When you flush a toilet without a lid, have you ever noticed how the water droplets seem to fly around everywhere? Well, those aren’t just water droplets. They contain fecal bacteria that can land on surfaces near the toilet and contaminate them.

Perhaps surprisingly, the hand dryer sucks in all the free fecal bacteria!

The new study found that hand dryers blow bacteria all over your hands. Researchers examined plates that were exposed for just 30 seconds under a hand dryer compared to those left in plain air.

Based on the findings, plates with air-blasts had much more bacteria (average of 18-60 colonies) than those compared to two minutes without exposure to air.

Furthermore, the study showed that dryer nozzles had ‘minimal bacterial levels.’ So as to warn the public, these findings were published in ‘Applied and Environmental Microbiology.’

In order to verify these results, a team from Connecticut observed 36 bathrooms at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. They found that one lab, in particular, produced large amounts of spores from PS533; this is a specific but harmless strain of bacteria Bacillus subtilis.

This strain’s colonies comprised 2% to 5% of the bacteria discovered on air-blasted plates, regardless of how distant the bathroom was from the laboratory where these spores were produced.

The author said, “These results indicate that many kinds of bacteria, including potential pathogens and spores, can be deposited on hands exposed to bathroom hand dryers, and that spores could be dispersed throughout buildings and deposited on hands by hand dryers.”

The researchers are puzzled as to why the air-blasted plates yielded such a large amount of spores. It is possible that the dryers act as a ‘breeding ground’ for bacteria. They also theorize that the high intensity of blowing exposes users to more contaminated air. Though there is evidence that dryers can cover hands with bacteria, it has not been determined if they also deposit bacterial spores onto clothing.

In order to be prepared, study author Peter Setlow suggests always having paper towels fully stocked in any bathroom you frequent. In their research, they found that of the 36 bathrooms studied, all were properly equipped with paper towels. Setlow told Newsweek in an interview, “Bacteria in bathrooms will come from feces, which can be aerosolized a bit when toilets, especially lidless toilets, are flushed.”

Obviously, we all need to be more aware of the germs we may encounter in public restrooms and other places. However, this study allows us to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that our personal hygiene habits are not as harmful as previously thought.

Although you might believe that washing and drying your hands is adequate protection from bacteria, it’s worth considering other options. You certainly don’t want to inadvertently spread fecal matter to your loved ones. To be on the safe side, paper towels are a much better way to dry your hands than hand dryers.