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.