Paper or hand dryer? The great debate

paper-hand-dryersHand-washing stands as the first defense for a clean and hygienic workplace. But when it comes to hand-drying, which method proves better at removing germs – paper towels or hand dryers? And what are the consequences of using either for your sustainability program? New research had provided some definitive answers in the great debate. Check out our breakdown the breakdown on the pros and cons of both sides of the aisle.


Winner: Paper Towel

Multiple studies on the hygienic effectiveness of paper versus hand drying say paper wins, all around. Researchers believe the mere friction of wiping removes germs better at the microbial level. Paper also dries faster, which is crucial for hygiene, as damp hands transmit more diseases. Paper soaks up 99 percent of moisture in just 15 seconds, but hand blowers take 45 seconds to dry thoroughly.  It doesn’t help that dryers can become contaminated, emitting germs in their air flow thanks to poor design and maintenance. One study at the University of Westminster in London reports that jet air dryers dispersed 20 times more viruses than warm air dryers, and 190 times more than paper towels. The paper dispenser’s design, however, matters: hand-free access eliminates the contact germs of old push-and-crank handles.

Winner: Hand Dryer

A report from The Climate Conservancy shows hand dryers as the more ecological choice. Hand-dryers generate between 9 and 40 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per use, compared to an average 56 grams of carbon dioxide emissions for paper towels. The choice of model, however, is key. Newer high-speed dryers dry 80 percent more efficiently than older hot-air models. Recycled paper can help mitigate waste. EPA estimates say the production of recycled paper requires 40 percent less energy than making virgin paper. But this benefit is quickly reduced if the used paper isn’t in turn recycled.

Winner: Paper Towel

Some research has suggested that the presence of paper towels encourages more people to dry their hands. One study from Queensland University in Brisbane, Australia found that users strongly preferred paper towels and that “hand hygiene adherence would possibly decrease if paper towels are not available in washrooms.” The review suggested wait time could be the culprit. Dryers only allow for one user at a time, and the longer drying times often lead to avoidance or incomplete drying.