Hand dryers: What’s the current advice from government and leading health organisations?


At Intelligent Facility Solutions, we pride ourselves on thoroughly researching and sharing the facts surrounding washroom products. This allows you to pass accurate information to your own customers with complete confidence, helping overcome any objections.

We’ve a vast knowledge of washroom and sustainability related topics, always there for you to rely on. A lot of misinformation regarding the most hygienic hand drying method gets circulated, usually by the manufacturers, suppliers and representative bodies of either the paper towel or the electric hand dryer industries. The reason is more likely revenue, not hygiene, related. So, it’s understandable you may not be 100% certain you have all the correct information at hand, which may be affecting your sustainable product specification selections or indeed product sales.

Here’s the most up-to-date official advice in a nutshell;

Damp hands are 1,000 times more likely to pick up bacteria than dry hands and to leave the hands wet is one of the biggest threats to hygiene, not the method used.

Based on the available scientific evidence and advice from reputable, global health organisations and UK Government, the correct and key message for proper and effective hand hygiene is:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly for 20 – 30 seconds
  • Always make sure there is a method available to dry hands
  • Make sure hands are completely dry, including between the fingers and under the nails, before leaving the washroom, using EITHER paper towels or hand dryers
  • Do not use your clothes or multi-use towels as they are known to be high-risk cross contamination points.

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The correct health organisation and UK government advice

Yale School of Medicine state:

“Since threats like COVID-19 can lead to the circulation of misinformation, it’s important to trust information only from reputable health organizations and government sources such as the CDC and the WHO”

“Dry your hands completely. You can dry them under a warm air dryer or use a paper towel. Avoid a recently used towel, as moisture is a good breeding ground for bacteria, which makes drying your hands an important step”

In early March 2020, The World Health Organisation (WHO) put out this message on the subject of hand washing:

"To protect yourself against the new coronavirus, you should frequently clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Once your hands are cleaned, you should dry them thoroughly by using paper towels or a warm air dryer."

Yale School of Medicine quote the scientific evidence page of hand washing and drying from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

“The CDC recommends the following preventive actions:

Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Dry them thoroughly with an air dryer or clean towel. If soap isn’t available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.”

The UK Government in its Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) information (updated 17th September 2020), aimed at a vast range of business sectors from hairdressers, restaurants and offices, to labs, research facilities and more, regarding how to make your workplace COVID-secure states:

“5.3 Hygiene: handwashing, sanitation facilities and toilets. To help everyone keep good hygiene through the working day, steps that will usually be needed includes the provision of hand drying facilities – either paper towels or electrical dryers.”

The heritage centres and hotels section has slightly different wording:

“To enable good hand hygiene consider making hand sanitiser available on entry to toilets where safe and practical, and ensure suitable hand-washing facilities including running water and liquid soap and suitable options for drying (either paper towels or hand dryers) are available.”

As for schoolsearly years & child care providers and further education, the UK Government’s guidance (as of 17th September 2020), in the “system of controls” section, headed “Prevention” states:

“Everyone must wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and running water or use hand sanitiser after any contact with someone who is unwell. The area around the person with symptoms must be cleaned with normal household bleach after they have left to reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people. See the COVID-19: cleaning of non-healthcare settings guidance.”

In the “COVID-19: cleaning of non-healthcare settings guidance” the “bathroom” section states:

“Clean frequently touched surfaces regularly. Ensure suitable hand washing facilities are available including running water, liquid soap and paper towels or (electric) hand dryers. Where cloth towels are used, these should be for individual use and laundered in accordance with washing instructions.”

Independent microbiologist, Dr. David L Webber, has confirmed that the use of hand dryers in the washroom does not contribute to the spread of the novel coronavirus

Where does all the misinformation come from?

Rumours are circulated off the back of PR-funded 'science' from the extremely lucrative, yet highly unsustainable paper towel industry. 

This unnecessarily leads to adoption of environmentally damaging, single-use products (paper towels), placing a huge economic burden on schools and work places, whilst damaging their sustainability targets.

Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D. at the University of Arizona's Zuckerman College of Public Health has been quoted as saying: "Consumers may only read [sensationalized] headlines which can influence public opinion toward biased or erroneous conclusions, [but] the fact is, the breadth of data available does not favour one hand drying method as being more hygienic or safer.”

