2015.81: Campaign to Eliminate Air Hand Dryers

Hot air dryers have the potential for depositing pathogenic bacteria onto the hands and body of users. Bacteria can also be inhaled and distributed into the general environment whenever dryers are running. It is recommended therefore that the use of hot air dryers should be carefully considered on health grounds, especially in sensitive locations such as hospitals, catering establishments and food preparation areas.

Hot air hand dryers do not dry as well as paper towels (leaving hands damp and welcoming to pathogens). When a toilet flushes it sprays a mist of shit-laden water droplets into the air. An air dryer sucks in this air, warms it up (bacteria love that), and blows it out again onto your damp hands. Several studies have found that paper towels do a better job of reducing bacteria on hands than do hot air driers; some find that air dryers increase bacteria on hands. “From a hygiene standpoint, paper towels are superior to air dryers; therefore, paper towels should be recommended for use in locations in which hygiene is paramount, such as hospitals and clinics.” (Interestingly, it appears that rubbing your hands together under the dryer, per instructions, makes things worse.)

Air hand dryers are a public-health menace. If you go to a restaurant that uses air hand dryers, you don’t only have to worry about the cleanliness of your own hands; you should be more worried about the cleanliness of the hands of the stafff—the cooks who cook your food, the waiters who serve it, the dishwashers who handle your dishes. If the restaurant has only hand air dryers, these people have bacteria from human feces all over their hands. Add to that bathroom doors that open inward, so that you have to touch the door handle to get out of the bathroom, and you might as well not wash your own hands.

So why do public places—restaurants and bars—have air hand dryers instead of paper towels? Money. Installing air dryers is cheaper (more than 2.3 cents per bathroom-using customer!) than buying and cleaning up paper towels.

Conclusion: Restaurants that use only air hand dryers are selling our health. They’re risking making us sick for a buck.

What can we do about this? I’m glad you asked. If someone is selling your health, make it more expensive for them.

How? Again, I’m glad you ask. The Internet has given us the tools to make air hand dryers prohibitively expensive to restaurants. We can make it more expensive for restaurants to use air hand dryers by reducing the reputation of the restaurants that sell our health. But we have to do it en masse.

Here’s my proposal: when you happen upon a restaurant that has only hand air dryers, leave a one-star review on Yelp. Explain in your review that it is based on the restaurant’s willingness to risk your health for a few pennies. Discuss that risk. Link to this post. Promise to change the review when the restaurant comes clean.

I promise you that it won’t take many one-star reviews to get these restaurants to put our health ahead of a few cents of profit.

17 responses to “2015.81: Campaign to Eliminate Air Hand Dryers”

  1. The study you cited has many flaws. 1st it was only a literature review. 2nd. It didn’t say that hand dryers spread germs, it just said they didn’t dry as well. 3rd it was written by a consultant from Kimberly Clarke, the paper company. I think you’re stating a campaign bc you like paper towels better.

    • The tertiary author of the peer-reviewed Mayo Clinic-published metastudy had worked as a Kimberly-Clark consultant. That doesn’t much affect the credibility of the metastudy (which had two other authors with no such history), much less the credibility of the underlying studies.

      Even if you poo-poo all of the research, the fact remains that paper towels dry better faster than air dryers, and moisture is bacteria’s friend. While you and I might be able, with some patience, to get our hands as dry with air dryers, there’s no guarantee that the guy preparing our salads will do the same. I want that guy to wash his hands really well (unlikely in the first place) and then dry them thoroughly.

      You bet I like paper towels better. They’re not spraying aerosolized fecal bacteria all over me. Why do you prefer air dryers?

  2. It might sound stupid… but the only TED video that actually changed my life was the one that explained how to dry your hands with one paper towel. Basically it was (1) shake off as much water as possible and (2) fold the paper towel in half so you have two layers.

  3. Another benefit of paper towels is that, having dried one’s hands, one can use the paper towel to grasp the handle of the inward opening door, thereby avoiding contamination from the dirty bastards who didn’t bother to wash their hands.

