New technological advances, significant cost savings and ample environmental benefits could fuel an uptick in the demand for wall-mounted, automatic hand dryers, according to industry experts.

Despite shrinking sales in recent years, the $54 million hand dryer market remains popular with businesses in the education, hospitality and manufacturing sectors partly because of the affordability, convenience and safety associated with installation and upkeep.

With more than 19 million public restrooms in the U.S., there is clearly a market for the hand dryer industry. Add to that the $2 billion paper towel market and the writing is on the wall: opportunities for electric hand dryer manufacturers are huge.

Advantages Over Paper

Jan/san distributors who sell hand dryers say that while sales activity for the automated machines is down, the advantages actually make it an appealing alternative over paper and cloth towels.

“I see a lot of hand dryers in stadiums, restaurants and parks where there is a lot of traffic all at once to deal with,” says Linda Silverman, vice president of sales and marketing at Maintex Inc., City of Industry, Calif.

In addition to stadiums, restaurants and parks, hand dryers are also ideal for truck stops, movie theaters and school facilities, according to jan/san distributors. That’s because many of these facilities don’t have the necessary manpower to maintain paper towel dispensers and disposal duties.

The on-going expense of paper towels compared to the one-time cost of purchasing and installing a hand dryer plays a big role in how businesses design a restroom, says Silverman.

“These businesses avoid the expense and waste associated with paper towels. At the same time, they are saving money on the labor they would need to maintain the dispensers and clean the restrooms,” she says.

Hand dryers are ideal for hospitals and educational facilities, where sanitary conditions are critical for health reasons.

Cases of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), influenza and other illnesses have dominated national headlines in recent years. As a result, professionals from preschools to nursing homes strongly advocate frequent hand washing as a way to reduce the chance of being exposed to diseases and life-threatening viruses.

Hand dryers start around $150 per unit and go as high as $1,000; paper towels can run about $25 for one case. Multiply that fee by 52 — one case per week per restroom — and a business could spend $1,300 or more annually.

Hand dryers also use little electricity, keeping operational costs minimal. And because hand dryers can last an average of four or five years, the cost savings is significant, according to industry leaders.

In fact, a business that spends $1,300 a year for paper products would put out $6,500 over a five-year period compared to the cost of one hand dryer for $150-$400 during that same period.

Business owners are not the only ones to benefit from using hand dryers over paper towels, according to numerous manufacturers. There are plenty of environmental savings as well.

A typical fast food restaurant with two restrooms could potentially use 2,000 pounds of paper towels — or the equivalent of 34 trees — each year. And that’s not all: a typical school might use five tons of paper towels annually — about 89 trees.

A Hard Sell

Despite the cost savings and convenience, convincing customers to switch from paper products to hand dryers can be a challenge, says Ron O’Brien, a sales representative with Pennsauken, N.J.-based Eagle Maintenance Supply.

It’s not surprising that distributors favor paper towel products — consumables — over hand dryers. But O’Brien says his choice is more than just about potential commissions. His customers prefer towels as well.

“A lot of my customers like the recycled products because it’s still a paper towel, but at the same time it’s environmentally-friendly,” he says.

But unless there is a trash can right outside the restroom door where waste can be disposed of easily, paper towels often end up on the floor where it creates unnecessary maintenance expenses and a messy and unattractive area.

“The downside to paper towels is vandalism and trash, but they believe the towels do a better job of drying their hands,” says O’Brien.

Hand dryers also help reduce restroom vandalism, which runs the gamut from toilet plug-ups to outright broken and missing dispensers. While hand dryer units, unlike paper towels, don’t require regular supplies and upkeep, O’Brien suggests the units should be dismantled and cleaned frequently to remove dust and dirt particles.

“Have you ever taken one of those things apart and seen the inside of it? You should and then you would know what I’m talking about,” says O’Brien. “There is nothing clean and sanitary about it in my opinion.”

Several hand dryer manufacturers say they are trying to address some of these issues. One large player announced plans last year to roll out a new — albeit pricey (more than $1,000) — system that would speed up the drying process while sanitizing the air.

Another manufacturer recently introduced a system that provides an internal anti-bacterial device dedicated to the disinfection of the air exiting from the nozzle, making it ideal for hospital surroundings and food-related environments. The system relies on an ultra-violet lamp, which remains active inside the dryer 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to kill any microbial contamination 100 percent during the drying process.


Hand dryers are continually evolving to meet customer demands. Manufacturers have figured out a way to design sophisticated units that are faster, quieter and aesthetically appealing. Also, dry times used to average 30 to 45 seconds. Today, most units can handle the job in 15 seconds.

The newer models of hand dryers that are designed to be quieter, appeal to libraries, corporate buildings and government offices. Manufacturers have lowered the noise factor from around 70 decibels to 50, according to industry experts.

And given the rash of MRSA cases nationwide in recent years, personal hygiene is a big concern these days. A number of units on the market operate using a motion sensor to trigger heat. This eliminates the need to touch the unit and possibly transfer germs.

These days, businesses aim to personalize every experience, product and service for the customer. Hand dryer manufacturers are no exception. Buyers can get creative and customize their unit to reflect a particular corporate image or message.

Buyers can also paint or decorate the hand dryers as well as order units that have chrome or gold accents only.


Becky Bergman is a freelance writer based in Mooresville, N.C.

Hand Dryer Advantages

• Eliminates paper waste

• One-time expense compared to ongoing purchases

• Dry times average 15 seconds, down from 30 to 45 seconds

• Units are quieter, averaging 50 decibels compared to 70

• Reduces labor and maintenance costs

• Decreases opportunities for vandalism

• Eco-friendly because there is no waste and it uses minimal energy

• Companies can customize their unit to reflect corporate logo or brand


Hand Dryer Drawbacks

• With only one or two machines, long lines form during peak times

• No access to paper towel to open door or grip handles

• Many units require users to touch a button, increasing the risk of transferring germs

• Users can’t control length of drying time

• Temperature can vary

• Machines can collect and store dirt

• While there is minimal upkeep costs, upfront expenses can be significant

• Sophisticated technology increases the chance of breakdown