Burning Question: Air Blowers or Paper Towels?

Here’s one that has very little to do with investing or money but is something that anyone who has ever used a public bathroom has faced: which is better: paper towels or air blowers?

According to research at the Mayo Clinic, paper towels are better.

With all the new technology in restroom hand driers, you might think blowers are more hygienic than a simple sheet of paper. Banish that thought, says Rodney Lee Thompson, a hospital epidemiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The Trouble with Blowers

Go to any sports stadium and watch people washing their hands in the bathroom, and you’ll likely switch to paper, notes Dr. Thompson. “The trouble with blowers is that they take so long,” he says. “Most people dry their hands for a bit, then wipe them on their dirty jeans, or open the door with their still-wet hands.” Maybe they even decide not to wash altogether to save time.

Paper towels are even better for the environment!

Even environmental concerns, Dr. Thompson says, are eradicated by the paper towel. “The electric blower uses more energy than making a paper towel,” he says.

What’s the Mayo Clinic way of proper public bathroom etiquette?

Even though studies have shown that a thorough washing with soap will remove nearly all traces of bacteria, some germaphobes take extra precautionary measures, like using a paper towel to touch the bathroom door or faucet.

Dr. Thompson doesn’t think that is such a bad idea. “Remember that some people don’t wash their hands at all. So when you turn off the faucet, you contaminate your hands again; then you grab the door handle and you’re picking up whatever germs were left behind.”

In a dream world, Dr. Thompson says, you’d use a paper towel to dry your hands, open the door with it, then throw it over your shoulder and into the trash. “I personally think that public bathroom doors should open out so you can push them with your thigh,” he says. “Or they should not have a door at all, like at airports.”

Don’t argue with science.

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