Are Hand Dryers Better for the Environment

Are Hand Dryers Better for the Environment? (Answered 2023)

Last Updated on September 12, 2023 by Krystine

When it comes to sustainability and environmental impact, the debate between paper towels versus electric hand dryers is a complex one.

Many assume hand dryers are the greener choice, but standard warm air dryers can actually perform worse than paper towels in terms of carbon emissions and energy use.

However, this doesn’t mean hand dryers should be written off completely.

Are Hand Dryers Better for the Environment?

metal hand dryers
Image Credit: Excel Dryers

Hand dryers are generally better for the environment than paper towels, especially high-speed, energy-efficient models.

They reduce waste and have lower carbon emissions when accounting for their full lifecycle.

Key Points

  • High-speed electric hand dryers are the most eco-friendly option compared to paper towels.
  • Hand dryers reduce waste and have lower carbon emissions over their lifespan.
  • Standard warm air dryers are less environmentally friendly than paper towels.

Our Opinion

In my expert opinion, installing high-efficiency electric hand dryers is one of the easiest ways facilities can reduce their environmental impact.

The reduction in waste and carbon emissions over the lifetime of these dryers is significant compared to paper towel dispensers.

While upfront costs are higher, the long-term benefits for sustainability make hand dryers a smart green investment.

How do Hand Dryers and Paper Towels Compare?

hand towel vs air dryers
Image Credit: Classical FM

When comparing hand dryers and paper towels, there are a few key factors to consider:

  • Hygiene: Modern dryers equipped with HEPA filters can be just as hygienic as single-use paper towels. However, older dryers may spread germs via airflow.
  • Waste: Paper towels generate significant solid waste, while dryers produce none. However, dryers do consume electricity.
  • Cost: The continuous cost of paper towel purchase and waste disposal is high. Dryers have greater upfront costs but provide long-term savings.
  • Drying speed: High-speed dryers take 10-15 seconds, while paper towels take about 20 seconds. Standard dryers are slower at 30-45 seconds.
  • Accessibility: Hand dryers can present difficulties for children, disabled users, and the elderly compared to paper towels.

By upgrading to fast, energy-efficient dryers with HEPA filters, businesses can reap environmental savings and hygiene on par with paper towels. However, paper towels provide greater accessibility for diverse users.

The Impact of Manufacturing Hand Dryers

manufacturing asbestos
Image Credit: NPR

When examining the environmental impact of hand dryers, it’s important to consider the manufacturing process as well.

Most hand dryer parts like motors and heating elements are made from metals and plastics. Extracting the raw materials is energy-intensive and creates pollution. Manufacturing the components also consumes electricity and water.

However, dryers made from recycled materials like steel or plastic can reduce the ecological footprint. Some companies are also working to limit waste and emissions in the production process through eco-friendly manufacturing practices.

While no product is 100% sustainable, selecting energy-efficient dryers made by environmentally-conscious brands can help minimize the impact. Maintenance is also key – dryers that are well-built and maintained will have a much longer usable lifespan.

In the end, the long-term energy and paper waste reduction of dryers compared to paper towels likely outweighs the upfront manufacturing impacts. But it’s helpful to be mindful of the full life cycle.

Evaluating the Carbon Footprint

When weighing hand dryers against paper towels, it’s useful to compare the carbon footprint.

The production of paper towels requires significant resources like trees, water, and energy. This process emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Paper towels also create emissions when transported and end up in landfills.

Electric hand dryers consume energy during use, which may come from fossil fuels. However, they produce no waste and have a relatively low carbon footprint over their lifespan.

More efficient dryers like those using heat pump technology have an even lower climate impact. Models certified by Energy Star or other eco-labels tend to be less carbon-intensive.

Ultimately, analysis shows dryers generate about 70% less CO2 on average than paper towel use and disposal. So from a carbon perspective, dryers are usually the greener choice.

But it depends on the specific products compared and dryer energy source. The bottom line is reducing paper waste and energy use is key for lowering emissions.

Other Environmental Factors to Consider

Beyond carbon footprint, there are other environmental impacts worth thinking about.

Paper towels generate a good deal of waste that ends up in landfills. This contributes to plastic pollution and land use issues.

However, the paper towel industry has made improvements. Many leading brands now use recycled fiber content and sustainable forestry practices.

For hand dryers, noise pollution could be a concern in some settings. High-speed dryers tend to be louder. Location and sound dampening can help address this.

Components inside dryers also eventually wear out and require replacement. Proper maintenance and the use of durable parts can maximize their functional lifespan.

At the end of life, dryers should be recycled responsibly to avoid hazardous e-waste. Seeking out eco-friendly models made with recyclable materials helps.

Overall, while dryers have advantages, paper towels may be a better choice in some circumstances based on waste generation, noise, and recyclability factors.

The ideal solution depends on the specific products, usage patterns, and priorities for sustainability.


Are Electric Hand Dryers Good for the Environment?

Electric hand dryers are generally better for the environment than paper towels since they reduce waste and energy use over time. High-speed, energy-efficient models offer the greatest environmental benefits.

What Is the Most Environmentally Friendly Hand Dryer?

High-speed, energy-efficient hand dryers with HEPA filters and antimicrobial treatments are considered the most eco-friendly options. They use less energy and create less waste than other hand-drying methods.

What Are the Disadvantages of Electric Hand Dryers?

Disadvantages of electric hand dryers include high upfront costs, noise, slow drying times with standard models, and hygiene concerns if not properly maintained. Many also require electricity generated from fossil fuels, reducing environmental benefits.

Are Paper Towels or Hand Dryers Better for the Environment?

Overall, high-speed, energy-efficient hand dryers are better for the environment than paper towels. However, paper towels can be more eco-friendly than standard warm air dryers. It depends on the specific products, energy sources, and waste management practices involved.


Electric hand dryers are generally considered a more environmentally friendly option compared to paper towels, as they reduce waste and energy use over time. High-speed, energy-efficient dryers with HEPA filters provide the greatest environmental benefits with low energy use and carbon emissions. While no drying method is perfect, hand dryers are an easy way to lower the environmental impact of restroom facilities.

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