Home Publisher's Point of View The Paper Towel Versus Hand Dryer Debate Revisited

The Paper Towel Versus Hand Dryer Debate Revisited

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Is it just me or do you also feel a bit guilty each time you use a paper towel to dry your hands in a public restroom? Given the advances that have been made with hand dryers (read my hand dryer article that I posted this week) I really don’t understand why commercial establishments and public facilities still offer paper towels. Am I missing something here? If you are still offering paper towels to your guests, perhaps even in combination with hand dryers, what is your rationale for doing so? I would love to know. I asked Robert Green, U.S. Head Engineer at Dyson, whether or not his company still comes across customers that use both hand dryers and paper towels and he told me it depends on the customer. In some instances where there is a split public and family environment/setup, it may be harder to completely remove paper towels. I can see that. Hand dryers can be scary for kids, especially some of the louder high-speed models. That said, my son, who is four, has adapted pretty well to using them. (I guarantee kids would use them more if they were designed to appeal to them—think cartoon characters—and if at least one or two in a restroom were placed lower to the ground.)

Plenty of research has been done comparing the financial and environmental impacts of paper towels versus hand dryers. According to Excel Dryer, the average cost of paper towels is 2 cents per hand dry versus 1/10th of a cent using its XLERATOR hand dryer. According to Dyson, the annual operating cost of its Dyson Airblade Tap hand dryer is $48 as compared to $1,460 for paper towels. A no brainer there. Of course with paper towels there is a significant waste and labor issue. And, as Dyson’s Robert Green reminded me, there are plumbing clogs that can happen when someone inevitably tries to flush paper towels.

In my research I learned there are a lot of hand dryers from which to choose. Some seemingly still take forever to dry one’s hands while there are plenty of other high-speed models that can do the job in about 10 seconds. Energy efficiency has improved significantly over the years and so too has product design. There are some pretty classy designs and colors available.

Fecal Matter? Oh My!

Hygiene should of course be considered and vendors can offer evidence as to why their hand dryers are more hygienic than their competitors’ models. In my article I point out Dyson’s recent videos that say that several of its competitors’ models just redistribute dirty air—bacteria, viruses and even fecal matter onto your hands. Yikes! Some hand dryers include HEPA filtration systems while others do not.

Whether or not a hand dryer uses heat impacts hygiene. According to Dyson’s Robert Green, “NSF International P335 protocol actually deems warm air commercial dryers as unhygienic, because warm air dryers remove essential oils from the skin and can cause skin tightness and/or chapping.” Whether or not a hand dryer uses heat also impacts energy consumption. The XLERATOReco from Excel Dryer, for example, uses no heat and only 500 watts compared to the 1,500 watts of other XLERATOR models that use heat.  

I am sure you have seen and used “hands in” types of hand dryers. These can be very effective at drying hands and doing so without forcing you to rub your hands together. These types of hand dryers collect water so there is a little more maintenance involved—emptying the water every so often.

I am not an interior designer or architect but it would seem to me that it would make a lot of sense if hand dryers were factored into the design of your restroom facilities prior to construction or renovation. Hand dryers, even when they are in public restrooms, are often too far from the sink where one has washed one’s hands. Of course that leads to a lot of dripped water on the floor.

All-in-One Systems

At least two companies have solved the challenge of water dripping from one’s hands. They have incorporated the hand dryer into the sink system. With the Dyson Airblade Tap hand dryer, water for washing and air for drying come from the same fixture. Similarly, Bradley Corp., with its all-in-one Advocate Lavatory System, enables one to get soap and wash and dry one’s hands—all above the wash basin. Both systems are great ideas.

If you are not yet using hand dryers in your washroom facilities, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to reduce your property’s environmental footprint. If you do transition to hand dryers, be smart about it. The choice of one model over another can have a significant impact on guest and employee satisfaction, energy consumption, hygiene, drying time, product longevity, and overall washroom efficiency.

Your thoughts? I would love to learn about your experiences with paper towels and hand dryers. I can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com, or by phone at (813) 510-3868.

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