The air in a typical public restroom can be full of drug-resistant bacteria, and open-flush toilets help it fly up into the air.
Hand dryers can blow more potentially-pathogenic bathroom air around, and onto our hands, a new, independently-funded study shows.
One Connecticut health center is trading its hand dryers for paper towels, worried patients with compromised immune systems may be more at risk of catching something dangerous if they blow-dry their hands instead of wiping them dry.
Scientists have known for a while that bathroom air isn’t exactly the most pristine stuff.
Public toilets can harbor handfuls of different drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus, and scientists have also shown that restrooms are teeming with a wide variety of microbes, many from other people’s pee, skin, and certain, ahem… body parts.
But when it comes to the question of whether to dry one’s hands on a paper towel, or blow them dry under a hand dryer, scientists have struggled to find a definitive answer to which is better for your health. Until now.
A new, independently-funded study of 36 men’s and women’s bathrooms at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine found that bathroom hand dryers blow tons of bacterial spores around. Researchers holding up test plates to hand dryer air found as many as 60 different bacterial colonies could be blown onto them during a 30-second air dry. Turns out, even though the air coming out of hand dryers is almost perfectly clean, it ends up pushing more nasty bathroom air around than a paper towel.
Lead study author Peter Setlow says his research find is not a shock.
“The more air ya move? The more bacteria stick,” he told Business Insider. “And there are a lot of bacteria in bathrooms.”
In fact, other scientists have discovered that “toilet plumes” from inside the bowl of a toilet can spray aerosolized feces as high as 15 feet into the air. And blowing more of that pooey air with a dryer around could cause some serious harm, especially for vulnerable populations like the old and the sick.
Setlow himself, a septuagenarian researcher, says he’s stopped using hand dryers altogether after completing his independently-funded study. And he’s not the only one. The University of Connecticut School of Medicine where the study was done has also started stocking paper towels in all its facilities.
Still, the general public may not need to be so concerned with how they dry their hands, …
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