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Drying Your Hands in Public Bathrooms

Woman cleaning her hands with a tissue isolated on a white background Washing your hands at home in the bathroom is easy – soap and warm water with a soft clean towel to dry them. But step into a public washroom and you probably won't be so fortunate. Nine times out of ten you could be faced with an electric wall mounted air dryer and not even a paper towel in sight. But is that a problem?

Air hand dryers are said to be spreading germs

A study by the University of Leeds in the UK has found that airborne germ counts were 27 times higher around jet air dryers in comparison with the air around paper towel dispensers. In fact, researchers found that both jet and warm air hand dryers spread bacteria into the air, onto their users and even those close by.

How the study was undertaken

Professor Mark Wilcox (lead researcher) and his team contaminated the hands of volunteers with lactobacillus. This is a type of harmless bacteria (not normally found in public bathrooms) but which would mimic poorly washed hands. Then off to a public bathroom to carry out the test.

The research team found the following

  • Air bacterial counts close to jet air dryers were found to be 4.5 times higher than around warm air dryers and 27 times higher compared with the air when using paper towels.
  • Next to the dryers, bacteria persisted in the air well beyond the 15 second hand-drying time, with approximately half (48%) of the lactobacilli collected more than five minutes after drying ended.
  • Lactobacilli were still detected in the air 15 minutes after hand drying.
Slightly tongue in cheek, Professor Wilcox declared: "Next time you dry your hands in a public toilet, using an electric hand dryer, you may be spreading bacteria without knowing it. You may also be splattered with 'bugs' from other people's hands.” We leave you to decide whether or not to continue using electric hand dryers in those public toilets.

How well do you wash your hands?

Most people know that washing your hands can help to prevent passing on unwanted germs, viruses and bacteria. But how many people just flick their hands under some running water and think that will do?

Here is a proper hand washing technique to use

1. Use warm water 2. Use a mild soap rather than antibacterial soap 3. Work up a good lather, all the way up to your wrists, for at least 20 seconds 4. Make sure you cover all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and around and below your fingernails 5. Rinse thoroughly under running water 6. Dry your hands with a clean towel or let them air dry 7. In public places, use a paper towel to open the door as a protection from germs that the handles may harbor At the same time avoid becoming obsessive compulsive about hand washing because this can easily reduce the protective oils in your skin (especially in a dry environment) causing the skin to become dry and cracked. Germs are usually only a problem when transferred to the nose, mouth or an open wound. For this reason, obsessive hand washing can actually increase your risk of getting sick by facilitating an entry for germs. Keep free of germs by mild to moderate hand washing plus building and boosting your immune system. A strong immune system is your best defence against any pathogenic bacteria.