Are Hand Dryers Hazardous to Your Child’s Health? 13-Year-Old’s Study Tells Why Dryers Leave Kids’ Ears Ringing

July 23, 2019 Updated: July 23, 2019

When we think of things that could be harmful to a child’s ears, loud music is likely the first thing that comes to mind. But hand dryers? Could public restroom hand dryers really be harmful to kids’ ears?

Hearing plays a major role in a child’s development. Hearing loss at a young age can have a negative impact on a child’s speech, social skills, and ability to balance. Damage to a child’s ears can even lead to permanent learning disabilities and challenging behavior problems.

Illustration – Shutterstock | Khairil Azhar Junos

Previous research has shown that hand dryer volumes could be damaging to adults’ ears, and Nora Keegan, a teenager from Calgary, Canada, had made it her mission to find out if the dryers were harming kids as well. Nora suspected that the dryers were too loud when she noticed ringing in her own ears after using some of the dryers. She also observed that other children covered their ears in the restroom and some kids avoided the dryers altogether.

Nora was only 9 years old at the time, but she didn’t let that stop her from setting out to prove her theory. And it turns out she was right.

Nora decided to perform an experiment to measure just how loud the dryers were. She knew that the loud noise produced by the dryers would be even more damaging to children, because their ears are much closer to the dryer, and that the volume changed when someone placed their hands under the dryer.

Illustration – Shutterstock | Chubykin Arkady

Nora accounted for these variables in her experiment by measuring each dryer a total of twenty different times. She took 880 measurements in total, noting the noise levels from 10 different heights and distances when hands were both inside and outside of the dryer’s air stream.

After testing 44 hand dryers, Nora was able to prove that most dryers operate at volumes over 100 dB, the maximum volume allowed for toys and other products designed for children under Canadian law. Nora also found that Xcelerator dryers posed the biggest threat, as they were the loudest of all.

Several Dyson Airblade dryers that Nora tested were also pretty loud, including one that measured in at 121 dB. And almost all of the dryers operated at volumes higher than the manufacturers claimed.

Nora made the results of her experiment known at the Calgary Youth Science Fair. Her findings were also published online, and at least two hand dryer manufacturers heard about her experiment.

Excel Dryer, the owner of Xcelerator dryers, issued a statement, pointing out that facilities have the power to control the sound and speed of all high-speed, energy-efficient models made by the company. Dyson, the manufacturer of the Airblade dryers Nora tested, promised to send an acoustics engineer out to meet with Nora and go over her research.

Teen's study on loud hand dryers

A 13-year-old’s study on noisy hand dryers is published in a medical journal and she’s gaining international attention for the research. Nora Keegan says the loudest dryers are close to 10 decibels higher than the maximum limit for children’s toys. Crystal Laderas has more.

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Hopefully, other dryer manufacturers will also take action to protect the ears of innocent children everywhere. Nora hopes that all of her hard work will pay off with some much-needed regulation on hand dryer volume. She realizes that much more research will be needed in order to make that happen. In the meantime, covering your ears sounds like a pretty good idea.