This article originally appeared on VICE US
Bad news, everybody. It looks like bathroom hand dryers, while more environmentally friendly than paper towels, might actually be pretty disgusting. Back in 2016, a study found that those fancy Dyson air dryers spread more germs than paper towels, and just a few months ago, a microbiology student did a similar test and found some equally repulsive results. Those studies seemed to suggest that hand dryers blow bacteria around like some kind of swirling germ vortex, but now, some researchers have found evidence that they might actually be much worse.
According to an independently funded study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, hand dryers can actually suck up poop particles floating around the bathroom and then blow them onto your hands during the drying process. Researchers at University of Connecticut's School of Medicine tested various bathroom hand dryers around the school, placing plates under the dryers' airstream, and then testing for bacteria.
"Plates exposed to hand dryer air for 30 seconds averaged 18-60 colonies/plate," the researchers write, while a plate exposed to normal bathroom air only had about one bacterial colony.
"These results indicate that many kinds of bacteria, including potential pathogens and spores, can be deposited on hands exposed to bathroom hand dryers," the study continues, "and that spores could be dispersed throughout buildings and deposited on hands by hand dryers."
Here's the deal—every time a toilet is flushed without its lid down, tiny bits of poop and bacteria get spun up into the air, and hand dryers can suck up those little shit bits through their intake and spit it right back out onto the next wet set of hands. The study found that using HEPA air filters can greatly reduce the number of bacteria the dryer shoots out, but still—according to the study's lead author, Peter Setlow, he's officially switched to paper towels now.
Yes, this means that next time you dry your hands with an air dryer, you might actually be dousing them with bits of someone else's dookie while you think you're getting clean. Yes, that is monumentally gross. Yes, you should probably go wash your hands again right now—just be sure to let them drip-dry.
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