Time to bin the bulk soap?

15th of November 2017
Time to bin the bulk soap?
Time to bin the bulk soap?

Refillable soap dispensers are still a popular choice for organisations across many sectors, but they could be spreading more bacteria than they prevent. Paul Jakeway, marketing director at skin care expert Deb, looks at why sealed cartridge dispensers could offer a safer, more hygienic and more cost-effective solution.

For anyone who can remember the times before bulk, the introduction of refillable soap dispensers seemed like a major leap forward. From school toilets to hospital wash stations, they were the ideal alternative to bars of soap and bottles of lotion.

There was more than one good reason for this optimism. We could say goodbye to the mess and expense of bar soaps (especially when they went missing), as well as many of the hand-hygiene issues involved in so many people using the same bar of soap.

Refillable dispensers quickly became the number one choice for facilities managers across every sector. But the decision (often driven by budget considerations) to switch to these bulk systems did not focus closely enough on an issue many are only now beginning to realise is a serious problem: bacterial contamination.

So, why are refillable soap dispensers such a problem? The answer is: because they are ‘open’.  Not being sealed containers, they are highly vulnerable to contamination — whether from bacteria and mould in the immediate environment, or from the hands of people handling and refilling the dispensers.

Another issue is the fact that ‘topping off’ the dispensers is a widely used practice. This sees people refill them before they are completely empty — creating the risk that the old soap can contaminate the new soap with germs and bacteria.

Even cleaning the equipment frequently, using aggressive products like bleach, does not necessarily solve the issue. There is still a high risk of recontamination, due to biofilms – microorganisms that stick to each other and adhere to surfaces.

You might wonder if this is as big an issue as it sounds, but it would be wrong to underestimate its seriousness. One study found a quarter of bulk dispensers to be excessively contaminated. Another discovered at least 17 different types of bacteria in soaps that came from bulk dispensers . What is truly worrying is that using bulk dispensers can leave hands with 25 times more bacteria than before they were washed .

Perhaps most shockingly, experts have also linked the use of bulk dispensers to infection outbreaks in healthcare institutions. They might be easy to refill and inexpensive, but they are clearly not the most hygienic and safest choice.

So, it is most definitely time to bin the bulk. But what to replace it with? The good news is that better hand washing solutions are now widely available. One such alternative is the use of sealed dispenser systems. These work in a similar way to bulk dispensers, but are refilled by inserting a sealed soap cartridge instead of simply pouring the soap into an open container. This means there is no contact between the soap and the environment before it comes into contact with the users’ hands — reducing the risk of contamination to a minimum.

Soap contamination

Research supports the ‘closed’ approach to dispensers. The study ‘Bacterial Hand Contamination and Transfer after Use of Contaminated Bulk-Soap-Refillable Dispensers’ concluded that “extrinsic contamination of hand soap can be eliminated or considerably reduced through the use of sealed-soap-dispensing systems”.

Beyond the reduction of bacterial contamination, there are a number of reasons to replace bulk dispensers with sealed ones. For starters, sealed dispensers are quicker and easier to change — not to mention cleaner, when they avoid the messy refilling process involved with bulk. Sealed dispensers also need minimal maintenance and cleaning — saving both time and money.

Even more economical is the fact sealed cartridge dispensers allow the replacement of lotion-based products with highly effective foam soaps. Users need less foam soap for washing their hands compared to lotion soap, with a standard one-litre foam cartridge providing more than 1,400 hand washes.

The use of foam soaps can reduce water consumption by up to 45 per cent , which contributes to significant water and energy savings — as well as being more environmentally friendly. Many foam products also carry the European Union Ecolabel Certificate, meaning they are accredited for having a reduced impact on the environment. And when you use less product, you reduce the amount of packaging waste you create.

More durable

Another useful element of sealed dispensers is they are more durable than their bulk counterparts. Thanks to the frequent opening of dispensers and the cleaning requirements involved, bulk systems can break easily. Conversely, sealed cartridge dispensers avoid this issue, and are built to last. Some manufacturers even offer a lifetime guarantee on their products.

For organisations that want to add to their brand identity in an unusual location, some sealed dispenser manufacturers offer the ability to customise the equipment. This means companies can add their logo or a block of text to the dispensers — highlighting their brand or encouraging better hand hygiene.

And on the topic of hand hygiene, sealed dispensers can have a major impact on improving compliance with hand washing procedures. People are far more likely to wash their hands with soap — and reduce the risk of spreading bacteria — if the equipment is clean, easy-to-use and doesn’t make a mess when dispensing the product.

Hand hygiene compliance can be improved even further with training and education to complement the sealed dispensers, showing users when to use them and what technique to use. Organisations also have the ability to choose the right product for each environment in their workplaces — simply swapping cartridges to the most appropriate product.

Safer and more hygienic

In summary, it really is time to bin the bulk. Sealed dispensers are safer, more hygienic and drastically reduce the risk of bacterial contamination — not to mention the spread of infection. They minimise water use and waste, improve hand hygiene in the workplace and have a much lower impact on the environment — all while saving time and money. There is simply no reason to retain your outdated bulk dispenser systems — sealed cartridge dispensers are the future.



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