Study finds air hand dryers in hospital toilets are a bacterial disaster

7 Sep 2018

Image: Chubykin Arkady/Shutterstock

Air hand dryers shouldn’t be used in hospitals because they spread a considerable amount of disease, a new study claims.

When it comes to keeping a sterile environment in hospitals, it seems as if air hand dryers could be the last thing you’d want to have installed in hospitals.

That’s according to a new study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, which claims the blasts of air are spreading considerably more germs than paper towels.

The international study looked at bacterial spread in two bathrooms of three different hospitals in the UK, France and Italy. Each of these bathrooms had paper towel dispensers and air hand dryers, but only one of these was in use on any given day.

Over a 12-week period, the levels of bacterial contamination were measured in each room. The initial results astounded the team, with five times more bacteria recovered when air hand dryers were used versus paper towels in the UK and French hospitals.

A bacterial aerosol

The study’s lead, Prof Mark Wilcox from the University of Leeds, said that the hygiene problems stem from the fact that some people don’t wash their hands properly. When a person activates the air hand dryer, the microbes get blown off and spread across the bathroom.

“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,” Wilcox said. “If people touch those surfaces, they risk becoming contaminated by bacteria or viruses.”

Even hand dryers that are sensor-activated rather than touch-activated, he added, are not as good as paper towels because paper has less of a chance of cross-contamination.

The study was the largest of its type to investigate what impact a hand dryer or paper towel had on the spread of bacteria.

“We found multiple examples of greater bacterial contamination on surfaces, including by faecal and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, when jet air dryers rather than paper towels were in use,” Wilcox said.

“Choice of hand-drying method affects how likely microbes can spread and so, possibly the risk of infection.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic