Person cups hands under hand dryer

To say hand dryers are a niche product for jan/san distributors would be an understatement. Based on sales figures from the latest “Report On Sanitary Supply Distributor Sales” by Sanitary Maintenance and ISSA, hand dryers only account for nearly $17.5 million compared to $8 billion of towels and tissue. Even when looking at towel and tissue dispensers — a product typically given away as part of a program — hand dryers are still in the minority at a fifth of the sales. 

But hand dryers are worth another look. Recent advancements make this product a far cry from its old counterparts that were loud and took too long to dry hands. New features such as high-speed, HEPA filters and models built into faucets make hand dryers more user friendly. In addition, Internet of Things-equipped hand dryers are ready to provide facilities with data on restroom traffic and energy usage. 

Hand dryers tend to get blamed for blowing bacteria around the restroom and contaminated surfaces. Contrary to public opinion, however, hand dryers are quite hygienic with many studies to back it up. 

Sanitary Maintenance reached out to hand dryer manufacturers to provide an update on this often overlooked product category. Participating in this roundtable are:

• William Gagnon, vice president of marketing and sales, Excel Dryer Inc., East Longmeadow, Massachusetts

• Krystal Pesch, senior product marketing manager, World Dryer, Bensenville, Illinois

• Will Haas, senior product manager at Bradley Corporation, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin

Q: Recent studies report that hand dryers spread bacteria in restrooms. Do you have a counterpoint you would like to make to those claims?

Gagnon: Although the paper towel industry continues to perpetuate misconceptions about the hygienic efficacy of hand dryers, there are several independent third-party studies that counter these claims. 

For example, researchers at Laval University in Quebec City evaluated bacterial contaminants found on unused paper towels and found 17 species of bacteria on the paper towels with the most common being Bacillus, which causes food poisoning. The Mayo Clinic found that “there are no differences in the efficiencies of removing bacteria from washed hands when hands are dried using paper towels, cloth towels, warm forced air or spontaneous evaporation.” Further, Antimicrobial Test Laboratories conducted a study for Excel Dryer to evaluate bacteria levels on the hands of volunteers related to hand washing and drying. All study subjects washed their hands, then dried them with either paper towels or an Excel Dryer. The results of this study indicated that the method of drying — paper towels or our high-speed hand dryer — does not significantly affect bacteria levels on hands.

These findings stand to reason in the case of our products. All dryers in our product line have a no touch, sensor-activated, hands-under style, eliminating hand-drying touch points. This is in stark contrast to trough-style hand dryers, which catch and hold water blown off users’ hands, leaving pools of stagnant water where bacteria can grow. 

Pesch: How most things go, there are two sides to every story. If you look closely, a lot of these studies are even sponsored by paper towel manufacturers. The Mayo Clinic reviewed numerous studies, determining while some favored paper towels, others indicated that hand dryers were more hygienic. Another study by the American Journal of Infection Control indicated that unused paper towels could harbor bacteria. U.S. National Institute of Health concluded hot air dryers are safe when it comes to bacterial contamination.

Bottom line, bacteria exists in every restroom environment. Regular upkeep and proper sanitation make the biggest impact. Newer hand dryer models greatly reduce the spread of germs. Automatic hands-free hand dryers reduce cross contamination. Models with antimicrobial technology inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold and fungus and extend the service life of the hand dryer. Faster drying times also reduce the spread of germs. There are so many variables that influence the efficacy of hand dryers when it comes to hygiene.

Haas: When you consider the stagnant water pooling in the trench of the hands-in dryer, there could be a problem. This particular type of hand dryer allows water and grime to sit and pool, and it eventually becomes rancid. This sitting water becomes even more undesirable when the force of the hand dryer’s air shoots pooled water up into the user’s face. 

Using an in-sink dryer where water goes down the drain — instead of in a catch or an area where it can pool — can create a more hygienic washroom environment. 

Q: Will hand dryers with HEPA filters reduce the spread of bacteria? Why?

Gagnon: Yes, it absolutely does. HEPA filtration is a popular option and common specification for our high-efficiency hand dryers. The system removes 99.97 percent of potentially present bacteria at 0.3 microns from the air stream, facilitating the ultimate option for hand drying purity. Think of it as advanced, reliable backup security against air contamination.

Pesch: HEPA filtration removes up to 99 percent of pathogens in the air. The warm air from the hand dryers creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria to grow. Many hand dryers today combine HEPA filtration and antimicrobial technology to further clean the air and enhance dryer sanitation. 




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One-Stop Hand Washing Technology Offers Hygienic Improvements