Not a Paper Towel to Be Found

Ever cringe when you find a wall-mounted electric hand dryer in a public rest room?

I consider myself an environmentalist. I care about preserving trees and leaving the earth in better condition for future generations. I recycle, and I have even carbon offset my travel. But electric hand dryers in bathrooms? That’s one place where I draw the line.

I understand the benefits. These dryers use less paper and are more sanitary than having germ-laden paper towels overflowing rest room trash bins. As we come into flu and H1N1 season, they are probably the healthiest and most economic way to go.

But if any consumer marketing company polled me, I’d tell them that they still have significant product development work before these dryers will ever be as functional as simple paper towels. The machines are loud, clunky, ugly, slow, and oftentimes don’t work. Worst of all, they dry objects at their own pace, not ours.

The goal in using a public rest room is clearly to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. These facilities are not the most pleasant places, and most people want to do what they need to do and get back to whatever they were doing that brought them out in public in the first place. If we wanted to spend significant time washing and drying our hands, it would be in the comfort of our own homes, with our lavender and lemongrass hand soap from Bath & Body Works.

Sure, technology has improved so some dryers have quieter operation and maximum air flow. But just as an example, the XLERATOR, which claims to dry hands completely in 10-15 seconds and boasts a 95% cost savings versus paper towels, still makes me sigh when I see it on the wall. It darn well near scares me to death when it turns on.

And the cost? Say a small family restaurant spends over $1000 on paper towels each year. It would only take 25 or so families to buy a $50 dinner once more each year to cover that. And schools? Well, a typical elementary school might spend $6000 annually on paper towels, but they ask parents send in paper products anyway, so what’s the big deal?

Okay, I’m being shallow. Maybe even self-centered. But we all have areas we don’t like to compromise. I would triple my recycling, plant more trees, and donate more to the Sierra Club and Earthwatch if I could simply have a crisp, tri-folded paper towel in the bathroom!

I once drove across country with a friend, and we visited many-a-rest-room along the interstate with all kinds of electric hand dryers. The instructions on these monstrous wall units read:

1) Shake excess water from hands

2) Press button and release

3) Rub hands briskly under nozzle

4) Dryer stops automatically

First off, water does not shake off one’s hands. It drips. Second, who wants to touch that filthy metal button? And as you rub your hands briskly, think about how dried out your skin is getting from the heat. And yes, the dryer will stop automatically—usually before your hands are dry.

As we were making the trek across country, we came across one hand dryer at a stop somewhere in the Dakotas. On this pathetic, poor excuse for a machine, someone had added a final step:

5) Wipe hands on pants.

Touche. A graffiti artist after my own heart. I bet you that guy has a few hundred shares of stock in Brawny.