Are Dyson Hand Dryers the World's Worst Design Object?

CC BY 2.0. Dyson Airblade via Wikipedia

Architecture critic Mark Lamster thinks so.

Years ago an architect friend designed a facility for firefighters that didn't have doors on the bathrooms, just visual barriers that you walk around. It also had Dyson Airblade hand dryers, which were so noisy that you could barely use the sitting space outside the washrooms. I have found the same thing in Snøhetta's Ryerson building in Toronto; sit anywhere near the washrooms and you can't think straight.

Now Mark Lamster, architecture critic for the Dallas News, has a go at them, calling them "the most abhorrent work of design in recent memory."

Okay, the Airblade might not be the absolute worst recent product of design. I guess the bump stock is worse. But the Dyson Airblade is a right up there. If you've tried to use one, you know why. For starters, the Dyson Airblade is deafening. Running a Dyson Airblade is the aural equivalent of standing on an airport runway while a 747 throttles up for takeoff. That's because the machine works not by using heat, but by blowing air at such velocity that it "scrapes" the water off your hands. (This is its supposed advantage over conventional, hot-air hand dryers, which are also awful.)

Lamster goes on to complain about the time they take, the health problems caused by spreading bacteria, and the environmental cost:

We might also question the actual efficiency and environmental sensitivity of these dryers — one of the justifications for their existence — which rely on non-renewable power supplies and spit small amounts of carbon into the air every time they run. Paper towels can be recycled.

TreeHugger friend Yetsuh Frank of New York Green beat me to Twitter to point out that paper towels are not recycled. We have also noted that life cycle analyses show that making and disposing of paper uses a lot more energy than drying hands with a hand dryer:

...a dryer, over its life time, will result in a global warming burden of 1.6 tonnes of CO2... Over the same period, the use of paper towels would result in an average CO2 burden of 4.6 tonnes.

And that was not a Dyson, which uses 83 percent more electricity than the hot air dryers.

viruses on hands

© European Tissue Symposium

We have noted that some studies, helpfully promoted by the European Tissue Paper Association, have concluded that using paper is better.

Our research and results over the years have revealed time and again that single-use towels are the safest way to dry one’s hands in the washroom. This virus study delivers further proof that when it comes to hygiene, drying one’s hands with a single-use paper towel is the safest way to reduce the spread of viruses after a visit to the washroom.

Dyson complained about this study in the Independent:

“The paper towel industry has scaremongered with this [type of] research for the past four years. It has been conducted under artificial conditions, using unrealistically high levels of virus contamination on unwashed, gloved hands.”

Another, more independent study was also damning, finding that when people flush the toilet, fecal bacteria get airborne and, as Cory Doctorow put it on BoingBoing,

"they hover in a miasmic cloud; when the dryers switch on, they pull these particles in through their intake, heat them up, and spray them onto your moist hands and other moist, hospitable surfaces where their bacteria can thrive."

Dyson responds to this by claiming that their dryers have HEPA filters that remove 99.97% of bacteria- and virus-sized particles from the air intake before the air is blown onto hands.

I am no fan of the Dyson dryers. I find them to be obnoxiously loud and Dyson may say that they work in twelve seconds, but I have a short attention span. I wish those rotating cloth towel dispensers were still common.

But I do think Mark Lamster is overstating the case. They are a lot better for the environment than paper.