— By Frederic Perreault —
Hand hygiene is a two-part process.
While COVID-19 has brought the importance of hand washing to the forefront of discussions about how to stop the spread of germs and bacteria, a critical element of the hand hygiene process is not being discussed. As the global society works to eradicate the COVID-19 virus and toward a future beyond this current pandemic, it is crucial that we understand how proper hand hygiene prevents the spread of bacteria, viruses and other infections. Scrubbing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds helps diminish the spread of germs in your home, where you work and everywhere in between. But hand washing and hand drying must go together to fully prevent the spread of infectious disease.
Hand drying plays a critical role in stopping the spread of germs and bacteria, yet so many of us let it take a back seat because we simply are not aware of its importance to overall hand hygiene. One of the primary reasons we should start putting more thought to hand drying is because bacteria are more easily transmitted from wet hands than dry hands (Patrick et al., 1997). This means that while we may have done a great job at washing our hands, if we do not properly dry our hands afterwards, bacteria can continue to spread across the various surfaces and people we come across.
What’s the best way to dry our hands? There has been a longstanding debate about which method of hand drying is most effective and most hygienic — paper towels or air dryers — and many studies have been conducted to declare a victor. Studies have shown that using paper towels to dry your hands not only removes the moisture more quickly (Redway & Fawdar, 2008) and efficiently than other drying methods, but the friction caused by the towels allows for even further removal of microorganisms (Huang et al., 2012). Because paper towels work through water absorption and mechanical friction and not just an airstream, there is a smaller chance of bacteria or viruses being dispersed into the air. Additionally, paper towels can serve as a protective barrier from recontamination after hand washing when used to turn off faucets and open doors.
Americans’ Views on Hand Hygiene
We recently conducted a Consumer Intelligence Poll to gauge views on hand washing and drying. The survey results showed that Americans are not placing the same importance on hand drying as they do hand washing. While 84% of Americans say it is extremely important to wash your hands after using a public restroom, only 48% of Americans say it is extremely important to dry your hands after using a public restroom.
While it seems that Americans may not always prioritize drying their hands, they are already aware of the preferred method of drying from a scientific standpoint, whether they know it or not. When asked to choose from a list of hand drying methods, over half (52%) of Americans say paper towels are the most hygienic way to dry their hands, according to our survey. Additionally, 61% of Americans say they prefer paper towels from a touchless dispenser when drying their hands in a public restroom.
Why do Americans prefer paper towels for hand drying? The top three reasons, according to a survey conducted by Cintas Corporation, are that paper towels dry hands better and faster and provide something to open the restroom door with — preventing recontamination when touching restroom surfaces. These consumer insights directly align with scientific research that demonstrates that paper hand towels are the fastest method for drying hands (Redway & Fawdar, 2008) and the only hand drying option that (1) allows you to turn off faucets and open restroom doors without touching restroom surfaces, thus helping to minimize recontamination, (2) allows multiple people at once to dry their hands (Bono & Wang, 2007) and (3) is not noisy (Redway & Fawdar, 2008).
Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing an uptick in education about hand hygiene as Americans are beginning to think more about both parts of the hand hygiene process. Our survey also found that almost three-quarters (73%) of Americans say they are washing their hands more often than they previously were and over half (51%) of Americans say that due to COVID-19, they are giving more thought to how they dry their hands after washing.
Where Do We Go From Here?
We are already starting to see a change in how we view hand hygiene. Our survey found that 78% of Americans are concerned about touching surfaces in public restrooms and, since the coronavirus pandemic started, 71% of Americans say they are more concerned with touching surfaces in public restrooms.
What should facility managers, building owners and retail proprietors do to help keep employees and visitors safe from the spread of germs and bacteria? Consider incorporating touchless technologies, including toilets, soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers. Our survey showed that the top four features Americans would like to see more of in public restrooms are: (1) paper towels from a touchless dispenser (74%) , (2) touchless ways to enter and exit the bathroom (64%), and (3-4) automatic toilet flushers and touchless trash cans (59%).
Bono, A., & Wang, J. (2007). Designing A Hand Dryer: Hygiene and Comparative Hand Drying Systems. https://www.sd.polyu.edu.hk/iasdr/proceeding/papers/Designing%20a%20Hand%20Dryer%20Hygiene.pdf
Cintas Corporation. (2017, July 11). New Cintas Survey Shows Consumers Vastly Prefer Paper Towels in Hand Drying Debate [Press release]. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170711005083/en/New-Cintas-Survey-Shows-Consumers-Vastly-Prefer
Huang, C., Ma, W., & Stack, S. (2012, August). The hygienic efficacy of different hand-drying methods: A review of the evidence. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3538484/
Patrick, D., Findon, G., & Miller, T. (1997) Residual moisture determines the level of touch-contact associated bacterial transfer following hand washing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2809004/pdf/9440435.pdf
Redway, K., & Fawdar, S. (2008). A comparative study of three different hand drying methods: Pa-per towel, warm air dryer, jet air dryer. http://europeantissue.com/pdfs/090402-2008%20WUS%20Westminster%20University%20hygiene%20study,%20nov2008.pdf
World Health Organization. (2009). WHO guidelines on hand hygiene in health care. https://www.who.int/gpsc/information_centre/hand-hygiene-2009/en/
— Frederic Perreault is the R&D director at Cascades Research & Development, the research center for Cascades, a leader in sustainable, innovative and value-added solutions for packaging, hygiene and recovery needs. He started his career at Cascades in 2008 as a chemist involved in the development of innovative eco-friendly products, including fiber-based materials, packaging solutions and paper hygiene solutions. Today, he manages a team of 45 multidisciplinary scientists who support 90 of Cascades’ production sites across North America.