Reynolds, et al (2020) examined 293 pieces of data on the topic of hand hygiene ranging from published studies, news reports and online content. They then devised criteria to examine the studies and narrow their focus to credible, peer-reviewed or scientific studies. 23 studies met said criteria and were examined by considering such factors as sample size, methodology, data quality and whether or not the study was set up to mimic a real-world scenario.

From the study:

"Many of the findings were overgeneralized and included unsubstantiated claims, internet rumours and inaccurate information reported as fact... One of the concerns with the grey literature reviewed in our study is the potential bias in the reporting. Some of the top-ranking articles in our Google search were white papers authored or sponsored by paper companies. Additionally, media reports frequently used sensationalized headlines. While such headlines may increase traffic, they sometimes overgeneralize or exaggerate study results. Consumers may only read headlines which can influence public opinion towards biased or erroneous conclusions (Ecker et al. 2014). Ecker et al. also found that readers are more likely to recall details of the article relative to expectations set by inferences in the headline and not by what the article actually says."

The abstract concludes:

"Results were mixed among and within studies and many lacked consistent design or statistical analysis. The breadth of data does not favour one method as being more hygienic. However, some authors extended generalizable recommendations without sufficient scientific evidence. The use of tools in quantitative microbial risk assessment is suggested to evaluate health exposure potentials and risks relative to hand-drying methods. We found no data to support any human health claims associated with hand drying methods. Inconclusive and conflicting results represent data gaps preventing the advancement of hand- drying policy or practice recommendations."

Although we are not saying paper towels are harmful, it’s interesting to note what isn’t widely publicised such as hundreds of thousands of bacteria are actually located on an unused paper towel, with the bacteria capable of transferring to wet hands when being used.

Also, germ transfer is rife when paper towels get stuck in the dispenser and bacteria can be transferred from the zig zag of hands to paper-towel dispensers and back again. It means you have to touch the inside of the dispenser and the next lot of paper towels as you fight with them to get one or two out.

We know that moist areas are an ideal area for bacteria to grow and Taylor et al. (2000) state “paper towels would be deposited in bins and therefore, could potentially act as a bacteriological reservoir if disposal was not managed correctly.” In other words, a bacteria breeding ground in the washroom.

That’s a lot of staff wasted time making sure dispensers are filled up and bins emptied.

Did you know? One ton of virgin paper towels consumes 17 trees, uses 20,000 gallons and pollutes 7,000 gallons of water, produces more than 3 tons of CO2 emissions, and requires 40 cubic feet of landfill space? Not very good for the environment!

Armed with the above information, you can confidently reassure your customers that the benefits of hand dryers are:

  • They’re touch free
  • They never run out
  • Have massive cost reductions (95% + savings against constant purchasing of paper towels)
  • They’re better for the environment

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Whilst hygiene is a big talking point, are you familiar with air and surface sterilisers for washrooms?

These units effectively take in air, clean it, and then release it back into the open space. Plus, the processed air that leaves the unit actually becomes an efficient cleaning agent, targeting the pathogens in the air and on surfaces. A double win!

They tend to use a technology based on a combination of: ultraviolet light, ozone, plasma and negatively-charged ions. All of which already exist in nature.

This technology controls bacteria, viruses and moulds both in the air and on surfaces. With this control, it can eliminate odours, reassuring users that the space is nice and clean.

Why would your customers need an air steriliser?

  • They’re fully automated and chemical-free providing 24/7 cleaning support, as they kill and reduce up to 98% of germs, complementing usual essential cleaning routines.
  • It removes the need of constantly replacing and buying air fresheners, because air sterilisers don’t just mask the smell (as air fresheners do), but actually gets rid of the source of the odours.
  • This not only saves you money in the long run, but is also environmentally friendly as air fresheners and the like are usually disposable products, so reducing your waste too!

Learn more in this video here: https://youtu.be/wTQS4oP99fE

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To always keep ahead of the game with reliable facts or for further information on all products and services offered by Intelligent Facility Solutions telephone 0114 3540047, email sales@ihdryers.co.uk or visit www.intelligenthanddryers.com