Drying your hands properly is almost as important for good hygiene as washing them properly. This blog will explain why, and the options available for proper hand drying in the workplace.
Washing your hands with soap and water is without a doubt the most effective way to remove dirt and infectious microorganisms. (Read all about why we love soap so much in this previous blog).
In healthcare settings hand washing has been regarded as one of the most important components of infection control since 1847, when it was shown to reduce maternal mortality tenfold in a Viennese hospital.
In the healthcare and food manufacturing and retail sectors, hand hygiene has always been a high priority (gloves on or gloves off is always a burning question), but post-pandemic employees’ and consumers’ perceptions of hygiene (and, accordingly, their expectations) have also shifted.
Post-pandemic, we hope that all businesses are aware of the need to have suitable facilities for hand washing and drying to ensure they minimise the spread of infections. But while the act of washing with soap and water has received most of the attention in hand hygiene communication, not as much has been said about the importance of hand drying as a crucial part of good hygiene protocols.
Below are the top 4 reasons why drying your hands is such an important step in the process of maintaining excellent hand hygiene – and preventing transmission of infections. Proper hand drying:
1. Reduces the number of infectious microorganisms
Did you know that drying hands reduces the transfer of microorganisms to different surfaces by 94–99.8%?
Microorganisms play an important role in skin health. Skin carries beneficial, harmless, and unwanted microbes, which are classified into two types: resident and transient flora.
The resident flora is permanent and inhabits the outer and surface layers of the skin. These quickly recolonise the skin surface after washing, and can include infectious species such as Staphylococcus aureus, which infects wounds and causes diarrheal disease when transmitted to food.
The transient flora only colonises the superficial layers of the skin and is picked up from contact with contaminated sources such as surfaces and liquids. These include the gut, nose, mouth and other parts of the body, as well as all the objects we touch in our daily lives. They survive on the skin, but do not usually multiply because the environment is too harsh – unless hands are wet!
These transient microbes (both good and bad) are removed by proper hand washing and drying, protecting both ourselves from transmitting the transient flora to our mouth, nose or eyes, and others – by preventing transmission to the multitude of surfaces that people touch.
However, even if this reduces the quantity by a factor of 10,000, there may be enough of some pathogens remaining to cause an infection – Norovirus only requires around 10 particles to be infectious and SARS-CoV-2 between 300 and 2000.
Wet hands provide microorganisms with a hospitable environment in which to survive and thrive. Wet hands have a far higher number of microorganisms on the skin than dry hands – and are more effective at transferring them to touched surfaces. Drying hands reduces the translocation of microorganisms to different surfaces, including food, by 94–99.8%.
2. Prevents re-contamination of the hands
Providing effective and attractive hand drying facilities that encourage people to dry their hands properly helps prevent people from drying their hands on their clothes, or walking away with wet hands. Touching surfaces with wet hands increases the number of microorganisms that hands pick up.
A study of hand hygiene behaviour in Hong Kong found about 40% of the general public used their own clothing to dry their hands some of the time. (I’ll just wipe my hands on my pants …)
This could recontaminate hands with any dirt or microorganisms their clothes may have picked up from the environment, or the bathroom itself (the toilet sneeze effect!)
3. Is more comfortable
Wet hands feel uncomfortable, so the natural reaction is to want to dry them. Businesses should offer customers and employees a method of hand drying that’s most suitable for their situation and that people are comfortable using.
Fortunately, Initial’s new Luna Dry hand dryer is not only hygienic (it comes standard with a HEPA filter) – it’s also Quiet-mark approved, and fast (with a 12-second dry time!) Watch our video below for more about Luna’s HEPA filter.
In occupations that require frequent hand washing – such as in healthcare or food environments – the availability of a convenient, rapid hand drying option will encourage hand drying and reduce the risk of unwanted microorganisms colonising the wet skin. Hands that remain damp for long periods can also allow Staphylococcus aureus to become part of the resident skin flora.
4. Removes more dirt
Washing your hands properly with soap (properly means for at least 20 seconds and making sure you include the tops of your hands, thumbs etc) and then rinsing the soap and dirt away, should remove the vast majority of dirt from the skin surface.
However, if you didn’t wash properly – or the dirt is particularly stubborn or difficult to dissolve – there will be some remaining after washing. The friction from rubbing your hands with paper towel can help remove this stubborn dirt after washing — and also the remaining microorganisms.
This is one of the main reasons why paper towel companies are so quick to claim that hand drying with paper is superior to drying with a hand dryer. We investigate this further in our blog: paper vs dryers – which is more hygienic.
How to choose the best hand-drying solution
Hand drying is an essential part of hand hygiene. There are hand drying options for businesses, and each organisation should consider the best one for their situation: paper towels or electric hand dryers – as each comes with advantages and disadvantages.
When considering which drying method to select, factors to consider include:
- costs for hardware, installation and maintenance
- hand drying efficiency – speed of drying
- comfort in use, including noise
- preferences of users
- sustainability, including energy and raw materials used
- dispersal of microorganisms during use
We discuss all of these pros and cons in detail in our blog post: Hand dryers vs paper: which are better? And if you do decide to come down on the side of dryers (instead of paper) we have a guide to 7 things to consider before buying a hand dryer.
Within each hand drying method there can be wide variations, so making the best choice for your business environment can be complicated. That’s why the experts at Initial are here to guide you to make the right choice.
Contact us today for a free survey and advice on the best hand drying solution for your business.