There’s No Soap!

July 1, 2003
Here’s How to Avoid That Problem
How many times do you hear that one of your washrooms is out of soap? This grievance is documented to be the No. 1 washroom patron complaint, especially in high-volume washroom environments. In response, you scramble together an unscheduled work order, take a custodian away from his/her regular duties, rush to the storeroom for soap, and ultimately service the washroom. Depending on the frequency of this “soap opera,” you may be expending a tidy sum in hidden operating and maintenance costs.Bulk Soap DispensersGenerally speaking, for new construction in buildings of all types, countertop or lavatory-mounted dispensers with under-counter soap containers are specified. Or, wall-mounted soap dispensers are selected. In both cases, these dispensers will dispense bulk soap available in a variety of formulas and price points. This equipment is not only the most attractive and durable, it is the most economical when purchasing soap on the open market. They do, however, require regular attention to keep them full. When selecting this type of dispenser, make certain they are designed for top-filling rather than having to inconveniently fill the vessel from under the counter or lavatory.In addition to stainless steel, there are a variety of bulk soap plastic models on the market which are not recommended for heavy-use and abuse washroom environments.Cartridge Soap DispensersSoap companies frequently offer “free” wall- or mirror-mounted plastic dispensers utilizing proprietary soap cartridges in exchange for long-term purchase contracts. In this instance, it’s not uncommon to see holes in the countertop as vestiges of the originally specified dispenser installation.One advantage of the cartridge format is that each “bag-in-a-box” of soap includes a new valve for dispensing reliability. Potential areas of concern include high soap cost, environmentally unfriendly over-packaging and excessive post-consumer waste, premature disposal of residual soap remaining in the cartridge, vandal-prone construction, and being inhibited from purchasing soap on the open market. These models also require regular attention to keep them full.Hands-FreeLeading the way towards the “automatic washroom,” the plumbing industry has been active in developing hands-free automatic faucets and urinal/toilet flush mechanisms. Along these lines, automatic soap dispensers are now available in countertop models with under-counter or wall-mounted soap containers. While new construction facilitates hard-wired installation, renovation retrofits can be battery-operated. Again, these dispensers require regular servicing to keep them full of soap.Vigil for High-Volume WashroomsIn summary, no conventional soap dispenser format will fully relieve the facility manager from scheduling constant attention to soap levels, most especially in high-volume washrooms (heavy-traffic administrative centers, colleges and universities, stadiums, transportation facilities, movie theaters, convention centers, and amusement parks). Alan Gettelman is director of marketing for North Hollywood, CA-based Bobrick Washroom Equipment Inc. (

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