Many people try to avoid public bathrooms at all costs, especially people who hate germs. I cringe whenever I need to lock the stall door or touch anything in a public bathroom for that matter. I always thought that I was in the clear after I washed my hands; I was wrong. The hand dryers in public bathrooms are not sanitary. It turns out that they spray your hands with more bacteria than you’d ever think. A new study conducted by the University of Connecticut found that hand dryers in public bathrooms were dispersing Bacillus Subtilis. This is a bacterium found in human feces. After learning this, you may want to stick solely to using paper towels. If the bathroom doesn’t have paper towels, it may be better to walk out of the bathroom with wet hands, rather than use the hand dryers. If you prefer to use hand dryers because they are eco-friendly, just know that you may be leaving the bathroom with bacteria-covered hands.
I’ll recap the results of the study so that you can decide how you would like to dry your hands in the future. The study showed that after someone “uses the bathroom”, the flushing mechanism causes bacteria to become aerosolized. This is exacerbated in public restrooms because so many of the toilets don’t have lids. The hand dryer recirculates the air in the room as it blows out bacteria-contaminated air onto your hands. The research team swabbed and tested the hand dryers to see if the bacteria had come from someone touching the actual hand dryer. It concluded that there weren’t enough bacteria on the dryer to account for that much bacteria on the hands. They theorized that the bacteria had to have come from the air.
The bacteria from these hand dryers probably won't make you sick, however, that doesn’t make it any less gross. The researchers said that the results were mainly directed toward health care facilities and other sterilized environments. We, as public bathroom users, shouldn’t be too concerned because most of our immune systems are strong enough to fight off the bacteria. One solution that the researchers came up with was to add HEPA filters to the hand dryers. HEPA filters are in air purifiers. They are used to reduce bacteria that are being spread by absorbing particles. The researchers tested their theory and found that after putting HEPA filters into the hand dryers, there were four times fewer bacteria found.
The researchers weren’t surprised with the results as they already knew that hand dryers aren’t very sanitary. In February, a woman named Nicole Ward, did a personal experiment of her own and posted the results on Facebook, which got hundreds of thousands of shares. She had put a petri dish under a hand dryer for three minutes. Three days later, she found an alarming amount of microorganisms growing in the petri dish. The picture below is of the petri dish used by Ward.
In 2016, a study conducted by Popular Science discovered that jet dryers, the ultra-modern dryers that get your hands dry in seconds, spread 1,300 more virus clumps than paper towels.
The choice is yours; paper towels or hand dryers. Paper towels create a lot of waste which is harmful to the environment. Hand dryers are said to be eco-friendlier, yet are you willing to sacrifice your clean hands to be “green”? Although slightly inconvenient, the best option may be to air-dry your hands, outside of the bathroom. Manufacturers of hand dryers may eventually catch on and start adding filters but until then you may want to keep hand sanitizer readily available.