Drying your hands in quiet?

Hand driers/dryers

How many of us use public washrooms?  We use them at work, at the library, at the airport, the train station, the bookstore – wherever we need to ‘go’.  And we are glad to have them available. Inside all of these washrooms there are machines for drying our hands. In the old days, we had those machines that looped a cotton roll – which, after a few rotations, was pretty disgusting looking, and permanently damp. (Hygienic practices, anyone?)

Then we got paper towel dispensers – but they used up a lot of trees, and made a mess in the corner where the overflowing garbage can sat.

Then we got electric hand driers – but it often took just forever to get your hands dry. (Like maybe 15 seconds?)

THEN we got a new generation of expensive electric hand dryers, which were energy efficient and dried your hands in 10 seconds or less.  Many people like the fact that these new-fangled machines dry their hands.  No kidding! Oh, and they do it so quickly! Wow!  Really? You could just wave your hands in the air for a few more seconds; or wipe them on your pants; or wait 5 more seconds for the old style machines to dry you off!  Because – have you noticed? These new dryers are REALLY loud!!

This topic takes me back to R. Murray Schafer. In his The Soundscape, he discusses ‘sound imperialism’:

           Increases in the intensity of sound output is the most striking characteristic of the       industrialized soundscape. Industry must grow; therefore its sounds must grow with it. That is the fixed theme of the past two hundred years. In fact, noise is so important as an attention-getter that if quiet machinery could have been developed, the success of industrialization might not have been so total.  For emphasis, let us put this more dramatically: if cannons had been silent, they would never have been used in warfare. (78)

Today I am picking specifically on the Xlerator hand drier. We have them in several washrooms where I work, and every day I have to listen to at least one. And as a Noise Curmudgeon, this is annoying and stressful! These things sound like a jet taking off, especially when a person’s hands are close to the nozzle.  (The closer the louder. If you keep your hands about 20 inches below the airflow, the noise is not too bad. But many people seem to want to dry their hands quickly, so they hold them right under the vent. Don’t they notice how loud it is? Are they that desensitized to noise?)

As you will see here, the Xlerator hits the high 80, and often into the 90 dBs range!! That is VERY loud; way too loud for the Noise Curmudgeon, especially when he is standing about 8 feet away from one in a concrete bunker, low ceiling bathroom! (Many videos you will find about the Xlerator point out that they are so strong, that they make the skin on your hands MOVE! What does that tell you? Check it out!)

And this guy is using the Xlerator in his bathroom to do a DJ act. (Notice how loud it is! I guess he is used to the volume you find in a dance club.)

And – apparently there is (or was?) a wave of videos called the “Xlerator Challenge” – do something different with one, and submit your video. Who knew?  And note – no one is wearing ear protection!  Tsk-tsk!

This site gives you a comparison of several models of hand driers. None of them rank as what I would call “quiet”.  (BTW – apparently many kids with autism have a hard time dealing with the volume of these dryers, making it hard for them to use public washrooms.)


Now the Dyson hand drier is very cool looking; sort of futuristic. (Here is Mr. Dyson himself explaining how he came up with the design.) Damn – they are SO cool looking. But the ranking at the link above puts the Dyson at about 90dBs. (BTW – MacLean’s magazine, published up here in Canada, has an article about Sir James Dyson in its new issue. No one in the article mentions the noise of the Dyson Airblade, just its coolness, and its efficiency.) And there are many people who love this machine. Here is one of them.

There are various other models of electric hand driers. Here is an amusing cartoon ad for the Mitsubishi Jet Towel Hand drier. But they are all louder than the previous generation of driers.

This article about the volume of the Xlerator (and others!) has a very good suggestion – order a nozzle for the Xlerator if your company or business has one in its washroom(s).  They are free,  and reduce the noise level substantially.

If you would like to have samples of various hand drier sounds, visit here. Then you can add these horrible sounds to a movie soundtrack.

And last but not least – if you are confused (or annoyed) about how I am spelling the word “drier”, you can go here to see a discussion of the proper spelling of “drier” vs. “dryer”.

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6 Responses to Drying your hands in quiet?

  1. Maureen says:

    We just had those Dyson airblades installed in my workplace. I hate them with a passion, just like I hate leafblowers. The sound is incredible and the pitch physically hurts my ears. The sound carries right out of the washroom as the door is left open. At first I thought someone was going crazy with a giant hose. It’s a public library, so the noise is incredibly annoying and fairly constant from both mens’ and womens’. There was nothing wrong with our old dryers. Why is everything so darn noisy these days. 😦

  2. Pingback: A wee update | the noise curmudgeon

  3. Jesse says:

    I am an amateur rock musician with sensory processing disorder (diagnosed). Those Xlerator hand dryers are a nightmare. Surely through my hobby/studies I’ve experienced much louder sounds, but it isn’t particularly decibel levels that bother me as much as the frequency range. High powered hand dryers are pretty much all in that high, shrill, frequency range, which makes it a total acoustic assault to me.

    If I’m at a public washroom with one or more of those machines installed, I’d actually try to go for the single stall/handicapped/family washroom so I won’t be in the same room with someone else setting off those things. If I have my headphones with me at the time, I’ll put them on before going into the washroom to block out some of those high, shrieky frequencies and nobody has ever looked at me funny for it or anything.

  4. Anonymous says:

    OK, now try listening to one of those things while wearing hearing aids. OUCH!

    • Maureen says:

      I’ve wondered about the impact on hearing aids. I wash and leave quickly with wet hands. Within seconds they are dry and I don’t have to listen to those monster machines. When I’m at work (in a library) I wear earplugs when I’m near men’s or women’s washrooms.

  5. KB says:

    Yep, that’s how I found this site. I wear hearing aids and it is painful! If this is loud enough to cause hearing damage, perhaps it’s an OSHA issue, at least in the workplace. But even if I decide not to use it myself if anyone else is in the restroom and I’m still washing my hands, it’s right next to the sink. So, I’ve decided to mute my hearing aids before I go into the restroom. Depending on how your hearing aids are set up, this may or may not be an option.

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