Public bathroom hand dryers ‘splatter’ germs everywhere: research

Marea Olafson says her grandmother has mobility issues due to osteoporosis and is unable to get to the bathroom by herself to wash her hands at the long-term care facility in Foam Lake. THOMAS LOHNES/AFP/Getty Images

TORONTO – Just when you thought public restrooms couldn’t get filthier: British research suggests that ‘jet-air’ hand dryers are spreading germs into the air and onto patrons nearby.

University of Leeds scientists say that high-powered and warm air hand dryers splatter 27 times more germs into the air than paper towel dispensers.

“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,” Dr. Mark Wilcox, of the university’s School of Medicine, said.

“These findings are important for understanding the ways in which bacteria spread, with the potential to transmit illness and disease,” he said.

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Wilcox and his team contaminated peoples’ hands with a harmless bacteria – Lactobacillus – to mimic hands that’ve been poorly washed.

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After having their study subjects dry their hands, the experts collected air samples from around the hand dryers and even at distances of up to two metres away.

Bacterial counts next to the jet air dryers were 4.5 times higher than samples from the warm air dryers. There was 27 times more bacteria when compared to the air when the participants dried their hands with paper towels.

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The bacteria even lingered in the air well beyond the 15-second hand-drying time. Almost half of the bacteria collected was more than five minutes later. The germs were in the air 15 minutes after hand drying.

Health officials tend to recommend that you wash your hands with soap and warm water for about 30 seconds – or about as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ That should be enough time to strip your hands of germs and rinse any of the suds.

Wilcox’s full findings were published in the Journal of Hospital Infection this week. They were presented at the Healthcare Infection Society International Conference in Lyon, France.

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