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The Case Against Hand Washing

Everybody knows that washing your hands regularly helps stop the spread of germs. We go to great lengths to teach our kids the proper way to do it and make sure they do it regularly.  But did you know that there’s a right and wrong way to dry your hands?  And that most of us are doing it wrong and potentially negating the benefit of washing our hands in the first place?

Researchers at the University of Bradford have discovered that when it comes to reducing the amount of bacteria on your hands, not all drying methods are created equal.  In comparing paper towels, standard blow dryers and a new-fangled, high-velocity dryer, one method emerged as the clear winner.  And it wasn’t the one we use most when away from home.

The standard hand blow dryer that can be found in so many public restrooms is supposed to be more hygienic than paper towels.  But while these dryers certainly reduce the amount of trash on the floor, they can actually increase the amount of bacteria on your hands. It turns out that all that rubbing of your hands under the warm, blowing air actually brings the bacteria that lives within the skin to the surface.

The most effective way to dry your hands was determined to be the old-fashioned paper towel method.  Second best was the high-velocity dryers that don’t require hand rubbing.

But all methods fail to stop the spread of germs if you don’t dry your hands thoroughly.  Because bacteria cannot be completely washed away with soap and water, some of  it remains even after a good scrubbing.  And if your hands are damp, that bacteria can more easily spread to other surfaces than if your hands are dry.

So, the next time you are faced with a standard blow dryer as your only hand-drying choice, don’t follow the directions.  Avoid rubbing your hands together and make sure you finish the job properly.  And if you don’t have the time or inclination to spend that kind of time in front of a blow dryer in a public restroom, you might be better off just skipping the wash altogether.

Image: Arlington County/Flickr

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