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Vacuum designer Dyson sets sights on hand drying

Why wipe your hands when you can blast them dry with a 400 mile per hour air curtain? Photos: Dry your hands in a jiffy

A prestigious British design firm wants to make sure your hands are clean.

Dyson--the people behind those expensive, yet oddly compelling vacuum cleaners--have begun to promote their latest invention: the Dyson Airblade, an energy-efficient hand dryer that strips water droplets off your mitts in a matter of seconds.

Put your hands in, and a curtain of air traveling at 400 miles per hour removes the moisture. The drying area is relatively small--you can't stick your head in, for instance--but it will whisk away water on your hands in about 12 seconds or less. The Airblade does not dry with heat, like most U.S. hand dryers, but by force. The air stays at ambient temperature.

The curtain of air is generated by a motor that Dyson includes in a vacuum cleaner sold only in Japan. It spins at 85,000 to 90,000 revolutions per minute, said John Churchill, design manager at Dyson.

Through testing, Dyson discovered that the motor gives off a blast of air that's ideal for stripping moisture from objects in confined areas.

The company plans to show one off next Tuesday at the AMC Empire 25 Theater in New York.

Mitsubishi and others have been selling similar jet dryers in Japan for a number of years. (See photo here of one in a men's room at the Makuhari Messe outside of Tokyo.) These companies have recently begun to bring their jet dryers to the U.S.

Churchill claims that Dyson's is more efficient. A conventional jet dryer from Mitsubishi might take 20 seconds to dry a person's hands, or about twice as long as a Dyson. (Editor's note: In my own testing of the Mitsubishi systems, drying took about 15 seconds or so, but I'm not super fussy.) The Airblade's drying time is reduced because the speed of the air in the drying chamber is faster.

The Airblade also comes with an HEPA filter that traps bacteria in the air before it blasts air on your hands.

In addition, the Airblade is a bit more stylish. The Japanese versions look like something that should be holding a deodorant cake.

Churchill did not have figures on how much less energy the Airblade used compared with other jet dryers. Dyson, however, said the Airblade is 80 percent more cost efficient than conventional heat hand dryers and 90 percent more cost efficient than paper towels, which need to be restocked.

The Airblade costs $1,400 and will be marketed to hospitals, theaters and other public venues where wiping and hand washing occur.

The hand dryers also appear to amaze a lot of people. The first time I saw one in Japan, I felt like applauding. Dyson has had similar reactions. It installed one in a Dublin restaurant.

"People were literally queuing up to have a go," Churchill said.