The Great Bathroom Debate: Paper Towel or Hand Dryer?

Which option is more sustainable: a paper towel or a hand dryer? Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both of these options and finally reach a verdict.

The heat on hand-dryers

Firstly, let’s discuss some of the most common hot spots of the infamous hand drying systems.

Life cycle research is consistently pointing out the environmental impact of towels and electricity used when we dry our hands and how they dwarf the impacts through the rest of the life cycle. This also includes the manufacturing, the materials, as well as the disposal of towel dispensers and hand dryers.

This is mostly due to the fact that we use dispensers and dryers numerous times before we get them replaced. However, we also have to remember that every time we dry our hands we use certain resources whether that is electricity or paper.

So we can say that the environmental impact of hand drying large depends on how much energy the hand dryer uses or how much and what type of paper towel we use to dry our hands.

Paper vs air

There have been many types of research comparing these two types of hand drying methods. The conclusion that they drew was that there was not a big huge difference in how these two methods perform environmentally speaking.

However, each one of these methods has a small advantage over one other and it depends on the factors such as:

·         weight and number of paper towels used for hand drying (per dry)

·         proportion of recycled paper

·         power rating and length of time for drying using an electric dryer

·         other regional electricity impacts

So, in certain areas paper towel seems to perform a bit better than the hand dryer. However, in other contexts, the electrical hand dryer seems to be a more sustainable option. This largely depends on how the electricity is generated and how the towels are produced as well as disposed of after being used.

A new contender

In recent years there have been numerous new and fancy models of hand dryers appearing on the market. The more traditional models use the combination of warmth and airflow to blow water off your hands by evaporating it. However, the newer models rely on using the rapid air steam without any heat to simply strip the water off your hands.

A few recently conducted studies that were peer-reviewed by experts compared a few of these new high-speed dryers to paper towels and traditional electrical hand dryers.

Firstly, the high-speed dryers that were put to the test had a huge advantage over conventional hand dryers. They proved to have a much shorter drying time (between 12 and 20 seconds, while conventional dryers had 20 to 40 seconds of drying time). Also, new models had a lower power rating which was around 1.5 kilowatts, while the conventional dryers used up to 2.4kW.

Another aspect that these studies compared was the impact that comes with generating and using electricity for hand drying and the impact and emission that comes with paper production, manufacturing, and disposal. Once again, high-speed hand dryers had a huge advantage. These results remained the same even when less than two towels per dry were used and even when the paper was 100% recycled.

Overall, the results show that a high-quality high-speed hand dryer like Davidson Washroom can significantly reduce negative environmental impacts by using less electricity while drying hands more efficiently and quickly.

The final verdict

Considering the arguments and research results presented above, it seems that high-speed hand dryers seem to be a far more superior choice for those who can invest a bit more money for the purpose of staying sustainable. Though there is always a chance that paper towel production and manufacturing can change in the future and find more eco-friendly ways of producing paper, for now, we can tell that hand drying systems are much more sustainable and overall a better option for the environment.


In conclusion, both paper towels and hand dryers leave a certain amount of environmental impact behind. However, in a lot of areas, hand dryers seem to cause less environmental impact, and depending on what kind of hand dryer we pick for our homes, we can reduce that impact even more.

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