The Truth About Public Restroom Soap Dispensers
Updated: Jan 19
Handwashing is widely accepted as the most effective practice for reducing germs transmission. However, thoroughly rinsing your hands and using any hand soap may not be enough. How you wash your hands and what you use to do so is vital. Public restrooms are, understandably, known as germ-infested places. What many may not know is that the germiest thing in the restroom could be the hand soap! This article dives into how potentially contaminated liquid soap can be in public restrooms.
Bulk soap-refillable dispensers
Refillable soap dispensers are the restroom soap dispenser that new soap is poured into for continual use. Refilling dispensers with soap is a practice used to reduce the waste of single-use plastic soap containers, but at what cost? These soap dispensers are prone to bacterial contamination. Health care settings with contaminated soap have caused several illness outbreaks. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we “do not add soap to a partially empty soap dispenser. This practice of “topping off” dispensers can lead to bacterial contamination of soap.” A recent study in the United States sampled 541 locations from five U.S. cities and reported 25% of bulk-soap-refillable dispensers in public restrooms are excessively contaminated.
Certain types of bacterial grow well in refillable dispensers. Bacteria found in soap dispensers will often remain on the users’ hands even after washing the soap off. The types of bacteria include fecal bacteria, which are tolerant of soap, and pseudomonas erogenous, which causes skin and eye infections. The study mentioned above concluded that washing with contaminated soap defeats the purpose of hand washing and contributes to the transmission of harmful bacteria.
The safest type of soap dispenser is a sealed-soap dispensing system. These systems are safest because the refilling process requires a sealed bag or cartridge of soap. Disposable cartridges contain an entirely new nozzle and require no refilling. They may not be the most environmentally friendly, but they are the most sanitary.
Why are soap-refillable dispensers worse than sealed-soap dispensers?
Soap-refillable dispensers contamination occurs during the refilling process. There are several ways germs can enter the soap container as the new soap fills the dispenser. Some of these potential contaminants include dirty hands, dirty water, or particles in the air during the refill process. Consider this: two open containers of soap with bacteria-contaminated air particles entering the bottles. At this point, the soap in the dispenser and the refill bottle’s soap are contaminated, beginning a cycle of continuous contamination. According to an article by CleanLink, Thom Wojtkun, market development director for GOJO Industries, noted that refillable dispensers are easy targets for vandals. Wojtkun called refillable dispensers with an open system “an unnecessary public health risk.”
25 things you should know about public restrooms
The Infographics Show on YouTube posted this quick video that explains contamination in public restrooms. Watch the video for a brief explanation of the refillable soap dispenser issue. The seventh fact shared in the video regards hand drying. Air driers blow bacteria off of hands, and these germs land on the surrounding areas. According to the video, jet hand driers have 27x the bacteria level of paper towel dispensers. The dirtiest place in a public restroom is almost always the sink.
Using public restrooms is unavoidable for most of us. We can restrict our usage of these spaces, but as the saying goes, “when you gotta go, you gotta go.” Thankfully, there are precautions we can take to make our experiences in these restrooms safer. We can bring our own soap in anticipation of contaminated soap. I know this may sound extra, but a 2oz hand soap from Sympol is only $2.49 and will fit in most purses and pant pockets. Not only does supplying your own soap save you from the bacteria-infested public soap, but it also allows you to choose your soap aroma. As we learned above, the sink and air dry are two other highly bacteria-infested locations. Bringing your travel soap is a step in the right direction, but the best way to protect yourself is by carrying hand sanitizer also. We always recommend using hand sanitizer after exiting a public restroom. Sympol hand sanitizer has 80% natural-grain ethanol, which kills 99.99% of germs.
We hope to bring this information to your attention so you can protect yourselves in these public spaces. Our bodies are full of bacteria, and our immune systems work to protect us from harmful bacteria. However, it is better to be safe than sorry. Share this story with people in your life who may not know about the potential bacteria in public restroom soap dispensers.