The best and most affordable paper towels to use in the hot and humid summer months are paper towels made with water, a water-based emulsion or a combination of both, a new study suggests.
The findings were published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study looked at about 400 studies published between 2005 and 2018.
Researchers found that paper towels used by both adults and children had similar antibacterial properties, though the researchers also found a slight advantage for paper towels using water, compared to a combination or both.
Water-based paper towels were found to have a better antimicrobial effect than the emulsions, although they didn’t have as much of a protective effect, the study found.
“We’ve found that water- and paper-based towels have similar antimicrobial properties, which is an important difference to note,” study co-author David Deutsch, an associate professor of environmental health at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
The best paper towels, in particular, were water- or emulsified paper towels and paper towels that used a watery emulsion, Deutsch added.
“Paper towels made of water or an emulsion with an emulsifying agent also have antibacterial qualities.
This means that you can use both types of towels to treat the same infection,” he said.
The research, led by Deutsch and his colleagues, compared water-related paper towels with water-emulsified, water-coated paper towels.
Paper towels were tested in three settings: hot, humid and dry, and also compared to an emollient such as baking soda.
In hot temperatures, paper towels tended to be the best paper-soap alternative for the summer.
The best quality paper towels had lower water and ammonia content than the cheapest paper towels sold in the stores, the research found.
But, they also had higher water and glycol levels than the most expensive paper towels purchased in stores.
The study concluded that paper towel use is safe in the summer, but not optimal for treating infections.
The researchers said their findings were consistent with previous research that suggested paper towels are effective against both waterborne and aerosol-borne infections.
“While we have not directly studied paper towels in the past, previous studies have suggested that paper-related illness and infection are more common in the months of July and August, which are when temperatures are high and humidity low,” Deutsch said.
“This suggests that waterborne infections can occur more often during this time.”
Deutsch said it’s unclear whether this research will have any impact on people using paper towels for personal hygiene, but it could help to better understand the issue.
“The more we learn about this topic, the more we can help people in the long run to prevent and treat waterborne illness,” he added.