Paper Towels Better At Preventing Virus Spread Than Air Dryers: Study

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about the best way to avoid germs, British researchers have released the findings of a new study which indicates paper towels are better at preventing the spread of virus than air dryers.

The small study focused on whether using paper towels was better than using air dryers to dry a person’s hands and get rid of germs still on a person’s hands after washing. The findings were scheduled to be presented at the meeting of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

During the study, four volunteers washed their hands after being contaminated with bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria, but is harmless to humans. The volunteers dried their hands either with paper towels or an air dryer in a hospital public restroom. Each participant wore an apron.

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After washing and drying the participants were asked to cross their arms with the aprons on, then rest their hands on armchairs. Researchers then took samples from other surfaces they touched, including the armchairs, doors, stair rails, elevator buttons, phones and intercoms.

Both paper towels and air dryers significantly reduced the amount of virus on the volunteer’s contaminated hands. However, the virus was found on all of the surfaces a volunteer touched after they used the air dryer, but was found on none of the surfaces they touched if they used paper towels.

The average surface viral contamination was 10 times higher after using air dryers than after using paper towels. More than five times the contamination was found on the aprons, clothing, and surfaces touched by clothing after the volunteers used air dryers compared to paper towels.

Furthermore, viral contamination was found on the armchairs after using air dryers, but not after participants used paper towels.

While health experts agree thorough hand washing is the first line of defense and the most important step, using paper towels to dry your hands is an efficient way to reduce viral contamination to other areas. This can be especially important in hospital bathrooms because the facilities are used by patients, health care professionals treating patients, and visitors.

Many public restrooms only offer jet air dryers for hand drying, which can spread germs around bathroom surfaces. Other studies have shown air dryers blow contaminants from the hands to many other surfaces in the restroom.

Jet air drying may enhance the potential for aerosolizing and transmitting microbes to other surfaces and other people, the researchers determined, concluding that paper towel drying should be considered instead of air dryers in public facilities to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The research is considered preliminary until published in a peer reviewed journal.

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