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Hand Dryers vs. Paper Towels: The Use of Hand Dryers in Hospitals

Keeping healthcare facilities clean and hygienic is crucial for ongoing patient safety. Healthcare professionals also take several extra precautions to maintain good hygiene to protect both their patients and themselves.

As such, healthcare facilities have developed robust approaches to prevent bacterial cross-contamination and the spread of infection. Some implement vendor-managed safety and hygiene programs to keep essentials like hand sanitizer and paper products stocked without having to think about it.

Part of any medical facility’s infection control procedure is, of course, ensuring staff wash and dry their hands thoroughly and routinely. Bacterial transmission is more likely from wet skin than dry skin, and this makes the act of proper drying a key component of infection control.

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The use of hand dryers in hospitals has been a popular source of debate recently. As a medical facility, it’s critical to compare hand dryers vs. paper towels to determine which is more likely to keep your patients and staff safe. So, when it comes to proper hand drying protocol, which method is more effective?

Using Hand Dryers vs. Paper Towels in Healthcare

There is a perception that electric hand dryers are hygienic options when it comes to preventing the spread of bacteria and disease. They’re hands-free, which means there’s no need to touch anything that might be contaminated in a bathroom.

This is why it often comes as a surprise when it is revealed that using paper towels is the more hygienic choice. Let’s break it down, one factor at a time.

5 Reasons Why Paper Towels Are More Hygienic Than Hand Dryers

1. Hand Dryers Often Don’t Fully Dry Hands

Even though you don’t have to touch anything when you use an electric hand dryer, they often shut off automatically well before your hands have dried completely. This requires people to reactivate the dryer to finish drying their hands properly, which takes extra time and is easy to forego. People often leave the restroom with damp hands which can provide a great opportunity for germs and bacteria to thrive.

Paper towels are a quicker, more effective way to ensure hands are completely dry and clean.

2. Hand Dryers Can Often Spread More Bacteria Than Paper Towels

Hand dryers work by moving large quantities of air to dry your hands. This is the same air that’s around you in the washroom, which could easily be harboring contaminants, allergens, and bacteria. While hand dryers do use filters to prevent transferring pollutants from the air to your hands and clothes, these filters need to be changed regularly for them to be effective. This danger is not present in hospitals and facilities that opt to use paper towel dispensers instead.

A study by the National Library of Medicine establishes that in the battle of hand dryers vs. paper towels, paper towels win from a hygiene viewpoint. The study goes on to recommend that paper towels should always be used in locations where hygiene is paramount, such as hospitals and clinics.

3. Loud Hand Dryers Disturb Resting Patients

Patients in healthcare facilities like nursing homes, hospice care, and post-surgical wards benefit from a quiet and peaceful environment. Unfortunately, an electric hand dryer is anything but quiet. The use of hand dryers in hospitals can be disruptive, since they function by audibly blowing hot air at speed on someone’s hands – a noise no resting patient should have to be disturbed by.

Compare this to the amount of noise pollution that using paper towels causes. The sound a hospital paper towel dispenser makes when someone uses it is drastically quieter than a hand dryer. Whether it’s an automatic dispenser that uses an electric feed motor or one that is operated manually, it’s not usually loud enough to cause a disturbance for patients attempting to rest nearby. Opting for a paper towel dispenser is one of the many small things you can do to ensure you are creating a positive patient experience.

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4. Paper Towels Are Environmentally Friendly

Hand dryers require electricity to function properly. This electricity must come from somewhere, and it’s unlikely your healthcare facility uses 100 percent renewable energy sources. This makes paper towels – which can often be sourced from recycled paper waste – a more environmentally-friendly solution.

Additionally, while most major healthcare facilities have backup generators in case of a power grid failure, smaller facilities may not. This can render an electric air dryer inoperable. Paper towels, of course, still work even when the power’s out, as even automatic paper towel dispensers are battery-powered.

5. Hand Dryers Need Regular Maintenance to be Effective

Hand dryers are complex pieces of equipment. If any component of a hand dryer is broken, the entire unit is incapable of drying hands until it’s serviced by a technician. This can cause significant delays, creating opportunities for germs to spread.

In comparison, hospital paper towel dispensers don’t need advanced technological maintenance. If even an advanced paper towel dispenser that features a hands-free electronic sensor needs service, the paper towels within the unit can still be easily used to dry hands.

Choosing the Right Paper Towel Solution for Medical Facility

Healthcare facilities can choose from two different types of hospital paper towel dispensers:

  • Hardwound dispensers: Also known as manual dispensers, these require the user to pull on the paper towel or a handle to dispense the paper towel
  • Electric dispensers: Also known as automatic dispensers, these usually have a sensor for automatic feeding, making them hands-free – a great solution when trying to reduce high touchpoints in a healthcare facility.

Regardless of which hospital paper towel dispenser you choose, keeping them stocked is often simple; custodial staff can simply refill the dispenser with fresh towels when necessary. However, ensuring your facility has enough paper towel inventory on-hand can be a logistical challenge.

Many medical facilities avoid this challenge by using a fully managed paper products program that keeps supply closets fully stocked. These programs remove the possibility of your patients and staff not having the supplies they need.

They also provide full support for the installation, maintenance, repair, and replacement of your hardware.

With such a system in place, you can rest assured that not just your bathroom tissue and paper towel supply will be sufficient, but the dispensers for these paper products will always be in good working order. This enables the staff at your healthcare facility to provide even better levels of treatment to their patients without worry – and that’s worth its weight in gold.

Ready to make the switch to a simple paper product solution? ImageFIRST is here to help.

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