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The importance of closed, sealed dispensing systems for public restroom sanitation

The cleanliness of a facility’s restroom can greatly impact how visitors view that particular establishment. For example, a 2011 survey from Cintas Corp. revealed that “94 percent of U.S. adults would avoid a business in the future if they encountered dirty restrooms.”

However, the importance of a clean restroom extends far beyond visitor satisfaction; it also can affect the overall health of its patrons.

A 2011 report published in the Journal of Environmental Health, “Occurrence of Heterotrophic and Coliform Bacteria in Liquid Hand Soaps from Bulk Refillable Dispensers in Public Facilities,” shows that roughly one-in-four public restroom bulk-fill soap dispensers are contaminated with harmful bacteria. Furthermore, a different report published by Applied and Environmental Microbiology in 2011 said washing hands with contaminated bulk soap can increase the number of germs on the hands by 25 times. That means the very tool we rely on to help clean our hands might be the culprit that is making us sick.

The average patron pays no mind to what handwashing system is in place in the restroom, but as sanitary maintenance and facility management personnel, we must look out for the best interest of the public and equip ourselves to make the best purchasing decisions for our facilities.

If bulk-fill dispensers pose a potential health threat, what is the best alternative? Most experts will agree that closed, sealed dispensing systems are the best line of defense against contamination and the best practice solution for delivering hygiene products.

Bulk-Fill Dispensers

A bulk-fill dispenser is an empty reservoir that is continually replenished with product through an opening in the container. The dispenser is typically refilled in the restroom, leaving the container open to environmental conditions and possible exposure to airborne germ transfer and unsanitary refill practices. Foreign objects, like bugs and airborne germs, can enter the dispenser when the lid is open, and according to a study report published by Biofouling in 2012, once the dispenser becomes contaminated, it is impossible to eradicate the bacteria, even with extreme cleaning solutions. Additionally, if bulk-fill dispensers come without a soap indicator level, they are very easy to overflow, causing build-up over time both under the counter and inside the reservoir.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes the dangers associated with bulk-fill soap dispensers and gave the following recommendation: “Do not add soap to a partially empty soap dispenser. This practice of ‘topping off’ dispensers can lead to bacterial contamination of soap.”

If bulk-fill soap dispensers are so easily contaminated, why are they still commonly used? One reason may be an industry-wide lack of awareness. A second reason is cost. Bulk soap is generally considered to be the lowest-cost option available. However, facility managers must think beyond the upfront price of the product and consider the total cost of use, including product and dispenser replacement costs and labor costs when refilling dispensers from a bulk jug. Low-cost dispensers usually contain unreliable dispenser mechanisms that need to be frequently replaced, sometimes leaving patrons without access to soap.

Closed, Sealed Dispensing Systems

A closed, sealed dispensing system is refilled with sealed bags or cartridges. The bags or cartridges are produced in clean manufacturing conditions as specified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and typically come with a fresh pump, virtually replacing the system each and every time housekeeping refills the dispenser. When product has been fully evacuated, the refills can be recycled or disposed and then replaced for the next use. There are many benefits to this type of system, some of which are highlighted below.

Closed, sealed dispensing systems:

  • Are hygienic. Air does not enter the system while in use, which minimizes the risk of microbial contamination.
  • Control costs. Most cartridges are designed to collapse as they are used, so all product is evacuated and delivers a precise measured dose. This feature prevents overuse and can help a facility better manage its product costs.
  • Are low maintenance. Most product cartridges can be replaced in seconds without the need to remove them from the wall. On average, cartridges are larger than the typical bulk-fill dispenser and provide more hand washes between refills.

Tips for Choosing the Best System

With a multitude of hygiene products and dispensing systems on the market, how do you separate the good from the bad? The following are a few key items to look for when choosing the best dispensing system for your facility.

  • Touch-free: Touch-free options eliminate many points of contact with germy surfaces. Look for touch-free options with a long battery life that provide optimal shot size.
  • Reliability and longevity: Many dispensing systems will offer a lifetime guarantee.
  • Strive for sustainability: Choose products that include third party green-certified formulations and cartridges that are recyclable, reducing precious landfill space.
  • Antimicrobial protection: Some dispensers are protected with an antimicrobial agent that inhibits the growth of a broad spectrum of bacteria and molds.
  • Fashion and function: Remember that aesthetics are important and increase compliance. Many systems will feature a large, customizable space for facilities to brand their dispensers.

Why These Dispensing Systems Work

In the elementary school study referenced in the previously mentioned Applied and Environmental Microbiology report, all bulk-soap refillable dispensers in the restrooms were found to be contaminated with bacteria. In this same study, all of the contaminated dispensers were replaced with closed, sealed dispensing systems, and after one year post installation, all of the soap dispensed from the sealed-soap dispensers was confirmed to be contamination-free.

Patrons rely on your knowledge and proper product decision-making to keep them safe and satisfied in the restroom. With improved hygiene, heightened security, and decreased maintenance and costs, closed, sealed dispensing systems offer benefits to facility managers and patrons alike.


Posted On June 3, 2015

Isabelle Faivre

Vice president of marketing at Deb Group

Isabelle Faivre is vice president of marketing at Deb Group, the world’s leading away-from-home skin care company. She holds extensive away-from-home market experience and a bachelor of science in international marketing from McGill University and ESSCA. Faivre works with customers to provide innovative skin care programs that improve employee health and safety and environmental impact while reducing costs. Deb’s most recent innovations include Solopol® GFX, the world’s only heavy-duty foam hand cleaner and Deb InstantFOAM® Complete, an innovative hand sanitizing solution for bacteria, viruses, fungi and yeast. For more information, visit

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