blog article

keeping hands clean


How to Keep Hands Clean in a Public Restroom  

As a self-professed germ-a-phobe, I have always been careful in public areas and am always looking for ways to limit my exposure to germs.  Travelling for work every month, in and out of multiple cities and multiple airports, I’ve become accustomed to having certain, shall we say, OCD tendencies. 

As I go through public spaces, I touch as little as possible with my hands.  It starts well before I enter the airport.  The day before my flight, I check-in online so that I don’t have to touch the check-in kiosk.  When arriving at the airport, I cringe when I must touch the button to get a parking check-in meter receipt.  After parking, I use the stairs in the parking deck so that I don’t have to touch the elevator call button.  Once I’m in the airport, I will lean on surfaces rather than hold onto them with my hands.  I lean on the train grab-bar, I lean on the escalator handrail with my elbow.  And while waiting for the flight I will sit down without touching the arms of the chair with my hands.

At this point you realize that in the restrooms, my caution meter sends all kinds of red flags.  I never touch the flush handle or the restrooms partition door latch with my hands; that’s what spare toilet paper is for.  And of course, I wash hands thoroughly when finished.  But after hand washing what happens?  Up until this point, I have been vigilant about my health safety. 

That’s when I used to blindly start-up the hand dryer like it was no big deal.  After all, hands free is the cleanest way to go, right?  Up until now I’ve never really thought about the air that was cycling through the hand dryers was just recirculating all of the spore-filled air nearby and blowing it directly on to my once clean hands. 

My OCD tendencies have failed me on this one! 

But thanks to scientific research, now I know better.

I will now and forever wince at the thought of using recycled air to dry hands again.  Not only does it blow dirty air onto my newly washed hands, it blows the air directly onto my face and entire body.  I can remember a time not too long ago when I’d turn on a hand dryer and happily snuggle up next to it for a blast of warmth.  Those days are behind me.

The way I look at it; you have three choices. 

1) You can turn a blind eye and use hand dryers without hesitation. 

2) You can shake your hands in the air and walk away with them up in the air looking like a surgeon ready to be gloved. 

3) Or you can simply use a paper towel.

When it comes to forced-air hand dryers, there are various types out there.  And the hand dryer industry is hard at work trying to make using these dryers as safe as possible. 

There’s the old school, warm air style, which seems to be the worst culprit.  You know the one.  It’s screwed into the wall at the public parks and schools across the nation.  Heat destroys germs, but these hot air dryers don’t put off enough heat to make a difference.  And to the manufacturer’s defense, if they did, we would all likely scald our hands by getting too close to the heating elements.  So just turning up the heat is not an option.

There are newer hi-tech versions of hand dryers.  Dyson, as one example, filters the heck out of air with HEPA filters and goes to great lengths to explain how much better the filtered air is when using these dryers.  It’s suspicious that they sponsor their own tests and you don’t see any independent testing proving the Dyson statements true.

A silent controversy has been going on about whether these hi-tech versions are better or worse.  Some claim that the stronger forced air spreads more germs faster.  Some say the HEPA filters clean the air as it is blown through the filter.  Maybe both statements are true.

 An infographic produced by the European Tissue Symposium based on Redway’s research. (Image credit: ETS)

Why dry your hands at all? 

Haven’t we all been in the precarious situation where there are paper towels or hand dryers available?  What do we do then?  Most of us shake the water from our hands and proudly take the surgeon pose as we walk out of the room.  As if to say, “That’s right, my hands are clean!  They just aren’t dry.”  That lack of dryness is an issue as well.  Most germs live longer in a wet environment.  Not to mention that wet hands feel uncomfortable.  So, moments later,  we reach down unconsciously, and wipe our hands on our clothes.  Undoing all our best efforts to stay clean.

Hand washing is important to our health, but the true last defense against germs lies in how we choose to dry those clean hands.

Until someone proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s a better way, I’m sticking to paper towels. 

I get it, paper towels aren’t sexy.  They aren’t as exciting to look at as the fancy new hi-tech air blowers.  But there’s a time and a place for everything.  If you are going to spend money on a new building or remodel, I recommend you spend your money on something that will provide long term value to your business.  Just because air blowers are the newest accessory in commercial restrooms doesn’t mean they are the best choice.  We recommend the tried and true.

This is Rebecca Calbert with Calbert Design Group, and we make a point of educating our clients and protecting them from what they don’t know.