Hands play a huge role in cross-contamination and are one of the largest risk factors in the spread of pathogens. Historically, the idea of hand hygiene practice has been associated with hand washing, however, there is an increasing recognition of the importance of antimicrobial hand gels and hand drying in this process. There is also recognition that what is important in hand hygiene is the integrated benefits of washing, rinsing and drying, as well as the prevention of subsequent recontamination.
Thorough hand drying after washing is an essential component of good hand hygiene practice particularly as the risk of cross-contamination is more likely to occur from wet hands than dry hands. One study found that wet hands can spread up to 1,000 times more bacteria than dry ones, especially if sub-optimal hand washing has taken place. Before deciding on the ideal hand drying method, businesses should compare different types of hand drying methods to understand which one is best suited to their requirements and want to invest in such as drying hands with paper towels or an automatic hand dryer.
The points below outline the relative merits of different hand drying methods:
Removal of bacteria/moisture: one of the most effective drying methods and thought to be particularly effective in removing microorganisms from fingertips
Recontamination potential: paper towels that are left unprotected on washroom services are most likely to be contaminated
Contamination of the atmosphere: if poorly disposed of, paper towels could present a recontamination risk
Green credentials: considered to be more harmful than air dryers. This can depend on the region and paper type as the towels may not be recyclable
Removal of bacteria/moisture: considered to be one of the most effective drying methods in reducing moisture and microorganisms. Research around reducing hand contamination found 96% reduction in moisture in 10 seconds, 99% reduction in 15 seconds when using linen or cotton towels
Recontamination potential: correctly used can carry little re-contamination potential
Contamination of the atmosphere: least likely to contaminate the environment
Green credentials: considered to better for the environment than paper towels
Warm Air Dryer
Removal of bacteria/moisture: conflicting results and considered less effective than paper, cloth and jet blade. Research found that the number of microorganisms increased after drying
Recontamination potential: hand air dryers need to be regularly cleaned and maintained. Studies have revealed high microbial counts in internal dust/debris
Contamination of the atmosphere: a hand dryer is considered unsuitable for the food, healthcare and other critical care industries. Studies indicate risk of environment and atmospheric contamination
Green credentials: air hand dryers are considered to better for the environment than paper towels
Removal of bacteria/moisture: studies suggest it is as effective in removing moisture as paper towels and more effective at removing moisture than warm air hand dryers
Recontamination potential: some can lead to pooling of moisture in the internal base. They have the overall highest levels of contamination compare to other hand drying methods
Contamination of the atmosphere: risk of contamination may be over 60x greater than air dryers and 1300x more than paper towels
Green credentials: considered to be better for the environment than paper towels
The hand drying method chosen will depend on the priorities of the washroom owner. However, if the risk of cross-contamination, the removal of moisture and microorganisms and maximising compliance are the main priorities to practise good hand hygiene in the business, then a towel based system is probably the best solution.
The best drying method should be selected if it is widely preferred by the employees, energy efficient, reduces the maximum amount of moisture and microorganisms from the hands and is quick to use. No individual hand drying method fulfils the listed requirements, however, all should be managed and maintained appropriately.