Not drying your hands properly 'almost as bad' as not washing them at all, says expert

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  • We often place emphasis on thorough hand-washing and don't give hand-drying a second thought.
  • But not drying your hands thoroughly after washing them could increase the spread of bacteria.
  • One expert ranks some of the best and worst hand-drying methods.

Hand-washing received considerable attention during the pandemic and turned many of us into complete germaphobes, so much so that we were washing our hands more frequently than ever before.

But many of us have never put the same amount of thought into drying our hands, and one expert says damp hands can be as bad as not washing our hands at all after using the bathroom.

READ MORE | Hand hygiene – how clean are your hands really?

“Bacteria thrives on damp surfaces - hands included,” Dr David Webber, a microbiologist with 50 years of experience, tells Cover Media. He adds:

“There is research to suggest that 85% of microbes are transmitted by moist hands, compared with 0.06% by dry hands.”

Indeed, a 2011 study by researchers at the University of Bradford found that hand-drying was an important part of infection control and concluded that “effective hand-drying is important for reducing transfer of commensals or remaining contaminants to surfaces.”

The Mayo Clinic also notes that “wet hands spread germs more easily than dry hands do,” and while it’s less clear which hand-drying method (such as hand and bath towels, paper towels or a hot air dryer) is the most effective, the key is to completely dry your hands.

READ MORE | Are electric hand dryers better than paper towels?

Webber says that the transfer of bacteria is directly linked to the time and effectiveness of hand-drying: the transfer of bacteria decreases as more water is removed from our hands. 

“After washing your hands, it is so crucial that you dry your hands thoroughly,” Dr Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, a physician and health expert, told Reader’s Digest.

Ranking best and worst hand-drying methods

Webber also ranked some of the world's most popular hand-drying methods from best to worst. Included under the best methods are:

  • The surgeon: They make sure every nook of skin is clear of bacteria.
  • The shaker: This person shakes their hands, removing any surplus of water and then goes on to further dry them.
  • The paper waster: They grab a stack of paper towels to dry their hands, but can be wasteful.

Some of the worst methods of hand-dryers include:

  • The one with soggy trousers: They are guilty of patting their wet or partly dry hands on their pants, thereby picking up bacteria from their clothes.
  • The drip-dry dodger: They don’t dry their hands at all.
  • The loo-roll smuggler: This person dries their hands with toilet roll and risks contaminating their hands.

READ MORE | Paper towels more effective at removing virus than air dryers

Reflecting on the above, Webber says that the ultimate goal is to always leave the bathroom with clean, dry hands.

Similarly, Ranekka Dean, director of Infection Control at NYU Langone Hospital Long Island, told RD that studies testing each drying method have strengths and weaknesses, but the bottom line is that as long as your hands are completely dry, you’re making a healthy choice.

Of course, if you're using a hand or bath towel, make sure you're tossing them into the washer every few days.

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