For years, many experts thought that using hand air dryers found in public toilets was more sanitary than using paper towels. But they actually spread germs, according to new research from the U.K.'s University of Leeds.
The researchers found that germ counts around high-powered "jet-air" and ordinary warm-air hand dryers were 27 times higher in comparison with the air around paper towel dispensers.
Air hand dryers scatter germs much like an aerosol can disperses its contents when sprayed, and the study found that both jet and warm air hand dryers spread bacteria into the air and onto users and those nearby.
To mimic hands that have been poorly washed, the researchers contaminated hands with a harmless type of bacteria called Lactobacillus, which is not normally found in public bathrooms.
Any Lactobacillus detected in the air proved that it must have come from the hands during drying. The experts collected air samples around the hand dryers and also at distances of one and two meters away.
Air bacterial counts close to jet air dryers were found to be 4.5 times higher than around warm air dryers and 27 times higher compared with the air when using paper towels.
Bacteria persisted in the air next to the dryers well beyond the 15 second hand-drying time, with approximately half (48 percent) of the Lactobacilli collected more than five minutes after drying ended. Lactobacilli were still detected in the air 15 minutes after hand drying.
Team leader Professor Mark Wilcox said: "Next time you dry your hands in a public toilet using an electric hand dryer, you may be spreading bacteria without knowing it. You may also be splattered with bugs from other people's hands.
"These findings are important for understanding the ways in which bacteria spread, with the potential to transmit illness and disease."
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