Are Bathroom Hand Dryers Safe to Use?

Youíre standing in a public washroom, youíve thoroughly washed your hands and then you notice the paper towels and a hand dryer: which one do you choose? If youíre like many people you probably think the hand dryer is more hygienic. But is that really true?

According to a new study published in the medical journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, bathroom hand dryers (which are frequently believed to be more hygienic) actually disperse bacteria and may be contributing to the spread of harmful bacterial infections.

The team from the University of Connecticut Health and Quinnipiac University used bacterial culture plates in 36 womenís and menís bathrooms, exposing them to the air blown from hot air driers for 30 seconds each. Then they assessed the bacteria captured. They found that each plate had an average of 18 to 60 colonies of varying types of bacteria. They also used bacterial culture plates to capture air from the bathroom from 2 minutes of exposure without the hand dryers running. The bathroom air alone had 1 or fewer colonies per plate, which is significantly less than the 18 to 60 captured by the hand dryers.

The researchers also installed HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters into the hand dryers and repeated their test. They found that the air filters significantly reduced the amount of bacterial colonies but did not completely remove them.

The new study confirms the findings of an earlier study published in the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences in which the researchers found that hand dryers were often contaminated with a range of bacteria that were emitted from all hand dryers tested, including: Staphylococcus haemolyticus, Micrococcus luteus, Pseudomonas alcaligenes, Bacillus cereus and Brevundimonad diminuta/vesicularis.

So, whatís a germophobe to do?

Skip the hand dryer. Thereís no way to know if it contains a HEPA filter or, even if they do, whether the filter is changed frequently enough. So, itís probably best to avoid using the hand dryer altogether.

While you may be tempted to use one of the readily-available hand sanitizers on the market, I discourage their use. These chemical-based products usually contain harmful compounds that are best avoided. Besides that, they arenít that effective. In a study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers found that hand sanitizers were simply not that effective against bacterial colonies. The overuse of antibacterial soaps and sanitizers is playing a role in the evolution of superbugs that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics so it is best to avoid being part of this serious problem.

Carry your own handkerchief with you and wash it regularly. While you could use paper towels that would mean the destruction of more trees at a time on our planet when we need trees to purify the already-polluted air we breathe. Yes, it means carrying one more thing in your already packed purse or bag but letís face it: how much weight will a small handkerchief really add? Not much.

I came up with the idea of using alcohol swabs after completing my training in acupuncture. Initially, Iíd swab the areas to needle with the alcohol swabs to prevent any possible infection with needling. Then I realized, I should keep packages of the swabs handy for cleaning my hands, too. They are available in the diabetic section of most pharmacies. I keep several of them in my purse, glove compartment of my car and in jacket pockets. They are tiny and inexpensive but effective for killing many bacteria. I wipe my hands with them after any public washroom visits.

Use essential oils that have proven antibacterial properties but do not encourage the growth of resistant bacteria, such as oregano, thyme and cinnamon. I keep a tiny bottle of these oils diluted in a small amount of coconut oil in my purse and apply to my hands after using a public bathroom.

Get in the habit of rewashing your hands thoroughly with a natural soap when you arrive home each day. While it wonít eliminate your bacterial exposures, it will help prevent their transmission on surfaces around your home.

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Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news Worldís Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life.

45 comments

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 months ago

I hate those hand dryers! I will use paper towels if offered.

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Greta L
Greta L4 months ago

thank you

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Sharon S
Sharon S4 months ago

Paper towels over the hand dryer every time. However, I prefer to shake the excess water off my hands in the sink. The rest will evaporate quickly.

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Bev F
Bev Farris4 months ago

It is so good to read this!! One look at the dryer pointed to the public restroom floor and all the dust and whatever being blown upwards into the face if the person using the dryer. NO THANKS. I keep a paper napkin in my pocket or just let my hands air dry.

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mac C
mac C4 months ago

Wow, good to know. Thank you!

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Danuta W
Danuta W4 months ago

Thank you for posting.

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Beryl L
Beryl Ludwig4 months ago

I already do most of these. Use a hand dryer? I'd rather drip dry.

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Elaine W
Elaine W4 months ago

thanks for the warning

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Colin C
Colin C4 months ago

I hate those hot air hand driers and always use my own handkerchief unless disposable paper towels are available. Interesting about hand sanitizing wipes I will get some alcohol swabs.

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Ruth S
Ruth S4 months ago

Thanks.

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