Although they’re not always responsible for specifying or installing paper, soap and other restroom dispensers, building service contractors still need to stay aware of what to expect in their customers’ facilities. After all, BSCs are the ones who fill and maintain the dispensers, and they often are responsible for purchasing the paper and soap.

In general, facilities are installing universal dispensers with a contemporary design, and are leaning heavily toward automated models, say manufacturers.

“Although the presence of proprietary dispensing systems is still strong in the market, we recognize that more and more customers prefer to buy universal or generic dispensers and retain their ability to negotiate better deals on the much larger expenditure — the paper products used in the dispensers,” says Greg Kampschroer, vice president of marketing, Palmer Fixture Co., Green Bay, Wis.

Regardless of whether they’re using proprietary or generic products, buyers are focusing more on design than they have in the past.

“In general, people are just paying more attention to bathrooms,” says Debbie Ponath, associate marketing manager, San Jamar, Elkhorn, Wis. Visitors and employees pay attention to restroom cleanliness, and buyers pay attention to how easy restrooms are to clean, Ponath says.

“Customers want a full line of dispensers with a look that matches,” adds Nathalie Comeau, marketing director, C&I division, Cascades Tissue Group, Caniac, Quebec. “[They also want] personalized dispensers — they use them for advertising or to promote their company name.”

Buyers also are seeking out more durable designs that can resist abuse, adds Ponath. One common design, she says, is a dispenser whose top is curved so it can’t be used as an ashtray.

Another trend that crosses the entire dispensing category is “no-touch” technology. Instead of using a plunger, handle or crank to obtain soap or paper, users wave their hands in front of a mechanism that automatically dispenses a controlled amount of product. Some touch-free paper systems aren’t fully automated, but still only require the user to touch the towel he or she will use. Either way, this reduces the potential for cross-contamination and encourages reluctant users to wash their hands.

“We have seen studies by the American Society of Microbiology indicating that many people do not wash their hands after using the restroom,” says Lou Tieman, senior manager of washroom systems, SCA Tissue, Neenah, Wis. “Having the right number of properly placed touchless dispensers would be a means of improving our nation’s hand washing compliance and realizing the benefits of less absenteeism and improved quality of life.”

Paper preferences Whether they’re touch-free or conventional, the buzzwords for towel and tissue dispensers are control and capacity. As towel buyers recognize the cost associated with paper overuse and waste, they’re turning to units that only dispense a single towel or a controlled length of roll towel at a time, says Comeau. Folded towels, she adds, are falling out of favor for that reason, since it’s easy for users to take too many towels.

Another important trend is capacity — even Class A office facilities are turning away from small dispensers in favor of those that hold as much product as possible, without sacrificing aesthetics.

“Large-capacity dispensers reduce the time necessary to monitor product usage and replenish the dispensers,” says Tieman. “For example, jumbo bath tissue rolls offer high capacity, which can dramatically reduce maintenance time because staff has to replenish the dispensers less often.”

“There are now 13-inch-diameter rolls that can hold the capacity of 10 or more standard rolls, which reduces the labor needed to check and refill,” says Alan Gettleman, director of marketing for Bobrick Washroom Equipment Inc., North Hollywood, Calif.

Jumbo-roll dispensers also are being designed more attractively, so office buildings can install them without the institutional appearance, he adds.

Another recent toilet-paper trend, adds Tom Banks, director of business marketing communications for Georgia Pacific in Atlanta, is “compact tissue.”

“It’s a dense roll; turn it sideways and look at the edge, and you’ll see that there’s no core, just a little hole, smaller than a dime,” Banks points out. This allows more tissue in the same amount of space, and also eliminates the waste of a tissue core.

Hand hygiene Proper types and availability of paper is essential to any restroom-maintenance program, but soap and other hand-hygiene products also are vital. As with paper, facilities are looking for systems that reduce consumption and refill labor. One big trend, say several of the experts, is foaming hand soap.

Instead of dispensing as a liquid, foaming hand soap dispenses similarly to shaving cream — the soap is mixed with air as it’s produced, adding volume and keeping the user from dispensing excess product.

“Foaming hand soap gives users a couple of advantages,” says Mike Tarvin, technical director, Multi-Clean, Shoreview, Minn. “A foam allows users to use 40 percent less soap. Another nice thing is that you don’t have to lather it up. It just spreads evenly over your hands.”

Hand sanitizers represent another shift away from, or in addition to, traditional liquid or bar soaps.

“Hand sanitizers are increasing in popularity for a number of reasons,” says Martin O’Toole, product systems director/professional markets group, Gojo Industries Inc., Akron, Ohio. “People are generally more concerned about the spread of germs and they are taking proactive steps to take care of themselves. Hand sanitizers offer the benefit of convenience. Unlike soap and water, hand sanitizer can be made available anywhere. Dispensers can be placed in community areas within a facility or in high traffic areas. Bottles can be placed at work stations. And there are even wearable dispensing options that ensure that hand sanitizer is always within immediate reach.”

Dispensers themselves are trending away from wall-mounted units, and to countertop installations, says Gettleman. One recent soap-dispensing system is one that connects up to five countertop dispensers to a single, sealed soap supply, says Gettleman. The supply holds soap for up to 13,000 washes, plus a 2,000-wash reserve; this allows cleaners to check and refill soap far less frequently.

The sealed system is important, he adds, because traditional bulk soaps end up coagulating or contaminated as they’re exposed to air, and are falling out of favor.

“Bulk soap systems are not as popular as they were years ago because they present contamination risk and are difficult to maintain,” adds O’Toole. “During the 1980s bag-in-box systems started to replace bulk systems because the cartridges were more sanitary and easier to maintain.”

Now, he says, technology has evolved to the point where the space inside of a dispenser can be used more efficiently, allowing much greater soap volume than a bag-in-box system.

In Case of Emergency: Insert Coin
While towel, tissue and soap dispensers get the bulk of the attention in restrooms, there’s another kind of dispenser that many women find themselves needing — feminine-hygiene-product vending machines. The problem is, they’re not in most restrooms — a situation Bill Hemann, president of Hospital Specialty Co. in Cleveland, would like to remedy.

“Vended feminine-hygiene products only are used in emergencies,” Hemann says. “If the products aren’t available, the woman has to find alternatives. If she’s an employee or a customer, she may have to leave the premises.”

Vending stations also are cost-effective, Hemann says, because the patrons pay for what they use.

As with paper and soap dispensers, feminine-hygiene vending machines are getting design facelifts. A recent change is automation — a battery-powered unit accepts coins and dispenses products, similarly to a soda machine. These units are fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, Hemann adds, because they don’t require users to turn a crank or pull a lever.