Foodservice Equipment Reports

FER REPORT: Blown Away

When it comes to drying hands, paper towels in dispensers have been the industry standard for a long time. Sanitarians tell us that the friction of rubbing hands dry with a disposable towel actually aids the hand-cleaning process. And drying with paper is certainly quick. We found lots of pro-paper and pro-air discussions online, much citing scientific research, but only one conclusion is unanimous: Paper and warm air both work, what’s critical is that customers and employees wash and dry their hands thoroughly. 

Until relatively recently, the time it takes to dry hands by paper vs. warm air has been pretty disparate, a few seconds compared to 30 seconds. But paper towels need to be refilled, and that costs money in both the price of towels and the labor to refill them. In the meantime, electric dryers are pretty much labor-free and have gotten much faster in drying time, as in 10 to 15 seconds max. In some cases, they’ve also gotten quieter and more energy efficient. There are hundreds of styles, drying speeds and price points from which to choose.

But don’t jump to the conclusion that the most powerful hand dryers are necessarily best for your operation. “Best” is a relative term, and depending on your facility, a less expensive, lower-end model may well be all you need, if electric is the way you want to go. 

If you’re working through a hand dryer manufacturer or distributor (and there are many who specialize in hand dryers only), talk through your business operation with them to sort through model options and decide what you really need. Here are some key concerns to think through:

Traffic flow. A local diner with 20 seats, a fast-food restaurant in an interstate highway rest stop and a stadium have dramatically different numbers of customers using the restrooms—in everything from steady flows to line-forming rushes. 

Mike Conlan, CEO of, Mechanicsville, Va., notes the trade off: “You don’t pay as much for the less-powerful models, but your customers are going to be standing by the dryer for 30 seconds waiting for their hands to dry.” A lot of times customers don’t have the patience for half a minute and walk out, possibly frustrated, with damp hands.

In contrast, the more expensive models that boast between 10- to 15-second drying times are going to move users through fast with completely dry hands. 

Based on restroom demand, decide how fast you need to move people out and what drying time will do that. This calculation also will help determine how many dryers you need. More powerful motors blow air out faster, but also create higher noise levels. Addressing this common complaint, manufacturers are adapting models with wider nozzles so they run quieter.

Price. List prices for models with older technology (possibly pushbutton) and slower dry times range from $90 to $320. Automatic dryers with touchless, electronic sensors run from $120 to $375. Eco-friendly dryers engineered to save energy range from $300 to $425. After that, stylish models with cutting-edge technology can cost up to $1,600. 

To weigh the expense of paper towels vs. electrical costs—to help determine if there’s an ROI for electric—you can plug your usage numbers and labor costs into online calculators from companies such as Excel, American Dryer, Dyson and World Dryer. 

Anthony DiCicco, CEO of Category Five Technologies, Lowell, Mich., remarks, “Not many people are buying push buttons anymore. It’s less than 5% of our business.”

As for ongoing electrical costs, heating elements in the dryer cause this expense to fluctuate. Newer models dry by the sheer force of high-speed airflow (130 to 420 mpg), and offer options to turn on and off the heating element, which reduces electrical costs to run the unit. 

ADA compliance. When ADA requirements apply, make sure you buy models indicating they fulfill those requirements, either on their own or with modifications, DiCicco says. 

ADA compliance restricts the distance a dryer can stick out of the wall to not more than 4 in., or the dryer must be detectable by a cane for visually impaired people—that means extending below the 27-in. point on the wall. Some small models meet the 4-in. requirement right out of the box when they’re surface-mounted on the wall, but they’re usually lower-velocity units. Other models can be made to fit by purchasing a kit to recess the unit into the wall ($50-$150). Dryers mounted closer to the ground, the tallboy models called “hands-in,” such as the Dyson Airblade, World Dryer VMax or Mitsubishi Jet Towel, usually fit ADA requirements without any changes.

Two notes: ADA-compliant hand dryers also must be automatic (motion-activated, touch-free, not push button). And recessing kits are not interchangeable between models, so make sure yours matches your unit. 

Restaurant image. High-end restaurants want their restrooms to match the quality of the dining experience, and patrons expect the same. DiCicco notes that many fine-dining establishments are installing the hands-in units with high-velocity air “sheets” because they are perceived as the Cadillacs of dryers. They’re also among the most pricey.

Upping the high end is the new Dyson Airblade Tap, which hit the U.S. market this year. Comprised of an electronic faucet with two drying tubes attached to either side, customers wash their hands and simply separate them to each side to be dried by two 420-mpg sheets of air. The unit dries in 10 seconds and eliminates water on the floor. 

But non-high-end venues and QSRs, stadiums and highway plazas serving a more diverse clientele don’t need to make such impressions and can concentrate instead on price, compliance and acceptable noise levels.

Higher-traffic operations also have to weigh the pros and cons of paper vs. air. Paper towels dropped all over the floor, in the toilets and overflowing trash cans leave impressions too. “People talk about your restroom on Facebook and Yelp. All someone has to say is that you have a dirty restroom and, all of a sudden, business drops,” says Elliott Greenberg, owner of Touch-Free Concepts. 

Employee sanitation. Health regulations about how employees should clean their hands vary by city, county and state. Some jurisdictions simply say it must be done before returning to work, other places get specific, saying that employees must wash hands for at least 15 seconds. Aside from government requirements, business owners may have their own stringent requirements.

One thing has been proven: Damp hands spread more germs than dry ones. No matter which dryer you choose, it’s imperative to convey the importance of clean, thoroughly dry hands to the folks handling your food. 

Other considerations. Anti-microbial coatings on the cover provide reliable protection against unwanted bacteria, reducing the chance that someone will pick up germs using the dryer.

GreenSpec-listed dryers offer independent proof that units conserve energy and are low maintenance. 

Voltage requirements go from 110V to 277V and vary by type of building and location. Know what you need for standard and commercial construction and domestic vs. international facilities. Some dryers are hard-wired and some feature plugs.

Warranty and quick repairs are must-haves. Five-year warranties are common for most models, but length of warranty is not an indication of dryer quality. Make sure it’s easy to receive and install replacement parts.


Hand Dryer Manufacturers 

Websites for the following hand dryer manufacturers list detailed specs for each model:

American Dryer



Dyson Airblade 

Excel Dryer 

Fast Dry 


Palmer (Blu Storm) 

Royal Industries


Stiebel Eltron 


World Dryer