We are not singing Happy Birthday while washing our hands anymore, but we are still washing them; new studies are showing that drying them is just as important.
South Africa (14 October 2020) – Remember when we used to sing Happy Birthday while washing our hands? That feels like a lifetime ago already! While our COVID-19 cases may be looking really good, we still need to be washing our hands.
It turns out that hand drying is just as important[i] as hand washing to reduce the transmission of germs.
Not only does hand drying remove moisture from our hands, it also causes friction. This friction further reduces the microbial load and the transfer of germs. According to a study by Auckland University[ii], wet skin is more likely to transmit microbes than dry skin.
Does it matter what we use to dry our hands? Yes, it does, according to researchers at Swansea University [iii]. Disposable paper towels – a form of tissue product – have shown to be the most hygienic, especially when compared to jet air dryers and fabric towels.
Warm air and jet air dryers are not recommended for use in hospitals and clinics for hygiene reasons, as they can disperse bacteria from hands and deposit it on surfaces, including recently washed hands[iv].
In fact, COVID-19 workplace regulations gazetted on 29 April 2020 by the Department of Labour stipulated that only paper towels be made available in bathrooms for hand drying.
Environmental impact of disposable paper towels
Many people worry about the impact of single-use or disposable paper towel. “Paper towel and tissue products are made from a renewable resource,” assures Jane Molony, executive director of the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa.
“Many tissue mills use recycled fibre from used office paper as well as sustainably sourced virgin wood fibre, depending on the type of product.” PAMSA’s tissue manufacturing members also subscribe to Forest Stewardship Council chain of custody for their products.
How to dispose of tissue and towelling products
While tissue products are not recyclable themselves, they are biodegradable. If you’ve ever tried to use toilet paper to mop up a spill, for example, you will know that it is made to disintegrate when in contact with water – and paper towelling is also manufactured to be fit for purpose, but still able to break down.
Paper towelling – such as kitchen paper or hand towel – is treated with “wet strength additives” so it can hold its structure for a bit longer. This should not be flushed down a toilet, but rather discarded in a closed bin to reduce viral transmission.