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Home>WASHROOM HYGIENE>Hand Driers>Hand dryers vs paper towels: Settling the debate
Home>WASHROOM HYGIENE>Hand Towels>Hand dryers vs paper towels: Settling the debate

Hand dryers vs paper towels: Settling the debate

28 March 2022

For the hand dryer industry, as Matt Anderson observes, the pandemic represents a fresh chapter in the seemingly endless clash of the washroom titans: hand dryers vs paper towels.

JUST A few months into the UK’s first lockdown, there was a much-publicised petition by a senior NHS consultant to switch off hand dryers due to concerns that they might spread COVID by blowing contaminated aerosols around bathroom spaces.

Of course, recent research into the subject – including a report by the BBC’s Science Focus Magazine and a literature review in the Journal of Applied Microbiology – has found no real evidence to suggest that hand dryers negatively impact human health, but the hand dryer industry is very used to this kind of claim.

In fact, studies that treat hand dryers as a kind of germ-spreading bogeyman are often funded by paper towel companies – perhaps in the knowledge that a myth of hygienic superiority is the only thing preventing that industry from becoming completely obsolete.

Recent developments in hand drying technology, however, now allow us to put this debate to bed. 

With the latest dryers now reaching such heights of hygiene that they’re capable of killing germs and even cleaning the surrounding airspace, paper towels don’t have a leg to stand on.

Cheap costs, strong sustainability: the accepted advantages of hand dryers

Before discussing the latest dryer developments, it’s important to understand the context of the ‘hand dryer vs paper towel’ debate.

After all, health isn’t the only battleground for the two industries – but when it comes to cost and eco-friendliness, paper towels tend to find themselves on the back foot.

The sustainability angle is especially worth noting because – much like public health – it’s a big, meaningful topic that’s becoming more and more impactful in the public mind. 

Around ten years ago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a study – admittedly funded by Dyson, but rigorously peer-reviewed all the same – which found that paper towels create 70 per cent more emissions than the most efficient high-speed dryers.

Of course, dryers have only become more efficient in the last decade.

The same isn’t necessarily true of paper towels, which – unlike the feats of electrical engineering which make up today’s dryers – aren’t known for their upgrades.

Similarly, while the running cost of a good hand dryer can be as low as £6 per annum, paper towels are unavoidably expensive. 

Paving the way for hygienic technologies

Of course, these costly and unsustainable practices are offset – according to the story told by Big Paper Towel, at any rate – by the idea that paper towels are more hygienic.

As a report from The Guardian noted a few years ago, the hand towel industry has always funded many more studies than dryer companies, generating an array of highly clickable but seriously dubious headlines which, at their most melodramatic, make hand dryers sound like weapons for germ warfare when compared to their papery cousins.

The report goes on to note that these headlines are often inspired by quite mild findings, including one experiment from the University of Leeds which found that washrooms with hand dryers only contained more bacteria on two occasions – mainly on the floor.

This kind of tit-for-tat exchange, in which the two industries angrily swapped studies with one another, may have dominated the conversation up until now – but with new technologies powering the latest dryers, the terms of the debate have shifted.

Today, it’s impossible to talk about hand dryers without mentioning the sophisticated hygiene technologies housed within their casing.

We’ve had great success, for example, in combining intelligent HEPA filters with UV light disinfection and ION particle generation– leading to a hand dryer which traps and kills 99.9 per cent of bacteria and viruses while blowing out clean air.

From paper parity to dryer dominance

These developments don’t represent the limits of the technology, but the beginning of a genuinely exciting new frontier for hand dryers.

After all, the aim of the game isn’t just to achieve some kind of hygienic parity with paper towels, but to reach heights that can’t be matched by these expensive disposable alternatives.

We’ve found, for example, that a good hand dryer doesn’t just blow out clean air – it cleans the air itself.

With the use of a negative ion generator, we’ve developed a means of turning hand dryers into air sterilisation units, allowing the machines to trap airborne bacteria and viruses in the local atmosphere and create a ‘safe zone’ in which washroom users can (as it were) breathe freely.

According to Professor Edward Nardell of Harvard University, in an article published in February 2022, indoor air cleaning will be a vital part of living with COVID – an effort which, as we’ve discovered, can see hand dryers taking on a vital role.

These developments will end the debate surrounding “hand dryers vs paper towels.” 

Although the latter’s claim to being the hygienic choice has always been dubious, the array of hygiene technologies at our disposal – combined with inarguable cost-effectiveness and sustainability – put the matter to bed.

Far from spewing germs around the washroom, the hand dryers of tomorrow will simultaneously destroy bacteria and viruses while keeping the air clean, sterile, and safe.

The paper towels of tomorrow will probably still be blue.

Matt Anderson is director of Velair.

For more information visit https://velair.co.uk