Paper Towels vs. Hand Towels

The debate between using paper towels or hand towels in restrooms and other facilities has been going on for years.

Paper Towels vs. Hand Towels

Both have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to factors like hygiene, cost, and environmental impact.


Hygiene is one of the most important considerations when choosing a hand drying method. Improperly dried hands can spread bacteria and illnesses, so having an effective hand drying solution is crucial, especially in public spaces.

Hand towels can collect bacteria and spread germs if they are used multiple times between washes. Moist towels also allow microbes to thrive. However, if washed properly and frequently, cloth towels can be hygienic.

Paper towels are considered more sanitary since they are single use. Once disposed of, any germs are thrown away with the towel. However, the quality and dispenser type impact effectiveness. Low-quality paper towels that fall apart when wet force multiple towels to be used. Open dispensers allow contaminated towels to be grabbed.

Modern electric hand dryers have improved hygiene features but can still spread germs, especially powerful models. Lower-powered dryers reduce this risk. Hand dryer design and placement also impact sanitation.

Key Takeaway: Wet hands spread more germs than dry hands. Proper hand drying is essential to prevent bacteria transmission.

Hygiene Comparison

FactorPaper TowelsHand TowelsElectric Hand Dryers
Germ Spread RiskLower if high-quality and proper dispenserHigher with multiuseVaries on power and design
Bacteria Build UpNone if single useHigh without frequent washingSome models over time
Ease of UseVery easyEasyLearning curve
Drying TimeVery fastFastSlow some models

Cost Considerations

When evaluating expenses, it’s important to look at both upfront costs and long-term operating costs. Hand towels and paper towels have lower initial purchase costs than electric hand dryers, which can cost hundreds of dollars per high-speed unit.

However, the operating costs tell a different story. Paper towels must be continually purchased and restocked. Depending on usage rates, that can add up to thousands of dollars annually. Labor costs are also higher with refilling, maintenance, and waste removal.

Electric hand dryers have higher upfront costs, but longer lifetimes – typically over 10 years. This allows their initial investment to pay for itself in energy and paper towel savings in as little as a year or two in busy bathrooms. They also lower long-term labor costs without consumables to handle.

Modern hand dryers with eco-settings also now use less energy than earlier models – some as little as 15 watts. This reduces electric bills further.

Key Takeaway: Look at long-term operating costs and labor. Higher upfront product costs can pay for themselves over years of use.

Cost Comparison

FactorPaper TowelsHand TowelsElectric Hand Dryers
Upfront Costs$$$$$$
LifetimeYears7-10+ years
Operating Costs$$$$$$
Labor Costs$$$$$$

Environmental Impact

Paper towels generate significant environmental waste – from the paper production process to shipping and disposal. The raw materials, bleach, and chemicals used leave ecological footprints. Transportation also burns fossil fuels.

Once tossed, paper towels fill landfills, where their decomposition releases methane gas, a major greenhouse gas. US landfills sees billions of pounds of paper towels yearly.

Electric hand dryers mainly impact the environment through electrical usage. More efficient modern models that use 15 watts or less help minimize this. Hand towels fall in the middle – laundry does use water and detergent, but repeated reuse is better than single-use paper waste.

Overall, hand towels and energy-efficient dryers are better environmentally long-term than large amounts of paper waste.

Key Takeaway: Reusable and recyclable materials are better for the environment long-term versus single-use paper waste.

Environmental Impact Comparison

ProductRaw MaterialsManufacturingTransportationEnd of Life
Paper TowelsTrees, Bleach, ChemicalsHigh EnergyFossil FuelsLandfill Methane
Hand TowelsCotton, LinenLower EnergySome FuelReusable
Electric Hand DryersMetals, PlasticsModerate EnergySome FuelRecyclable

User Preference

Surveys show most people prefer paper towels over electric hand dryers due to their speed and familiarity. However, high-speed modern dryers have helped close this gap somewhat with quicker dry times.

Hand towels are consumers’ last choice in public bathrooms given uncertainties around previous usage and hygiene. However, in homes and private offices, reusable hand towels are often preferred for environmental reasons.

Ease of use is the most critical factor for user preference. Paper towels are simplistic by nature. Hand towels require accessible sinks and dryers often have buttons needing deciphering. Instructions can help in the case of dryers.


Are hand towels or paper towels more hygienic?

For public facilities, paper towels are considered more hygienic since they are single-use and thrown away along with any germs after each use. Cloth hand towels can spread bacteria and viruses if used multiple times between washes. However, hand towels can be sanitary if properly laundered.

Do hand dryers really spread germs?

Some powerful older hand dryer models spread bacteria and viruses more via the blowing air. However, modern dryers have addressed this with improved designs including filters and lower power settings. Carefully selected dryersminimize germ spread risk significantly.

How often should hand towels be washed?

In facilities like restrooms, hand towels should be washed daily or more often depending on usage rates. For homes, towels for individual use should be washed every 3-4 days. Higher heat drying and non-chlorine bleach further reduce bacteria.

What is the best hand drying time?

10-15 seconds is optimal for hand dryers to fully dry hands hygienically. Paper towels absorb moisture faster, with 10 sheets often sufficient if high quality. Hand towels also typically dry hands thoroughly in under 30 seconds if not overloaded with water.


The hand drying decision depends on your specific needs and priorities – whether hygiene, costs, sustainability, or customer service are most vital to your facility.

Emma Kellam
Emma Kellam

I'm Emma, and I run Towels Edition, a website for fellow home goods enthusiasts who, like me, are passionate about textiles. After working in high-end retail, I was amazed by how little most people (myself included!) know about all the towel options out there.

I research and write all the content myself. Whether it's specialized towels like bar mops, Turkish cotton production methods, or comparing hair towel absorbency, I cover it. My goal is to share my knowledge and enthusiasm to help others.

Running Towels Edition allows me to constantly expand my own expertise too. I love learning about innovations in bamboo fabric or ideal bath towels. It's so rewarding to receive emails thanking me for recommendations that improved my readers' routines.

I want Towels Edition to be the ultimate online towel resource, making this overlooked necessity far more fascinating. My aim is to open people's eyes to how specialty towels can thoroughly enhance hygiene, cleaning, recreation and self-care.