These days most people are more accustomed to good handwashing practices and the benefits this can have on infection control. It’s also fair to assume that the majority of people don’t consider how thoroughly they dry their hands.
That could all change if taking into account the thoughts of one leading microbiologist, who believes that not drying hands properly after using the bathroom could be almost as bad as not washing them at all.
Dr D. L. Webber, an expert in the field of microbiology with over 50 years’ experience, explains how hand drying is just as important as hand washing when it comes to limiting the spread of diseases:
“Bacteria thrives on damp surfaces,” begins Dr Webber, “hands included.”
“The pandemic has focussed attention on the correct way to wash our hands with published guidance from the WHO, CDC, and NHS, however, there has been no such guidance on the correct procedures to dry hands which are equally important.
“There is research to suggest that 85 per cent of microbes are transmitted by moist hands, compared with 0.06 per cent by dry hands – a potential source of contamination of bacteria and viruses to other people, clothes, and contact surfaces.
“Moist hands are also more likely to become contaminated when touching surfaces colonised by potentially pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes – particularly when using the washroom. This demonstrates that not drying hands properly could be less hygienic than not washing them at all.
“The research demonstrated that the transfer of bacteria was directly related to the time and effectiveness of hand drying, the transfer of bacteria progressively decreased as water was removed.”
To help people to recognise how good they are at drying their hands, here at Airdri, we have teamed up with Dr Webber to identify eight distinct hand drying styles, which we believe should cover most styles of drying.
These are outlined below, with comments from Dr Webber on the effectiveness of each style. The campaign is being shared nationwide and on social media to raise awareness of the importance of hand drying.
The Surgeon: this person is extremely thorough, earning them an ‘A star’ for their drying technique. They get into all the cracks like a doctor scrubbing up for surgery and spend a good amount of time making sure every nook and cranny is moisture-free and clear of bacteria. The Surgeon is not afraid to use a second drying cycle to ensure that their hands are completely dry (remembering not all air dryers are equal!).
The Wringer: Imagine how you would wring your hands in worry, that’s this hand dryer. As they remove the water from their hands under the hand dryer, they may appear like an anxious student waiting for their exam results, but it’s actually an effective way to dry hands. The friction created will remove droplets of water and assist the dryer in doing its job.
The Flicker/The Shaker: There are a few similar styles within this category, but the premise is the same. The person who flicks or shakes the water from their hands ahead of using the hand dryer. Contaminated water droplets end up all over the mirror, basin, walls, and floor etc. While they may be no friend of the bathroom cleaners, in terms of hand drying it’s an effective technique as it removes surplus water before the hand dryer does its job. The same can’t be said for the bathroom surfaces however, as bacteria from the hands contaminate a wide area.
If this is you, perhaps try and aim for the sink to limit droplets being dispersed around the bathroom – it’s more hygienic and it will make the cleaners’ job easier.
The Paper Waster: This person grabs a massive stack of paper towels and wipes their hands on perhaps 10 per cent of the towels. It may arguably be an effective way to dry the hands, but what about the environment? Every paper towel used ends up in landfill as they can’t be recycled for hygienic purposes.
The Loo Roll Smuggler: A variation on the paper waster theme is this person, who notes a lack of hand drying facilities or the inadequate hand dryer and brings toilet roll out of the cubicle to dry their hands. The result is hands covered in tiny, soggy bits of contaminated toilet paper.
The One with Soggy Trousers: This person partly dries their hands under the dryer and then proceeds to finish them off on their jeans/trousers or other items of clothing using either a dabbing or rubbing motion. Their hands may be dry; however, clothing can become contaminated and can also transfer microbes onto the clean skin, plus it’s an uncomfortable way to spend the rest of the day wearing damp clothes. This user should try another dry cycle to completely rid their hands of water.
The Hair Styler: This person is a rare breed, so extra points if you spot one. They exist mainly in bars and nightclubs and after slightly drying their hands under a dryer they proceed to finish them off on their hair as a styling aid. They may leave the bathroom with not a hair out of place, but their hands could be as dirty as before they washed them. Hair produces natural oils for protection and can be contaminated with normal skin bacteria including Propionibacterium acnes (the causative agent of acne) and Escherichia coli (a common bacterium which can cause food poisoning, diarrhoea, and urinary tract infections).
The Drip-Dry Dodger: This thoughtless person doesn’t dry their hands at all. Wet hands transfer large numbers of bacteria and viruses to all surfaces they come into contact with, and from a hygienic perspective it would be better if they had not washed their hands. If this, is you, it’s time to stop and rethink.
Speaking of the best and worst handwashing practices, Dr Webber concluded:
“The ultimate goal of hand washing, and drying is to leave the washroom with clean, dry hands and you need to be a surgeon or a wringer, spending time and effort to achieve this result – while probably infuriating other washroom users waiting to use the basin and dryers. The flicker/shaker and paper waster may also leave with clean dry hands, preventing microbial contamination by skin transfer to surfaces they contact – but with hygienic and environmental impacts respectively.
“The remaining users, particularly the drip-dry dodger, leave the washroom with improperly dried hands. Their drying styles are unhygienic and could even be described as anti-social.”
Even with the emphasis placed on hand washing to combat Covid-19, a recent survey of UK workplaces from YouGov found that 55% of employees washed their hands for less than the recommended 20 seconds, with 27% washing their hands for ten seconds or less. Only 37% said they washed their hands for the recommended 20 seconds or more. The research also found that 57% said they left the washroom with damp hands because the drying equipment was not good enough or fast enough. Only 31% of employees reported leaving the washroom with dry hands compared to 66% who say their hands are dry when they leave the bathroom at home. A separate survey found the up to 35% of adult males don’t wash their hands after having a poo at work.