    • Right. Many bathrooms have toilets that you don’t have to touch to flush, sinks that you don’t have to touch to wash, soap dispensers that you don’t have to touch to get soap, and then at the exit have a handle that everyone else touches.

      • I really like bathrooms that have an antibacterial gel dispenser at the exit. (I also carry a small one in my pocket ever since I worked in a place in which the tap water was contaminated with E. coli.)

  4. Let’s get active! Let’s choose an issue and make the world a better place for everyone! Let’s struggle against injustice and oppression everywhere! I know— let’s campaign against hot air hand dryers! Yeah! That’s right! Down with those nasty things! Rip ’em out the wall! Off with their heads!

    • Hahahaha. No.

      Air dryers make people sick. Being sick makes people feel bad. Preventing people from feeling bad is good. We can do a good thing by convincing restaurants to provide paper towels. We can convince restaurants to provide paper towels by letting them know in online reviews that they are being penalized for not doing so. This small act takes nothing away from all of the other good things we do to struggle against injustice and oppression everywhere (for the sake of the argument we’ll pretend, here, that like me but unlike most people you put your money where your mouth is and actually do things to struggle against injustice and oppression).

      • Can you prove that statement with facts? You say they make us sick (and they may) but without evidence you are merely making a baseless assertion.

  5. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the potential loss-of-hearing risk some of these dryers pose. I SAID, I’M SURPRISED YOU DIDN’T MENTION THE POTENTIAL — ok, never, mind, it finally shut off. I’d really like to take a decibel-meter into one of those bathrooms and then maybe make a complaint to OSHA. They are absurdly loud.

  6. Air dryers suck, but you’re out to lunch about the health risks. Fecal germs are everywhere, and your body can deal with them just fine.

    Sometimes people need a thing called a fecal transplant. After years of trying to ignore the obvious, doctors realized the easiest way to do it is by literally eating shit. A lot of it. I’m talking quantities where they need to break it up into 15-30 pills so you can swallow it all.

    So don’t worry about it too much. You’re probably up to your elbows in the stuff every time you touch a keyboard, an it hasn’t killed you yet.

    • As far as I know doctors don’t choose a fecal transplant donor at random from a population of people of dubious health. I’m not worried about my own or my family’s microbiome, but if everyone’s germs played well together, we’d never get sick.

      You may be one who thinks it’s not necessary to wash your hands, because your argument is equally valid in its support of that proposition, which most people aren’t buying.

  7. You have a point, but you ignorie an important principle: everything is poisonous, it’s only a question of what dose makes it a poison.

    What was it they say about Mithridates?
    It wasn’t that he he washed his hands a lot. No, it goes like this:

    There was a king reigned in the East:
    There, when kings will sit to feast,
    They get their fill before they think
    With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
    He gathered all that springs to birth
    From the many-venomed earth;
    First a little, thence to more,
    He sampled all her killing store;
    And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
    Sate the king when healths went round.
    They put arsenic in his meat
    And stared aghast to watch him eat;
    They poured strychnine in his cup
    And shook to see him drink it up:
    They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
    Them it was their poison hurt.
    –I tell the tale that I heard told.
    Mithridates, he died old.

    • Sure (you’re talking to a guy who spent four years in Delhi building up his immunity to microbial iocane powder), but again the argument supports not washing your hands in public restrooms. Assuming that people wash their hands in public restrooms because they don’t want to partake of that particular microbiome at that particular time, they ought to know what they’re in for with air dryers. And if the state is going to require restaurant employees to wash their hands after using the restroom, the restaurant ought to provide effective equipment. Otherwise, let’s just admit that handwashing is a useless ritual, and caveat emptor.

      • Iocaine powder, huh? Nasty stuff.

        My issue with these studies is that they look at what’s easy to measure instead of what matters.They can tell clean hands apart from very clean hands. But it’s the opposite end of the spectrum we’re in terested in!

        It’s that one person in a hundred carrying something really infectious where hand-washing will make a difference. The other 99 with traces of germs are not telling us anything useful.

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