Hand towels vs Hand dryers – the debate

Hand towels vs Hand dryers

Hand towels vs Hand dryers – the debate

This article doesn’t take into account the debate over paper vs dryers with regard to COVID-19 but you can read more here on that topic (Aug 2020)

The argument over which is better, hand dryers or hand towels, is an age-old debate. The reason why it is such a heated debate is obvious because both hand dryer manufacturers and paper towel manufacturers stand to make money by convincing people that their method is best!  So let’s look at the key factors:

Cost comparison

The examples I am using are all pre COVID-19 pandemic numbers and I am sure they will be significantly higher this academic year and for the foreseeable future.

Take the example of a small school with 50 pupils using hand towels. Each pupil would use 2.5 hand towels on average 4.5 times a day. Over a year this would be 146,250 paper towels at an approximate cost of £731-£1200 (depending on the cost of towels).  Each time a hand dryer is fitted to replace paper,  that ongoing stream of revenue is lost forever for the paper towel manufacturers.

Work out your own consumption with our handy calculator

The total cost of using an energy-efficient hand dryer using 2-4 watt/hours in the same scenario as above would be the cost of 117 to 235 Kw/hours of electricity. A normal tariff would be about 12p so that’s just £14 to £28 a year to run. Quite a difference!  There is also the cost-saving of reduced staffing time used to replenish and maintain the paper towels and dispensers, which would be put to good use elsewhere.

So, in terms of costs, the consumer benefits greatly from installing hand dryers.

The calculations below are based on 200 pupils in a school and replacing current paper towel use with 20 premium hand dryers.

Cost saving CO2 saving Annual running cost Payback period
£2,722.08 4286Kg per annum £227 1.6 years


Other factors – Hygiene

The paper towel industry cannot fight the cost argument so it has always commissioned its own purpose-built studies to discredit the hygiene of hand dryers. So are they right?

Well, strangely those studies conducted by the paper towel industry always say they are and those conducted by the hand dryer industry always say there is no difference.

The fact is that it’s up to the individual to firstly wash their hands properly and dry them properly.  Neither drying option prevents infection if hands are not washed correctly in the first place – neither can improve bad technique.

One key point is that hand dryers never run out so an empty hand towel dispenser is definitely the most unhygienic option!

The Environment

Most, modern hand dryers that use as little as 2-4 watt hours per dry have a negligible effect on the environment. In the school example we mentioned previously, 117Kw/hours equates 63.18 kg/Co2 per year.

Based on Dysons life cycle research into the carbon emissions produced by paper towels and the estimates we have for paper towel usage, drying your hands with paper could create at least 22.5 grams of Co2 each time. This is generated from chopping down virgin trees, transporting raw materials for processing, energy to process, further transportation to finishing mills and energy consumption to manufacturer the particular paper product and packaging, further transportation to the main warehouse, distribution to a local warehouse, distribution to the customer and the constant replenishment cycle.

You must remember paper towels cannot be recycled, they can only be made of previously recycled paper, so they generally end up in landfill too.

25,000 paper towels equate to one average virgin tree for paper production.

Carbon calculator

We have worked out the carbon saving above in the 200 pupil example.  But the average virgin tree will produce 25,000 paper towels. Paper towels cannot be recycled but the non-white variants (green and blue) can be made from recycled paper (just not recycled hand towels).  The paper process involves water, heat and chemicals.  The paper has to be dried and shipped to a warehouse then shipped to an office.  It uses a lot of carbon so hand dryers can have a huge impact on a business’s carbon footprint.


Paper towels definitely win here. A hand dryer will always be louder than a paper towel and we would always say there are certain locations where hand towels are the only option.


A good reliable hand dryer will always beat the paper towel option.  No one has to remember to restock them so they are always available. They also mean clean, tidy washrooms and no need for waste large waste bins that need emptied often.


Hand Towels or Hand Dryers?  People have their own preferences but what has happened is technology has improved over the last 10 years so dryers are quicker, quieter and more efficient. There is a whole generation that now prefers the hand dryer option.

There are so many benefits to business costs, operations and the environment to be derived from buying a good quality hand dryer.