A Lot of Hot Air (is just what we need)

Due to the former life of our office building, we have a bathroom every twenty feet. That’s a lot of sinks (that need aerators), toilets (that waste water), and paper towels. Alternatives to paper towels exist, most notably electric hand dryers and reusable cloth towels. I admire the intent of reusable cloth towels, but the reality is I avoid them like the plague. Maybe because they feel like they might carry the plague. Wrinkled and clammy. Which leaves you with electric hand dryers. They have been around forever, doing an OK job, but they take forever. Nothing like a hand dryer in a humid highway rest area bathroom, hot steamy air somehow making your hands wetter than they already were.

Fortunately, the hand dryer has evolved. Radical new designs and more efficient motors have made hand dryers faster and a lot more effective. The headline-grabber has been Dyson’s Airblade, which resembles a UV nail polish dryer at your salon. Slide your drippy hands into the gaps and they are blasted by a blade of wind, drying them in less than five seconds. A more modest option is Excel Dryer’s Xlerator. This looks related to the older dryers, which helps rookies figure out what they need to do. It takes a little longer than the Airblade, since it doesn’t enclose your hands, but it’s still a lot faster than the old version.

Why am I regaling you with the fascinating details of hand drying options? You were feeling sleepy already, so now your head is nodding and…YOU CAN SAVE MONEY. And reduce your environmental impact. We could buy one and a half of an Xlerator-type dryer for what it costs us to stock paper towels for a year. That dryer would last at least five years. The cost for the electricity to run the dryer would vary according to the model, but here’s a great cost calculator provided by (surprise!) a hand dryer manufacturer. So there’s your cost savings. As to the environmental benefits, take a look here and here to find out estimated impacts from producing and transporting paper towels. These links also include the carbon footprint of the manufacturing of the hand dryer and the electricity it uses when running.

Personal hygiene is well, personal, and your preferences about using paper towels or hand dryers will cover a broad range. I hope that more people will give the new hand dryers a try and reduce the volume of paper towels entering the trash stream. I know I will be canvassing our staff about what they would be comfortable using. Has your company provided hand dryers in your restrooms? How have they been accepted?

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Another point of view from a food safety guy I don't like blow dryers because the literature shows they accumulate microorganisms from toilet aerosols, and can cause contamination of hands as they are dried by the dryer (Coates et al., 1987; Knights, et al., 1993; Redway,et al., 1994). In 2010, Anna Snelling and colleagues at the University of Bradford (UK) also showed that drying with a blow dryer can recontaminate hands and rubbing with paper towel was the most effective method to reduce pathogens. http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu/blog/152430/12/01/09/hand-dryers-might-be-better-environment-worse-limiting-disease-spread