People are avoiding hand dryers after this woman's photo went viral
No matter how clean you are, germs are an unavoidable fact of life. They're on the surface of every chopping board you use to prepare your dinner, on the handle of every door you have to open in your home or at work and on the body of every other person you find yourself huddled alongside during a busy commute.
Thankfully, though, most of them aren't harmful. And even the ones that are can be easily gotten rid of with a good personal hygiene routine and a careful avoidance of particularly sneezy passengers in the same train carriage.
Unfortunately, sometimes the efforts we make to maintain good hygiene tend to be counterproductive, as one woman proved with a simple photograph.
Nichole Ward, who is from California, shared a picture of a petri dish which contained "several strains of possible pathogenic fungi and bacteria". She didn't name any specific bacteria, but just the appearance of the dish made it obvious that, whatever they were, they were pretty gross.
So where exactly did Ward find the source of this bacteria? A toilet seat, perhaps? The bottom of a shoe? A trash can? Nope. It was from a hand dryer in a public bathroom.
What's more, Ward only left the plate in the hand dryer for three minutes - yet that was enough time for entire colonies of microbes to settle down on the dish. These were then left for two days, allowing huge cultures to develop.
"DO NOT EVER dry your hands in those things again," she said, explaining that people use the dryers believing that they're walking out with clean hands - but that simply isn't the case.
Now, Dyson - a company which supplies hand dryers worldwide - says they are shocked by the picture.
"We’re very surprised to see these results and unclear on the methodology employed," Dyson said. "All Dyson Airblade hand dryers have HEPA filters that capture particles as small as bacteria from the washroom air before it leaves the machine."
The company went on to say that "Dyson Airblade hand dryers are proven hygienic by university research and are trusted by hospitals, food manufacturers and businesses worldwide."
However, a 2016 study found that jet air dryers spray up to 1,300 times more "plaque-forming units" than paper towels do and that they can land a whole 10 feet away from the original source.
But Dyson has always disputed the validity of the research, saying that participants' hands were artificially covered in huge amounts of germs that would not be present in a real-life scenario. They have also suggested that the research was funded by the paper towel industry and that scientists were just "scaremongering" people into avoiding hand dryers.
Ward herself responded to accusations that her experiment was somehow falsified.
"I just got my results last night. This was MY OWN experiment. You have to know a little bit about microbiology and the agar that is in the Petri dish to start this all off. Nothing false here. This is literally what grows once incubated. But it’s the very contaminates that you’re drying your hands with but you cannot see with the naked eye until it’s incubated."
At the end of her original post, Ward was also careful to point out that "this post is simply for awareness, not to instill fear".
Ultimately, there are bacteria literally everywhere, so you're never going to be able to fully avoid it. Drying your hands with a public dryer isn't going to do any more harm than using a towel like you would at home, so don't get too worried about it.
If you do want to be extra cautious, though, carry around some hand sanitizer to use after you've already washed and dried your hands.