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Here's The Gross Truth About Bathroom Hand Dryers

Ew ew ew ew ew.

CARLY CASSELLA
13 APR 2018
 

If you're a germophobe who wants to use a public bathroom ever again, you might want to stop reading this.

Because it turns out, while bathroom hand dryers can be more environmental than paper towels, they can also be a whirlpool of faecal matter.

 

You might not know it, but when someone flushes an open toilet, little bits of poop and bacteria can be thrown as high as 15 feet (4.5 metres) into the air.

As if that's not gross enough, now a new study has found that those little bits of poop and bacteria can be sucked up by warm hand dryers and blown straight onto your freshly washed hands.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut began their study by placing petri dishes under various bathroom hand dryers around the school. Then, the team sat down to analyse the results.

While the plates that were exposed to normal bathroom air had about one bacterial colony present, the samples that were exposed to 30 seconds of hand dryer air had 18 to 60 bacterial colonies per plate.

The researchers concluded that "many kinds of bacteria, including potential pathogens and spores, can be deposited on hands exposed to bathroom hand dryers."

"The more air ya move? The more bacteria stick," lead author Peter Setlow explained to Business Insider

"And there are a lot of bacteria in bathrooms."

 

The results are so yuck that Setlow himself has officially sworn off hand dryers. And now, the University of Connecticut offers paper towels as a hand dryer alternative.

Still, the average person doesn't need to freak out just yet. Setlow says that even though people who suffer from weak immune systems, like seniors, should avoid using hand dryers, the rest of us can probably handle it.

Besides – just because hand dryers churn out a ton of bacteria, doesn't mean that bacteria is necessarily bad for you. After all, fungi, bacteria and other microbes are absolutely everywhere you go, and the vast majority of this menagerie doesn't make you sick.

Plus, exposure to bacteria is an important part of building up your immune system so that you can live a long and healthy life.

And yes, while previous studies have found that bathroom hand dryers have the potential to spread diseases, the chances of this happening are not drastically higher because you're in a bathroom.

"The restroom isn't that dangerous," Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, told Live Science back in 2016.

 

"The organisms which can grow there have a very low probability of being able to cause an infection."

Nor is it completely clear if paper towels are a better alternative.

While some past studies have found that paper towels are more sanitary, other independent studies have found no significant difference between the bacterial colonies bestowed by paper towels and those bestowed by hand dryers.

But if the thought of this study is still disturbing you, take comfort in this: Setlow and his team also found that retrofitting hand dryers with HEPA air filters reduced bacterial colonies four times over.

Although, that probably means very little for sanitation.

"Our obsession with overt sterilisation and cleanliness, our paranoia, is just not helpful," Gilbert told Live Science.

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.

And that's the gross truth.

The study was published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

 

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