If you happen to be a germophobe who wants to use a public restroom ever again, you might just want to stop reading this.
Since, as it turns out, while bathroom hand dryers can be more environmental friendly than paper towels, they can also be a cesspit of fecal matter. You might not be aware, but when someone flushes an open toilet, little bits of poop and bacteria can be thrown as high as 4.5 meters into the air.
If this wasn’t gross enough, a new study has found that those small bits of bacteria and poop can be sucked up by warm hand dryers and blown straight onto your freshly washed hands.
Researchers from the University of Connecticut began their study by placing Petri dishes under a number of bathroom hand dryers around the school. Then they sat down to analyze the results. The plates that were exposed to normal bathroom air had about one colony of bacteria present, while the samples that were exposed to 30 seconds of hand dryer air had 18-60 bacteria colonies present.
The researchers concluded that “many kinds of bacteria, including potential pathogens and spores, can be deposited on hands that have been exposed to bathroom hand dryers.
The results are so disgusting that Peter Setlow, the lead author of the study, has officially sworn not to use hand dryers again. As a result of this study, the University of Connecticut offers paper towels as an alternative to hand dryers.
Still, the average person doesn’t need to start freaking out just yet. Setlow says that even though people who suffer from weak immune systems, like the elderly, should avoid using hand dryers, the rest of us can probably handle it.
Besides, just because hand dryers happen to churn out a load of bacteria, it doesn’t mean that the bacteria is necessarily bad for you. After all, bacteria, fungi, and other microbes are found everywhere you go, and the vast majority of this menagerie doesn’t make you sick. Furthermore, exposure to bacteria is an important part of building up your immune system so that you can live a longer and healthy life.
“The restroom isn’t that dangerous,” says Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. “The organisms which can grow there have a very low probability of being able to cause an infection.”
However, while some previous studies have found that paper towels are more sanitary, other independent studies have found no significant difference between the bacterial colonies on paper towels and those bestowed by hand dryers.
If this study is still disturbing you, take comfort in the following: Setlow and his team also found that retrofitting hand dryers with HEPA air filters reduced bacterial colonies four times over. Although, that probably doesn’t mean much for sanitation.
So, whatever you do, just try to remember: regardless of how you dry your hands, you’re bound to gather some bacteria one way or another.