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Cut and Dry

American School & University - April, 2018

This article was written for the American School & University magazine. Read the original article here.

Every education institution must make important decisions that will affect the safety and experience of its students and faculty. Installing automatic hand dryers in restrooms has been a popular choice because of benefits to hygiene and the environment. Selecting hand dryers over paper towels also may provide economic benefits and reduce the maintenance needed for restroom upkeep, including restocking and disposal.

Legacy Charter School, a charter school in Greenville, S.C., has two campuses that support grades K-12. A renovation of several buildings on the campuses prompted the school to explore how to best furnish the new restrooms from both a cost and hygiene perspective. The school used paper products prior to the renovations. Facility managers elected to investigate hand dryers for the renovated areas.

A cost analysis found that people would use, on average, two paper towels each time they washed their hands. An assumption was made that people would wash their hands at least four times per day. With 1,000 staff and students using the restrooms, that amounted to 8,000 paper towels used per day. At $20 per case, that resulted in a cost of $60.

Adding in $10 for waste made a total cost of $70 per day. With a school year of 180 days, the school’s cost for paper products was about $12,600 annually. The estimated payback of choosing to install hand dryers in place of paper towels was less than one year.

Legacy Charter also researched the hygienic and safety advantages of hand dryers. Being short of square footage, paper towel storage and moisture damage was an issue, as was the risk of housing combustible materials around students.

There is heightened public awareness of dangerous infections such as MRSA and H1N1, as well as the view, whether justified or not, that public restrooms are among the most likely places for exposure to disease-causing bacteria and viruses. As a result, an appearance of cleanliness in a school’s restrooms can reassure those using these facilities that your institution has their well-being in mind and is working to prevent the spread of contamination.

Paper towels and hand dryers have been shown to be equally effective in their potential to properly dry hands. Still, there are other factors to consider:

In some instances, the potential for paper towels to spread contamination is difficult to control. For example, facilities that stack paper towels in trays or use pull-down or hand crank dispensers risk cross-contamination of towels or users touching potentially contaminated surfaces. Moreover, used paper towels can end up on the floor or overflow from trash receptacles. Additionally, some restroom visitors may use soiled paper towels to open the restroom door when leaving, further increasing the chance of spreading disease-causing organisms.

  1. Newer automatic hand dryers incorporate not only touchless features, but also antimicrobial technology that inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold and fungus. These hand dryers also reduce drying time, a key element of a holistic hand-drying process. Finally, some hand dryers are available with HEPA filtration systems that reduce airborne contaminants and improve hygiene quality for facilities.


Finding sustainable solutions is a goal for every educational institution. Newer models of high-speed hand dryers use up to 88 percent less energy than traditional machines. Many new hand dryers may use less than 1,000 watts of power, which enhances not only sustainability, but also cost efficiency. Energy savings also may result in LEED credits.

When all those factors are considered, energy efficient high-speed hand dryers have less cradle-to-grave environmental impact than paper towels and contribute to a holistic sustainability program. Over its service life, a high-speed hand dryer can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as three tons compared to paper towels.

Paper towels can be made from recycled paper, but most used paper towels are not recycled and create millions of cubic feet of waste in landfills.

Another important consideration is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Hand dryers are available in surface-mounted, ADA-compliant models. Many hand dryers also offer adjustable speed controls, enabling facility managers to customize dry time and sound level, and optimize energy savings. These hand dryers can be tailored to specific locations; the motor’s speed can be lowered to reduce noise near areas where acoustics are important, such as a library or a performance hall.

Hand dryers in the restroom may seem like a minor consideration compared with the complexity of other areas. However, decisions made about hand drying operations can have implications when it comes to achieving a cost-efficient, sustainable, sanitary, well-functioning and attractive environment.