Paper Towels or Hand Dryers?

Public lavatory in office consisting of ceramic basin, hand dryer

Paper towels or hand dryers? It looks like the jury is still undecided on which one is better. Here are some points of comparison between the two.

Paper Towels or Hand Dryers — Germ-elimination

Wet hands are the favorite playground of bacteria and viruses so it makes sense that the primary factor of consideration in the battle between paper towels or hand dryers is drying time. It reportedly takes 10 seconds to dry your hands with a paper towel and at least 30 seconds when using an electric hand dryer. A public toilet is not the best place to hang around, so many people would rather grab a towel, rub water off and quickly get out. Plus, many people prefer paper towels because they can use them to open the door as they exit the restroom. With a hand dryer, you will have to spend a few awkward seconds standing in front of the machine while several people wait behind you. If you are like most people, you would probably walk out after a few seconds and just shake the rest of the water off of your hand.

So it looks like the paper towel has it on the germ elimination round, right? Well, not just yet. Any cleanliness freak will tell you it is not the drying but the washing that removes germs. You know how proper hand-washing works: wet your hands, apply soap and rub your fingers including the back of the hand and sing the birthday or ABC song twice before rinsing.

Paper Towels or Hand Dryers — Noise

Paper towels do not make noise so all fingers point to the poor hand dryer. However, developments in technology have made modern hand dryers considerably less noisy than their older counterparts. Some even say the soft whirr of the dryer is perfect for drowning out awkward toilet sounds. And besides, it is not as if you would install a hand dryer in a quiet boardroom!

Paper Towels or Hand Dryers — Environmental Factors

Hand dryer fanatics will quickly point out the fact that paper towels wreck havoc on the environment because of the many trees that need to be cut just to appease the modern world’s aversion to icky, wet hands. There is also the issue of clogged drainage systems and increased volume of garbage from tons of paper towels disposed every day. A Harvard University study reports that paper towels comprise the largest percentage of waste collected from a sampled office building. Hand dryers do not contribute to the trash but paper towel supporters would also counter that dryers use up energy and fuel, which the world badly needs to save more of.

Paper Towels or Hand Dryers — Cost Considerations

It is difficult to make a clear-cut cost comparison between electronic dryers and paper towels. There are just too many variables involved – quality of the paper, size, and brand, among others. Initially, buying and installing a hand dryer will cost a lot more than a paper towel dispenser. The average cost of a decent hand dryer is about $500 while a good paper towel dispenser is only about $30. Some dispensers are even installed free when bundled with a contract for paper towel supply.

In the long run, however, using paper towels may eventually exceed the cost of using hand dryers. Paper towels need to be restocked consistently while a hand dryer does not need much maintenance. Paper towels also increase the amount of refuse in the restrooms that must be dealt with on a daily basis. Some large businesses with really busy washrooms spend as much as $2,340 per year on paper towel supplies while electricity cost for a dryer only averages at about $14 per month.

Bottom line: using a paper towel or a hand dryer really boils down to personal preference. In fact, many businesses choose to install both in their washrooms!