Close-up Of Person's Hand With Liquid Soap Dispenser On Tiled Wall

Amidst soaring prices, building service contractors and facility cleaning departments are introducing cost-cutting measures whenever and wherever possible. Often, this involves reevaluating cleaning chemicals and supplies with the goal of adopting cheaper alternatives that won’t sacrifice health or safety. 

When it comes to restroom cleaning, one way budget-conscious customers may decide to trim spending is by moving away from foam soap or cartridge dispensing in favor of less-expensive bulk soap options. However, while the per-case cost of bulk soap is significantly less than foam soap, distributors should advise customers against making a decision based solely on sticker price: The hygiene benefits and labor savings associated with foam soap options far outweigh those of bulk soap and should be factored into return on investment (ROI) calculations. 

“One of the biggest selling points in moving away from bulk products in skincare is thinking about the reservoir that the product is kept in,” says Chris Martini, director of marketing for Central Sanitary Supply Co., Modesto, California. “I don’t know of any institution that has a routine cleaning process for those reservoirs. Oftentimes a dispenser is installed, and the reservoir may not be cleaned out for the entire life of that dispenser.” 

Furthermore, bulk soap is subject to contamination each time the dispenser is opened to refill the product — plus moist conditions within the container are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. 

“About 90 percent of soap dispensers are in restrooms, so no matter how you slice it, when you open the top, you’re bringing in the air and bacteria from that bathroom,” says Bradley Payne, territory consultant for Kenway Distributors Inc., Louisville, Kentucky. “The bacteria and cross-contamination issues alone should make people step back and question whether the savings they’re seeing at the case level is worth the risk.” 

Add to that the safety concerns related to filling bulk soap dispensers with the wrong product — whether accidentally or on purpose. For example, TikTok videos showing restroom vandalism challenges in schools has drawn attention to the hazards associated with unsecured bulk soap dispensers. 

“In the world we live in, there’s too much of an opportunity for mistakes or even vandalism,” notes Walt Womack, sales manager for United Chemical and Supply Co., Greenville, South Carolina. “If you don’t put the right product in the dispenser, it may not work. There are tremendous advantages to foam soap dispensers, and customers are paying more attention to them than they were before the pandemic.” 

A Lather About Labor 

Indeed, distributors found that the onset of COVID-19 fueled sales of foam soap and hand sanitizer dispensers as the public became increasingly concerned with hand hygiene. Additionally, rising labor costs and ongoing labor shortages have been — and continue to be — a huge motivator for customers to purchase foam soap options. 

The fact is, it takes a lot longer for custodians to fill a bulk soap container. In contrast, frontline workers can quickly and easily remove an empty foam soap cartridge and replace it with a new one; in essence installing a brand new dispenser each time the cartridge is changed, thereby saving time and reducing cross-contamination. 

When extolling the labor savings of foam soap cartridges, Womack compares the task of refilling bulk soap dispensers to changing a roll of toilet tissue. Nobody gives it much thought, but those seconds add up. 

“Work with customers to figure out the amount of time it takes to get the gallon jug from the closet, open the dispenser, fill it, close it again and return the jug to the closet,” he says. “Let’s say it takes five minutes, and there are three dispensers in a restroom. That’s 15 minutes a day — and you may have to do that twice a week, possibly in multiple restrooms. Nowadays, especially with all the extra tasks that have been added from a disinfection standpoint, every minute is critical to these frontline workers.” 

Factor in the time it takes to end customers clean bulk soap reservoirs — assuming they are cleaned at all — and labor costs continue to climb. 

“Cleaning a bulk soap reservoir adds an extra step to cleaning,” notes Payne. “Plus, in order to clean that dispenser, customers have to pour out the remaining soap, so now they’re wasting product as well.” 

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Foam vs. Bulk Soap: Cost Considerations