Hand Dryers vs. Paper Towels

Hand Dryers vs Paper Towels

In the great paper towels vs. hand dryer debate, the question remains as to the superiority of one over the other when it comes to their hygienic properties, with each side pointing to differing studies. However, in all other aspects hand dryers blow paper towels away, hands down. When it comes to carbon emissions, neatness, and cost, even the most expensive hand dryers have been proven to be more energy efficient than the cheapest hand towel.[1]


There are three primary concerns that often bar operators from making the switch to hand dryers.

  • People are concerned with how sanitary hand dryers really are. Older models really just blew germs all around the area, but today's advancements are truly focused on capturing and destroying them. A recent study from Leeds University argued that hand dryers can actually aid in the spread of germs, but Dr. Benjamin Tanner of Antimicrobial Test Laboratories disputes the findings of that study. He posits that the testing methodologies were flawed and that the hygienic benefits of hand dryers over paper towels is great.
  • [1]
  • Dyson has introduced new models with powerful motors that tout 10-second drying times and dual HEPA filters. These filter ensure that the air that reaches your hands is as clean as possible. American Dryer also lauds quicker drying times, and their Cold Plasma Clean actually destroys up to 99 percent of pathogens, such as salmonella, staph, and MRSA.
  • Secondly, previous models had slow and insufficient drying times. With powerful motors and newly designed downdrafts, several manufactures have beefed up their efforts to alleviate this problem.
  • The third concern is that only one person can dry his hands at a time, which can cause traffic flow problems. With a short drying cycle, this shouldn't be an issue. If it is, however, the amount of money you'd save in just a year's time from not buying paper towels will allow you to purchase two or more units to help alleviate long lines.

Hand Dryers Cut Labor & Waste

Aside from the general emissions that are generated in debating hand dryers vs. paper towels , one must also consider those that are produced when disposing of used paper towels. Bags and bags of used paper towels must be taken to a landfill, as paper towels can't be recycled. You'll also need to consider storage space for not only the paper towels themselves, but also the trash bags you'll need to constantly replace. Additionally, there will be need for bigger collection bins and more pick-ups by your waste management company.

When it comes to neatness, paper towels can't compare with hand dryers. Not only are paper towels unsightly when they are out of place, they can have hidden costs associated with them. Paper towel dispensers are easy for vandals to access and trash your restroom. Also during busy times, if no one empties trash receptacles, the overflow can cause an unsightly mess. This can give the illusion that your restroom is overall messy and unsanitary. In extreme cases, sinks and toilets clogged with paper towels can require costly repairs. With hand dryers, this problem is avoided.


A study out of Portland State University (PSU) that hand dryers used at their optimal output will still recover the initial cost of investment in less than two years. Given that many of these dryers last more than ten years, the potential for the amount of money that can be saved over the remaining years is staggering. In one year, PSU spent nearly $74,000 on paper towels alone. If you take the amount of it costs to install hand dryers (roughly $118,000) and divide it by the life expectancy of 10 years, then add the cost of electricity for a year (about $5,800), we could estimate the cost per year to be about $17,600. Over the course of ten years, the university would save nearly half a million dollars. [2]

Carbon Emissions

Some of the negative impacts on the environment of paper towels is certain. Trees filter carbon, so cutting them down alone increases carbon in the atmosphere. Since paper towels can't be recycled, they waste away in landfills until they are incinerated, further harming the environment. [3]

The PSU study pitted hand dryers against paper towels to see which one presented the most carbon emissions. The researchers deduced that about the same number of emissions occurred with the production of each type and also their initial delivery. According to the study, the use of hand dryers would reduce carbon emissions by nearly 9,000 kg. When you also consider the emissions that will go along with constant resupply of paper towels, those created in the production process of hand dryers easily pale in comparison.[4]

Those savings don't even include the amount of money it costs to properly dispose of used paper towels or the labor involved in keeping them stocked. Even if you have a top-of-the-line hand dryer running constantly at full power, you still won't spend as much money as you will through the constant demand paper towels place on your bottom line. You'll also help the environment by reducing the number of paper towels in landfills.[5]

[1]Howe, Marc. "Jet Hand Dryers Perhaps Not as Filthy as Feared." Sourceable.com. Accessed 24 March 2015.

[2]Robinson, Marcene. "Paper Towels Fold in Study Versus Hand Dryers". University at Buffalo. Accessed 12 March 2015.

[3] "Sustainable Hand Drying". University of Rochester. Accessed 24 March 2015.

[4]Billings, J., O'Flaherty, R. Wissman, D., and Wolcott, L. "Hand Dryers VS Paper Towels". Portland State University. Accessed 12 March 2015.

[5]Neuman, Richard. "Paper Towels or Hand Dryers in Your Bathrooms?" The Owner's Rep. Accessed 11 March 2015.