Hand dryers in public spaces are electrical devices that we find in the bathrooms of health institutions, educational institutions and shopping centers or in other spaces where many people move. What are the risks of using hand dryers?
As their name suggests, we use them to dry our hands once we have finished washing. The reason behind their existence is related to two principles: economics and ecology. In the long run, they are cheaper than paper towels and their manufacture does not require cutting down trees.
Basically, hand dryers in public spaces expel hot air from the same space in which they are located, making it circulate. We could say that they recycle and heat the air inside the bathroom.
This mode of operation has led to questions about their safety. Evidence from recent studies has called the dryers into question, as they can contaminate hands that have already been washed.
As a child, I heard adults recommending that we wash our hands repeatedly throughout the day: before eating, after we went to the bathroom, after we worked with our hands, and after we came. from the outside, etc. Now we make the same recommendation to our children.
Under these conditions and in other circumstances, washing is something we do to avoid contracting diseases, from the common cold, to hepatitis and diarrhea. These diseases are often caused by viruses and bacteria that are on the hands and can come in contact with the mucous membranes. Some microorganisms are harmless, but others become dangerous.
Proper hand washing is a preventive hygiene measure that we must follow. By doing so, we not only avoid getting sick on our own, but also reduce the chances of spreading infections. This is crucial for food handlers and medical staff.
What do studies say about the risks of using hand dryers?
Some time ago, public offices, private companies, educational and health institutions decided to remove paper towels from public toilets. Paper products produce waste and affect the environment.
As a result, they decided to replace the towels with hand dryers. However, it seems that this solution has proven to be worse than the problem. What we achieve by washing our hands can be undone by using a hand dryer.
A recent study tested hand dryers in both men’s and women’s toilets (in a health care facility). The study aimed to detect bacteria. Plates that were exposed to the dryer air for a certain period of time were used.
The results indicated that there are many types of bacteria, including potential pathogens and spores, that can land on people’s hands when they use dryers in public toilets. That is, after washing our hands, we recontaminate ourselves with hot air, which can even contain fecal bacteria.
According to studies in the field, the placement of air filters in dryers has decreased the concentration of bacteria. This led to the conclusion that bacteria are present in the bathroom air. The findings indicate that when washing the toilet, a certain amount of microbes passes into the air.
Several similar studies have confirmed such findings, showing that hand dryers can be a source of bacterial contamination. Another study compared different methods of drying hands and concluded that the number of bacteria was higher in the case of the air dryer, as opposed to using a paper towel.
Not everyone agrees with these statements. Other studies claim that there is inconclusive evidence because the data do not have the key variables needed to assess the real risks of infection.
Some research states that the risk of using public hand dryers is not higher than that of using paper towels.
Risks of using hand dryers
It is worth noting that some of the microbes found in the air in the bathroom may not cause disease or affect healthy people. However, among them, there are more harmful microbes, such as Staphylococcus aureus.
The presence of Acinetobacter has also been detected , which can cause infections in people with weakened immune systems or in hospitalized patients. This is delicate, especially when it comes to hand dryers in hospital bathrooms, which medical staff use.
Beyond the microorganisms present in the toilet air, the germs on people’s hands are spread due to the effect of the hot air in the dryer, which acts as an aerosol.
How can we dry our hands?
Would it be better not to dry your hands at all? This is not the right choice. According to research, bacteria can be transmitted more easily when the skin is moist.
The first and best option would be to dry your hands with a clean towel. Of course, you can do this if you are at home or in the workplace, where you have privacy.
Even in this context, towels should be washed regularly. If there are sick people in the house, then it is better to use paper towels as long as the problem persists.
Regarding public toilets, based on the results observed in most studies, the suggestion is to use paper towels for drying hands. Paper towels absorb moisture better and help eliminate bacteria that remain after washing, reducing the level of contamination.
How to prevent the use of public hand dryers
Bacteria in hand dryers are not a direct cause of disease. In fact, for those with a healthy immune system, it should not be a problem.
There is no doubt that they present a potential risk for sick or immunocompromised people. In addition, we must remember that we do not live alone in the world. On the contrary, we are always in touch with others.
The best thing we can do is dry our hands with our own towel as long as it is clean. However, when we leave the house and have to go to a public toilet, we will have a dilemma.
If there are paper towels, there is no problem. But if there are only hand dryers, it is always ideal to have a small box of paper towels for personal use in a bag or car. This way, you will prevent any risk.