Studies Show Public Bathroom Hand Dryers Spread Fecal Bacteria
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.
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.
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.
After Reading This Article, Will You Still Use Public Hand Dryers?
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