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The Surprisingly Dirty Fight Over Drying Your Hands

When you visit a public restroom, do you prefer to dry your hands with paper towels or an air dryer? Each has their drawbacks. Paper towels run out, and fill up waste baskets as well as landfills. Air dryers are loud, take too long, and sometimes don't work. Some studies show that they blow bacteria around. And for a lot of folks, public restrooms are all about the germs.

The holy grail for such phobists is the contactless restroom. In the industry, people speak with shining eyes about this ideal chamber, where our hands need not touch anything that other hands have defiled. Already, we enter some airport bathrooms through a brief switchback of walls, so that we don’t ever grasp a door handle. Once inside, sensors can eliminate the need to yank the flush, turn the tap, jab at the soap dispenser or pull a paper towel from the dispenser. The modern hand dryer, with no buttons to push, ought to fit neatly into this fantasy of the zero-contact loo. Instead, towel companies are convinced that dryers are the filthy exception to the rule, and that the singular safe item to touch in a public restroom is an old-school leaf of rough, thick paper.

Do you recall cloth towels in public restrooms? They came in a roll, and you pulled down a clean section to use. Those went away when industrial linen services faded. Now paper manufacturers have a lot of clout, but so do air dryer manufacturers, and Dyson went big when they introduced the Airblade hand dryer. They are locked in a battle for supremacy in public restrooms. The Guardian has a deep dive into the history of hand-drying, and the battle between paper towels and air dryers. -via Digg 


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I guess a big factor is the proprietor of the bathroom: paper towels are consumables that always have to be replenished (and that's an expense that any building owner would like to get rid of). Air dryer may be a bigger capital expenditure at first, but it's a one-time cost (yes, they use electricity but it's probably a minimal expense and is lumped with the building's overall electric bill).
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