Hand Drying: Here’s the Rub

It’s no secret that hand washing is critically important to reducing the transmission of pathogens.  We in the healthcare profession strive to remain vigilant about hand washing and we advise our patients to do the same, especially before and after handling food, using the bathroom, or when we or others are in contact with sick people. But what about hand drying?  A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology could help raise awareness of the importance of hand drying and the best way to go about it.

A research team led by Dr. Anna Snelling of the UK’s University of Bradford measured bacteria levels on different parts of subjects’ hands before and after testing several drying methods.  The methods included those we normally use in public restrooms:  paper towels or different types of electric dryers.  In the trials using electric dryers, Dr. Snelling examined the effect of rubbing hands together while drying.

Here are Dr. Snelling’s conclusions:

Always Dry Your Hands

Thorough hand drying is an important element of proper hand hygiene.  Bacteria living on damp hands (yes, there are some remaining after hand washing) are more readily spread to other surfaces than those on dry hands.

Paper Towels are Best

The most effective way of keeping bacteria counts low while drying hands is by using paper towels, but they are not always available, so…

Here’s the Rub:  Don’t Rub

When hands are rubbed together under electric dryers, the bacteria count on hands may rise. That’s because rubbing can bring to the surface bacteria that live within the skin.  Electric hand dryers that rapidly strip moisture from hands and do not require hand rubbing are thought to be best for reducing the transfer of bacteria from hands to other surfaces.

To wrap up, it appears timely to add a bit more to the old “Wash your hands!” command:  “Wash and dry your hands thoroughly and don’t rub them together!”

Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.