Paper towels more effective at removing virus than air dryers


The role of good hand hygiene to reduce the burden of the number of infected people with the new coronavirus continues to be stressed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health sectors, and a new study provides further insight into doing this right.

The study, published on 17 April and carried out by three researchers from the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, had four volunteers’ hands contaminated using a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria and is commonly used in genetic research – and is harmless to humans.

The volunteers did not wash their hands after contamination, but proceeded to dry their hands using either paper towels or a jet/air dryer.

"Paper towels should be the preferred way to dry hands after washing and so reduce the risk of virus contamination and spread," the authors wrote.

Study relevant in hospital settings

The four volunteers dried their hands, using either the air dryer or paper towels, in a hospital toilet. They then went on to touch several surfaces in the hospital, including:

  • Push-and-pull doors
  • Lift buttons
  • Stair rails
  • Stethoscopes
  • Chairs in public and ward areas

While the researchers found that using both paper towels and air dryers reduced the contamination on the participant's hands, the results revealed that in ten of the eleven surfaces that were sampled, the air dryer method led to "significantly greater environmental contamination" – on average, more than ten times higher than when paper towels were used.

According to the researchers, healthcare facilities in the UK are increasingly using air dryers despite the NHS and WHO’s recommendation to use disposable towels after hand washing. The study was therefore incredibly relevant for hospital settings.

"There are clear differences, according to hand drying method, in the residual microbial contamination of the subject's hands and body.

“As public toilets are used by patients, visitors and staff, the hand drying method chosen has the potential to increase (using jet dryers) or reduce (using paper towels) pathogen transmission in hospital settings," the authors wrote, further stating that their results are relevant to the control of the Covid-19 virus that continues to spread worldwide.

The study has yet to be peer-reviewed.

READ | Coronavirus in SA: All the confirmed cases

READ | Coronavirus | The chloroquine debate: Two experts weigh in

READ | Three countries have kept coronavirus in check; here's how they did it

Image: Getty/FabrikaCr
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 720 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 8478 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 1013 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.