Using A Hand Dryer vs Paper Towels: Which Is Better for the Environment?

The environmental impact of hand dryers and paper towels has been the subject of ongoing debate. Whether to use one or the other often depends on their personal preferences or the availability of either option in public restrooms.

To determine which option is more environmentally friendly, it is essential to consider factors such as energy consumption, carbon footprint, resource usage, and waste generation.

Also, it is crucial to consider the cost and hygiene levels of both hand-drying methods to make an informed decision.

Are hand dryers really better for the environment?

They are often regarded as the greener choice when compared to paper towels, but it’s crucial to examine their energy consumption and emissions during production and operation.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study revealed that hand dryers have a lower environmental impact than paper towels in several aspects, including greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and solid waste generation.

This reduced impact is primarily due to the lower raw material consumption and waste generation associated with hand dryers compared to paper towels.

Using electric hand dryers vs paper towels

Carbon Footprint

When assessing the environmental impact of hand dryers and paper towels, it’s vital to consider their respective carbon footprints.

Research indicates that hand dryers have a smaller carbon footprint than paper towels, as they consume less energy and generate less waste.

The carbon footprint of paper towels is considerably higher due to the emissions produced during their manufacturing, transportation, and disposal processes.

The Omni Calculator suggests that the average hand dryers emit 18.5 grams of CO2 per use, while paper towels emit 56 grams of CO2 peruse. This notable difference highlights the superior environmental benefits of them.

A separate study conducted by CEIBS supports these findings, revealing that hand dryers have a carbon footprint of 1.5 grams of CO2 per use, whereas paper towels have a carbon footprint of 56 grams of CO2 per use.

This data further emphasizes the environmentally friendly nature of hand dryers.

Energy consumption

Hand dryers consume energy while in use, but their overall energy consumption is typically lower than the energy required to produce, transport, and dispose of paper towels.

Having said that, the type of hand dryer preferred can significantly impact energy consumption.

According to the studies, jet air dryers consume more energy than warm air dryers but are more efficient in drying hands.

Resource usage and waste generation

Hand dryers require fewer resources compared to paper towels, which are made from trees or recycled materials.

Consequently, they generate less waste, as paper towels create a significant amount of solid waste that ends up in landfills. Additionally, the production of paper towels involves using water and chemicals, while hand dryers do not require such resources.

A comprehensive environmental assessment, however, must consider the entire lifecycle of both hand-drying methods.

The MIT Materials Systems Laboratory conducted a study comparing the environmental impact of hand dryers and paper towels, finding that they have a lower impact in most categories, including greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and solid waste generation.

It is important to note that while hand dryers have higher upfront emissions due to manufacturing, their lifetime emissions are generally lower than those of paper towels.


From a financial standpoint, hand dryers are generally considered to be more cost-effective than paper towels.

According to a report by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, electric dryers can save up to 95% of the costs associated with paper towels, considering factors such as purchasing, maintenance, and disposal.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency report also found that the average cost per use for a hand dryer is $0.0005, whereas the cost per use for paper towels is $0.01. This tenfold difference in cost per use further emphasizes the economic benefits of hand dryers over paper towels.

It is true that hand dryers have a higher initial investment, however, they have lower operating costs, making them a more economical option in the long run.

Are hand dryers truly more hygienic than paper towels?

The hygiene aspect of dryers and paper towels is a crucial consideration, especially in public restrooms.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that paper towels can be more effective in removing bacteria from hands than dryers.

Furthermore, the Journal of Hospital Infection conducted another study that found jet air dryers dispersed 20 times more virus particles than paper towels, and these particles remained in the air for up to 15 minutes.

This information supports the argument that paper towels may be more hygienic than hand dryers, especially in healthcare settings where minimizing the spread of infections is crucial.

Hand dryers, particularly the jet-air type, can potentially disperse bacteria into the air, increasing the risk of contamination. However, proper handwashing techniques and the use of touch-free dryers can help mitigate this risk.

Why are hand dryers bad?

Despite their environmental benefits, electric dryers have some drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, they can spread bacteria into the air, posing a potential health risk.

Additionally, electric dryers can be noisy, causing discomfort to users and those nearby.

Finally, electric dryers may require more time to dry hands effectively compared to paper towels, which can be inconvenient for users.

Are paper towels better than hand dryers?

In some situations, paper towels may be considered better than electric dryers.

For example, paper towels can provide a quicker and more thorough hand-drying experience. They are also more effective in removing bacteria from hands when compared to hand dryers.

However, the environmental impact of paper towels is higher than that of electric dryers, making them a less sustainable choice in the long run.

The choice between dryers and paper towels largely depends on the user’s priorities and preferences. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each method, individuals can choose the option that best aligns with their values and priorities.

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