Are washroom dispensers indispensable?

20th of September 2018
Are washroom dispensers indispensable?

Dispensers often come as part of the package when buying consumables such as soap, hand towels and toilet paper for an away-from-home washroom. But are they always strictly necessary asks Ann Laffeaty.

The soap and paper dispensers supplied in publicly-used washrooms are an integral part of any hygiene system – at least if manufacturers are to believed. In fact it is often the dispensers that are promoted most heavily by washroom hygiene companies.

Cynics might say that it in their best interests to ensure that dispensers displaying their logos earn a prominent space on customers’ walls. And besides publicising their business, a system of dispensers is often used to lock a client into a paper or soap contract. But are dispensers really indispensable? Surely it is the product inside that matters most and not the casings that house them?

There are three good reasons why dispensers are an essential element of the washroom’s furnishings according to CWS-Boco team lead product management hygiene Silke Zügel. “These are: hygiene, economics and sustainability,” she said.

“Sensor technology makes it possible to retrieve towel portions, soaps and lotions without touching the system which enables washroom visitors to use the dispensers without any contact at all.

“Dispensers also allow the contents to be used more sparingly. This is a major advantage in highly frequented washrooms since it reduces the refilling burden and makes the system more environmentally-friendly and cost-efficient.”

In fact she believes there is no good reason to do without dispensers in any washroom. “Where space is limited, dispensers containing a small reserve of consumables can be hidden behind mirrored cabinets which makes the room appear larger,” she said.

The company’s CWS Comfort Line of dispensers is aimed at hotel en suites and other small washrooms and is claimed to be compact and visually appealing.

According to Zügel an increasing number of facilities are focusing on aesthetics when choosing a washroom system. “The architecture and furnishings need to fit the bill and dispensing systems should provide a coherent mix of colours and designs with coordinated shades and lines,” she said.

New from CWS-Boco is the CWS Air Bar which is designed to neutralise bad smells via a diffusion system that operates without the use of aerosols.

GOJO’s European marketing and product development vice-president Chris Wakefield agrees that washroom dispensers are essential in any facility that caters for large numbers of people. “These include schools, healthcare settings, bars, restaurants, shopping centres, service stations and offices,” he said.

“Not only do washroom dispensers control usage which is good news on a sustainability and economic level, they are also critical in the fight against infections while delivering safe, reliable and cost-effective products to the fingertips of users. And they promote healthy hand hygiene behaviour.”

Critical in fight against infection

Many people perceive the hygiene of a washroom to reflect the overall hygiene of a facility, he says. “Unclean or unsanitary washroom facilities not only damage the image of a business, they may also lead to a loss of revenue from existing and potential customers,” he said. “And dispensers are essential to prevent the spread of infections in all types of environments.”

Another advantage of dispensers is that they give out the right amount of product which reduces wastage, he said.  “In smaller washrooms the right choice of dispenser and its correct positioning are key,” says Wakefield. “Think about the design and layout from the users’ perspective – it is vital to consider how people will move around the washroom and then fit the equipment in appropriate places.

Attractive and practical

“You don’t want people to have to squeeze past each other to access dispensers since users are far more likely to abandon recommended hygiene practices in cramped and congested conditions. Installing slim, wall-mounted dispensers that do not protrude too far from the wall can be a significant benefit in both aesthetic and practical terms.”

GOJO offers a range of soap and sanitiser dispensers in various sizes and formats.

Unlike other manufacturers, Essity believes there to be some cases where a dispenser is not strictly necessary – and might even be inappropriate. “For example, dispensers are often avoided in environments where a ‘home-from-home’ impression is desired such as in a hotel en suite or in a care home,” said European product management director Antonio Nuevo.

“Dispensers that are not intuitive or easy to use may be inappropriate in residences for physically or mentally disabled patients. In washrooms where space is limited too, the installation of dispensers may make the room feel restrictive and uncomfortable. And in upmarket environments a dispenser that protrudes prominently from the wall might not be favoured by the architect for space and design reasons.”

He adds that a requirement for high levels of hygiene may often override these points. Essity offers compact dispensers for smaller washrooms as well as units designed to be easy to use for people with disabilities or low hand strength.

“One of the chief functions of a dispenser is to protect the product inside from contamination - particularly in healthcare and food processing environments where there is a heightened requirement for excellent hygiene,” says Nuevo.

Theft risk

“However, dispensers offer benefits in other environments too. For example, in public places where washrooms are left unchecked for hours there is a real risk of pilferage which can drive up costs and put the washroom out of use very quickly.

