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Physics, Sustainability

Dry your hands with one paper towel

For years now I have stubbornly refused to use two paper towels to dry my hands. The prevalence of the two towel hand dry had to be having a negative impact on our paper consumption and waste production. But until now this meant that my pants generally assisted in my hand drying efforts. Little did I realize that the powers that be at Ted would see a similar problem and have a speaker specifically on this topic.

For the past week I have been trying out the method from the video. I admit that I often forget to shake, or just feel ridiculous doing so, but I have been remembering to fold and it’s working. My hands are significantly drier, no pants involved.

Being a science nerd, I wanted to know the science behind the fold. But this turned out to be much more difficult to look up than I expected. What I have finally found, and it shouldn’t be surprising, it all relates to two properties of water – cohesion the attraction between molecules of water, and adhesion – the attraction between molecules of water and other molecules. This is also how quilted paper towels work. There are little pores in the towel. The water is attracted into the pores and held there. By folding the paper towel you make more pockets for the water to sit in. Therefore, you hands are drier.

It may seem like a small thing, but look in any garbage can in a public washroom during busy hours and it is pretty apparent how much waste is happening. So, give it a try. Fold that paper towel and see how your hands come out.


About Peyto

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities. Peyto is a reference to Bill Peyto who was an outfitter, trapper, and eventually a park warden in Banff National Park. Peyto Lake and Peyto Glacier are both named after him. He is also a distant relative of mine.


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