Some experts still believe that foam soap is king. It roared onto the scene just a decade ago, Josephs says, and it has since become a favorite of many custodial executives, as it’s a win-win for both users and facilities.

“It starts in a liquid form and the dispenser actually injects air into that liquid, making foam out of it. So the idea is, you’re going to be using a lot less liquid to generate the same quantity of soap that’s in your hand. It represents a cost savings,” he says.

Foam soap also creates less work for custodial crews, as drips and spills are easier to clean off the wall, counter or floor than many liquid soaps are. For that reason, Teresa Farmer, director of sustainability and training at Kelsan Inc. in Knoxville, Tenn., also recommends foam soap to many of her customers.

“Liquid bulk-fill soaps create more work for custodians,” she says.

Not only is it safer from a contamination standpoint to use foam cartridges, but custodial departments actually go through less product than they would with liquid soap, she says.

“You feel like you’re getting more, but you’re actually using less product than you otherwise would,” she says.

Foam soap may initially turn custodial executives off because it can be more expensive than liquid soaps, but simply understanding that foam cartridges will deliver many more doses goes a long way in driving purchases. Distributors stress that this fact will actually be cost-saving in the long term.

From a perception standpoint, distributors agree that foam is popular among building occupants. People like the aesthetic nature of foam, it provides good coverage and rinses quickly and easily, leaving little residue.

Green Options

Manufacturers are providing green and eco-friendly soap options for facilities that require or prefer third-party certified products. The demand for these green soaps is driven mostly by facility requirements in educational or government buildings to use products certified by EcoLogo, Green Seal, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (DfE) or U.S. Department of Agriculture BioPreferred.

“We look at green like it’s a nice added benefit and point of differentiation. If facility managers are torn between various soap options, telling them one soap is green certified, it might make the decision easier,” Josephs says. “We get a lot of talk about green soaps from our customers, but sometimes, when it’s time to make decisions, they won’t go for it in the end, even though the products are cost-neutral.”

The opportunity to become educated about the benefits of green soaps should be seized when possible. Many green soaps are gentle on skin, fragrance- and dye-free, and recommended for those with sensitivities to certain harsh ingredients found in other soaps. In facilities with vulnerable populations, such as schools or nursing homes, mild soaps can help protect users from allergic irritations or outbreaks.

Antibacterial Soaps: Not For Everyday Use

When it comes to soap, one of the most challenging requests distributors face from custodial managers is the demand for antibacterial and antimicrobial soaps in settings that do not require them. There is absolutely no reason for most facilities to provide these types of soaps, Josephs says.

“Antibacterial soap should only be used in specific situations where it’s deemed necessary by health officials, such as health care environments, surgical centers, areas where you’re exposed to open wounds and things like that,” he says. “It costs more, it’s more aggressive on hands — especially children’s hands — and there’s no additional benefit for occupants of buildings like schools and offices. It’s not going to prevent the spread of germs any better than washing your hands with standard soap on a regular basis.”

However, thanks to the prevalence of antibacterial soaps in the consumer marketplace, it can be very difficult to convince facility decision-makers that they aren’t needed. Josephs directs customers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to read its hand hygiene tips, which are to use regular soap and wash hands frequently.

Facility executives should request education from their distributors about the ingredients of these soaps. Former comments that once managers understand the differences between antibacterial and other soaps, they might be turned off to antibacterial soaps for everyday use.

“The problem with antibacterial soaps is that most of them have triclosan and that’s not a preferable ingredient for people to use constantly,” Farmer says, citing studies that point to its hormone-altering capabilities in animals and the finding that it may contribute to creating antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Distributors agree that antibacterial and antimicrobial soaps should be used where necessary, but in the majority of facilities, standard soaps are sufficient in conjunction with proper hand washing programs. Managers should make sure to always have proper types and quantities of soap on hand, Josephs says.

“If occupants are using a lot of soap, it’s actually a good thing,” he points out.

Factoring in the cost of absenteeism of occupants as well as staff, hand washing becomes more than just a line item in a budget.

LISA RIDGELY is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee. She is the former Deputy Editor of Contracting Profits magazine, a sister publication to Facility Cleaning Decisions.

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