1. They fail at their primary function: actually getting my hands dry.
2. And they take too much time in failing. Thank goodness for blue jeans. (Tip: dry your hands on the lower legs of your jeans, so you don’t get wet spots all around your waist and crotch.)
3. They are alleged to be more hygienic than hand towels. I don’t buy that for a second, because they “dry” your hands by blasting them with recirculated air from the restroom itself. You didn’t think there was a canister of fresh air hidden behind the wall, did you? And guess what’s probably floating around in the restroom air. That’s right, tiny particles of you-know-what. (I will concede that the hand dryer is nonetheless hygienically preferable to the continuous-roll-of-cloth machine.)
4. They are alleged to be environmentally friendly because they “save trees.” This is nonsense. Okay, not total nonsense – you do in fact have to kill trees to make paper towels – but nonsense in any sense relevant to the environment. Trees are a renewable resource, and that means higher demand for paper products results in the planting of more trees. The more paper consumers are expected to use, the more incentive tree farmers have to expand their acreage. By decreasing the demand for hand towels, hand dryers actually diminish the number of trees in the world.
There is the solid waste issue, I suppose. Paper towels end up in landfills. But so what? The main concern with putting paper in landfills is the potential for dyes and bleaches to leach into the soil or groundwater; but since paper towels are usually unbleached brown, I suspect that’s not a big problem here. In any case, if we’re going to look at the wider environmental impact – as opposed to the ridiculous “killing trees” issue cited by the hand dryer advocates – then we have to consider the electricity used to power the dryers. If some or all of the electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, that raises potential concerns about air pollution and global warming. In the wider scheme, if hand dryers produce any net benefit to the environment relative to hand towels, it’s far from obvious and has nothing to do with saving trees.
And let me say it again: they don’t even get your hands dry!