Paper Towels vs. Hand Dryers

by Lawton Brothers | Sep 22, 2021


Paper Towels vs Air Dryers

Since the start of the pandemic last year, we have all increased our awareness around bacteria and hygiene, most specifically in the bathroom. While much of our focus this past year has been on social distancing and handwashing, we have near forgotten that drying your hands can make almost as much a difference as washing them in the prevention of the spread of disease. 

There are multiple factors that go into selecting the best hand drying method for your facility. Effectiveness, hygiene, cost, and environmental footprint are all factors to be considered when choosing what to place in your restrooms. 


Generally speaking, there are two main methods to choose between: paper towels and air dryers.

While paper towels are simply sheets of paper used to dry one’s hands, not all paper towels are built the same. Thinner sheets will naturally be less expensive; however, they will also require more sheets to fully dry one’s hands.

The same is also true for hand dryers. The level of heat, speed/force, and surface area will all contribute to the effectiveness of your air dryer. 


In this case, hygiene will refer to the degree to which bacteria and viruses are spread between hands and the environment. Proper hand hygiene is vital to control infection. A study from London’s University of Westminster revealed that paper towels prevent the spread of bacteria 1,300 times more than jet air dryers. The difference lies in the drying method. Rather than absorbing water off the hands as paper towels do, air dryers remove moisture via air that is pulled from the surrounding environment and subsequently dispersed up to 9.8 feet in the air. This study ultimately determined that air dryers contribute to significantly greater amounts of virus, both airborne and on hands, up to 15 minutes after use. This makes paper towels the definite winner in the eyes of hygiene. 


Cost is the least important factor in many medical professions. However, in most other cases, cost is the driving factor for decision-making. It’s clear that paper towels are the less cost-efficient option – but how much so? On average, paper towels cost approximately 2-3 times as much per month as air dryers. According to Robert Green, U.S. head engineer at Dyson, the annual operating cost of its top hand dryer is a measly $48, compared to the average $1,460 annually for paper towels. Additionally, paper towels can come with additional costs that are not initially seen, including time for restocking, space for stock, trash liners and waste removal, and the inevitable clogging from paper towels going into pipes. While hand dryers do have a larger upfront cost, they will generally pay for themselves after a few months of use. 

Environmental Footprint

Many companies think of recycled paper towels as more eco-friendly, however, these will still end up in a landfill after their use. While we may have given it a second life as a paper towel, it will not go beyond that and will either go to a landfill or be incinerated. Otherwise, the carbon footprint between hot air dryers and paper towels is relatively similar. However, room temperature air blades have a much lower carbon footprint over its lifetime, providing only one-third the carbon emissions per drying than the others. 

What’s Best for You?

Unfortunately, there is no right answer for which method is better. No matter what method you use to dry your hands, however, Lawton Brothers is here for you. With the products and services you need to keep your facility stocked, clean, and ready for action since 1946, you know Lawton Brothers is a name you can trust. See about getting a free audit today when you give us a call today at: 800.432.0813

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