Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blow-Dry vs. Paper Towels

I've long wondered whether electric hand dryers in public restrooms were really more environmentally friendly than paper towels. The dryers often have some text on them about how they're better for the environment because they save trees, which seems like a throwback to 1970s thinking, disregarding the facts that trees are a renewable resource and that the wattage to run a dryer is pretty high. Slate took a look at the issue and it turns out that if you look at the broader life cycle of both methods of drying your hands, the electric hand-dryers actually do come out on top. The problem with the paper towels turns out to be less of a matter of killing trees and more of a matter of all the energy it takes to cut the trees down, process, and transport them. Electricity may emit a lot of pollution when it's created, but it's pretty easy to transport. Furthermore, the paper towels aren't as clean and require more maintenance. And in California, where less of our energy comes from burning coal, the advantage to the dryers is even greater.

The downside, of course, is that the electric hand dryers never work as well as they should, almost always resulting in a slovenly wipe of the hands on one's pants. I can tell you from personal experience (at LAX) that the new-fangled Dyson Airblade hand-dryers work a lot better, and can be 80% more efficient than a regular one, too. Go Dyson!


At Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 2:13:00 PM PDT, Blogger Ted said...

I had the pleasure of using a Dyson blade last summer at a hotel lobby in downtown Houston. I liked it so much, I sent my wife into use the ladies' as well, just to try it out. It's the only one I've seen so far, though.

We *heart* our Dyson vacuum, though, so we're predisposed to all things Dyson. They need to branch out to more products. Things should just work properly. Dammit.

At Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 7:22:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Joshua said...

I'm just wondering if there is an electric hand dryer in this country whose instructions do not read as follows:


Everywhere you go, you see the exact same vandalism.

At Friday, June 20, 2008 at 10:58:00 AM PDT, Anonymous doafy said...

They have a Dyson blade at Tom Sawyer's Island in the handicapped bathroom. I couldn't get it to work, though. Also, the name "blade" makes me think that my hands will be chopped off.

I do heart the Dyson man, though. He's my vacuum boyfriend.

At Monday, July 21, 2008 at 2:10:00 PM PDT, Blogger alberich said...

I always wondered about the so-called advantages of electric hand driers too (for the same reasons you suggested). It's good to know that someone actually did a study.

I also am generally disappointed with electric driers, but my experience with the Dyson blades (didn't know that name -- you learn something everyday) is that they sure do get your hands dry. But they are freakish -- it feels like your hand is about to be smashed by the air flow!

The other advantage of paper towels is that not all water is optimal to leave on your skin, feeling wise. If the water is soft, your hands are oftentimes left feeling soapy whilst if it is hard, your hands are left feeling scummy. Removing the water with a paper towel gets rid of the ickiness whilst just evaporating the water (and leaving soap residues -- which you can't fully rinse off unless you want to waste water) leaves your hands feeling icky.


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