Paper Towels vs. Hand Dryers – Which is Emperor of the Bathroom?

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During a recent trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, I went to use the bathroom of the restaurant at which my family and I were having lunch. In this restaurant’s bathroom, they had both a hand dryer AND a paper towel dispenser! I was like, “Wow, I guess they couldn’t make up their minds about which method people might like more!”

As a result of this experience, it got me wondering how paper towels and hand dryers stack up against each other when it comes to both the following aspects:

  • Which is more popular among consumers?
  • Which is cheaper and has a lower amount of environmental impact?
  • Which is more effective at drying and being sanitary? 

In today’s post, we’ll explore these questions and try to find some answers! Let’s get started!

Are Hand Dryers or Paper Towels More Popular?

In order to get started answering this question, I first wanted to know which one of our two ‘bathroom drying competitors’ is more popular, among bathroom providers stocking them and also as far as favorites among customers.

The answer to this was very unanimous in that every source I could find stated that paper towels were much more popular among customers and also among janitorial services that service and provide bathrooms.

  • A 2008 study of European consumers cited by Wikipedia stated that 63% of respondents preferred paper towels over hand dryers (only 28% of respondents preferred hand dryers). 
  • This trend of consumers preferring paper towels over hand dryers was also confirmed by studies reported by and Kimberly-Clark stating the 55% and 87% of consumers surveyed, respectively, preferred paper towels over the “other” electrical option. 
  • Janitorial service companies prefer to stock their bathrooms with paper towels since this provides them with more billable man-hours to clean and restock the restrooms they service. 

Which is Cheaper and More Environmentally-Friendly?

Contrary to the results of the previous question on popularity, hand dryers clearly reign supreme in the categories of cost-effectiveness and environmental responsibility. 

  • A 2011 Guardian report stated that paper towels generate a total of 70% more carbon emissions over their lifetime compared to the newest cold-air dryer technologies (Dyson Blade, etc). 
  • A Rodale report stated that even though the initial capital costs for a hand dryer is higher ($300-$400 versus $20-$30 for a paper towel dispenser), the increased operating costs for paper towels over electric hand dryers makes the latter more cost effective in the long-run. 
    • For example, paper towels cost $23 per 1,000 uses to refill. On the other hand, electric hand dryers only cost $1.47 per 1000 uses for the electricity. 
    • In addition, it was reported that hand dryers often last 10 years before replacement is needed and require virtually no maintenance to keep running. 

Which is More Effective at Drying?

Before the advent of the new high-powered air blasting hand dryers, paper towels were the clear winner as far as being most effective at drying ones hands. Traditional hand dryers would require 45 seconds to 1 minute to fully dry your hands, while paper towels could do the job in 10 seconds. However, the new high-powered hand dryers can dry your entire hands in about 15 seconds. 
But, from personal experience, I would still say that it’s difficult to beat an old-fashioned paper towel in how dry it gets your hands. As such, I think the verdict here is that paper towels are still more effective at drying your hands, by a small margin at least. 

Which is Better for Personal Hygiene?

In the realm of personal hygiene benefits, it was very interesting to me to see the conflicts of interest present in the health studies that had been conducted. 
  • For example, a 2008 study by the University of Westminster found that paper towels were clearly better at reducing the amount of bacteria on one’s hands by a full 200% over hand dryers. 
    • However, it was pointed out that this study was funded by the paper supply companies, and as such, the results may not be all that reliable due to the conflict of interest. 
  • On the other hand, a 2000 study by the Mayo Clinic found no statistical difference between the contamination on one’s hands after using paper towels or hand dryers after washing your hands.  

Because of these conflicting results, it’s hard to tell whether one method is superior to the other for cleanliness. 

So, Are Paper Towels or Hand Dryers Better Overall?

From this investigation, we saw that paper towels are both more popular and more effective for drying consumers’ hands. However, hand dryers are cheaper, better for the Earth, and possess about the same level of hygiene.

As such, I think that if I were a business owner, I would insist on installing a high-powered (new technology) hand dryer and NOT having paper towels since paper towels simply drive up my costs.

Even if my customers didn’t prefer the hand dryer to paper towels, I doubt that alone would be enough to prevent them from doing business with me.

How about you all? Do you like paper towels or a hand dryer better for drying your hands?

If you had a business, which would you install for your customers to use?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of


    1. moneybeagle says:

      I see way too many people skip washing their hands or put their hands under the water for less than 2 seconds (no soap), so I like to open the door on the way out holding a piece of paper towel. For this reason alone, it's paper towel for me.
      My recent post How We Had An Amazingly Fun Weekend And Kept It Cheap

      • Thanks for commenting MB!

        I definitely see a lot of people doing the same thing – not washing their hands after going to the bathroom!
        My recent post I'm On My Own and So Are You: Financial Security for Women by Judy Resnick – A Book Review

    2. I personally like paper towels better and honestly I better for the industry I work in. Gotta support paper makers 🙂
      My recent post October 2012 Monthly Goals Update

    3. Very interesting article! I'm currently doing a class project for school and was curious as to what percentage of people do you believe go to the bathroom in a restaurant to solely wash their hands before eating their food? Do you think that if customers had access to hand sanitizer at their tables would they use it and would this lower the cost and use of paper towels from less people going to the restroom ?

      • Thanks for reading James!

        In my non-expert opinion, I would say at a restaurant, maybe 40-50% of people visit the restroom to wash their hands alone….Any one else out there have any thoughts?

        Putting a hand sanitizer at each table is an interesting idea, but I don't think it would necessarily work for a couple reasons in my opinion. First, if it were a nicer restaurant, it would distract from the “mood/ambiance.” haha

        Second, I think hand sanitizers are good for quick disinfection, but it does do the full job of actually washing off the dirt, etc from your hands like a good ole sink does.

        My recent post I'm On My Own and So Are You: Financial Security for Women by Judy Resnick – A Book Review

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