In public restrooms often both paper towels and air dryers are available. Which do you choose? Which is the better choice?
Well, that depends on your perspective.
The Safer Choice
The most sanitary choice is to choose the towels, but it might not be for the reason you think. Urban myths have spread about bacteria that is blown out of the blowers, but there is no scientific evidence to support this theory according to Snopes.com. It's actually the skin-on-skin friction that occurs when using hand dryers that makes it less sanitary. This process of rubbing the hands together actually releases germs living below the skin's surface; something that does not occur with the friction that occurs when wiping hands with a paper towel. If the environmental impact eats away at you, keep a zip-lock baggie in your bag or purse and put your used paper towels in them to be placed in your compost at home. It does not save on the number of paper towels used but it's one less that will end up in a landfill.
The Environmentally Friendly Choice
The environment friendly choice, however, is the air dryer. Over 3000 tons of paper towels end up in landfills each year in the US alone according to http://www.greenandsave.com/ , and even though paper towels can be made out of recycled paper and they can go in your compost, public restrooms generally do not compost their paper towel waste.
Hand dryers do not get off Scott-free in terms of the environment because since they do require electricity to run, but do not let that tempt you into forgoing drying your hands at all, or wiping them on your shirt. That's the worst choice in terms of germs because wet hands act as magnets for germs and provides a breeding ground.
The Responsible Choice
So where does that leave you? The safest and most environmentally friendly choice is to use the air dryers but hold your hands under the air flow without rubbing them together, and to dry them completely. If you do not dry your hands completely, you are doing little to protect yourself from picking up and spreading germs.
Easier said than done, some say. It's hard to follow through when there is a line of people waiting for a dryer. Fortunately, super dryers, which are far more powerful and can dry wet hands in seconds, are becoming more common in restrooms all across North America. The environmental impact of the electricity used is still less than that for the production and distribution of paper towels ehow.com . But until they are placed in public restrooms everywhere, those in line behind you will just have to wait!