Just when you thought you were making the cleanest possible decision for yourself, a picture of a petri dish pops up and scares the crap out of you. Public bathrooms are pretty much universally agreed upon to be gross and at least a little bit dirty, but you've probably never considered whether hand dryers are clean or filthy, seeing as how they seem like the most sanitary option to dry your hands after washing them, right? Well, it looks like that might not be true anymore, and you may just switch to using paper towels instead if you're as freaked out by germs as I am.
Nichole Ward is one everyday hero who took it upon herself to see just how dirty hand dryers in public bathrooms really are, and the results were flat-out upsetting — especially given how severe this year's flu season has been so far.
Ward's investigation was pretty simple: She stuck a petri dish inside of an enclosed hand dryer for three minutes, she let the air blow onto it, and then she incubated the petri dish for a couple days. The results were one nasty garden of fungi and bacteria thriving atop a petri dish after being put in a place that we go in order to clean ourselves.
Ward's Facebook post immediately went viral, for pretty obvious reasons: That petri dish is seriously funky.
"DO NOT EVER dry your hands in those things again," Ward noted in her Facebook post. "This is the several strains of possible pathogenic fungi and bacteria that you’re swirling around your hands, and you think you’re walking out with clean hands."
OK, so that photo is pretty damning. It looks like a literal garden of viruses and bacteria in there. But is it really as bad as we think? After all, wouldn't a ton of places in the world lead to just about that same amount of bacteria if they were incubated for days at a time?
According to women's health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., it's definitely something to pay attention to.
“Public bathrooms are filled with germs, and it isn't surprising that the hand dryer could spread bacteria and other germs,” Wider told Women's Health. “Some studies have disputed the idea that hand dryers spread germs," she added, "but I think this petri dish experiment is pretty convincing.”
According to ABC News, Ward held the petri dish up to a Dyson hand dryer in a public bathroom, and after her Facebook post went viral, a Dyson spokesperson provided ABC News with the following statement:
We're very surprised to see these results, and unclear on the methodology employed. All Dyson Airblade™ hand dryers have HEPA filters that capture particles as small as bacteria from the washroom air before it leaves the machine. Dyson Airblade™ hand dryers are proven hygienic by university research and are trusted by hospitals, food manufacturers and businesses worldwide.
Even if you're still freaked out by Ward's photo, and you think relying on paper towels might be a safer bet, you should probably know that paper towels make up about 20 to 40 percent of waste in a given office building or dorm room, according to the New York Times, and increasing that number would only lead to massive, unnecessary consumption and waste of a product.
Ward's solution to all of this is relatively simple: opt for air drying.
In the comments section underneath her Facebook post (which has already been shared over half a million times, because of course), Ward explained that she's just going to bypass the paper towels and hand dryers altogether from now on. “From now on I just wash and scrub, and dry on my clothes or shake and air dry OUTSIDE of the [bathroom],” Ward wrote.
The lesson? Germs are lurking everywhere, and they look especially creepy if you put them in a petri dish and let them do their thing for a couple days. Never leave the house without that hand sanitizer, y'all.