Study: Unused Paper Towels Still Contain Bacteria

Researchers say they’ve found bacteria, including some that are known to make people sick, in unused paper towels. They also found that those bacteria could be transferred to hands after washing. The study is published in the American Journal of Infection Control. It did not find any illnesses connected to paper towel use.

Experts say the findings are probably most important for people in hospital isolation units and those with weakened immune function who need to be extra cautious about contact with germs.

Researchers at Laval University in Canada tested six brands of commercial paper towels — the kind doled out in many public bathrooms. They found bacteria in all of them, but the towels made from recycled fibers were the most heavily contaminated. Bacterial slime is known to be a problem at recycled paper mills, where it corrodes machines and may damage finished paper sheets. Bacteria may thrive in recycled paper because it contains binding ingredients like starches and fillers that serve as food. Most of the bacteria found in paper towels were Bacillus bacteria. Many Bacilluss trains can produce toxins that cause food poisoning.

Until more is known, experts agree that this one study shouldn’t be a reason for healthy people to avoid paper towels. She says 20 seconds with soap and water is still the rule, especially after activities that dramatically increase exposure to germs, like handing raw meat. Golden says air dryers, if they’re available, may be the healthiest and most environmentally responsible option of all.