Paper towels vs hand dryers: Study reveals which method is most effective

As the world continues to tackle the spread of Covid-19, there has been an outpouring of advice, information and research from experts, particularly across the health and medical professions. But for most of us, these in-depth debates or scientific papers may seem to bear little impact on our day-to-day lives.

One study that could impact the way we go about our daily rituals, however, was carried out by Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and looked at which method of hand drying is most effective when it comes to removing viruses and preventing them being spread to other surfaces.

The research team, led by Dr Ines Moura from the University of Leeds, UK, deliberately contaminated four people’s hands with a harmless virus and then looked at which drying method better eliminated the viruses. They found that average surface contamination was more than 10 times higher after contact with jet air dried hands compared with those dried on paper towels.

“There are clear differences, according to hand drying method, in the residual microbial contamination of the subject’s hands and body,” the authors wrote. “Crucially, these differences in contamination translate into significantly greater levels of microbe contamination after jet air drying versus paper towel use from hands and body beyond the toilet/washroom.

“As public toilets are used by patients, visitors and staff, the hand drying method chosen has the potential to increase (using jet dryers) or reduce (using paper towels) pathogen transmission in hospital settings.”

They concluded: “We believe that our results are relevant to the control of the novel coronavirus that is spreading at pace worldwide. Paper towels should be the preferred way to dry hands after washing and so reduce the risk of virus contamination and spread.”

The research, published on Scimex, was due to be presented at next week’s European Congress on Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID), which had to be cancelled as a result of the ongoing global pandemic.

It follows advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) that hand dryers cannot kill the virus. The WHO said: “Hand dryers are not effective in killing the 2019-nCoV. To protect yourself against the new coronavirus, you should frequently clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Once your hands are cleaned, you should dry them thoroughly by using paper towels or a warm air dryer.”

When it comes to washing your hands sufficiently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a simple five-step process you should follow to remove any germs or bacteria that you may have come into contact with from sneezing into your hands, touching a dirty hand rail or shaking hands with a colleague.

First, wet your hands with clean, running water, then turn off the tap and apply soap thoroughly. This doesn’t mean squirting a little onto your hands and rubbing for two seconds, you really have to get in there.

Lather yours hands by rubbing them together, including the back, between your fingers and under your nails. You should scrub for at least 20 seconds – which works out to be humming the Happy Birthday tune from start to finish twice – and then rinse well under clean, running water. As for drying them, don’t just wipe your hands on your dirty pants, instead use a clean towel or let them air dry.

If you’re looking for some extra protection then hand sanitiser is another helpful way to keep your mits clean during this time, particularly if you’re not near a bathroom. If your local supermarket shelves are still bare though, why not try to kill some time and make your own with our easy-to-follow recipe.

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