Opinion | Paper towels or bust

The hand dryers across campus cannot be the only option for people to dry their hands.

Signe Nettum, Opinions Contributor

The hand dryers across the University of Iowa need to go. This is a hill I am willing to die on. This is not a take on washing your hands — which you should be doing diligently, for 20 seconds, with soap and warm water.

From a personal standpoint after being here at the university for almost four years, hand dryers are loud; they hardly do their job; the lines that build up behind them are atrocious; and they are just plain annoying.

I have mapped out all my favorite bathrooms on campus, and they all have one thing in common: They carry paper towels.

Paper towels are far superior to the hand dryers we have around campus. Whether the hand dryer is the white one with a button or the grey one people move their hands up and down in, neither of them can achieve the same results as paper towels.

The main questions I am concerned about are “how long does it take for my hands to dry?” and “how effective is the method at getting rid of bacteria that might be left over from hand washing?”

Dr. Patrick Findon and T.E Miller of the University of Aukland discovered that “After 10 seconds of drying with a single-serve cloth towel, the residual water on the hands was reduced to 4%. With 15 seconds of drying, the residual water was reduced to 1%. However, hot air dryers were much slower and took 45 seconds to reduce the residual water to 3%.”

From personal experience, I can tell you that the hand driers do almost nothing when it comes to drying my hands. Every time I leave the bathroom, I find myself wiping my wet hands on my jeans or shaking the water from my fingertips. Even the one-ply toilet paper in the bathroom stalls does a better job.

As for the question about bacteria, a review of evidence by Cunrui Huang in connection to the Mayo Clinic found that “paper towels reduced the numbers of all types of bacteria on the hands. However, the hot air dryer increased all types of bacteria on the hands.”

While hand paper towels do pose an environmental threat — as stated in the same article written by Huang: “The use of paper towels may have adverse effects relating to waste disposal and environmental sustainability.

However, limited research has been conducted to examine the environmental effect of different hand-drying methods.

Even minor instances can benefit from having paper towels in bathrooms. Living in the dorms, I spilled drinks constantly on the hard ground and all I had at my disposal was the toilet paper, at least until someone else came to my aid. Paper towels are not just for your hands and getting rid of them and replacing them with near-useless hand driers does not help anyone.

Back in middle and high school, students would grab paper towels and walk with them, drying as they went. With hand driers in college, lines build up in bathrooms and the small area gets filled quickly, especially in between classes.

If the university cannot replace the hand driers, at least give us an option for paper towels. Please, I want my hands to be clean and dry.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.