Evidence stacks up proving that paper hand towels are most hygienic

02 July 2013

Compelling scientific evidence continues to mount that disposable paper hand towel systems are by far the most hygienic way for people to dry their hands in workplace and public washrooms.

Evidence stacks up proving that paper hand towels are most hygienic

In one recent large-scale study conducted in 2012 by Eurofins-Inlab, an independent laboratory based in Germany, researchers measured micro-organisms on hand drying equipment and on floors below them in real life washrooms washrooms.

The results showed that the bacterial counts found on the surfaces of paper towel dispensers were on average 1,000 times lower than those recorded on the surfaces of jet air dryers. Meanwhile, floors tested beneath paper towel drying systems were found to have bacterial counts on average 20 times lower than the floors beneath jet air dryers. Among the bacteria recorded in the study were germs such as Staphylococci and coliforms, which can cause sickness, food poisoning, diarrhoea, skin complaints and other infections.

The findings of the Eurofins-Inlab study complement an earlier study by the University of Westminster, which found that while paper hand towels rubbed off and absorbed most of the germs on a person’s hands (up to 76%), warm air and jet dryers could increase them by up to 194%.
In addition, while paper towels captured germs, other systems blew them up to 2 metres away² into the surrounding area. The researchers also said that germs collected on the surfaces and insides of jet dryers. They concluded that paper towels dry hands efficiently, remove bacteria effectively and cause less contamination of the environment.

Evidence that air dryers harbour bacteria is particularly significant, because observational research conducted by KIMBERLY-CLARK PROFESSIONAL* has found that 100% of the people who use jet air dryers touch their surface one or more times during the hand drying process.
If their hands were to be contaminated during drying, bacteria could be carried out of the washroom and spread to others. Research has shown that a virus can be transferred from one hand to another up to six times, while some viruses can live on a hard surface for up to eight hours.

The University of Westminster study featured in a scientific review of the literature relating to hand hygiene, which was published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings in August 20126. The authors evaluated 446 studies, of which 12 were identified as key – the University of Westminster study being one.

The review concluded that, from a hygiene standpoint, paper towels were superior to air dryers and should therefore be recommended especially in areas where hygiene is of paramount importance, for example hospitals and clinics.

Jon Purdy, EMEA Healthy Workplace Platform Leader at KIMBERLY-CLARK PROFESSIONAL*, said: “Taken together, this body of evidence demonstrates that hand towels represent the most hygienic method for people to dry their hands after washing them. Good hygiene during drying is all about removing bacteria and maintaining a healthy environment – and paper towels tick those boxes.”

The latest research underlines a recommendation by the World Health Organization that people should “dry hands thoroughly using single use towels” after washing. In 2010, the Journal of Applied Microbiology stated: “The use of paper towels consistently outperforms all other drying techniques, especially with regard to the count of bacteria on the palms and fingertips.”

Jon Purdy added: “Drying hands is critical but so is making sure a washroom environment is as hygienic as possible there is no doubt hand towels are the best option. This is particularly important in the workplace, where the spread of germs could cause illness among staff and result in absence from work, which burdens companies with extra costs.”

He continued: “That’s why we’ve made sure effective hand drying is a key cornerstone of The Healthy Workplace Project*, an initiative designed to help companies take a few simple but effective steps to reduce the spread of harmful germs in office environments – cutting absenteeism and raising staff satisfaction and productivity levels in the process.”

He concluded: “Staff absence costs UK businesses nearly £30 billion annually. Preventable minor illnesses – such as colds, flu and upset stomachs – represent between 30% and 40% of total sickness-related absence. As the science shows, using paper hand towels in workplace washrooms can prevent the spread of the germs that cause these illnesses and keep staff healthy and happy.

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