Bacteria breaches the bathrooms


Petri dishes sit on the counter on September 26, 2022. They are awaiting results to see bacterial growth from bathrooms. PHOTO BY SARA POPKEN

Sara Popken, Opinion and Entertainment editor

Practically every public restroom has a hand dryer installed and most people have grown to be accustomed to the loud whir that occurs upon entrance. Although jet hand dryers eliminate waste from paper products, are cost efficient and most importantly, they get hands dry, they may not be the most sanitary option.

These machines are lacking. The whole reason it is important for people to dry their hands after washing is not simply to avoid getting things wet, but also to keep things clean. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), germs can transfer both to and from wet hands faster.

A study done by Cambridge University investigated virus transmission using bacteriophage to represent microbial contamination. The study found that using paper towels resulted in lower rates of contamination on hands and clothing when compared to jet air dryers.

When people improperly wash their hands and then place them under a stream of high-pressure air, the bacteria has nowhere to go but to be spread around the bathroom and then it risks being spread again the next time the hand dryer is used.

That bacteria could stick around and end up all over the next person to use the hand dryer.

Microbes exist everywhere and are densely compacted in public restrooms but, it seems these hand dryers are making things worse. One common bacterium, called Staphylococcus Aureus, was found three times more often on the surfaces of air dryers compared to paper towels during an international study. Staphylococcus Aureus can cause staph infections, pneumonia and all sorts of other diseases.

From a practical standpoint, handwashing needs to be time efficient. If it takes too long to dry hands, people are more likely to walk out of the bathroom with wet hands. I’ve seen it plenty of times, especially when multiple bathrooms are locked and there is one left for the whole school.

When the length of time was recorded for how long Omaha North’s hand dryers took to get hands dry ten separate times, the average time was 45 seconds.

Class is a priority, why make them go to separate areas of the school simply to use the bathroom? It makes little sense that the only bathroom then left open only has two hand dryers. What a way to spread bacteria.

To test if there were higher bacteria levels with hand dryers in our school bathrooms, I decided to perform an experiment.

I used Petri dishes to grow bacteria samples collected from the school bathrooms. I swabbed the inside of the hand dryer to determine if bacteria may be getting sucked inside and then spewed back out.

I also swabbed clothing articles an individual was wearing and their hands before and after using the hand dryers.

The Petri dishes were left to grow for 48 hours. By the time I returned there was growth in all of them that weren’t used for control.


Most of the plates had very similar forms of growth. They were white or yellow and generally flat, round and entire. However, there were differences across the plates.

Some dishes had very minuscule growth. Despite this, those that compared bacteria density before and after being near the hand dryers, all had increased rates of bacteria.

The bacteria were extremely significant on the dryer button especially. Something that a person must come in contact with to dry their hands.

Although the bacteria are unidentified, any bacteria spread from hand dryers is concerning.

In a school with over 1,800 people, our bathrooms should be kept as sanitary as possible. Based on the experiment, hand dryers are not the best option for drying hands.

Making the switch from hand dryers to paper towels is not extreme either. To reduce environmental concerns, recycled paper towels made from cardboard are the best option available. Utilizing dispensers where paper towels are individually dispersed will help reduce even more spread of germs as well.

Make North a safe place for students to be and reduce the rate at which they are likely to contract an illness at school