Whenever I have to use a public restroom, I get a little anxious. I don’t think of myself as a full-on germaphobe, but I am wary of all the yucky germs lurking in the stalls, along the wet counters and oh god please do not get me started on the unseen nastiness no doubt multiplying on the grimy floors! If I have one of my girls with me, I may or may not become slightly hysterical about making sure they DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING with their bare hands.
Okay, so maybe I would wear a HAZMAT suit specially made for public bathroom use if there were such a thing.
Meanwhile, I take the appropriate precautions, like using toilet seat covers and if there aren’t any, carefully laying down toilet paper. I use my foot to flush non-automatic flushing toilets and, yes, that’s me opening the stall door with a tissue. After I wash my hands for the suggested 20 seconds, or one round of “Happy Birthday,” I use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and then another to dry my hands. I like paper towels. I get my very own, untouched length of brown recycled tree pulp thanks to the automatic dispensers. Knowing trees gave up their lives so I could dry my hands is a little unsettling, but I feel better knowing it’s all compostable.
Lately though, I’ve noticed fewer paper towels and more of those incredibly raucous jet air dryers. They’re very sleek looking, usually silver with some orange detailing and maybe a futuristic blue light illuminating the place your hands should go. They click on automatically when you put your hands in and make Silly Putty out of your once youthful hand skin. That’s because they blow air up to 400 mph to basically squeegee the water away. That’s nice, but if you’re over 38 and understandably aware of your aging everything, a squeegee for your skin is not your best choice.
Needless to say, I do not like jet air dryers. Not only do they wreak havoc on my fragile hand skin, but they also freak out my noise sensitive six-year-old who throws her wet hands over her ears whenever we’re close to one. Maybe worst of all, they strike me as a bit messy. I’ve never seen more than one or two in a bathroom, which means I have to walk with dripping hands to reach one. Once there, I sometimes have to wait for the person in front of me to finish up. When it’s my turn, I can’t help but notice the little pool of stagnant water at the bottom of the device left over from who knows how many other strange, dripping hands. Oh, and let’s not forget the fine spray of water spattered against the wall and the fair amount of water on the floor beneath the dang thing.
Just take a look at this gem of nastiness. Nichole Ward shared a photo that is truly barf-worthy about what is spewed from those air dryers.
“This here is what I grew in a Petri dish after just a few days,” she wrote. “This is the several strains of possible pathogenic fungi and bacteria that you’re swirling around your hands, and you think you’re walking out with clean hands. You’re welcome.”
Not only are those hand dryers nasty AF, but they might also be making us sick. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, researchers compared three different methods of hand drying – paper towels, warm air dryer, and jet air dryer – to see which one chucked the most viruses around the room when used. And the results are downright stomach-turning.
Participants washed their hands in MS2, a low-level virus, then dried them using one of the three methods. Researchers then tested the contents of collection plates they’d set out at varying distances and heights for the residual MS2. The jet air dryers flung germ gunk further and higher than either paper towels or hot air dryers. Fifteen minutes after the jet air dryer was used, the air showed 50 times more MS2 than it did compared to the hot air dryer and 100 times more than when paper towels were used.
Obviously we should all go back to using paper towels ASAP. Unfortunately, the chances of public restrooms ditching their jet air dryers and going retro are pretty low. First of all, it’s cheaper to manufacture and use the electric dryers than it is to make, deliver and deal with used paper towels. Environmentally, giving up paper towels makes sense.
The other sad fact is, germs are freakin’ everywhere. When we’re talking about public bathrooms, worrying about germs flying out of the jet air dryer is the least of your worries. In a study conducted by the American Society of Microbiology, a lot of people say they wash their hands after using the bathroom but actually don’t. Observing behavior in public restrooms in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco, researchers found that 90 percent of women washed their hands and only 75 percent of men did. Compare that to the 97 percent of women who said they washed their hands and the 96 percent of men who claimed they did. C’mon, people.
And then there’s the germ-laden water that spatters up when those super-strong public toilets flush and you just might decide to hold your pee until you get home.
So do jet air dryers have the potential to make you sick? Nothing’s been proven, but given how brutal this cold and flu season’s been so far I wouldn’t want to chance it. My solution: my very own toilet kit, complete with portable toilet seat covers, extra tissues and, of course, hand sanitizer — at least until someone comes up with that HAZMAT suit.