Why You Should Stop Using Refillable Soap Dispensers Immediately

Keeping germs at bay is simple, right? Washing our hands is lauded as one of the most crucial things we can do to keep ourselves healthy. However, one study done by the University of Arizona has found that washing your hands using soap from a bulk refillable dispenser, much like the kind we see in public restrooms, can actually leave your hands dirtier than before. Many public facilities use these bulk dispensers, including hospitals, doctor's offices, schools, restaurants, hotels, and more. 

One researcher in the study explained that washing your hands with a refillable soap dispenser is comparable to sticking one's hands into toilet water, with a higher chance of having fecal matter on them after washing their hands with the dispensed soap.  Another study, according to Cleaning & Maintenance Management, surveyed a school in New Jersey where they found that it only took a few months of average use for new refillable soap dispensers to transition from clean to filthy and contaminated. In the study, every one of the dispensers in these bathrooms was found to have substantial bacteria on them. 

The why behind it

According to Unisan, the reason these restroom soap dispensers become breeding grounds for bacteria is that they are opened regularly, allowing bacteria-filled air to flow into them, as well as any germs that may reside on the hands of the person refilling the soap. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that the practice of topping off soap in refillable containers has been known to cause bacterial outbreaks. Though it seems counterintuitive, this practice can actually add more germs to the dispenser.  

Unisan also explains that even when the dispensers are cleaned frequently, and with bleach no less, bacteria are still prone to growing inside the dispenser, which has the potential to cause yet another outbreak. They further illustrate the risks included with having an open-top refillable dispenser. If germ particles are present in the air, they can make their way into the soap. Additionally, there is also the risk of spreading germs by simply touching the dispensers with unwashed hands.

The solution

The easy solution to these open-top soap dispensers comes in the form of sealed cartridge systems that allow for sealed bags of soap to be placed in the dispenser. Unisan shares that because they are sealed in a sterile factory, the soap itself never touches the surrounding areas, thus making it a much safer alternative to the open-top dispensers. Cleaning & Maintenance Management reports that, per the product management director at GOJO Industries, with certain sealed soap-dispensing systems, it even dispenses just the right amount of soap for one thorough round of hand washing without having to touch the dispenser. This further reduces the risk of acquiring germs on your hands.

There are thousands of public restrooms around the country, and while they're not all implementing new systems just yet, in the meantime you can always carry a bottle of hand sanitizer that is at least 70% alcohol to use when you run into a not-so-neat bathroom.