Hand Drying Options
What's the sitch with hand dryers in bathrooms?
It’s half past noon in a bustling food court. A recently hydrated man excuses himself from a lunch table and walks briskly to a nearby public restroom. The tension in his enlarged bladder is so great he is barely able to grasp and part his zipper before a golden stream hits the urinal cake. A moist ricochet finds his trembling hands. The stream slows to a trickle, and finally to a casual drip. He shakes his member, flinging ever more urine onto once clean knuckles. He is unable to contain a deep, satisfied grunt, which disturbs those around him greatly.
On this occasion, the man does choose to wash his hands, as even he notices how completely covered in piss they are. He skips soap because he doesn’t really believe in it, plunging his hands directly under a motion activated faucet stream. After letting the water get his hands wet, he glances over his shoulder to assess drying options.
This is where the story could go in one of two directions:
a) There is a fresh stack of eco-friendly paper towels in a dispenser. Our hero grabs a few, dries his hands completely, disposes of them properly, smiles, and strolls out to continue his day, pleased with the entire bathroom episode.
b) There is a lone electric hand dryer on the wall. He cautiously approaches the metallic beast, unsure of exactly how to give it life. Waving his hands underneath doesn’t trigger the infrared on switch immediately. The device seems consciously antagonistic, waiting until the user is frustrated and convinced the machine is broken before activating. When the electronics do finally engage, the noise reminds the man of his days as an air traffic marshall, directing 747s onto and off of the tarmac. The noise of the hand dryer makes the man think of a time before he had air conditioning in his car, when in order to stay cool on a summer road trip he would open all four of his Chevy’s windows on the interstate. A flood of loud memories rush back to the man as he begins to dry his hands underneath the cylinder of hot air. What feels like hours later, the machine finally runs out of steam and powers off. The man tries to come to grips with his newly discovered hearing loss. A child down the street thinks she has just survived her first earthquake. His hands are nowhere near dry, but spending another session with the awful machine is not an option, so the man wipes his hands on his slacks (which themselves still have some clinging urine droplets), and stumbles out the door, no longer sure of the date or his location.
You may be surprised to hear that the above anecdote about the man, as well as both of the endings, were actually taken directly from my own life. Yes, I was briefly an air traffic marshall. And no, I don’t believe in soap. But more important to our current discussion is the FACT that electric hand dryers, in their current form, are FAR too loud and leave hands FAR too damp to be functionally relevant.
Proponents of electric hand dryers have plenty of strong data to support their position. Electric hand dryers have been shown to use 20% less energy than paper towels over the course of five years and they can cut yearly hand-drying-specific costs by upwards of 95% (after an initial investment). When judging by these two basic economic measures, hand dryers seem like an obviously good investment for any bathroom manager.
But we have to include two other important factors in our analysis: hygiene and convenience. First of all, this may not be intuitive, but hand dryers are LESS hygienic than paper towels. Some studies show that, because hand dryers don’t properly dry user’s hands and because their powerful blowers spray droplets everywhere, they actually INCREASE total bacteria counts on finger pads by up to 100%, as well as helping to spread pathogenic organisms up to 2 meters in every direction. (Conversely, the paper towels cohort in this study decreased finger pad bacterial count post-drying by 75%). These data need to be considered first and foremost when deciding whether to purchase a hand dryer for your bathroom. The purpose of washing and drying one’s hands is HYGIENE; saving money (and the environment) at the expense of cleanliness is sort of missing the point.
Secondly, convenience of use… Our hero from the first few paragraphs was shaken from the ridiculously loud hand dryer in the bathroom he was using. This is a very common experience for those of us with functional ears. Bathrooms in a school for the deaf would have not have this problem, and perhaps would have less reason to choose paper towels. But for the majority of the population, the decibel level is extremely uncomfortable. In addition to noise pollution, paper towels are a much more efficient way to dry one’s hands. Not only do they dry your hands substantially faster, you can continue to move as you do dry, throwing out soiled towels in the waste bin near the door, barely breaking stride from the sink to the exit.
I have seen an increase in the ‘blade’ style electric hand dryers, and these are a little bit faster and a little bit quieter… but they aren’t great. Bringing a nice sleeping pad with you on a camping trip does make a difference, but you’re still sleeping on the ground.
The only real factor giving me qualms about my pretty obvious support for paper towels is their environmental cost. I care about the environment; every little bit of energy saving helps, and we are already in very deep waters when it comes to climate change…
One option for getting the best of both worlds is by making the switch to RCRTs, or Reusable Cloth Roll Towels. This system maintains all of the positive qualities of paper towels and hand dryers, while simultaneously being MORE hygienic than both! This is due to the fact that the cloth roll is pulled back up into the device after use, containing disease-causing organisms within, rather than blowing them all over the room or leaving them seeping from a trash can.
RCRTs have gotten a bad rap through the years, largely through no fault of their own. Many times the machines that the cloth rolls are pulled from break easily. This is a huge problem as they are never fixed right away, leaving you with the option to dry your hands on a used piece of towel, or skip washing/drying all together.
I am sure if we, as a society, made a conscious decision to shift our hand drying practices to this logical RCRT-end, competition would weed out the poorly designed cloth rollers, leaving us with a highly functional, highly efficient, maximally hygienic, environmentally conscious, monetarily reasonable choice.
I can see you all raising one skeptical eyebrow toward your computer’s webcam as you read my suggestion to shift back to cloth roll towels in public bathrooms. But I’m raising a skeptical eyebrow over here as well; skeptical of whether any of you HEATHENS even care about the EARTH, about sick people, about economic inefficiencies, or about fucking noise pollution. I’m talking about NOISE.
The previous paragraph isn’t directed at anyone who agrees with me.