In some cases, speed takes a backseat to sound. In an office building, school, church or library, for example, occupants may be willing to sacrifice a few seconds of dry time for less noise disturbance.

Hand dryer noise is measured in decibels, and most machines are in the mid-60s to low-90s. In general, decibels increase as speed increases. Users hoping to land on the quieter end of the spectrum will find machines that dry in 20-plus seconds vs. as little as 10.

Another option for quieter dryers include newer integrated systems that include a dryer mounted on the sink itself.

"There's significant sound reduction with these systems because of advanced sound dampening," says William Gagnon, vice president of marketing and sales for Excel Dryer, East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. "The motor and working components are under the sink, and not right where you're drying your hands."

When evaluating hand dryers for noise levels, manufacturers warn that decibels alone don't paint the full picture. Those ratings are typically based on testing in best-case settings.

"You have to take the decibel rating with a grain of salt," says David Velguth, inside sales supervisor at Palmer Fixtures, Green Bay, Wisconsin. "Restrooms are echo chambers. You have hard tile floors, formica partitions and marble counters. You're not putting the dryer in a carpeted, sound-deadening area. You are putting it in a place that will amplify sound."

Decibels can also go up or down based on things like how close the hands are to the airstream and whether the machine has a noise-reduction nozzle.

What's more, decibels only measure sound level — not sound quality. Every human ear perceives sound differently, so a person could have completely different reactions to two machines with the same decibel rating.

"There will never be a perfect decibel rating that will appease everybody," says Tolis Demertzis, director of sales at World Dryer, Bensenville, Illinois.

The best bet is to allow customers to test units in their own space. Most manufacturers will supply their distributors with demo machines to allow end users a first-hand look — or listen — in their own environment.

Strike A Balance

In truth, it's impossible to separate speed from sound when it comes to hand dryers. They directly affect each other — and both are typically very important to end users.

"There's always that push-pull compromise between the dry time performance and the acoustics," says Hall.

Customers would love a machine that was whisper quiet and dried hands in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately, that technology currently doesn't exist.

"You can't have both," says Demertzis. "If it's a high-speed, fast-drying hand dryer, it's going to be loud."

In an effort to address these two concerns in one machine, manufacturers are introducing adjustable models. These models allow users to strike their preferred balance between speed and sound.

"They can turn it down to a slower air speed and it gets quieter," says Velguth. "If it's cranked all the way up and it's a little loud, they can back it off but it will take longer for the hands to dry. There's a tradeoff there. Most customers would like an adjustable option and they might step up a few dollars to have that feature."

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