hand dryers vs. paper towels - what product is best for my washroom?

Posted by Dolphin Solutions on 21-Feb-2018 09:41:45

Drying hands is usually the last part of the washroom user’s experience…usually. Yet only 20% of people say they always dry their hands thoroughly after washing them. This is critical because research has found that 85% of microbes are transmitted by moist hands, compared with 0.06% by dry hands.

So why are people not drying their hands?

One of the most common reasons is time saving - some people when using public washrooms are in a rush, so if the hand dryer is very slow or there is a queue to the drying facility they are more likely to leave without drying their hands. Maintenance issues can also prevent washroom users from drying their hands, for example if there are no paper towels left in the dispenser or if the hand dryer is broken. Noise is also a consideration: some people don’t like to use hand dryers due to the noise they make and if there are no paper towels, they may then leave the washroom without drying their hands. A lack of awareness of the hygiene risks associated with not drying wet hands exacerbates each of these.

And what can we do to make sure they do dry their hands?

Simple – we need to educate people, however this is a long, slow process – bear in mind that research suggests just 37 % of men and 61% of women wash their hands after using the loo, so we clearly have a lot of educating to do! In the meantime we need to adjust our washrooms to make it easier for people to dry their hands. Give people options, don’t just have one or the other and design the washroom layout providing sufficient facilities to minimise queues. Make maintenance and refilling as easy as possible for the facilities team, and use high performance products to make it easier for those in a rush.

What factors are important when deciding between hand dryers and paper towels in a washroom?

So what are the factors to consider when deciding between a hand dryer and paper towel for your washroom? Attitudes towards hygiene have at least moved forward in public places from the shared towel era. If anyone was at school within a certain period of time, you will remember the fabric towel (often blue in colour) that would roll over and over continuously as a shared drying point for hundreds of small hands! These were a ghastly bacteria breeding hotspot, particularly inappropriate for use by the very young – one of the most at-risk groups, along with the elderly and the infirm.

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The first important factor to consider is the location and usage of the washroom. The highest priority for a hospital would obviously be hygiene, while minimising background noise may be the highest priority for a busy call centre. You may need to consider issues like sustainability, initial and ongoing costs, maintenance, waste, environmental impact, accessibility and not least, design. We tackle these issues one-by-one below.

Are hand dryers or paper towels more environmentally friendly?

Every time we dry our hands a resource is used in one way or another, be it energy or paper. Studies have suggested that by using a hand dryer with a productive life span of 10 years, around 24 less trees are cut down than would be were paper towels being used in place of this hand dryer. The emissions associated with using a hand dryer are much lower overall when compared to the emissions from paper production, manufacturing and disposal, and with electrical grids becoming more efficient, implementing a high speed electrical hand dryer is a lot more beneficial to the environment. (If other factors mean you decide to go with paper towels instead of a hand dryer, check out this TED talk video – nothing like a bit of interstitial suspension to help reduce paper usage!)

With advances in manufacturing and technology there are numerous hand dryers that are environmentally friendly. All the dryers in our Velocity range are made from stainless steel which is 100% recyclable. Dryers that use warm/hot air will use more power than dryers that use cold air but then they will not dry hands as quickly, which then opens up the hygiene issues. All our dryers only operate when there is physical movement close to the sensor.

Are hand dryers or paper towels more hygienic?

Paper towels are traditionally seen as more hygienic because the pressure of the repeated back and forth action rubs off bacteria that you may have missed whilst washing your hands - view our range of paper towel dispensers here. Paper towels also keep the germs more contained, compared to a high-speed hand dryer that can blow the germs around the room. That said, if users touch the dispenser as they take the towels germs can spread from one user to the next via cross contamination.

There is a lot of negative press around hand dryers, much of which relates only to low speed dryers without a HEPA filter and with a push button to activate. Automatic hand dryers use infra-red technology to detect your presence, minimising the number of things you need to touch in the washroom in order to dry your hands. Today we have so many different types of dryer it’s hard to know which to choose (for more information on which dryer to specify read our blog), however the most hygienic dryers are ones that are supplied with a HEPA filter. This cleans the air as it goes in by pushing air through a fine mesh that captures harmful particles such as dust mites, germs, smoke and pollens. Dolphin offers a wide range of hand dryers, some with dry time speeds of only 10 seconds. The faster the dryer works, the less chance there is of the user leaving the washroom with partially damp hands, so drying speed itself is a factor in the hygiene debate.  

