Regular hand washing is a critical weapon in the fight against bacteria and viruses. It’s important that facilities provide an effective means for building occupants to clean their hands regularly and properly.

Usually, when organizations purchase soap and paper products from distributors, dispensers are included. Salespeople call this a “value-added” perk for customers, but cleaning managers risk being stuck with dispensers that do not function properly, or just aren’t a good fit for their particular facilities.

Soap dispensers
The number-one headache caused by soap dispensers: leaks and drips. “Whatever type of liquid dispenser ... they tend to leak or drip and you end up with a mess,” says John Bartello, director of environmental services, Skiff Medical Center, Newton, Iowa.

In busy restrooms, it is impossible for the cleaning staff to keep sinks, countertops and floors free of soap drips and puddles caused by leaky dispensers or messy users.

“Most soaps stain floor tile, wallcoverings and the surfaces around them even if the material is wiped off immediately after contact,” says Deborah Patterson, building services manager for Mercy Medical Center North Iowa, Mason City, Iowa.

Not only are the messes unsightly, but soapy floors can potentially lead to slip-and-fall accidents.

Bartello recently re-mounted some dispensers to restroom mirrors over sinks to at least prevent soap from dripping onto floors.

“Soap also dries on the tips of the dispensers so when you press on the lever, soap squirts in another direction or onto the floor,” he says. Bartello hopes his recent decision to switch to foam soap dispensers will reduce the number of leaks, drips and soap deposits on dispenser valves and tips.

After experiencing similar problems, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is converting to cartridge soap dispensers.

“We have some older-style dispensers that have a liquid tray which creates scum in the container itself,” says Ron Bailey, associate director of custodial services for the university.

Newly constructed and renovated restrooms on campus have new cartridge dispensers. Older dispensers will be replaced as needed throughout campus.

Bailey says cartridge dispensers have proved to be a better fit for the university. “Every time we replace the soap, there’s a new valve,” Bailey says. “Soap doesn’t get old or scummy. The soap is in vacuum-packed bags, so it really can’t drip.”

He stresses that he would only purchase dual-cartridge dispensers. Single-cartridge systems make it difficult to avoid wasting soap because the cartridge usually isn’t completely empty when custodians replace it with a fresh one.

“With single cartridges, you’re either throwing soap away or you’re running over to a restroom to change [the cartridge] because you miscalculated and it ran out.”

The dual-cartridge dispensers hold two 500-milliliter containers of soap. When one cartridge is empty, the user can switch. Custodians replace empty cartridges when cleaning restrooms. “This way, you have a never-ending supply of soap,” Bailey says.

Paper dispensers
Managers’ biggest concerns regarding paper dispensers: reducing waste and keeping paper stocked.

In the last few years, more manufacturers have begun to offer high-capacity dispensers designed to prevent high-traffic facilities from running out of paper. Toilet-tissue dispensers either hold multiple rolls (five or six rolls) or one “jumbo” roll of tissue.

Bartello says he has some towel dispensers that have a window so cleaners can see whether or not the dispenser needs refilling.

After testing roll-towel against C-fold and multi-fold dispensers, Bailey found roll-towel dispensers are a better bet in the university’s case.

“The cost per square inch for roll towel is maybe pennies more than folded, but we actually saved money because so much less towel is being used,” he says.

After dealing with less functional folded-towel dispensers, Bartello also switched to rolls. “Most of the time, towels didn’t stick out right and then people had to stick their fingers up the dispensers ... then a bunch fall out, which causes waste.”

The new center-pull dispensers are manually touchless — users just touch the towel. He says not all restrooms are wired for electronic dispensers activated by sensors, and battery-operated units require frequent battery changing.

San Diego State University is moving to electronic touchless dispensers campuswide, but John Eaddy, assistant director of physical plant, warns managers to consider location before installing them. “An electronic no-touch dispenser in our day-care center just becomes a toy for the kids.”

Don’t forget maintenance
Managers should include dispenser cleaning and maintenance — inside and out — in their restroom cleaning programs to keep units looking and functioning their best.