If you’re in the bathroom and there’s a choice between hygienic paper towels and the hygienic air dryer, which do you choose?

Surely you’ve been flummoxed by the options in the past and you may not have been sure which is really the most “hygienic.”

Well, according to an unpublished 2008 study conducted by the University of Westminister, London, for the trade group the European Tissue Symposium, the answer is paper towels.

“The results of all parts of this study suggest that paper towels should be used in locations where hygiene is paramount, such as hospitals, clinics, schools, nurseries, care homes, kitchens and other food preparation areas,” the study said. “Warm air dryers and jet air dryers should be carefully considered for these types of location because of their poorer hygiene performance and the increased likelihood of transmission of bacteria.”

The study compared the effectiveness of paper towels, warm air hand dryers and more modern jet air hand dryers. Just how much more hygienic were the paper towels than the others?

After subjects washed and then dried with the warm air dryer, the study found that the total number of bacteria increased on average on the finger pads by 194 percent. Bacteria increased on the palms by 254 percent.

Washing and then drying with the jet air dryer led to an increase in bacteria on the finger pads by 42 percent and on the palms by 15 percent.

In comparison, after washing and drying with paper towels, the total number of bacteria on the finger pads decreased by 76 percent and decreased on the palms by up to 77 percent.

On top of the bacteria results, the study also demonstrated that the use of the jet air dryer led to the dispersion of micro-organisms from the hands and the unit to other parts of the washroom up to two meters away. This could potentially lead to further contamination, the study found.