Are hand dryers safe?

Are hand dryers safe? That seems to be the question on everybody’s lips. 

You can hardly pick up a newspaper or read a blog these days without encountering some scathing report about the safety of hand dryers. 

The popular view is that hand dryers spread germs and bacteria inside the washroom. This has been fuelled by the recent flurry of flawed experiments funded by the paper towel industry. An industry which – thanks to the advantages and advancements of hand dryer technology – remains under threat.

So, we thought we’d set things straight. 

Are hand dryers safe? The facts speak for themselves

Hand dryers do not gather bacteria, they filter it

It is fast becoming the norm for modern hand dryers to include a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter inside them. 

The HEPA filter enables a hand dryer to suck in and trap over 99% of airborne bacteria and other harmful particles, meaning that the air flowing onto users’ hands remains clean. 

Paper towel dispensers are also open to the air, whereas the elements within hand dryers are completely enclosed. This means that bacteria are unable to collect in hidden places that a cleaner might miss.

Hand dryers are touch-free, which promotes hygiene

Automatic dryers have movement sensors, so they don’t require physical touch to activate them. This is an important fact to consider when questioning ‘are hand dryers safe?’. 

Because these dryers are touch-free, they won’t pick up bacteria from a previous user’s hands and transfer them onto the skin of the next person. Manual devices like paper towel dispensers are often responsible for this.

The touchless nature of hand dryers means that the build-up of bacteria and other harmful particles remains reassuringly low. 

Hand dryers are not ‘virus catapults’

One of the ‘scientific’ experiments most regularly cited by hand dryer critics was the 2016 study by the University of Westminster.

When comparing the germ-spreading abilities of a jet hand dryer against a conventional heater-dryer and paper towels, the study found that the jet dryer to be the worst by far.  It found that the high speed airflow spread 1,300 times as many MS2 virus particles around the bathroom as a paper towel. 

Taken at face value, this sounds like a convincing argument against using hand dryers. But it is important to realise that the findings were greatly exaggerated by the press, and that they are based on deeply flawed scientific methods. 

Put simply – the University’s scientists failed to test using a real-world scenario. 

Why the tests were flawed

Firstly, the test subject’s gloved hands weren’t just sprinkled with the MS2 virus – they were soaked in it, creating a viral load of unnatural proportions on the hands. 

Then, rather than washing the contaminated hands (as a person normally would), they were only given a light shake before being inserted into the dryer. 

When considered in the light of these facts, it’s clear that this test was probably engineered to show a hand dryer spreading huge amounts of a virus around a bathroom. 

What does this mean?

Drying skin in 10 seconds or less, high velocity airflow is in fact one of the quickest ways of removing moisture from the hands, making it much harder for bacteria to breed on the skin. 

The number of germs dryers spread is also dramatically lower than the study suggests, meaning that they should be considered safer than (or at least as safe as) paper towels and other hand-drying methods.

Hand dryers are easy to clean inside and out

Hand dryers are also designed to be safe and easy to clean. Far from creating a build-up of germs and bacteria, they’re helping to prevent just that.

Replaceable HEPA filters

Look for hand dryers which have accessible HEPA filters. These models enable you to change the filter manually, meaning that it continues to clean the air safely and effectively. 

Easy-to-clean casings

Stainless steel, acrylic plastic and powder-coated metal – these are the most commonly used casing materials for modern hand dryers. 

The reason for this is twofold: firstly; these materials are safe and easy to clean with most anti-bacterial sterilising products, and secondly; these surfaces are incredibly smooth – even when viewed on a microscopic level – making it almost impossible for bacteria to stick to the outside of the hand dryer. 

UVC technology

Some revolutionary new hand dryers are so safe, they’re designed to actively clean the air in your washroom, 24 hours a day. 

Using a sterilisation method that harnesses UV light at sufficiently short wavelengths, these sophisticated dryers can break down micro-organisms in the surrounding air, removing their reproductive capabilities and effectively destroying them. 

This not only sterilises the air, it leaves it fresh and odour-free.

For all these reasons and more, hand dryers deserve recognition as some of the safest technology ever developed. Period.