The very idea of public bathrooms makes many people cringe. Sharing such an intimate area with hundreds of strangers can send fear straight to the heart of germaphobes. Even the most courageous bathroom users can get queasy upon entering dirty, wet or drippy toilet areas. The way that users are able to dry their hands can directly influence the general ambience of the bathroom and the health of the users. Paper towels and electric dryers are two of the most popular options. Be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Many public bathrooms have one of two choices for hand drying near the sinks. Electric dryers consist of units on the wall that blast hot air through vents. You can push a button or wave your hand near a motion sensor to start the blower. Placing your hands in front of the vents dries them. Paper towels may be placed near the sink or dispensed from an electric or manual dispenser. You can take the paper towels you need, use them and throw them in the trash.
Everyone has individual opinions about which method is better. Some like the warm feeling of the electric dryers, while others don’t find them very thorough. Some prefer the effectiveness of paper towels, while others bemoan the trash they create. Drippy hands under a blower create excess moisture, while paper towels lead to mountains of trash. Neither is particularly aesthetically pleasant. The health benefit of paper towels is the ability to use them to touch handles, instead of picking up germs with bare hands. On the other hand, dryers can be turned on with no or little touches and they turn off automatically.
Paper towels are economically and environmentally costly. They require at least a section of paper for each person, sometimes more. This creates an ongoing expense for the building owner and puts pressure on the tree-processing industry. Staff time is also required to remove trash and restock towels. Although dryers use electric motors, their cost includes only installation and any later maintenance, rather than ongoing attention.
A University of Miami wellness newsletter cites a University of Westminster study that found paper towels to be more effective in wiping away germs, rather than blasting them around the room as dryers do. However, a Mayo Clinic study and Occupational Safety and Health Administration site both say paper towels and dryers are similar in their effectiveness.
Some bathrooms give you the choice of either a paper towel or dryer. Your biggest concern when making this decision should be the spreading of germs. If you can use paper towels, without touching the dispenser, grab some of those and use them to open the door on your way out. If you can’t, turn the dryer on with your elbow or shoulder and dry your hands under the air.
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