They might feel like the most hygienic option when it comes to drying hands (after all they’ve been installed in most public toilets) but hand dryers have been found to blast E.coli and traces of faeces around hospital toilets in a new study.
University of Leeds researchers compared bacterial contamination levels in washrooms when people used either paper towels or jet air dryers.
They found washrooms with paper towels had far lower amounts of contamination.
The study, which was funded by the European Tissue Symposium, found levels of Staphylococcus aureus - a bacteria linked to a range of illness including pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis - was six-fold higher on surfaces surrounding hand dryers, compared to those around paper towel dispensers.
There was also “significantly more bacteria” found on the washroom floors of bathrooms with hand dryers, including some faecal and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. E.coli was also present, which can cause food poisoning.
Hospital bathrooms were monitored in the UK, France and Italy; with the UK proving to have the busiest bathrooms and (perhaps unsurprisingly) greater bacterial contamination levels, followed by France and then Italy.
Professor Mark Wilcox, who led the study at the University of Leeds, told The Telegraph that the problem stems from people not washing their hands properly, and then when they use a hand-dryer bacteria is blown around the bathroom, landing on various surfaces (including sinks, the floor and doors).
“In effect, the dryer creates an aerosol that contaminates the toilet room, including the dryer itself and potentially the sinks, floor and other surfaces, depending on the dryer design and where it is sited,” he said. “If people touch those surfaces, they risk becoming contaminated by bacteria or viruses.”
A spokesperson from the University of Leeds told HuffPost UK: “The research was independently conceived, designed, conducted and interpreted, and was peer-reviewed by experts not involved in the study.”
In response to a previous University of Leeds study looking at bacteria spread by hand dryers, Dyson argued that their Airblade™ hand dryer has been proven to be as hygienic as paper towels, through research commissioned by Dyson and conducted by the University of Bradford (published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology).
Toby Saville, Dyson microbiologist, previously said: “The Dyson Airblade hand dryer is the fastest, most hygienic way to dry hands and it produces up to 71 per cent less CO2 than paper towels. It can dry 18 pairs of hands for the price of a single paper towel.”
This article was amended on day of publication to include details of how the study was funded, along with a response from the University of Leeds.