Public bathrooms are not the gold standard of cleanliness, so when these otherwise gross-feeling spaces are outfitted with fancy motion-activated hand dryers, there's always a sense of relief. How hygienic and eco-friendly, you'd think. Now this feels like the future.

Perhaps you feel the same way, but recent scientific studies have suggested otherwise. Here’s how public restroom hand dryers may be spreading way more germs than you think. 

The Science Behind This Dirty Secret

Not only has research shown that using hand dryers spreads more pathogens than paper towels, the more high-tech models are the worst culprits. One study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that Dyson Airblades, a common jet dryer, spread 60 times more germs than traditional warm air dryers and 1300 times more than paper towels

How can this be? It turns out that the inside surfaces of jet dryers aren’t even close to clean. University of Westminster molecular biologist Keith Redway discovered that jet dryers’ 400 mile per hour blasts can spread germs more than 6 feet across the room. And it’s not just your own germs, but those of everyone who dried their hands before you.  

So How Am I Supposed to Dry My Hands?

Before you swear off hand dryers forever, it’s important to consider how these experiments were conducted. The studies only measured the bacterial loads instead of infection rates. In other words, they only figured to what extent the dryers spread germs–not the likelihood of getting sick after use.

To make things murkier, the Royal Society of Public Health awarded the Dyson Airblade an accreditation for hygiene in 2008. Dyson has even accused these researchers of “scaremongering,” claiming that the paper towel industry has been funding the studies. Who knew there was beef in the hand drying industry? 

In conclusion, using hand dryers definitely won’t kill you, but go for the paper towels if you have the option. And if you really want to stay clean, start a little closer to home–your cell phone is probably dirtier than a public restroom toilet seat