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The Battle Between Paper Towels and Hand Dryers

By Giorgia Giove
May 20, 2019


We’ve used soap and warm water, we’ve sung “Happy Birthday” twice while scrubbing our palms, the backs of our hands and in between our fingers. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, some bacteria remain on our hands after washing. These bacteria are more easily spread on wet hands than dry ones, so thoroughly drying hands—not just wiping them on our pants—after handwashing is of the utmost importance. For this reason, the ongoing battle between paper towels and hand dryers rages on, with tradeoffs for each remaining prevalent issues for facility managers to consider.


So, which should you choose: paper towels or hand dryers? Facility managers should understand how each hand drying method can impact hygiene and customer satisfaction.


Polling Public Preference


There’s no denying that the cost per use for a hand dryer is less than that of a paper towel. However, it’s important to consider more than just the cost of the hand drying products you select for your restrooms. Failing to recognize the role of factors like public preference and hygiene can negatively impact your brand image.

When guests visit a restroom, they are seeking a quick, thorough and hygienic experience. According to a 2017 Harris Poll, 69% of Americans prefer to use paper towels over air dryers when drying their hands in public restrooms.

Of those that chose paper towels as their preferred method to dry their hands in a public restroom, the top five reasons include:


  • Paper towels dry hands better (70%)
  • Paper towels dry hands faster (69%)
  • Paper towels provide something to open the door with (52%)
  • Air dryers blow bacteria (24%)
  • Air dryers are too loud (22%)


Encouraging Hand Hygiene


The air in a typical public restroom can be filled with germs and bacteria, and open-flush toilets allow even more dirty plumes to spray up into the air. From a hygiene perspective, paper towels are superior to electric air dryers. People are more likely to reach for paper towels, which dry hands more quickly and effectively than air dryers. The friction also dislodges bacteria to leave hands cleaner. Paper towels should be provided in locations where proper hygiene is most important, such as hospitals and clinics, as well as those prepping, handling and selling food.


Air dryers are noisy and may not always function properly. Many automatic hand dryers only allow one person to use them at a time, making people more likely to incompletely dry their hands—or not dry them at all. Especially in high-traffic facilities, waiting to use an automatic hand dryer or experiencing weak air flow can be time-consuming, frustrating or ineffective. The hand dryer itself can also get dirty. A hand dryer cover requires more cleaning upkeep as it needs to be opened and blown out to remove any dust or particle buildup, resulting in increased labor for employees.



Smart Solutions for Hand Drying


If your facility opts to provide paper towels, it’s important to select dispensers thoughtfully. Look for durable dispensers that combine visually appealing and functional design, such as an antibacterial surface that reduces the spread of germs. Dispensers with compact shapes and rounded corners are easy to clean.


There are even options today that allow facilities to customize their paper saving preferences. For example, some automated paper towel dispensers will deliver a full-size sheet, and if a second sheet is requested within a few seconds, a shorter sheet emerges to reduce paper towel waste.


For facilities that prefer automated hand dryers over paper towels, hygiene becomes even more important to prevent bacteria from being blown throughout the air and onto other surfaces. Staff should conduct frequent checks on restrooms, as well as clean and disinfect all surfaces including faucets, toilets, countertops and door handles. For facilities with inverted hand dryers that blow air upwards, regularly maintain these to remove excess moisture that can cause mold growth.



Improving Restroom Hygiene


When it comes to hand drying in public facilities, the paper towel versus hand dryer decision ultimately depends upon your priorities. If maintaining a high standard of hygiene and meeting customer expectations take precedence, paper towels are the clear winner. If your budget is tight, hand dryers can help reduce costs, but there is also maintenance to consider for these devices. No matter what drying option you select for your business, it is important to encourage patrons to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water and dry them completely to help promote hand hygiene and make the world a safer place.


Giorgia Giove is the Marketing Manager for the Away from Home business at Sofidel, a world leader in the manufacture of paper for hygienic and domestic use, including its Papernet brand. For more information, visit