Sometimes, keeping clean is dirty business. Walk into just about any public bathroom and you’re likely to find at least one industrial sized trash bin filled with hundreds of paper towels. Maybe there will also be a few ancient air-dryers ineffectively blowing lukewarm air. After you wash your hands you’ll try the air-dryer (it’s more hygienic, right?) but you’ll probably just end up grabbing three or four too-thin paper towels anyway, as one study found that air-dryers are woefully slow and inefficient at getting rid of excess water. There’s more than one problem with this picture.
Let’s tackle the myth that air-dryers are the more hygienic option first. Recently, a study published in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that air-dryers actually spread bacteria. “Well sure,” you might think, “not everyone is as diligent at washing as I am.” But I’m afraid that’s wrong too. Air-dryers don’t only spread the bacteria left on your hands after washing, they also spread all the other nasty bacteria in the bathroom. This is not the first study to suggest this. In 2015 a similar study was performed by a team of microbiologists from the University of Westminster and they found that air-dryers can blow bacteria up to three feet off the ground.
The University of Westminster study concluded that paper towels were the most hygienic way to dry your hands, though they aren’t as environmentally conscious. If you’re looking to keep your office green, then air-dryers are still the way to go. But let’s be honest here, if you’re already willing to ignore how unhygienic an air-dryer is, you may as well throw caution to the wind and wipe your hands on your pants rather than waste electricity. You can be a bit more environmentally conscious by using recycled paper towels, the production of which uses 31% less energy than the production of virgin paper towels. With recycled paper towels however, you could be sacrificing hygiene. Research has suggested that bacteria can thrive in recycled paper towels because of the starches that are used as binding.
If, like SCG Health, you work in a small office with few visitors or if you have a staff-only restroom, there is another option that may work for you. Using non-disposable hand towels is a way to keep your hand-drying hygienic and green. We keep a basket of small hand towels that are used once. At the end of the day we collect the basket of used towels and wash them. The cloth towels dry your hand quickly and effectively and allow SCG Health to cut down on unnecessary paper waste. It is important to have multiple towels, because having only one towel that is used over and over throughout the day can allow bacteria to collect.
Which option is right for you?
Unfortunately, you’ll have to answer that for yourself. However, I can give you a few suggestions:
For small offices: reusable cloth towels are effective, clean, and can add a little bit of luxury to your office.
For large offices: opt for paper towels, you might feel bad about the waste, but don’t worry. It only takes about two weeks for a paper towel to decompose.
In emergencies: if you have absolutely no other options, then fine, dry your hands on your pants. Just don’t try to shake hands with me after.