I love the show Mythbusters, and my all-time favorite episode (besides anything with zombies) is when Adam and Jamie assess the myth that drying your hands with a paper towel left your hands cleaner than using a forced-air dryer (called a “hygiene horror show” by the narrator).

The first part of the episode was used to check for bacterial contamination after testing three commonly used methods of “washing” hands – rubbing hands together without using water and soap, wetting hands but using no soap, and then the proper way of washing hands using soap and water. Walking out of the bathroom without washing hands yielded a full Petrie dish of germs from the hand swab. Pretending to wash your hands by just using water showed some bacteria cultured from a hand swab, but not as much as without washing (still gross). The Petrie dishes of the soap and water wash were empty.

For the second part of the trial, they used 16 volunteers and sprayed their hands with a harmless strain of E. coli bacterial solution. The hosts took 116 samples, 96 from the volunteers and 20 from around the dryers and paper towel dispensers. The results?

Air dryer              23% bacterial load reduction

Paper towel        71% bacterial load reduction

There’s a trick to getting out of a public toilet with a minimum of contamination.

The samples from the wall and floor around the air dryer and paper towel dispenser were cultured to determine if there was any truth to the myth that an air dryer spread bacteria around the room. They confirmed this was indeed the case, with 41 bacterial colonies cultured when testing around the air dryer and only three cultured from around the paper towel dispenser. This myth is not a myth at all!

In the second part of the program, they checked which of four toilet stalls in a public building men’s toilet was used most often and which was the cleanest. The outside stalls had around a third less use than the inner stalls, and the stall closest to the door had the lowest number of bacterial colonies.

There’s a trick to getting out of a public toilet with a minimum of contamination.  If you use a public toilet, use an outside stall, preferably the one closest to the door, then wash your hands with soap and water and use the paper towel, assuming, of course, both are available!

Learn more

Mythbusters on YouTube

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