The Cleaning Up Quandary: Paper Towels or Hand Dryers?


Lenox Johnson

A Mighty Wind: Hand dryers are one option -- among many -- when it comes to cleaning up in the restroom.

No matter where you go to freshen up, whether it’s in a 7/11 pitstop or a school bathroom, you can always expect a variety of ways to dry your hands after washing them. There are hand dryers, bamboo towels, cloth towels, and paper towels that are summoned with a wave of a hand. But which method is superior, both in terms of getting your hands dry and in terms of saving the environment?

In terms of cost, hand dryers are much less expensive, ranging at around 5 cents in electricity while paper towels cost 1 cent per sheet. Though several companies that produce paper towels have now started to recycle materials to conserve paper, it is still only a chink in the armor that is pollution.

When it comes to how well either gets rid of lingering bacteria, sources indicate its paper towels that carry the day. The European Tissue Symposium, an organization that represents the trade interests of tissue paper manufacturers, claims that jet-air dryers actually increase whatever bacteria is left on your hand by at least 40 percent while paper towels reduce them by 77 percent. This comparison is a bit extreme though, as none of these methods would cause illness as long as a person washes his or her hands thoroughly. In places like hospitals, hand dryers are usually replaced with good old-fashioned paper towels.

So points go to hand dryers in terms of being more environmentally friendly and cheaper. But there are points scored by paper towels for being better at ridding your hands of any leftover bacteria. Many schools are starting to use hand dryers because of these very reasons, as well as the fact that it is rather difficult to get a bunch of teenagers to aim for the trash can instead of dumping wads of paper towels on the ground for the janitors to clean up.

All that said, there are those who still prefer paper towels. It’s just a matter of how more effective one method is over the other, or just how more “tearable” the other is.

So, paper or blowing air? Looks like this cleaning up quandary is not about to get resolved any time soon.