Can washroom soap make you sick?

19 September 2019

Hand washing is vitally important, however, some washroom soap can do more harm than good. Research shows that 1 in 4 refillable bulk soap dispensers is contaminated with unsafe levels of bacteria,(1) leaving hands with up to 25 times more germs after washing than before.(2)

What is bulk soap?

Bulk soap is typically poured from large containers into an open reservoir dispenser. When the lid of the reservoir is opened, washroom germs in the air can find a home, and bacteria from fecal matter and other sources can contaminate the soap.

This bacteria has a similar effect on the dispenser reservoir itself, helping to form a bacterial biofilm that coats the inside surface. Biofilms are very difficult to wash off or ‘kill’, even with bleach,3 and it is this staying power that means any new soap added to the dispenser risks becoming contaminated, continuing the unhealthy cycle. The threat that bulk fill soap poses to health and well-being has even been recognised by the World Health Organisation, which has issued guidelines against the practice4.

Sanitary sealed solution

The bacteria found in bulk soap are known as opportunistic pathogens, which can help to cause respiratory, eye, skin, blood and urinary tract infections. The young and elderly are most at risk from picking these up, but no-one is immune, which obviously has huge consequences for business owners and facility managers.

An outbreak of illness can cause severe disruption to services, production and output, in any facility, however a solution does exist. 

Sealed soap systems offer many advantages, especially when it comes to health outcomes. Refills that are factory sealed mean that the soap formulation inside is never exposed to the environment, so cross contamination from the air or other sources is prevented. 

Investing in hand hygiene systems is essential for any organisation that wants to improve the well-being of its employees and customers. Offering less stress, mess and increased healthiness, sanitary sealed soap systems provide the ideal solution. 

  1. Chattman M, Maxwell S, Gerba C. 2011. Occurrence of heterotrophic and coliform bacteria in liquid hand soaps from bulk refillable dispensers in public facilities. J Environ Health. 73(7):26-29.
  2. Zapka C, Campbell E, Maxwell S, Gerba C, Dolan M, Arbogast J, Macinga D. 2011. Bacterial hand contamination and transfer after use of contaminated bulk-soap-refillable dispensers. Appl Environ Microbiol. 77(9):2898-2904.
  3. Lorenz L, Ramsay B, Goeres D, Fields M, Zapka C, Macinga D. 2012. Evaluation and remediation of bulk soap dispensers for biofilm. Biofouling, 28(1): 99-109
  4. World Health Organisation (2009) WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Healthcare. Geneva, Switzerland. World Health Organisation Press

    Kerrie Doughty is trade marketing & communications manager, GOJO Industries-Europe Ltd​

    Tel: +44 (0)1908 588444