Six years back, a group of researchers from Leeds University had announced that the hand dryers found in public washroom weren’t sanitary at all. This was major news to the public, for one of the reasons why hand dryers were installed was because they were supposed to be more sanitary.
What these air dryers do is simply perforate the entire atmosphere around you with the germs that they blow from your hands. So, while they might be cleaning your hands, they aren’t really letting others clean their hands.
Based on several lab experiments, it was found that a hand dryer brought forth 27 times more bacteria than a normal paper towel. Also, the germs stayed for a long period of time in the air. But that was a mere hypothesis, as Professor Wilcox came back with his colleagues to find real-world examples in 2018. And for this purpose, they chose hospital bathrooms- a setting that needed to be clean for the health and welfare of everyone. Ironically it was found that hospital bathrooms usually contain more bacteria than any other location, according to the Journal of Hospital Infection.
The investigation required the services of three cities- Paris, Leeds, and Udine. The time set was for 12 weeks- within which two hospitals per city were selected. These hospital bathrooms were used by the workers in the hospital, so it would be able to provide correct information. What the researchers did was set up paper towels in one of the hospitals while using hand dryers in the other. They had decided to record the observation every 4 weeks, after which the method of drying would be reversed. At the end of 8 weeks, the process would go back to the order set in the first week, to get a final reading.
Image: Best, E. et al/Journal of Hospital Infection, 2018
The swabs collected from these bathrooms were then set up for culture in the labs. As they had previously proved, hospitals with hand dryers dished out bacteria a lot more. In Udine, for example, bacteria was 100 times more where hand dryers were placed, than in places with paper towels. In Leeds, it was 27 times more, and in Paris, 33 times more.
In the restrooms at Leeds and other places in the UK, the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was found thrice more in the usage of hand dryers. Species of bacteria that were resistant to most penicillin were in abundance in public restrooms, especially bacteria that were very hard to diagnose and treat.
In the French and Italian hospitals, there was a definite presence of bacteria that could be drug-resistant. After the experiment, Professor Wilcox’s team wrote a statement which stated that hand dryers weren’t suitable in a clinical setting for they had bacteria in them that could prove fatal to people. Also, most of the NHS’s policies on Infection control need to be upgraded.
This research has led to the restriction in its use in most public hospitals in France. It is to be noted that hand dryers are still used in public restrooms in both countries and the US.
Wilcox mentions how the main problem is that people don’t really wash their hands properly. This results in the aerosol from the hand dryers blowing the germs from the hands on to nearby surfaces. These germs contaminate sinks, basins, and other such surfaces. He further states that if people substituted its use with paper towels, contamination can be brought down to the barest of minimums.