How to Properly Maintain and Disinfect Soap Dispensers

by Lawton Brothers | Apr 26, 2021

As cleanliness has become the top priority among businesses today, providing accommodations to properly clean one’s hands is essential. In many cases, this is effectively solved with a restroom in the facility that provides a place to wash and sanitize hands. We naturally assume that the place we wash our hands is clean, but there could be germs or other harmful agents lurking in the place you’d least expect it: the soap dispensers.

Soap comes out of it and we use that to wash our hands, so it really doesn’t matter, right? Wrong. According to studies conducted at the University of Arizona, certain types of bacteria will grow well in refillable dispensers and will remain on the users’ hands even after using the soap. Across several of his studies, microbiologist Dr. Gerba has found that 20-25% of bulk dispensers will have large quantities of bacteria at some point.

In most instances, bulk soap dispensers become contaminated during the refilling process. Ideally, these dispensers should be cleaned each time they are refilled, but as manufacturers report, this is an uncommon practice. The CDC recommends that a bulk dispenser be removed from the wall and washed upon every refill; even with proper disinfection between refills, however, soap dispensers can quickly become re-contaminated. 

Amidst these growing concerns of refillable soap dispensers and the public’s heightened awareness of cleaning practices today, we’re here to help you find the right unit, accessories, and cleaning practices to maintain a hygienic environment. 


When choosing a dispenser type, it’s important to consider everyday use. If a sink has few visitors, you can opt for manual dispensers such as bottled liquid soap or other countertop options. Is there enough room on the counter for it, or will you need a wall-mounted option? Is it a benefit to purchase a larger capacity dispenser that would need fewer refills, or is a space-saving smaller dispenser a better option? When choosing your soap dispenser, be sure to include the location, use, and capacity in your decision.

Types of Dispensers

Manual: These soap dispensers can be wall-mounted, counter-mounted, or countertop hand pumps. Without the need for batteries or electronic maintenance, these are a go-to in small businesses and large corporations alike. 

Automatic: This option helps reduce cross-contamination between users thanks to its touchless capability. 

Bag-in-Box: These can be manual or automatic and include a bagged soap inside a typically plastic case. These are common in high-traffic restrooms due to their simplicity and convenience. The collapsible bag reduces the chance of contamination as well as the potential for wasted product. 

Cartridge: Soap dispensers that take cartridges into the top and can be used for a variety of solutions. The different cartridges that can be used (sanitizer, soap, shampoo), make these dispensers the popular choice for hospitality and healthcare settings. These can also offer larger capacities, leading to fewer refills and less waste.

Refillable: While some of the other options mentioned are also refillable, this category specifically refers to those that use bulk liquid or foaming soap that is poured directly into the dispenser housing. This previously considered ‘economical’ option is now looked at as the poorest choice when it comes to sanitization and cleaning standards. 

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Dispenser

In addition to checking the level of the product, the unit should also be inspected routinely to ensure it is in proper working condition. Cracks or other damage to the case could cause improper alignment and can contribute to a leak or clog. It is nearly impossible to avoid a clog entirely, however, routine maintenance and use of the correct soap can make this an easy endeavor. 

In any soap dispenser, it is recommended that the valves be cleaned with hot water periodically. Particularly in refillable dispensers, the reservoir should also be cleaned on a regular basis. When it comes to clogs, the best solution is to put warm water into the unit and attempt to pump it out. Any additional cleaning products added to the reservoir can cause contamination of the soap or degrade the housing, so only soap or warm water should be placed in the dispenser. In any cleaning scenario, the tank should be removed from the unit or the unit from the wall.

Keeping the product and system uncontaminated is vital to the health of facility visitors. As such, sealed dispensing systems are the best choice in most scenarios as they ensure no outside contact or exposure prior to being dispensed. 

Questions about Your Soap or Dispensers?

When it comes to commercial cleaning, Lawton Brothers is a name you can trust. With over 75 years of experience, we’re here to answer any questions you have about maintaining your facility. We offer a variety of services, equipment, and products to support your business and keep you worry and germ-free. Call us today at: 800.432.0813 with your questions and ask us about a free audit!

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