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Infectious Diseases

Updated 23 April 2020

Paper towels more effective at removing virus than air dryers

Scientists from the University of Leeds carried out a small study that revealed differences in the extent of virus transmission, based on two hand drying methods.

The role of good hand hygiene to reduce the burden of the number of infected people with the new coronavirus continues to be stressed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health sectors, and a new study provides further insight into doing this right.

The study, published on 17 April and carried out by three researchers from the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, had four volunteers’ hands contaminated using a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria and is commonly used in genetic research – and is harmless to humans.

The volunteers did not wash their hands after contamination, but proceeded to dry their hands using either paper towels or a jet/air dryer.

"Paper towels should be the preferred way to dry hands after washing and so reduce the risk of virus contamination and spread," the authors wrote.

Study relevant in hospital settings

The four volunteers dried their hands, using either the air dryer or paper towels, in a hospital toilet. They then went on to touch several surfaces in the hospital, including:

  • Push-and-pull doors
  • Lift buttons
  • Stair rails
  • Stethoscopes
  • Chairs in public and ward areas

While the researchers found that using both paper towels and air dryers reduced the contamination on the participant's hands, the results revealed that in ten of the eleven surfaces that were sampled, the air dryer method led to "significantly greater environmental contamination" – on average, more than ten times higher than when paper towels were used.

According to the researchers, healthcare facilities in the UK are increasingly using air dryers despite the NHS and WHO’s recommendation to use disposable towels after hand washing. The study was therefore incredibly relevant for hospital settings.

"There are clear differences, according to hand drying method, in the residual microbial contamination of the subject's hands and body.

“As public toilets are used by patients, visitors and staff, the hand drying method chosen has the potential to increase (using jet dryers) or reduce (using paper towels) pathogen transmission in hospital settings," the authors wrote, further stating that their results are relevant to the control of the Covid-19 virus that continues to spread worldwide.

The study has yet to be peer-reviewed.

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Image: Getty/FabrikaCr