Even though the guy in front of you washed up, you still could pick up his germs: If he dried his hand with a jet air dry, he may have spread disease-causing bugs all over the bathroom, a new study in the Journal of Microbiology suggests.
The researchers discovered that jet air dryers—which blow off excess water with an intense airflow as opposed to allowing the water to evaporate—disperse more than 50 times more viruses into the air than regular air dryers do, and over 100 times more viruses than drying with paper towels does. The jet air dryers also spread the viruses further. In fact, some germs were detected nearly 10 feet away from the dryer.
That’s not exactly surprising, especially when considering that jet air dryers produce air speeds of more than 370 miles per hour, said study author Patrick Kimmitt, Ph.D. The speed at which the dryers blow hot air—and the upwards and sideways directions they’re often pointed in—also can help explain why they can spread the germs so far. This wouldn’t be a problem if people were washing their hands correctly, since proper technique would remove the bugs from their hands before they go to dry them. But 85 percent of people don’t wash up correctly, according to University of Arizona research.
And that can also pose some serious health risks: The jet air dryers send those bugs flying across the bathroom, landing on surfaces like countertops and doors. Then when you touch those surfaces, you could transfer them onto your own body. This puts you at risk of the most common diseases spread by bugs found in public restrooms: respiratory illnesses, eye infections, and diarrhea, says Charles P. Gerba Ph.D., a microbiology and environmental studies professor at the University of Arizona.
Your move: Wash Your Hands Correctly after using the bathroom—that’ll make sure you eliminate any bugs you may have picked up before doing your business.
Then, after you’ve washed up, avoid touching any surfaces that may harbor bugs from the other patrons. Nudge the door open with your shoulder to avoid contact with your hands, says Gerba. Then apply a dollop of hand sanitizer on the way out to eliminate any stray germs you may have picked up.
And if you have your choice of hand-drying options, choose paper towels—that’ll make sure you’re not spreading your own bugs to anyone else.