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Studies Show Public Bathroom Hand Dryers Spread Fecal Bacteria

Updated on November 14, 2018
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I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!

Hand dryers may be doing way more harm than good.
Hand dryers may be doing way more harm than good. | Source

For the past 150 years or so, personal hand hygiene has become a hot topic in health debate. In that time, people have gone from virtually never washing their hands to realizing how key it is in the curbing of illness. It's now commonplace that people wash their hands multiple times per day.

Not only is hand washing common these days, but it's now a basis by which society judges us. If you wash after using a public bathroom, you pass. If you don't, you are certainly made note of by everyone around you. In fact I remember a particular restaurant bathroom that actually blared a siren whenever someone left the bathroom without washing their hands. Everyone in the restaurant would hoot and holler in an effort to shun the person for their lack of personal hand hygiene.

When it comes down to it, personal hygiene, and public hand hygiene, has become an important factor in many of our lives. But there's something nobody is talking about, and that is the popularity of public hand dryers and the increasing absence of disposable paper towels. As we'll see, hand dryers may be doing way more harm than good.

Fecal Bacteria in the Air

It's somewhat common in public bathrooms to have lidless toilet seats, especially in busy public areas. This allows maintenance workers to more thoroughly clean the toilets and toilet seats a few times daily.

Obviously when using this type of uncovered toilet, urine and fecal bacteria particles are sprayed into the air each time a toilet is flushed. This mist of bacterial spray is known as a "toilet plume."

Toilet plumes can catapult fecal matter and fecal bacteria 15 feet into the air in a fine spray. Perhaps it's time we give feedback to businesses that decide to do away with toilet seat lids.

Public Toilet Tips

When possible, shut the lid before flushing, if there is one. With an open toilet, consider standing with your back to the toilet as it flushes. While this won't decrease the bacterial load sprayed onto you, it will decrease the amount that spreads to your eyes, nose, and mouth.

In people with pre-existing health issues, consider forming a barrier over the toilet with toilet paper and wearing a protective mask before flushing to decrease bacterial spread.

Fecal material and fecal bacteria in the air are sucked into the hand dryer.
Fecal material and fecal bacteria in the air are sucked into the hand dryer. | Source

Hand Dryers Blow Fecal Bacteria All Over You

The initial dousing with bacteria by the "toilet plume" after flushing is really just the beginning. After using the bathroom most people wash their hands next, and then dry them. While no known bacterial dispersion occurs while actually washing the hands, drying them with a public hand dryer is a different story.

While most people view "touchless" public hand dryers as a step up in cleanliness from paper towels, in fact they represent a public health nuisance. Paper towels are way less hazardous to health, although it's true that using them has a larger impact on the environment.

Disturbing Facts About Public Hand Dryers:

  • Fecal material and fecal bacteria in the air are sucked into the hand dryer.
  • Multiple strains of bacteria are sprayed all over the hands, face, and body.
  • All sorts of bacteria can live inside of the hand dryers themselves.
  • Bacteria from one location can easily spread throughout the building, adjoining buildings, and out to the public.

Warm air dryers spread 27 times more bacteria than paper towels. Jet air dryers spread 120 times more bacteria than paper towels.
Warm air dryers spread 27 times more bacteria than paper towels. Jet air dryers spread 120 times more bacteria than paper towels. | Source

Not All Hand Dryers Are Created Equal

Public hand dryers have been around since the 1950s, and in that time two major types have gained popularity. Warm air dryers have been around most of my life, but jet air dryers are somewhat new and have really come into their own in the past decade or so. While it's true the jet dryers spread bacteria through the air, it's also true they are a much more effective hand dryer than the old warm air dryers. If that was the only thing to it, life would be simple. But clearly no matter how much of a drag wet hands are, being coated in other people's fecal matter is much worse.

Warm Air Dryer

These are the classic hand dryers where warm arm is gently puffed onto hands. They have always been a somewhat ineffective hand dryer, with most people "giving up" and wiping their damp hands on their pants. They were such a letdown that manufacturers began making jet dryers to satisfy public demand.

Jet Air Dryer

Jet dryers use forced air, with some manufacturers claiming air speeds of up to 400 mph (644 kph.) They are the modern standard, you could say. Many jet air dryers involve not one, but two air jets, one to dry each side of the hands at the same time.

Hygiene Comparison of Hand Dryers:

  • Jet Air Dryers: Spread 120 times more bacteria than paper towels.
  • Warm Air Dryers: Spread 27 times more bacteria than paper towels.
  • Paper Towels: No significant spread of microorganisms.

Hopefully you'll pause next time you're about to use a jet air hand dryer.
Hopefully you'll pause next time you're about to use a jet air hand dryer. | Source

After Reading This Article, Will You Still Use Public Hand Dryers?

