Maria Sykes
Maria Sykes
June 6, 2024 ·  2 min read

Hand Dryers Spread Bacteria So Dramatically That Scientists Think They’re a Public Health Threat

Do you remember the days when you would be washing your hands in a public bathroom and you would either reach for some paper towel or, if they were out, do the old jean dry? Then one day, behold! The push button hand dryer arrived, but not to much aplomb; the soft stream of warm air was slightly better than letting your hands air dry.

The Hand Dryer Dilemma

hand dryer

But, as technology does time and again, there was an upgrade: 

If you’ve used one of these, you know how great it feels to just have the water on your hands disappear in moments, instead of furiously rubbing your hands together in front of a gentle puff of lukewarm air.

While advancements in technology have improved our lives greatly, are we really better off with this air dryer of the future?

hand dryer

The Downside of Efficient Hand Dryers

According to one study, published in the Journal of Microbiology, that stream of air drying your hands so quickly could also be blasting germs over you and the rest of the bathroom. The study, which was led by researchers at the University of Westminster, found that the jet dryers spread 60 times more germs than conventional box air dryers and 1,300 times more germs than paper towels [1].

Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut suggested that hand dryers can expose you to 18-60 times the amount of bacteria as other areas of the bathroom!

hand dryer
Image Credit: European Tisses

But these hand dryers are not the only reason germs are being spread. The real problem begins with people. Besides those that don’t wash their hands at all after using public restrooms, the rest of us aren’t washing our hands properly. According to the CDC, we need to be scrubbing our palms, back of the hands, and under our fingernails for at least 20 seconds [2]. If you need a timer, hum ‘Happy Birthday’ twice and your hands will be good to go.

A 2010 study conducted by the American Society of Microbiology reports that  96% of people say they wash their hands after using a public restroom, while only 85% actually do wash their hands. When it comes to gender, 77 of men and 93% of women say they wash their hands. [3]

hand dryers
Image Credit: Tork Report | SCA

Dirty hands are the most common way that diseases like the flu spread. While it might seem harmless, by improperly washing your hands you expose yourself and others to the risk of disease.

Next time you find yourself in a public washroom and you’re wondering just how to dry your hands, maybe just stick with the old air dry method.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2018 and has since been updated.