Given the choice between noisy hand dryers and tree-felling paper towels, dryers are the better option, right? Maybe not, at least when it comes to your health. A University of Leeds study finds hand dryers, especially "jet-air" models, can actually spread germs around a public bathroom. To simulate what could linger after poor handwashing, researchers coated participants' hands with a harmless bacteria not typically found in bathrooms. Participants then dried their hands, and scientists tested bacteria in the air near the various hand-drying options. What they found: The air around jet-air dryers held 27 times more bacteria than was found around paper towels, and 4.5 times more than around warm-air dryers. Further, "a similar pattern was seen for bacterial counts [3 feet] away," they write.
And that bacteria lingers: Half was collected in the air around dryers five minutes after use, with bacteria still hanging around after 15 minutes. "Next time you dry your hands in a public toilet using an electric hand dryer ... you may be splattered with bugs from other people's hands," a researcher says in a statement. The researchers conclude "air dryers may be unsuitable for use in healthcare settings, as they may facilitate microbial cross-contamination." But a rep for jet-dryer maker Dyson points out that the "paper towel industry" (specifically, the European Tissue Symposium) funded the "flawed" research, which "tested glove-covered hands, which have been contaminated with unrealistically high levels of bacteria, and not washed." (It's not the first study to come to this conclusion.)