See results

Sources and Further Reading

Augenstein, S. (2018, April 13). Bathroom Hand Dryers Blow Fecal Bacteria. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2018/04/bathroom-hand-dryers-blow-fecal-bacteria

CBS Boston. (2018, April 12). Bathroom Hand Dryers Spray Feces Particles On Your Hands, Study Says. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://boston.cbslocal.com/2018/04/12/hand-dryers-feces-bacteria-study/

Hafner, J. (2018, April 13). Hand Dryers Suck in Fecal Bacteria and Blow It All over Your Hands, Study Finds. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/04/12/hand-dryers-suck-bathroom-bacteria-and-blow-them-all-over-your-hands-study-finds/511723002/

Huesca-Espitia, C., Aslanzadeh, J., Feinn, R., Joseph, G., Murray, T. S., & Setlow, P. (2018, April 15). Deposition of Bacteria and Bacterial Spores by Bathroom Hot-Air Hand Dryers. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://aem.asm.org/content/84/8/e00044-18/figures-only

Kimmitt, P. T., & Redway, K. F. (2016, January 20). Evaluation of the Potential for Virus Dispersal During Hand Drying: A Comparison of Three Methods. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jam.13014

Ossola, A. (2016, April 14). Do Jet Hand Dryers Really Spread More Germs Than Paper Towels? Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.popsci.com/do-jet-hand-dryers-spread-more-germs-than-paper-towels

Redway, K., & Fawdar, S. (2008, November). European Tissue Symposium: A Comparative Study of Three Different Hand Drying Methods: Paper Towel, Warm Air Dryer, Jet Air Dryer. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from http://europeantissue.com/pdfs/090402-2008 WUS Westminster University hygiene study, nov2008.pdf

Tampone, K. (2018, April 13). Study: Hand Dryers in Public Bathrooms Spray Fecal Matter on You. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.syracuse.com/health/index.ssf/2018/04/hand_dryers_fecal_matter.html

Wilcox, M. H., Best, E. L., & Parnell, P. (2017, October). Pilot Study to Determine Whether Microbial Contamination Levels in Hospital Washrooms Are Associated with Hand-Drying Method. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.journalofhospitalinfection.com/article/S0195-6701(17)30389-4/fulltext

© 2018 Kate P

Comments

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    • LupoTV profile image

      Tarrin Lupo 

      4 weeks ago from New Hampshire

      Never touch cash money either if you are a germophobe.

    • Faceless39 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate P 

      4 weeks ago from The North Woods, USA

      @Chitrangada Sharan, Thanks so much for your nice comments. While it's not necessarily something we think about often, it's true public restrooms are huge infection and disease vectors. Something for all of us to keep in mind!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

      Nice and useful information shared by you!

      Public restrooms are potent source of infections. You have raised some important points in your article, which is a must know for everyone.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Faceless39 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate P 

      4 weeks ago from The North Woods, USA

      @Learn Things Web, Yeah great point! I get the feeling companies manufactured them based purely on customer feedback and didn't necessarily take hand washing technique into account. I also get the feeling hand dryer manufacturers don't test them for bacteria, etc. None of the articles I read on this topic (public hand dryers) mentioned the unhygienic nature of a lot of hand washers out there. I've definitely seen my fair share of people who "rinse" with water briefly and then go use the hand dryer. Thanks for your comment..

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      JC Jehan 

      4 weeks ago from California

      I was referring more to the fact manufacturers should have seen problems coming because of poor hygiene. If someone hasn't washed their hands well or been able to use soap, germs will spread to their clothes, their hands, and into the air. Yes, that may be minimal compared to other factors, but I'm surprised no one took poor handwashing techniques into account when these systems were first designed since it seems so obvious. I always wash my hands extra well when only a dryer is available because I don't want germs getting all over my clothes.

    • Faceless39 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate P 

      4 weeks ago from The North Woods, USA

      @Learn Things Web, While your idea of how the fecal bacteria spreads via hand dryer is interesting, the recurring focus of this article is how fecal matter and fecal bacteria are sprayed 15 feet into the air when lidless toilets are flushed in public restrooms. This material gets sucked through the air intake into the hand dryers, where it can accumulate. It would be interesting to know how ineffectively washed hands might contribute to the dryer problem, although I would say it's probably minimal compared to the toilet plume problem. Thanks for your comment!

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      JC Jehan 

      4 weeks ago from California

      This should have been obvious to the manufacturers of these kinds of products. Many people don't wash their hands well enough to remove all germs so of course they were going to be spread around restrooms by these dryers. It's even worse when a public restroom is out of soap. People rinse their hands in water which doesn't do much to eliminate germs. Then they put their hands under the dryer and spread the germs around.

    • Faceless39 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate P 

      4 weeks ago from The North Woods, USA

      @blessedp, Thanks for the nice comments. Yeah, it really is disgusting--I agree! Hopefully this article will help open people's eyes..

    • blessedp profile image

      blessedp 

      4 weeks ago

      Omg! That is so disgusting. It is good to know. Just have to be more hygienic when using public restrooms.

      Good article, appreciate the heads up.

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