Hand Drying: Paper Towels or Air Hand Dryers?

Sure, hand drying sounds like a rather mundane topic, but it's a very important part of the equation for creating a great guest experience, as well as important to hygiene for both guests and staff.

We're amazed by how many consumer destinations fail to take the time to design their restrooms to be visitor friendly. This includes hand drying options. Many, in a effort to reduce cost and the need to clean up clutter, only offer air hand dryers. One of the problems with only offering air hand dryers, is that many people don't like them and prefer to dry their hands with paper towels. Also, a lack of available paper towels makes it difficult, actually usually impossible, for parents to clean children's faces and arms, for guests to clean up spills or clean their shoes that might have gotten muddy or their glasses. When it come to guest satisfaction, it is usually the little things that make the difference.

A recent study conducted by the University of Westminster in London, England, "Hand Drying: Studies of the Hygiene and Efficiency of Different Hand Drying Methods," shows that paper towels are superior to air hand dryers in terms of speed, drying efficiency, hygiene and bacterial contamination. The study revealed that hand-drying methods are just as important as hand-washing methods for reducing bacteria on the hands and the spread of bacteria.

In terms of drying ability, the study showed that paper towels were far superior. The research found that people didn't use air hand dryers long enough for more than 55% to 65% dryness and often wiped their hands on other things to complete the drying. Approximately 40% of people wiped their hands on their clothes or hair (yuk!) to complete the drying process. No men and only 5% of women did so when using paper towels.

Microbiological studies show that using paper towels helps remove bacteria from hands and reduces bacterial counts by 58%. Hand dryers, on the other hand, significantly increase bacterial counts by a factor of over four times.

In terms of guest satisfaction, the research found that 90% of users prefer paper towels versus air hand dryers.

Our company's research, including focus group research with moms, shows that restrooms are often the most important factor in guests' perceived image of your entire business. With restrooms being that important, it is the last place to skimp on anything. Yet, too often facilities design them as unimportant, with generic designs and finishes no better than those in gas stations.

Guests' hand drying options is not an area where you want to not offer anything but the best. The best option is touch-free paper towel dispensers conveniently located near the sinks with adjoining trash containers and an air hand dryer as an alternative for those few guests who prefer them and as a back-up if the paper towels run out (if you check your restrooms every hour, there is no excuse for that to ever happen). Paper towels will not only increase guest satisfaction, but make your facility more hygienic, especially when it comes to staff who are working in the food service areas.

Postnote: Hand drying is just one of a multiple list of details our company pays incredible detail to in the design of restrooms in our client's facilities. Our company's focus group research has found that just about all the conventional wisdom and practices of restroom design are off the mark from the standpoint of designing restroom facilities that meet the needs for women and families.