are new accessories or options available to address that,” says Gagnon. Many manufacturers have designed high-speed systems that emit lower decibels via noise reduction nozzles, and the ability to control motor speed. 

With new high-speed hand dryers that are more efficient, cost effective, hygienic and green, it’s safe to say that it may be time for housekeeping operations to consider throwing in the towel.  

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

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