It stands to reason that if you are washing your hands in a public restroom (whether that restroom is in an office, a classroom, a healthcare facility, a place of worship, a store or some other public venue) that you would expect that your hands would be cleaner after washing them than before washing them. Whether the hand soap was dispensed by a bulk soap dispenser or a sealed soap dispenser.
For the most part, you would be correct! But it is important to note that there are some fundamental differences between a bulk soap dispenser and a sealed soap dispensing system which could impact the outcome you can expect with your handwashing experience.
The sad truth is that soap from bulk soap dispensers is prone to becoming contaminated. According to recent studies, contaminated soap may contribute to the opposite of cleaner hands for those who are using it.Think about it – in order to refill a bulk soap dispenser, the dispenser and the left over soap remaining inside of it are exposed to the environment. Airborne germs, foreign objects, and potential inadvertent hand contact from a janitor who may have just cleaned the toilets can all mix in to the bulk soap dispenser and contribute to possible contamination. Not to mention the more sinister prospect of contamination through intentional vandalism to the bulk soap as it sits in an “open” bulk soap dispenser.
In the healthcare industry, it has been long accepted that a sealed soap dispensing system is necessary to better ensure infection control. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has published Guidelines for Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings which provides the following advice: “Do not add soap to a partially empty soap dispenser. This practice of "topping off" dispensers can lead to bacterial contamination of soap.”
This unfortunate circumstance of contaminated bulk soap has also been researched and confirmed in public restrooms in non-healthcare settings as well. According to a study published in Applied Environmental Biology, “Bulk-soap-refillable dispensers are prone to extrinsic bacterial contamination, and recent studies demonstrated that approximately one in four dispensers in public restrooms are contaminated. The study also noted that it “...is the first to quantify the levels of bacteria remaining on hands after washing with contaminated soap and to quantify the transfer of contaminating bacteria from the hands to a secondary surface. This research confirms previous work demonstrating a strong association between open bulk-soap-refillable soap dispensers and extrinsic bacterial soap contamination and demonstrates that washing with contaminated soap poses a potential public health risk in community settings. Our findings further show that extrinsic contamination of hand soap can be eliminated or considerably reduced through the use of sealed-soap-dispensing systems.”
This means that not only are the bulk soap dispensers and the soap contained in them potentially contaminated, but hands which are washed with contaminated soap can themselves become contaminated - leaving hands with up to twenty-five times more germs after washing contaminated soap than before.
Charles P. Gerba, a professor of microbiology in the University of Arizona's Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science who led the group of researchers for this AEM research has said he found the soap experiments so disturbing that he now carries hand sanitizer around with him all the time. "I've become rather paranoid about it," he said.
Yes, but these types of bulk soap dispensers are typically not cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis, and once contaminated, it is difficult to break the chain of contamination. According to a study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information “Dispenser remediation studies, including a 10 min soak with 5000 mg l(-1) sodium hypochlorite, were then conducted to determine the efficacy of cleaning and disinfectant procedures against established biofilms. The testing showed that contamination of the bulk soap returned to pre-test levels within 7-14 days. These results demonstrate biofilm is present in contaminated bulk-soap dispensers and remediation studies to clean and sanitize the dispensers are temporary.”
In other words, once bulk soap dispensers are contaminated, even cleaning and soaking them in bleach doesn’t alleviate the issue. Recontamination can be expected to occur within another two weeks, and contaminants can be present in the bulk soap dispenser even when not obvious or visible.
In addition to potentially harboring contaminants, bulk soap dispensers are also more labor-intensive to maintain.
It takes time and effort to pour soap from a gallon into each of the dispensers – and the possibility of overfilling and creating a spill are all concerns which need to be considered when evaluating a bulk soap dispenser for your facility.
In addition, nozzles can clog or drip which could lead to parts need to be ordered and replaced. Which means that the bulk soap dispenser which may not be performing optimally and is now a potential eye-sore.
After reading about the possibilities of contamination referenced in the first part of this article, our hope is that your cleaning and maintenance staff are budgeting time to clean and sanitize the bulk soap dispensers in your facility. We also recommend that they take care not to perpetuate the practice of systematically “topping off” these dispensers with bulk soap over time, making it constantly necessary to perform a thorough cleaning and sanitizing of these potentially contaminated dispensers.
So what is the alternative? A sanitary sealed soap dispensing system, like the WAXIE Select™ Foam Handwash System, can help a facility deliver clean hands, all while decreasing labor costs.
|Refillable Bulk Soap||Sealed Soap System
(like WAXIE Select Foam Handwash System)
|Maintenance and Reliability||Maintenance and Reliability|
|Time and effort required to pour bulk soap from a gallon container. Added cleanup time required due to messy pour.||Refill cartridge snaps in place in seconds.|
|Time and effort required to replace pumps and nozzles. Added cleanup time required due to drips.||No-mess cartridge refills snap easily into place, each with a fresh pump and nozzle.|
|Time and effort required to clean and sanitize dispensers periodically.||Fresh nozzle with each new refill, with no additional maintenance required.|
|Open dispensers and refill gallons susceptible to vandalism or theft.||Lockable dispensers and proprietary refills deter vandalism and theft.|
|Aesthetics and Image||Aesthetics and Image|
|Manual overfilling creates spill mess if not immediately cleaned up.||Soap is fully contained and dispensed in no-spill cartridges.|
|Permanent nozzles clog over time and cause complaints that soap is out even when dispenser is full.||Every refill comes with a new nozzle which prevents clogging. WAXIE Select system also features a large sight window to help eliminate complaints that soap is out.|
|Some dispensers are of unreliable quality and poor appearance.||Sleek, stylish dispensers with premium-quality soaps and no-mess cartridge refills.|
|Contamination Risk||Contamination Risk|
|One out of every four refillable bulk soap dispensers is contaminated with unsafe levels of bacteria, leaving hands with twenty-five times more bacteria than before.||Each soap cartridge is factory-sealed to lock out germs, and each cartridge includes a fresh and sanitary nozzle|
|CDC has recognized the bacterial contamination risk of “topping off” refillable bulk soap dispensers and has issued guidelines against this practice.|
|Once contaminated, even cleaning and sanitizing refillable bulk soap dispensers with bleach has been proven ineffective.|