Single use towels are the most hygienic way to dry hands after visiting the toilet, according to research by the University of Westminster.
The authors of the research said their findings should have implications for guidance on hospital hygiene and other settings.
The study, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, looked at the potential for microbial contamination from hand drying and the potential risks for the spread of microbes in the air, particularly if hands are not washed properly.
“These findings clearly indicate that single-use towels spread the fewest microbes of all hand-drying methods”
The researchers compared differences between drying methods and their capacity to spread microbes from the hands of users potentially to other people in public toilets.
Paper towels, a textile roller towel, a warm air dryer and a jet air dryer were compared using three different test models – acid indicator using lemon juice, yeast, and bacterial transmission from hands when washed without soap.
The researchers found the jet air dryer spread liquid from users’ hands further and over a greater distance – up to 1.5 m – than the other drying methods.
They also recorded the greatest spread of microbes into the air at both near and far distances for each of the tested models. Levels recorded at close distance for a jet air dryer revealed an average of 59.5 colonies of yeast compared with an average of just 2.2 colonies for paper towels.
At a distance of 0.2 m the jet air dryer recorded 67 colonies of yeast, compared with only 6.5 for paper towels. At a distance of 1.5 m the jet air dryer recorded 11.5 colonies of yeast, compared to zero for paper towels.
Study author Keith Redway said: “These findings clearly indicate that single-use towels spread the fewest microbes of all hand-drying methods.
“The extent to which jet air dryers disperse microbes into the washroom environment is likely to have implications for policy guidance to facilities managers operating in a wide range of environments from sports venues and airports through to schools and hospitals,” he said.
The research was commissioned from the university by the European Tissue Symposium, which represents the paper industry.