There used to be nothing but bulk. Whether it was public toilets or office washrooms, schools or hospitals – soap dispensers holding their product in a refillable reservoir were the only alternative to a bar of soap or a lotion from a bottle.
For good reasons: bulk dispensers left far less mess than bar soaps and were inexpensive. But budget-driven decisions in favour of bulk systems did not always take into a consideration an issue that we now recognise as extremely problematic: bacterial contamination.
Bulk systems are not sealed, meaning they are potentially vulnerable to contamination from the environment, or from the hands of the person refilling the system and handling the dispenser. The widely applied practice of “topping off” dispensers – refilling them before they have been emptied out completely and cleaned properly – means that the old soap in the reservoir, which may have been contaminated by germs, can cause the new soap to be contaminated.
Even where the equipment is cleaned frequently, using aggressive products such as bleach, researchers have identified a high risk of recontamination, due to biofilms – microorganisms that stick to each other and adhere to surfaces.
Extensive research leaves no doubt about the seriousness of the problem: in one study, 25% of bulk dispensers were found to be excessively contaminated. A separate study, conducted in Japan, found no fewer than 17 different types of bacteria in soaps that came from bulk dispensers.
Example of a bulk soap dispenser
Better solutions are widely available. Sealed dispenser systems are “closed”: they can be refilled by inserting into the dispenser a sealed cartridge of soap. There is no contact between the product and the environment before the product is being used to wash hands. The risk of contamination is reduced to a minimum.
In contrast to the often messy re-filling procedure of bulk dispensers, sealed cartridges are quick and easy to change. Spills are no longer an issue, and sealed cartridge dispensers require minimal cleaning. Maintenance is extremely low – saving both time and money.
Modern dispensers have been designed to deliver exactly the right amount of a specific product at any given time – whereas bulk dispensers tend to deliver the same quantity whatever product they are filled with. This alone makes sealed cartridge dispensers the more economical option.
What’s more: sealed cartridge dispensers make it possible to use highly effective foam soaps instead of lotion products. Less foam soap is needed compared to lotion soap, with a standard 1-litre cartridge yielding over 1,400 hand washes.
Foam soaps can also contribute to significant water and energy savings. It has been estimated that their use can reduce water consumption by up to 45%. A range of foam formulations also carry the European Union Ecolabel Certificate, Green Seal and Ecologo, which means that they are considered to carry a reduced environmental impact, whilst retaining their primary purpose of being effective and pleasant to use.
An easy to use, clean sealed cartridge dispenser system can also make a significant contribution to increasing hand hygiene compliance. Washroom users are much more likely to wash their hands with soap if the product is available from pleasant looking, clean and tidy dispensing systems.
Stylish-looking, efficient, and both easy to use and maintain – sealed cartridge dispensers are safer and more hygienic than their bulk counterparts; they minimise the risk of bacterial contamination and help to prevent infections; they save companies time and money; and they ease the burden on the environment. If you take all these advantages together, it really is better to be sealed than sorry.
 Lorenz, L., Ramsay, B., Goeres, D., Fields, M., Zapka, C., Macinga, D. Evaluation and remediation of bulk soap dispensers for biofilm, Biofouling 2012; 28:1 99-109
 Gerba, C.P. et al, Bacterial Contamination of Liquid Soaps, 2006, University of Arizona
 Amemiya K., Taguchi F. 1992. Survey of bacterial contamination of hand washing liquids. J. Antibacterial Antifungal Agents 20:459–463 (Translated from Japanese.)
 Independent research commissioned by Deb Group
About the Author
Paul Jakeway is the Marketing Director for Deb in the UK & Ireland.
Having recently joined the business in 2015, Paul is focused on raising awareness of the importance of hand hygiene best practice in the workplace to prevent the spread of germs and improve skin health.
To connect with Paul, please contact him on LinkedIn.