“Consumption control is another important function of a dispenser. And in schools, stadiums and pubs there is potential for vandalism: for example, the product could be used as missiles to block the toilets which would require a costly fix. Using the right dispenser will keep the washroom tidy and support better hygiene practices while also preventing the problems of pilferage and vandalism.”

Nuevo agrees with CWS-Boco’s Zügel that customers are increasingly seeking a co-ordinated range of washroom systems. “Dispensers can demonstrate to customers, guests and employees that the establishment cares sufficiently to provide solutions that are functional and aesthetically pleasing while creating a pleasant washroom experience,” he said.

Essity’s latest products include Tork PeakServe which has a capacity of more than 2,100 towels for use in high-traffic washrooms. Also from the company is the Tork SmartOne Toilet Roll System which dispenses one sheet of paper at a time to prevent over-usage.

Vectair managing director Paul Wonnacott takes a different attitude to Nuevo: he believes washroom dispensers to be essential in all public environments. “Washroom products are open to theft, contamination and accidental damage in any environment outside one’s own home,” he said. “More importantly, companies have a responsibility to ensure public safety which is one of the reasons why a dispenser has a lock.

“It is important to ensure that all products are child safe and that items such as soaps and fragrances are not accidentally digested.”

He concedes that some boutique shops and hotels prefer to personalise their washrooms with stand-alone soaps and fragrances to provide a homely feel. “As a result, washroom dispensers are also becoming smaller, more discreet and more visually appealing,” he said.

Vectair’s V-Air SOLID Plus uses multi-phasing air freshener technology to provide a continuous fragrance in areas up to 500 cubic metres in size.

Like Nuevo, Wonnacott believes consumption control to be an important dispenser benefit. “Washroom dispensers will ensure that the product lasts longer by delivering measurable doses of soaps and fragrance and catering for large, busy areas,” he said.

“Self-dispensing products also help to prevent cross-contamination. And an in-built antimicrobial protection in a dispenser can protect the user from germs and diseases.”

Preventing cross-contamination and promoting hygiene are both particularly important in the healthcare sector says Metsä Tissue’s managing director Mark Dewick. “People in these environments are already more vulnerable so the right types of dispenser should be installed,” he said. “For example, paper dispensers should be self-presenting to avoid the user having to touch the dispenser or put their hand inside to find the end of the roll. This significantly reduces the chance of cross-contamination.

Promoting hygiene

“High capacity units will reduce the likelihood of the paper running out and lower the labour and cost burden. And dispensers should be easily accessible for everyone even if they have restricted mobility or have just undergone surgery.”

The fact that dispensers can help to prevent theft and vandalism is another plus, according to Dewick. “A lockable, tamper-proof device can protect against both,” he said. “And controlling consumption is also important since in today’s economy, no one can afford to waste consumables.”

He says it has become common practice in some upmarket establishments to provide stacks of towels rather than a dispenser to create the impression of quality. “This concept works – provided there is no toilet in the room,” he said. “The germs in the air around a flushing toilet can contaminate the towels. And if people pick up more than one by accident, the towel used by the next person will already have been touched and potentially contaminated.”

Aimed at mobile food outlets, paramedics, care workers, dentists and vets is the Katrin Easy Pick which is a compact, lightweight hand towel solution in a pack that protects the products from moisture, grease and dirt.

Ease of use is another important function of a dispenser according to Dewick. “Features such as contrasting colours make the dispenser openings easier to see,” he said.  “Our dispensers also have large ‘push faces’ to make them effortless to use while the braille text helps the visually impaired.”

Smart data

Alongside all these benefits, a growing number of companies are now making their dispensers “intelligent”. For example, GOJO’s SMARTLINK Service Alerts app continuously monitors dispensers and provides data on usage, estimated refill replacement dates and predictive analytics.

Metsä’s Katrin LIVE service monitors the number of visitors to a facility and provides data on refill levels in select hand towel, system toilet and soap dispensers. And Essity’s Tork EasyCube can help to predict cleaning patterns and keep a check on dispenser refill requirements.

“If a customer makes the right choice of dispenser there is rarely a reason to provide unprotected products in a washroom,” said Metsä’s Mark Dewick. “And smart dispensers offer enormous advantages since they help facilities to plan and budget.

“By plugging into the Internet of Things, dispensers can help facility management companies and end customers to be more efficient and to do better business.”


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