When given the choice between using paper towels or electric hand dryers, is one better than the other?

Public restrooms might be home to the germiest of germs, but when your kid’s got to go … they’ve got to go. Thankfully, with the help of new technologies, many public restrooms are embracing hands-free methods of doing business from automatic flush toilets and motion-sensor water faucets to automatic paper towel dispensers and electric hand dryers so we and our little darlings can avoid coming into contact with many of these germ-ridden surfaces. 

And while these upgrades certainly help our little ones avoid contacting potentially harmful germs, it turns out that how we dry our hands after washing them is equally important. 

Comparing Paper Towels vs Electric Hand Dryers (vs shaking your hands in the air and hoping they dry)

To answer this very question, the Water Quality & Health Council recently evaluated the differences among paper towels, electric hand dryers, and no drying equipment – listing the pros and cons of each hand-drying method.

Paper Towels Electric Hand Dryer No Drying Equipment
Speed & Convenience Fast and efficient May take more time than paper towel use, but some models (e.g., “jet” dryers) are very fast Fast, but potentially unpleasant to leave the restroom with wet, slippery hands
Pathogen Spread If hands are thoroughly dried and paper towels properly disposed of, paper towels should not significantly spread pathogens to other restroom surfaces Research shows that if hands are not properly washed, pathogens from hands are spread to surrounding surfaces by electric hand dryers, with jet air dryers spreading more pathogens than warm air dryers (some pathogens are already airborne from flushing toilets, which in public restrooms commonly have no lid and can be very forceful) Pathogen spread is enhanced, as research shows pathogens are transferred more quickly from wet hands than dry ones; consider the cross-contamination possible on the handle on the restroom door, for example
Environmental Consideration Paper is manufactured from cellulose from trees, a renewable natural resource Hand dryers use electrical energy dependent on local sources; generally speaking, this represents an unknown mix of renewable versus nonrenewable sources No outside resources expended

Proper Hand-Washing: A Key Step in Good Hand Hygiene

No matter which hand-drying method you prefer, the key to good hand hygiene starts with effective hand-washing. We all know how difficult it can be to get our kids to cooperate at times, so we’ve put together some simple tips to help make sure your child washes their hands correctly.  

Additionally, you can get your little one excited about washing their hands by doing the following: 

  • Make hand-washing more fun by singing the alphabet slowly or the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Both work as a good timer that children will remember – and enjoy.
  • Explain to your child that the simple act of lathering up their hands with soap and washing with clean, running water for at least 20 seconds can help keep them from getting sick and spreading germs to others.

Armed with this hand-washing and drying information, you’ll be better prepared to keep your child’s hands cootie-free while they’re out and about!