Competition in the Bathroom

For many years, a common graffito in men’s rooms was: “Wash hands, place hands under blow dryer, dry hands on pants.”  The old-fashioned low-powered dryers didn’t have enough power to dry hands well in any reasonable amount of time.  No more: about 10 years ago the Dyson Airblade was marketed, and it was revolutionary:  10 or 15 seconds and one’s hands really were dry.

I assume that they were expensive, which is why I only saw them in a few places, even in the U.K., where they originated. Today they are much more widespread.  They aren’t cheap (I see a discounted price of £615), but I bet they have come down in price.  Why?  The answer is competition: other companies are now making equally effective products, both in the U.S. and the U.K. An innovating entrepreneur may enjoy a monopoly for a while, but competitors with similar products will enter the market, forcing prices down (and increasing consumer surplus for now dry-handed users like me!).

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  1. Matt Hester says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  2. TommyP says:

    Does it count as in innovation if you take a wildly ineffectual product and make it do the thing it’s supposed to do? I know that’s Dyson’s raison d’être but why did companies carry on making products that just didn’t work well?

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    • Nick says:

      “Does it count as in innovation if you take a wildly ineffectual product and make it do the thing it’s supposed to do?”

      Improving upon established things/processes is the most basic definition of innovation.

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  3. Chris says:

    That kind of hand dryer is indeed effective, not just for drying the hands but for creating decent hearing loss.

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  4. JamieR says:

    I generally find the XLerator from Excel Dryer to be the superior product to the Dyson. I’ll still use paper towels when they’re available though.

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    • Daniel says:

      That’s the real competition… Put several types of driers and towel dispensers in a bathroom and see not only which one people prefer but which ones are the most cost effective. My guess is that paper towels w0uld trounce the air driers easily in both categories. An I agree the XLerator is probably the best of the air driers.

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  5. cjl73 says:

    Ummm, no, just no. These dryers already had lots of competition – paper towels, other dryers, skipping hand washing altogether, etc. The copycat devices are a trivial incremental competitor.

    Two things make them come down in price – scale and costs. The more people who want the Dyson dryer, the economies of scale can ramp up and the average cost of each unit falls (the design and development of these was a significant undertaking), and the marginal cost falls (reducing average cost) as the technology inside the device becomes cheaper. Once they can be made for a lower cost the firm has a pricing decision to make – keep it high and sell a few, or lower it and sell more. They figured they were still in the elastic range of their product’s demand curve and reduced the price to increase TR. They did this until MR=MC. Why skip the economics Professor?

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    • John C says:

      The slow growth of market share might have also been due to the fact that many places with public bathrooms already had existing hand drying technology and had low incentive to change to a more “modern” solution and throw away the old system. I can’t imagine many people make decisions about where they should eat dinner, buy clothes, or go to the movies based on the type of hand drier in the bathroom, so I struggle to see where there’s any value to the establishment in choosing a more expensive technology.

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  6. SMG says:

    These super-powerful hand-dryers also scare the bejeezus out of small children. Thanks to these things my son is afraid of public restrooms.

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  7. John C says:

    Many hospitals don’t allow their health care professionals to use this kind of hand dryer because there is reason to believe that they kick up all kinds of bacteria in the room and spread them. Personally I prefer to shake my hands well in the sink and let them air dry, which gets my hands acceptably dry by the time I walk out of the bathroom usually. Regardless of whether it’s true that the air dryers spread germs, I’m conserving energy and not generating waste, so I’m happy. Plus, if everyone did that, the savings on paper towels or hand dryers+energy should translate into cheaper products as it lowers the overhead on whatever establishment is providing the bathroom.

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    • Dwight K Schrute says:

      mythbusters covered that pretty well in an episode this year.
      They showed that the high speed air driers created an aerosol of the droplets and deposited bacteria all over the bathroom and paper towels were most effective at reducing the spread of bacteria

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    • Agee says:

      I was recently in a restaurant men’s room that had a prominent placard proclaiming, “The proper way to wash your hands”–showing the use of a paper towel to shut off the water faucet and to open the door.

      One problem: only blow dryers were provided.

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  8. Alex says:

    Can someone knowledgeable please weigh in on how hygienic those Dyson blow dryers are? While I agree they are neat and technologically advanced, I find it impossible to not touch the sides when putting my hands into it. Knowing other people have this same issue I can’t imagine they aren’t covered in bacteria. Thoughts?

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    • Joe says:

      I wouldn’t guess the sides are any worse than the handles on the sink or the door; at least the sides are only touched by people who did wash, after all (and kids playing?). I manage to not touch the sides, but I don’t doubt some do not. There have been some studies (like for example) that relied on volunteers using the various dryers; one can assume they would make some mistakes like touching the sides, especially back in 2010 when that study was done when Dyson Airblades were still relatively uncommon.

      From what I’ve read, hand dryers can be bad at transferring bacteria in the air they recirculate; Dyson has filters to prevent this (though how good those are, who knows). The paper towel industry of course suggests paper towels are still better, which is probably true; not so much because of crosscontamination but because physical rubbing of paper on skin will remove quite a few bacteria. Conversely, the warm air dryers probably improve bacterial conditions, as they operate at a nice healthy temperature for bacteria.

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      • Alex says:

        Ha, that’s awesome! Didn’t expect someone to actually come up with a study for me.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      They’re probably much cleaner than the door that you push open to leave, and no worse than the knob you push on the old style to turn it on. If you are willing to touch the restroom door, then you probably don’t need to worry about the hand dryer.

      If, on the other hand, you prefer paper towels because (after drying your hands on them) you can re-use them as a ‘glove’ to protect your now-clean hands from touching the dirtiest place in the restroom on your way out (jacket pockets also work for this), then I’m not sure what would be a good option for you.

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      • Violent Violet says:

        As long as there is a subset of people who wet their hands for the “show” of washing their hands, and those people use their wet, cooties-covered hands to open the bathroom door to exit, I’ll pick paper towels over air dryers, using the paper towel to open the door.

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