Young boy washing his hands using an air dryer

Americans seem more concerned than ever about what gets on or doesn't get on their hands due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing they're shying away from is the hand dryer and dirty restroom, according to a study.

The study commissioned by Tork (a brand of Essity) found that nearly 80 percent of respondents feel more unsafe entering facilities with dirty restrooms than they did prior to COVID-19. In addition, one-third of people say they feel unsafe entering a restroom with air dryers.

"The study suggests that people now view all public spaces as "hygiene critical," as a result of the global pandemic," says Alberto Cajiga, vice president of marketing, professional hygiene at Essity, in a press release. "Providing solutions that make people feel safe when visiting public spaces must be a top priority for facility managers that want to re-attract guests. The cost of not using the most hygienic option is simply too high."

The increased concern for hygiene in public restrooms is expressed in people's changing preferences for hand drying solutions. According to the study, 70 percent of people wish more facilities offered paper hand towels as an alternative to air dryers. The study also shows that 33 percent of people now have an increased preference for paper hand towels than before COVID-19, with the most common reasons being that paper hand towels are perceived as more hygienic (71 percent), they dry hands more quickly (53 percent), and do not spread virus and bacteria in the air (43 percent). 

The cost of not offering paper hand towels can be high for facilities. More than 40 percent surveyed say they are less likely to visit places that do not offer paper hand towels as a hand drying alternative.

"The pandemic has shown that all businesses need to adapt to a new hygiene standard," says Cajiga. "While some facilities might have chosen air dryers before the pandemic, the perceived ease of air dryers isn't enough anymore. We have seen an increase in requests from facility managers who want to change from air dryers to paper hand towels. They no longer feel safe with their air dryers."