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Hand dryers in bathrooms might be good for the environment, but they’re also great at spreading bacteria.
Like an electronic sneeze: In a 2014 study researchers from the University of Leeds found hand air dryers increased the amount of bacteria spread around the restroom by a disturbing amount. In lab experiments, jet-air generated 27 times the amount of bacteria in the air compared to using paper towels, and the invisible bacteria cloud lasted for 15 minutes.
“The problem starts because some people do not wash their hands properly,” lead researcher Mark Wilcox said. “In effect, the dryer creates an aerosol that contaminates the toilet room, including the dryer itself and potentially the sinks, floor and other surfaces …”
Keeping the sick (and public) safe: The same team has now done a follow up study that had equally frightening results. The scientists set up shop in three hospitals in three cities in different countries, taking samples from bathrooms in each facility that offered only jet dryers or only paper towels. The bathrooms with the jet dryers consistently had higher amounts of bacteria in the air and on counters, handles and other surfaces.
The growing body of research has led health care facilities in several countries, like France, to update regulations to encourage the use of paper towels, and the Leeds research team has not only recommended the British health care system improve its standards, but also challenged the use of jet dryers in any public setting. The United States currently has no restrictions on electronic hand dryer use.