Drying hands in a public restroom invariably poses a minor environmental dilemma. Paper towels equal chopped-down trees, hand dryers use a lot of juice, and wiping hands on pants is just plain antisocial.

Fortunately, new technology has come to the aid of the damp-handed.  Engineers at Dyson, the UK company founded by smug vacuum cleaner genius James Dyson, have turned their creative talents from cleaning to drying and come up with the Airblade.

The Airblade is a new type of hand dryer which can use up to 83 percent less energy than traditional devices. It’s the fastest hand dryer on the market, taking only 10 seconds to dry a standard size pair of hands (versus as long as 40 seconds for the competition), thanks to a unique motor which propels a 400-mph stream of air through a gap the width of an eyelash.

The Airblade blows air at room temperature, rather than heating first. It also only works when hands are inserted, unlike timed hand dryers which can keep on blowing long after the user has lost interest.

The net effect is drier hands and considerable savings on the electric bill.

In addition, Dyson says that the Airblade’s greater effectiveness makes it ultra-hygienic, since damp hands are more likely to transfer bacteria.

Another environmentally irrelevant but happy side effect of the Dyson product is that because it doesn’t use hot air, it’s less likely to cause chapping. In fact, the Airblade has been endorsed by the British Skin Foundation (not to be confused with the less reputable British Skinhead Foundation).

The Airblade isn't yet available in North America, but if you happen to be popping across the pond you can pick one up for a cool £599 ($1,200 or so.)

This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007

Editor's Note: Dyson's Airblade is, in fact, now available in the United States as of 2009.

See also:

Sustainable restroom tips and ideas