Are Hand Dryers Unhygienic? Study Finds Spread Of Bacteria And More

A gross new study may have you reaching for paper towels next time you need to wash your hands. The popular air hand dryers, found in most public restrooms, aren’t as hygienic as we thought and maybe spreading more than just bacteria.

FirstQuote Health Staff
Published on
September 21, 2018
Last Updated on
July 5, 2024
Are Hand Dryers Unhygienic? Study Finds Spread Of Bacteria And More

It should go without saying that washing your hands is vital to stop the spread of germs whether your home or at work. Beyond that is the importance of thoroughly drying them. Bacteria can have a better chance at spreading with wet hands over dry hands, so getting those hands free of water is a must-do right after washing them. What is the best way to go about this? Most people have noticed the influx of hand dryers, especially public bathroom hand dryers. Just how healthy are these dryers?

How Hygienic Are Hand Dryers?

There has been plenty of debate about the hygiene of hand dryers as well as any hand dryer germs that may exist. Because of the debate, a number of tests have been conducted in order to prove (or disprove) the hygiene behind air hand dryers.

On the support side, some will make note that many air hand dryers contain high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filters. These filters are designed to remove about 99.9% of bacteria from the air.

At the same time, other research has shown the existence of hand dryer germs due to how they dry hands in the first place.

Are Hand Dryers Increasing the Spread of Bacteria?

So, the question remains whether or not there are hand dryer germs. There is a simple answer to that, which is yes. However, it is not necessarily germs that exist directly on hand dryers, but the germs come up during the actual drying process.

Some studies found that when using air hand dryers, that jet of air blew micro-organisms from the hand and into the air. This was found in standard warm hand dryers as well that didn’t blow as powerful as jet air hand dryers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were additional studies that indicated although there was indeed some airborne bacteria spread due to hand dryer germs, it was not as significant as some believed. Meaning, the spread of airborne bacteria from a hand dryer can be far less than the initial bacteria on a person prior to them drying their hands.

Pros and Cons of Hand Dryers

With the various studies conducted about bathroom hand dryers, it is determined that there are both advantages and disadvantages to this method of drying your hands.


  • More Financially Sound: When compared to paper towels, hand dryers do initially cost significantly more. However, they do not get used up the way paper towels do and need to be replaced frequently, making them a good economical choice from a business perspective.
  • Always Provides a Means for Drying Hands: Unless there is a power failure, if there are bathroom hand dryers, then you know you always have the ability to dry your hands.
  • Effective at Removing Bacteria: Though this information varies from study to study based on different research methods, many conclude that there are actually little hand dryer germs found on a person’s hands once they finish drying.


  • Can be Noisy: The majority of hand dryers are rather loud. It is unsure if constant exposure can cause any damage, but it is known that it can irritate some people, especially those have to frequently wash their hands.
  • Takes Some Time to Dry: One of the biggest issues associated with these dryers is that not everyone bothers to actually wait for their hands to dry. Hot air dryers, in particular, can take up to 40 seconds to dry. If someone leaves while their hands are still wet, this can lead to the spreading of hand dryer germs.

Hand Dryers vs. Paper Towels – Which Should You Use?

The age-old fight between bathroom hand dryers and paper towels seems to be never-ending. Much of this is because it is still difficult to determine which one truly does the most for drying your hands and reducing the risk of spreading bacteria.

As explained above in the “Pros and Cons” section, a hand dryer will always be there so that you can wash your hands. Whereas, paper towels can and do run out. How often can you think back to using a public restroom only to discover there is no means of drying your hands? People tend to just leave after that or opt for drying their hands on their shirts. This is a prime method of spreading bacteria.

However, paper towels are obviously not as noisy as a hand dryer can get. It also takes about 10 seconds or so to dry your hands with a paper towel compared to the length it takes a hot air hand dryer. If you are a person who wants to get in and get out, paper towels may be more beneficial.

So, which one comes out on top? It’s hard to say. Many prefer the paper towel method while others seek out a hand dryer. Which one is better appears to boil down to personal preference. Yes, it is true that hand dryer germs can spread into the air, but there is minimal research that indicates it is done in such a way that it can be harmful to your overall health unless you’re in a place that’s heavy with bacteria.

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