Inside The Bitter Dispute Over How We Dry Our Hands

The paper towel vs. air dryer debate rages on. Inside The Bitter Dispute Over How We Dry Our Hands Giphy

News that is entertaining to read

Subscribe for free to get more stories like this directly to your inbox

Once upon a time, there wasn’t much competition when it came to hand-drying options in public restrooms. Aside from the cloth towel dispenser that was moderately popular for a while, the humble paper towel was practically the only game in town.

Things began to change in the 1970s, though, when air dryers surfaced. Since then, there’s been a pretty hostile war for dominance playing out behind the scenes.

Massive improvements

The earliest air dryers were terribly inefficient and took a long time to evaporate the water on your hands after washing. This resulted in many people simply shaking off the excess moisture and leaving the restroom if paper towels weren’t available.

Of course, germs like to stick to damp surfaces, so this presented a significant sanitary issue.

But over the past few decades, there have been huge leaps forward in technology — including the Dyson Airblade.

This device can dry your hands in as little as 10 seconds and presents some huge advantages to businesses that install them:

  • The cost of electricity can be as low as $19 per year.
  • The average cost of paper towels is well over $1,000 per year.
  • There’s no waste associated with using an air dryer.

So why are there still so many paper towels?

As you might imagine, the paper towel industry wasn’t keen on losing such a large chunk of their business, so they started funding research that seemed to show it was less sanitary to use air dryers.

Dyson objected and started sponsoring articles that concluded its Airblade was actually more hygienic than paper towels.

It’s hard to say which side is currently winning, but the U.S. Supreme Court has actually weighed in … sort of. Its facilities now have air dryers installed instead of paper towels.

Chris Agee
Chris Agee June 10th, 2023
Share this story: