A national online survey conducted this spring by Harris Interactive found that 94% of adults say they wash their hands after visiting a restroom. However, most people thought they were the exception.
When asked what percentage of other people they thought washed their hands each time, 99% said other people don’t do so each time, and almost half (48%) said other people wash their hands less than 50% of the time.
The commissioned survey was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Tork brand of SCA Tissue North America and drew 2,516 U.S. adult respondents 18 or older: 46% male and 54% female. The survey was conducted from Feb. 26 to March 2, 2009.
Visiting a public restroom ranks highest in terms of health and hygiene concerns for U.S. adults. Asked about when they were most concerned about health and hygiene risks, 44% named visiting a public restroom, 26% said when preparing a meal, 9% said during contact with other adults, 7% said during contact with babies/children and 3% said during contact with animals.
“Clearly people think public restrooms present a hygiene risk and claim they are washing their hands after using those restrooms,” said Mike Kapalko, environmental and Tork services manager for SCA Tissue North America. “But their observations of others in public restrooms indicate that a large percentage of them are not actually doing so.”
The survey results allow show most people in a public restroom prefer to dry their hands with paper towels. Asked how they would prefer to dry their hands in a public restroom if they had a choice, 55% selected paper towels, 25% said high velocity jet air dryer, 16% chose a hot air dryer, and 1% selected linen or cloth towel.
The majority of respondents, 59%, also selected paper towels as the fastest method for drying hands, followed by: high velocity jet air dryer, 25%; linen or cloth towel, 8%; hot air dryer, 4%.
The survey also asked questions to determine opinions on the most hygienic and effective ways for drying hands and reducing bacteria levels. In both cases, the opinions reflected in this poll have been disproved in a controlled experiment conducted late last year by Westminster University in London.
Asked for the most hygienic method for drying wet hands, respondents selected: high velocity jet air dryer, 41%; paper towel, 31%; and hot air dryer, 20%. Not sure was selected by 6% and linen or cloth by 2%.
Asked to rate each method in drying hands and reducing bacteria levels, poll respondents gave extremely or very effective ratings to high velocity jet air (65%), paper towels (53%), hot air dryer (50%), air drying or drip drying (19%) and linen or cloth towels (15%).
“These opinions giving high marks to hot air and jet air dryers are fairly widespread among consumers, but scientific research shows that paper towels are not only more hygienic and effective, but that hot air and jet air dryers actually do more harm than good when it comes to reducing bacteria in public washrooms,” said Kapalko.
“Controlled experiments conducted in December 2008 by scientists at the University of Westminster found that paper towel drying reduced the average number of bacteria on the finger pads by up to 76% and on the palms by up to 77 %,” Kapalko said. “By comparison, electric hand dryers actually caused bacteria counts to actually increase.”
Test results of the Westminster study showed that traditional warm air dryers increased the average number of bacteria by 194% on the finger pads and by 254% on the palms. Jet air dryers increased the average number of bacteria on the finger pads by 42% and on the palms by 15%.
The scientists also carried out tests to establish whether there was the potential for cross contamination of other washroom users and the washroom environment as a result of each type of drying method. They found that the jet air dryer, which blows air out of the unit at claimed speeds of 400 mph, was capable of blowing microorganisms from the hands and the unit and potentially contaminating other washroom users and the washroom environment up to 6.6 feet away. The use of a traditional warm air hand dryer spread microorganisms up to 31.5 inches from the dryer. Paper towels, meanwhile, showed no significant spread of microorganisms.
“The Westminster results confirmed previous studies that show thorough hand drying with a paper towel is not only the most effective way to dry hands and reduce bacteria but also the most hygienic when it comes to preventing the spread of bacteria in public restrooms,” Kapalko said.