Paper Towels vs. Hand Dryers

Paper Towels vs. Hand Dryers

With the never-ending paper towels vs. hand dryers debate, evidence is easily found to support both sides. The fact is, both have their distinct advantages and disadvantages. Yes, there is money to be saved with hand dryers, but their longer dry times and the fact they can accommodate only patron at a time irks some users.

Beyond that, paper towels bring plenty of advantages that may make them the perfect solution for your facility or may convince you to make them a supplement to existing hand dryers. Some benefits of paper towels include cleaning spills, providing a germ-free way of opening inward-facing doors, and cleaning faces or clothing.

Making Paper Towels Environmentally Friendly

While it is true that paper towels made from virgin fibers present an ecological conundrum, there are some alternatives out there. Many manufacturers are now switching to paper towels that are made from recycled fibers, with some of them even offering towels made of 100 percent recycled paper. That reduces or eliminates the need for trees to be cut down just to produce something that will be immediately thrown away.

You have to be careful, though, because some of those who tout eco-friendly practices are really only referring to the cardboard core. Manufacturers who truly care about the environment will have their true recycled content clearly labeled. It's also important when you're opting for recycled paper towels that you look for products that are labeled totally chlorine-free (TCF) or processed chlorine-free (PCF), as processes that involve the use of bleach are harmful to the environment, as well.

You may also choose to purchase a paper towel dispenser that controls how much paper towel is dispensed at once. Simply by making the user have to work to get more, this can help reduce the number of wasted paper towels that could potentially end up in a landfill.1

Recyclable Paper Towels

While the fibers in paper towels are too short to make it impossible to recycle them through traditional methods, they can be still be salvaged and put to good use. They can be composted to create effective mulch for landscaping or gardening. Some waste disposal companies will even pick them up with your recycling, categorizing them as yard waste and using them in a similar fashion.

Some places are collecting paper towels in separate bins that are then taken to be spread over landfills to reduce wind erosion and enrich the soil.2

Paper Towels Eliminate Residual Moisture & Germs

One study shows that rubbing hands together under a hand dryer, which is encouraged by their directions for users, actually causes bacteria to be loosened from hair follicles. Research also indicates those bacteria and others on the hands can be blown around the area by the air from a hand dryer, spreading them to other surfaces and people.

With paper towels, you don't need to rub your hands together to get them completely dry. The germs are trapped within the paper towel and not dispersed throughout the area. Some research suggests that the rubbing of hands when using hand dryers can even cause mild to moderate skin damage.3

One of the biggest complaints people have when using hand dryers is that they simply don't get their hands dry enough. Many manufacturers claim quick drying times, but some people still end up with residual moisture.

One study by the National Institutes of Health found that this lack of complete dryness contributes to the spread of germs:

"The results provided irrefutable support for our hypothesis that residual moisture left on the hands after washing provides an interface that allows the translocation of micro-organisms from fingers to solid surfaces during touch contact. Hand drying after washing is therefore a critical factor in determining the level of touch-contact-associated cross contamination, although its relevance to hand hygiene seems to have been overlooked," according to the study reported in Epidemiology and Infection.4

Simply put, not only is it important to thoroughly wash your hands, you must thoroughly dry them as well if you want to be as hygienic as possible.

Reduce Time & Noise

Time is another factor that contributes to some people's aversions to hand dryers. With some units taking as long as 30 seconds to dry hands, many people skip drying and even washing altogether. Then there's the noise factor that many people find very irritating, especially in quiet locations like libraries and offices. Paper towels take just a few seconds to dry hands and generate very little noise.

When the hand dryers vs. paper towels debate is over, there will still be those times when a paper towel is simply a necessity. People need paper towels to blot spills, fix make-up mishaps, and provide an anti-germ way to open doors and flush toilets. And, let's face it, some people just prefer the certainty of dry hands that only paper towels can provide.

  1. "A Shopper's Guide to Home Tissue Products". Natural Resources Defense Council. Accessed 31 Mar 2015.
  2. Williams, Clint. "Recycle Paper Towels: Is It Possible?" Mother Nature Network. Accessed 31 Mar 2015.
  3. Yamamoto, Y., Ugai, K., and Takahashi, Y. "Efficiency of Hand Drying for Removing Bacteria from Washed Hands: Comparison of Paper Towel Drying with Warm Air Drying".Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology. 26 (2005): 316-320. Accessed 01 Apr 2015.
  4. Patrick, D. R., Findon, G., and Miller, T. E. "Residual Moisture Determines the Level of Touch-Contact-Associated Bacterial Transfer Following Hand Washing." Epidemiology and Infection. 119.3 (1997): 319-325. Accessed 01 Apr 2015.