Which are most cost effective - hand dryers or paper towels?

Paper towels will always have a higher on-going cost than dryers due to the need to replenish the towels/paper. Based on a typical office usage, 50 employees using an average of 2.5 hand towels 4 times a day, would equate to 125,000 paper towels being used every year, costing up to £1300! Furthermore you need to account for the costs of time spent in staff replenishing and monitoring when stocks are getting low which can often double up the costs.

Hand dryers are much cheaper as their only costs is the electricity to run them. A normal electricity tariff is 10-12p depending on the supplier and given that some Dolphin hand dryers operate at 225 watts you’re looking at a yearly running cost of £28-£30, a mere 2.1% of the cost of paper towels! You also don’t need a hand dryer to be staffed in the same way as a paper towel which also saves on costs. There may be some general maintenance over time however all Dolphin Velocity dryers come with a guarantee of different after-care packages. For more information on after-care of Dolphin hand dryers click here. 

Do hand dryers and paper towel dispensers come in copper?

To achieve the copper finish without paying an extortionate price for copper itself, we use a process called PVD to coat the stainless steel. PVD stands for Physical Vapour Deposition – find out more about it by reading our blog.  We also do a range of other metallic finishes - the most popular colours are brass, gold, copper, bronze and rose gold; although other variations can be created on request – we’ve recently created finishes in antique brass, champagne and gunmetal for bespoke projects. We can also power coat hand dryers and paper towel dispensers in any RAL colour you choose.

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I want a sleek washroom, can I get a behind-mirror hand dryer or paper towel dispenser?

Yes, and you can give your clients a choice! Our ALAVO system comes with the option to add either – or both – and if your client chooses one and later wants to swap to the other, the interchangeable modules make the alteration painless and cost effective. For more information on ALAVO read our latest blog. The ALAVO system is designed so that it uses all behind-mirror components, including infra-red sensor taps, foam soap systems, paper towel dispensers and high-speed low energy dryers - to save time, water, energy, soap, space and money. As an all-encompassing unit, ALAVO leaves no mess on the floor and designers are free to add their own touches in the space it saves.  

We also do a range of standalone, behind-mirror hand dryers and paper towel dispensers check the range here.

Will a hand dryer or a paper towel dispenser last longer?

This all depends on where the hand dryer or paper towel dispenser are and in what vicinity. In a very busy environment where a less expensive version of a paper towel dispenser or hand dryer is installed and the cleaning team do not tend to them often, then typically they will last 2-5 years. That’s without taking any vandalism into consideration.

In a high quality office washroom which has medium traffic, a high quality dispenser/hand dryer would have a lifespan of 20-30 years. The main thing to remember that our stainless steel dispensers and dryers are 100% recyclable so once they have reached the end of their lifespan they can be disposed of safely and ethically.

All our products are made either in our UK factories or in Germany where our Prestige range is manufactured using only the most premium-quality materials. Check out our Prestige range here.

Should I specify a hand dryer or a paper towel dispenser for use in an accessible washroom?

The simple answer is…both are required. The paper towel dispenser is needed for people that wash their hands whilst sitting on the toilet, which enables them to dry themselves before pulling up their clothing. The hand dryer is for those that do not get dirty hands whilst using the toilet and wash their hands facing the wash basin while in their wheelchair. Paper towels must be reachable from a seated position on the WC and within reach of the wash basin.  A hand dryer should also be provided, either close to the basin or alternatively on the opposite wall.  Both must be fitted at heights suitable for wheelchair users.  Part M of the Building Regulations provides clear guidance including diagrams of where items should be placed within the accessible washroom. 

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We now provide a CPD on Doc M regulations and how to design accessible washrooms so they are more inclusive and less institutional. 

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I’m still not sure, how do I choose?

Seeing the products in action may help, why not visit our showroom in London Clerkenwell or at our head office in Bodiam? If you are working on a project and want to show your client some options we are very happy to bring free samples to a project meeting at your location. If you would like to book a free consultation with one of our product experts to discuss your project let us know here.

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If you are still not sure, why not go for both? Remember that more germs are spread by wet hands than dry, therefore giving washroom users a choice of both makes it more likely that they will dry their hands before leaving the washroom. One option is an all-in-one recessed combination unit, where paper towel, hand dryer and bin are combined in one unit – view the range here.  Alternatively check out the ALAVO range for a more prestigious option.

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Tags: Design, Accessible, Disability, Business, Architects, Washrooms, Health and Safety

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