The idea with bathroom hand dryers is that they're supposed to be a more environmentally friendly way, as opposed to paper towels, to dry your hands after washing. Dryers could act as "reservoir" for bacteria, they suggested, or perhaps their intense blowing simply provides more exposure to the already contaminated air. In doing so, they also siphon bacteria and other microbes carried by passersby, or left in the toilet by those who would not have lowered the lid.
In a new study conducted by a team from the University of CT, researchers went to 36 of the school's bathrooms and placed petri dishes underneath a number of hand dryers.
It is not clear whether the dryers are harbouring the bacteria inside, or pushing it out at a concentrated rate. And these redistributed bacteria did not just land on the occupants of the toilet: thanks to the high energy blowers, they were also scattered throughout the building.
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The independently-funded study looked at 36 University of Connecticut School of Medicine bathrooms and tested each hand dryer once for 30 seconds. But when the fans were operational, the bacteria were present in abundance, with an average of 60 colonies growing on each plate!
We know fecal bacteria shoots into the air when a lidless toilet flushes - a phenomenon known, grossly, as a "toilet plume". What's more, the inside of the dryer nozzles themselves had "minimal bacterial levels". Several of the samples contained staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria found in the body and sometimes linked to serious infections. Spore-forming colonies, identified as B. subtilis PS533, averaged ∼2.5 to 5% of bacteria deposited by hand dryers throughout the basic research areas examined regardless of distance from the spore-forming laboratory, and these were nearly certainly deposited as spores. By installing these filters in hand dryers, the number of dispersed bacteria has been significantly reduced.