Two paths with different heights of coins.

Labor savings is an important aspect of the ROI equation — as is per-usage costs. Distributors agree that foam soap and cartridge dispensing options result in significantly less product usage than bulk soap, allowing customers to stretch their dollars even further. 

“When you look at the per-application cost of foam soap, it is often cheaper than bulk options — even though the case price might be deceiving,” says Martini. “You’re getting more applications out of the foam product, which means there are fewer opportunities for restrooms to run out of stock.” 

Not only does this reduce the per-usage cost, but it reduces labor costs: Less outages equals less time spent refilling product. The reason restocking frequencies are down with foam products is because when it comes to using foam soap, a little goes a long way. 

“When you dispense lotion or gel soap, you typically dispense at least twice as much as foam soap,” says Womack. “One of our biggest movers is a foam soap option that dispenses 4 ml per pump. The amount is enough to wash your hands, and it’s a robust soap so it encourages conservation.” 

Lotion or gel soap can also lead to another issue that encourages people to use more than necessary. 

“With some bulk soap, if the product is not used at a high rate it tends to get dry and goopy at the bottom of the dispenser, so you’re not getting the full amount of soap you need,” notes Payne. “When this happens, users tend to pump the dispenser seven to 10 times to get the right amount — and they may get more than they bargained for, or more falls on the floor.” 

Reliance on Compliance 

One of the biggest benefits salespeople can reference to promote foam soap is handwashing compliance — a topic that has become even more prevalent since the pandemic. 

“Often, foam is perceived as a more luxurious, higher-end product than most liquid soaps,” says Martini. “And users who like a product are more inclined to use it.” 

Not only are people more like to wash up, but using foam soaps can help to speed up the handwashing process — another boon for compliance. 

“When using lotion soap, proper handwashing technique requires visitors to first rub their hands together to create foam, then continue rubbing hands for the recommended 20 seconds,” notes Womack. “In a situation like a factory environment, foam soap can actually save a lot of time.” 

In addition to the product, the dispenser itself can be a huge selling point. 

“A lot of manufacturers have invested in dispensers for foam products, so customers find they are more attractive and customizable to their facility aesthetics,” says Martini. “Also, there is usually no cost for the foam soap dispenser.” 

Payne concurs: “Nowadays customers can customize these with their company logo or school slogan. When they do, employees or students have a sense of pride in them. It’s more visible, and it catches their attention — and if it catches their attention they’re more likely to go toward it and use it.” 

A Consultative Approach 

Although the hygiene and cost-savings benefits of foam soap tend to surpass those of bulk options, there are still some instances in which distributors may recommend the latter. For example, Payne supplies bulk soap to a security company with seven employees, most of whom work remotely. 

“I cannot justify them having a closed cartridge system because there just aren’t a lot of cross-contamination possibilities in that office,” he says. 

On the flip side, Payne cannot justify selling bulk soap to facilities such as schools or hospitals. 

“I haven’t had an instance yet in education or healthcare where I can look my customer in the eye and truly tell them bulk soap is the way to go,” he says. “I would always choose the cartridge.” 

Fortunately, distributors can serve as consultants to help customers understand the intangible benefits of foam soap and make the right choice for their business. 

“Bulk soap seems to give you that rainbows-and-unicorns feel on pricing,” says Payne. “You see that case cost and you say, ‘Wow! I’m paying $50 for this case of four gallons, and I’m paying $70 for this cartridge.’ But what customers aren’t seeing is that it takes longer to fill a bulk container, and it has anywhere from 25 to 75 times more bacteria than a closed system.” 

Payne acknowledges that it’s difficult for customers to quantify the indirect benefits of foam soap, such as reduced absenteeism. Nonetheless he encourages them to do so. 

“We’re consultants, not just salespeople,” he says. “We have to try to guide customers in the best way we see fit.”

 Kassandra Kania is based out of Charlotte, North Carolina and is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.

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Factors to Consider When Making Hand Hygiene Decisions