In terms of cross-contamination, the review found that hot air dryers dispersed bacteria within a radius of about three feet. Jet air dryers pushed contamination to nearly six feet. With paper towels, no bacteria dispersal was found.

“Paper towels and hot air dryers were much better than jet air dryers regarding contamination of the washroom environment,” say the researchers. “Paper towels were also better than hot air dryers for contamination directly below the device.”

Similar to measuring bacteria levels, there were also conflicting studies regarding cross-contamination. A few studies found no differences in the levels of contamination emitting into the air, or entering the dryers. However, Mayo researchers argue that “air from the fans can dilute the aerosols, so the results are not strictly comparable.”

Despite the sometimes conflicting studies, the Mayo Clinic recommends paper towels for drying hands. In its official conclusion, the writers state:

“On the basis of our review, drying hands thoroughly with single-use, disposable paper towels is the preferred method of hand drying in terms of hand hygiene,” the report says. “Most studies found that paper towels can dry hands effectively, remove bacteria effectively, and cause less contamination in a washroom environment.”

The Mayo Clinic recommends paper towels for use in locations where “hygiene is paramount, such as in hospitals and clinics.” It adds that providing paper towels may improve hand hygiene adherence among healthcare workers. 

Smith believes supplying restrooms with paper towels encourages proper hand washing and drying for everyone, not just healthcare workers.

“You’re not asking them to change their habits, you’re changing their habits without telling them,” Smith says. “[Paper towels] are more effective and efficient. People are used to them. You know it works. To me paper towels are the best.”

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Remove More Germs With Proper Paper Towel Use