In the air: Just how germy are those hand dryers in public bathrooms?

drying with germs web version amanda fay.mp4

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - You probably do it without any thought, put your hands under the dryer after washing your hands at a public restroom. Have you every thought about what exactly is being blown onto your hands?

Think about it, every time you flush, fecal bacteria may be shooting up into the air. In a recent national study, scientists say from there, it goes into the hand dryer and onto your hands.

"Just wash my hands, put them under there. Don't really give it no thought," Toledo resident Jennings Faulkner said about using hand dryers.

Temperance resident Jeff Szenderski added, "Does make you think, it's probably not a good thing."

WTOL 11 put the study's findings to the test at a local Metropark. Jeff Jacobs, operations manager of microbiology at Mercy Health, wanted to compare what comes out of the hand dryer to what's just floating around in the air inside the bathroom.

"I'm just gonna set these plates out and leave them uncapped for a few seconds to see if there's anything in the air that's going to be on the plates," Jacobs explained as he set up the experiment. He then held different plates under the dryer.

In a couple of days, the results were in. Jacobs found bacteria on both the plates put under the dryer and in the open air, but with one main difference.

"We found 30 under the hair dryer and two in the open air," Jacobs said. That's 15 times the amount of bacteria under the dryer.

"It's surprising," Jacobs said. "The hand dryers, you're going there to wash your hands and you're using the hand dryers and it could, theoretically, be blowing around bacteria."

So what kind of bacteria are we talking about? Jacobs says it called bacillus. Yuck, right? Sort of.

"It's something that you would normally expect to find in a bathroom. It's skin flora, can be found in plants. It's a restroom with an open door into a park. It's what you would expect to find," Jacobs explained.

It's a bit of a predicament for people wanting to be environmentally friendly or businesses trying to cut costs. "There has to be a solution with these blow dryers. It's probably a good thing, but there's gotta be a screening process before the air comes out, that doesn't cause bacteria to come out on you," Szenderski said.

Thankfully, Jacobs says the bacteria won't make you sick, but the thought of any bacteria being blown on your presumably clean hands is enough to make some reach for the paper towels. "I ain't gonna use no more hand dryers," Faulkner said.

As far as filters for dryers, researchers tried HEPA filters as part of the national study. Those filtered out 75 percent of the bacteria.

Experts says one of the best ways to ward off illness is through handwashing.

The Centers from Disease Control recommends these steps:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and might not remove harmful chemicals.

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