2-18. Restroom Evolution

Last week’s theme was…. TERRORISM. Yes, the Boston Tea Party was an act of terrorism. While it didn’t result in any direct deaths, it did contribute to two bloody wars and it was certainly an illegal act.

And that’s enough of themes for a while. Let’s try something new. Let’s try more curiosity and less fact spewing. Here goes…

Some friends of mine were nice enough to invite me out to a small venue performance. As happens in a place where fermented beverages are sold, I felt the need to visit the facilities. Upon completion of my appointed rounds, I went to the sink, washed my hands and then… laughed.

Attached to the wall next to the sink was a machine with a cloth towel hanging out of the bottom. Folks my age and older will know this as a “continuous roll towel.” The idea seems solid… you dry your hands on the comfortable cotton towel, and the next patron pulls down on the cloth to get a new clean section for their use. It’s not a loop; when the last clean piece has been used, the towel retracts into the casing. Periodically, the roll is replaced by a new roll.

This new standard of hygiene was pretty common in the 1950’s and 1960’s before it was replaced with paper towels and the infamous “push button, receive bacon” style of hand dryers. These are usually white and have a single button that when pressed, releases a rather weak stream of warm air. These will dry your hands, but it takes about 90 seconds, which is about 80 seconds longer than anyone is willing to spend on the task. But they were advertised as being more hygienic than continuous rolls because they could never run out, and people wouldn’t accidentally use a towel that someone else used.

Fast-forward to today, and we have new options, including the Excelon which produces a cool but very strong force that loudly dries your hands in a few seconds. We also have the Dyson Blade, which uses a laminar flow to strip water from your hands if you execute a dipping motion into its well marked channel.

Yay! We live in the future! But living in the future also means we know about germ theory, aerosols, and how bacteria can spread. And a recent study from the University of Leeds shows that our newest form of convenient drying spreads more than four times as much bacteria than the old-style air dryers, and a whopping twenty five times more than paper towels. So, if the goal of drying hands with air dryers is to reduce the spread of disease, the concept may be misguided.

Paper towels seem to be the most hygienic, but they’re wasteful, can run out, and are the most expensive option. So what’s a hygiene conscious patron of public facilities to do?

For better or worse, you probably won’t have a choice. It’s a rare bathroom that has more than one option, so your choice boils down to using what’s availalbe, drip-dry, or the very common wipe-your-hands-on-your-pants-and-hope-no-one-notices technique.

And consider this: If you’re in a room with the new dryers, you’re already exposed to the air, so you might as well dry your hands. And if you’re worried about bacteria in the air, you really shouldn’t be. You’ve been exposed to most of these bacteria your entire life, and to be delicate, every toilet flush increases the population of airborne wildlife. Auto-flushing toilets often use higher pressure, and that too contributes to the problem.

As for me, I’m just going to do what I need to do. Trying to protect oneself from every bacillus leads to more mental distress than is likely to come from exposure. It’s a risk-reward calculation, and the ratio has a risk so low that the reward, preventing a possible disease, has odds akin to Powerball.


Striped for your protection.

Striped for your protection.

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