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Immune health: Would you like paper or jets?

Posted Mar 12 2010 10:07am

I moved into a new office building several months ago.  I love the place. It has all the amenities; great reception area, hand dryerfloor-to-ceiling windows, a kitchen to die for and covered parking.  But one of the things that continues to make an impression on me is the restroom. Specifically, the air-powered hand dryer.

I’m sure you might wonder kind of miserable life I lead when a hand dryer gets me so excited.  Let me tell you, this thing is a little marvel. The reason is that this dryer–called the Xlerator –has a motor in it that is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. You stick your hand under it and a powerful air blast comes on that almost blows you through the wall. And the air is instantly hot.

Bottom line, my hands are dry in anywhere from 7-10 seconds. The product information I’ve read says 10-15 seconds, but I think it’s faster than that.

Another benefit–at least I thought it would be a benefit–is the presumed hygiene improvement in a restroom using “jet” air dryers, as this unit would be classified. Nearly all hand dryer makers tout the notion that air dryers are healthier because you don’t have wet paper towels being used as discarded around the sink. However, one British study came to a different conclusion :

“Part C of the study shows that paper towels are likely to cause considerably less contamination of other users and the washroom environment than the jet air dryer which was shown in this study to disperse artificial hand contamination to a distance of at least 2 metres, well within the range of adjacent dryers observed in a real washroom. Paper towels were better than the warm air dryer for contamination levels directly below the device but there were no significant differences at greater distances when their performances were similar and both were significantly better than the jet air dryer. Therefore, the manufacturer’s claim that the tested JAD is the “most hygienic hand dryer” is not confirmed in this study with respect to its potential for dispersing bacteria.”

It goes on to say:  “The results of all parts of this study suggest that paper towels should be used in locations where hygiene is paramount, such as hospitals, clinics, schools,nurseries, care homes, kitchens and other food preparation areas. Warm air dryers and jet air dryers should be carefully considered for these types of location because of their poorer hygiene performance and the increased likelihood of transmission of bacteria, including potentially pathogenic types, via the fingerpads and palms of the hand and their air flows. The performance of both the warm air dryer and the jet air dryer was inferior to paper towels in all respects (drying efficiency, bacterial numbers on the hands, bacterial contamination of the air flow and surfaces of the devices, and transmission of bacteria in the washroom) with the one exception that the jet air dryer is equal in drying efficiency. The jet air dryer was shown to be superior to the warm air dryer in all respects except for similar bacterial contamination and greater transmission potential. Although representing a considerable improvement over warm air dryers in speed, the jet air dryer’s overall performance, with the exception of drying efficiency, was significantly poorer than that of paper towels in all other respects tested in this study.”

Hmmmm. That kind of bummed me out. I might have to look for an independent counter study or two. Is there one out there?

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