High-speed hand dryers in public restrooms are a convenience with an annoying side effect: they are loud!
Are they loud enough to do hearing damage to a child who is standing right next to it? The short answer is possibly. [Update: My response used to be no – but after seeing the science fair project of 9-year-old Canadian Nora Keegan, it’s clear this needs further study].
Dr. John Drever of Goldsmiths University has studied this and suggested it won’t cause hearing damage unless you’re right next to it with the dryer running non-stop for 7 minutes. However, Dr. Drever was making the assumption of maximum 90 dB loudness where as Keegan’s science fair project shows certain models can reach 110 dB when a hand is interrupting the air stream and the ear is near the dryer. At this level of loudness, hearing damage can happen much faster.
If you’re concerned a dryer is too loud, the best tactic is to keep your child at a distance. Whether that’s walking against the other wall or lifting them up getting their ears even a few feet away from the source could make a difference.
How the Contrast to Silence Makes it Worse
Regardless if it’s safe or not, there’s another problem many parents face – children who are scared of public restrooms because of the noise. Dr. Drever added,
I have been informed by many parents that their children are terrified by the sound of high-speed hand dryers, and as all caring parents of young children will know, the last thing you want to instill is a link between discomfort and toilets.
Public toilets tend to be quieter than other public spaces so the shift between the quiet to the noise of a hand-dryer can be startling especially when unexpected. Even a flushing toilet can be a surprise – and uncomfortably loud. Kids under the age of 5 perceive sounds louder than adults and they’re closer to toilets and hand dryers which makes it louder, too. It’s no wonder restrooms are a source of stress or fear for some kids!
Tips to help a child who’s scared of sounds in public restrooms
- Look for a family or unisex restroom. A smaller space may not be as loud as a large, reverberant restroom with lots of stalls. Some malls and public places even have restrooms with play areas and small toilets for kids.
- Use another sound to “mask” the loud sound (the ear will adapt so it won’t seem quite as loud). Listen to music or turn on a quick video.
- Carry earplugs or cover their ears with your hands.
- If your child is afraid of auto-flushing toilets, you can put something over the sensor (like tape or a post-it note) so it won’t go off until you’re ready.