Hand drying with single-use towels is least likely to spread viruses

Single-use towels disperse fewer micro-organisms into the environment than jet air dryers and warm air dryers, researchers find

Single-use paper towels offer the greatest protection against the spread of viruses in washrooms, according to new research

New independent research has found that single-use paper towels help minimise the spread of viruses, including those associated with gastro-intestinal infections such as norovirus and rotavirus.

Single-use towels disperse fewer micro-organisms into the environment than jet air dryers and warm air dryers and also help reduce the risk that viruses are blown into the faces of small children accompanying adults in the washroom, the researchers say.


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The findings are expected to have serious implications for washroom facility managers in settings such as hospitals and restaurants where hygiene is paramount.

Microbiologists Dr Patrick Kimmitt and Keith Redway of the University of Westminster studied the transmission of viruses using three different hand-drying methods: a jet air dryer, a warm air dryer and paper towels. The use of a jet air dryer was found to transmit more virus particles further and at different heights than the other methods, with airborne virus counts also significantly greater. At a range of heights tested, on average the jet air dryer produced over 60 times more viral plaques than a warm air dryer paper and over 1,300 times more than paper towels. Combined average results at distances up to three metres away from the hand-drying devices showed that a jet air dryer produced over 20 times more viral plaques than a warm air dryer and over 190 times more than paper towels. Air samples collected 15 minutes after use showed that the jet air dryer produced over 50 times more viral plaques than a warm air dryer and over 100 times more than paper towels.

Our findings clearly indicate that single-use paper towels spread the lowest number of viruses of all the hand-drying methods we tested

Viruses have been shown to survive on the hands for some time, with influenza virus lasting from 10–15 minutes, herpes virus for up to two hours, common cold virus up to one week, and rotavirus for up to 60 days. Viral pathogens such as norovirus have a low infectious dose and can be shed in large numbers in faeces.

'Our findings clearly indicate that single-use paper towels spread the lowest number of viruses of all the hand-drying methods we tested,' said Kimmitt. 'It is estimated that cross-infection contributes to 40% of cases of healthcare-associated infections and effective hygiene in hand washing and drying is an essential step in minimising such infections.'

The study was presented in brief by Redway at the European Public Health Conference in Milan in October 2015. It was subsequently published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology in December 2015.

Redway will present the results in further detail at ISSA/Interclean, Amsterdam, Netherlands, on 11 May.

'Good hand hygiene can save lives,' said Redway. 'Minimising infection risk by ensuring proper hand hygiene, includes understanding what may compromise that. Our research and results over the years have revealed time and again that single-use towels are the safest way to dry one’s hands in the washroom. This virus study delivers further proof that when it comes to hygiene, drying one’s hands with a single-use paper towel is the safest way to reduce the spread of viruses after a visit to the washroom.'

Previous research undertaken by the Universities of Leeds and Westminster has also found that jet air and warm air hand dryers can spread more bacteria and other microbes in a washroom environment than paper towels.

'Our industry places great emphasis on hygiene and studies have consistently shown that paper towels offer the most effective way to limit the spread of microbes in the washroom,' said Roberto Berardi, Chairman of the European Tissue Symposium.

'This latest research not only focuses on viruses for the first time, but was also undertaken by microbiological experts at the University of Westminster and thus serves to further underline our message.'

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