Comparison of electric hand dryers and paper towels for hand hygiene: a critical review of the literature

K. A. Reynolds, J. D. Sexton, A. Norman, D. J. McClelland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Numerous studies are published on the benefits of electric hand dryers vs paper towels (PT) for drying hands after washing. Data are conflicting and lacking key variables needed to assess infection risks. We provide a rapid scoping review on hand-drying methods relative to hygiene and health risks. Controlled vocabulary terms and keywords were used to search PubMed (1946–2018) and Embase (1947–2018). Multiple researchers independently screened abstracts for relevance using predetermined criteria and created a quality assessment scoring system for relative study comparisons. Of 293 papers, 23 were included in the final analysis. Five studies did not compare multiple methods; however, 2 generally favoured electric dryers (ED); 7 preferred PT; and 9 had mixed or statistically insignificant results (among these, 3 contained scenarios favourable to ED, 4 had results supporting PT, and the remaining studies had broadly conflicting results). Results were mixed among and within studies and many lacked consistent design or statistical analysis. The breadth of data does not favour one method as being more hygienic. However, some authors extended generalizable recommendations without sufficient scientific evidence. The use of tools in quantitative microbial risk assessment is suggested to evaluate health exposure potentials and risks relative to hand-drying methods. We found no data to support any human health claims associated with hand-drying methods. Inconclusive and conflicting results represent data gaps preventing the advancement of hand-drying policy or practice recommendations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-39
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Applied Microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • air dryer
  • electric dryer
  • hand dryer
  • hand hygiene
  • paper towel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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