How to dry your hands to prevent coronavirus infection
- Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly is one of the most important ways to protect yourself and others from the novel coronavirus.
- But drying your hands properly is just as important since wet or moist hands can breed germs.
- Different drying methods have different levels of effectiveness, with paper towels being one of the best and air dryers being the worst, a hygiene expert told Insider.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
People concerned about coronavirus outbreaks have heard the message loud and clear: Wash your hands, and wash them well and often.
But the other half of that public-health message – to dry your hands just as well – is just as important, according to Miryam Wahrman, a biology professor at William Paterson University and the author of “The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World,” which dedicates seven pages to the topic.
“The very act of drying hands is rife with potential problems, problems of the recontamination of hands,” she told Insider. “You do not want to undo the good of handwashing in the process of drying hands.”
You could do that if your hands stay wet or even just damp, since moisture is precisely what germs thrive on.
The drying method matters, too. The most hygienic way to dry is with paper or cloth towels, Wahrman said.
“Research studies show that drying with paper towels or cloth towels removes even more germs than washing alone, as the friction of drying reduces the germ count even further,” she said.
Cloth towels come with more caveats: They should only be used at home, where each person has his or her own towel and spot to hang it, and thrown in the laundry regularly – even every few days if they’re used often.
Paper towels are just as effective and can also be used to turn off the faucet and open the door, although they’re less environmentally friendly than the cloth variety.
Warm air or jet air dryers, on the other hand, don’t come recommended by Wahrman. “They can spew germs back on your hands, and into the air where you can breathe them in.”
Indeed, one study found that air dryers can blow around potentially pathogenic air, even prompting a Connecticut health center to trade their dryers for paper towels in order to help protect people with compromised immune systems, as Business Insider previously reported.
Plus, if you’re impatient and don’t wait for your hands to dry completely, you’ll again have created an environment in which germs can flourish.
What’s more, “moist hands touching a public doorknob on the way out of a public bathroom are the perfect storm of recontamination, making your clean hands germ-covered again,” Wharman said.
She recommended using paper towels when available in public restrooms, and keeping a few clean tissues in your pocket for the times they’re unavailable.