How to Maintain Your Commercial Soap Dispensers

22 August 2023

Soap Dispenser Maintenance

Does it really matter what soap you use?

  Not all soaps are the same. Firstly, there are liquid soaps and foam soaps, both of these start out as a liquid, but the foam soap has a foaming agent which is aerated when dispensed through the pump, i.e., has air injected into it to give it the foamy consistency. The liquid soap is not altered during the dispensing process. This means that it’s important to use the correct pump for the choice of soap. We recognize the importance of this and ensure all of our soap dispensers specify whether it is suitable for liquid or foam formulations.

The choice of liquid or foam is often down to personal preference. Foam soap is often seen as more cost effective as less formulation is used with each dispense. The ‘pre-lathered’ soap could also require less water to lather and rinse which is a further cost saving for businesses. The environmental benefits may also go further in that foam soaps are considered to break down quicker meaning that less soap enters the drainage system. With all this being said, liquid soap is preferred by many as it simply feels more effective for washing our hands.

A further formulation we need to consider is hand sanitizer; this generally requires a liquid style pump unless the formulation specifically specifies something else.

While liquid or foam pumps are our standards, other pumps are available such as spray or creams etc.


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. 

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. 

5 Common Hand Hygiene Dispenser Problems & How to Solve Them

Problem 1: Broken Hand Soap or Sanitizer Pump 

On many manual dispensers, one of the most common reasons the dispenser is not working is because the hand pump has malfunctioned.

Solution: How to Repair a Broken Pump on Hand Soap or Sanitizer Dispensers 

When a pump isn’t working, it’s usually because the spring is broken.

On a spring-loaded hand hygiene dispenser, when you push downwards or inwards on the pump, air is pushed into the soap reservoir. This creates a vacuum in the reservoir, and when the pump retracts, soap is sucked into the tube and released onto your hand.

Springs can become jammed or break over time. They also break with aggressive use.

If you notice the spring isn’t properly functioning, like it is locking or not offering resistance when you push on it, you’ll need to reach out to your sales rep or the dispenser manufacturer for further instructions or potential dispenser replacement.

Problem 2: Broken Sensor on Automatic Hand Soap or Sanitizer Dispenser

Automatic hand hygiene dispensers may be malfunctioning if the sensor, which tells the dispenser to release soap or sanitizer, is not sensing that there is a hand in front of it.

You’ll be able to tell if this is the case if you place your hand in front of the pump and it does not release any soap or sanitizer.

Solution: How to Repair Sensor on Automatic Soap or Sanitizer Dispensers 

If you are experiencing this issue, the first thing to check is the sensor area. The sensor area might be obstructed by soap or sanitizer residue. Clean the area, removing any visible residue, and test the unit.

Pro Tip: Do not use abrasive cleaners on the dispenser or cartridge. They can cause damage.

Another simple and common reason guests or staff may assume the hand hygiene dispenser is broken is because the battery’s life has run out or the batteries have been improperly installed.

To avoid this, look for an automated dispenser that has visual battery level displays or alerts. On some automated dispensers, there will be a visible light on the body of the dispensers displaying that it requires new batteries. Other dispensers can be IoT (internet-of-things) connected and actually send alerts to staff letting them know the dispenser is out of battery.

Other reasons the sensor may not be working include that the user’s hand may be too far away. Make sure to test the unit by placing your hand within range. In most cases, this is about 2-2.5 inches from the dispenser.

Finally, the lighting in the bathroom or area where the dispenser is placed can affect how the sensor reacts to hands. If the lighting has recently changed in the area where the dispenser is placed, try moving the dispenser or testing in different lighting.

Problem 3: Not Enough Soap or Sanitizer is Dispensed 

When soap or sanitizer is not being dispensed at the optimal amount, guests can react poorly to having to wait or pump the dispenser multiple times.

Solution: How to Adjust the Level of Soap or Sanitizer Dispensed 

Dispensers can be dispensing less product than usual for a couple of reasons.

The most frequent reason soap is not dispensed or too little is dispensed is that the refill is empty, or it is loaded incorrectly. To correct this, replace the refill cartridge.

If there is a full refill, that has been inserted correctly, the level of soap or sanitizer released can also be affected if the nozzle or spout is clogged. Some liquid soaps and sanitizers may slowly dry up and clog the nozzle or spout, especially with light use. Check to see if the pump is clogged.

Pro Tip: Remember that pumps will need to be primed before dispensing.

On automatic hand hygiene dispensers, a low battery level can affect how much soap or sanitizer is being dispensed.

Problem 4: Leaking Hand Sanitizer Dispenser 

Hand sanitizer dispensers, whether freestanding or mounted to a wall or other area, can sometimes leak onto the floor. This happens as a result of malfunctioning dispensers and when a user puts their hand under the sanitizer dispenser but pulls away too quickly.

A sanitizer that drips onto the floor or the area below the dispenser can be dangerous and even damaging. For example, it can be corrosive to floor finishes, creating a costly mess.

Solution: How to Stop Hand Sanitizer Dispensers From Dripping 

Most dispensers will drip at one point or another, however, it is not normal for your dispenser to consistently drip.

If your hand sanitizer dispenser is dripping very frequently, there is likely a problem with how the cartridge or refill was inserted. Remove the cartridge and reinsert the cartridge. If the cartridge continues to leak, then you’ll need to insert a new cartridge replacement.

Sometimes, no matter how much time or effort you put into selecting the right dispenser, hand sanitizer can still end up on the floor and surrounding areas.

To prevent floor damage, consider installing a drip tray.

Drip trays are attached right below the dispenser. They are designed to catch excess sanitizer that drips when a user removes their hands too quickly. A drip tray can also be used to catch sanitizer when a dispenser is faulty.

You may also look into matting that is designed to surround the bottom of the dispenser. These mats act similarly to the drip trays and catch excess sanitizer.

Problem 5: Leaking Hand Soap Dispenser 

Unlike when hand sanitizer dispensers leak, they are not dripping onto the floor but into the sink or onto the counter. This presents its own host of issues.

When soap dispensers begin to leak, they not only cause an extra mess to clean up but can make your bathroom look messy and unprofessional.

Solution: How to Stop Hand Soap Dispensers from Dripping

Soap dispensers can either have the soap reservoir above or below the pump.

If your soap dispenser has a soap reservoir above the pump, your dispenser might be leaking due to a loose valve or seal. In many instances, this can be from either improper installation or soap build-up.

Remove the soap cartridge and check to see if there is any soap residue where the reservoir meets the pump and remove.

If the soap cartridge is beneath the counter or hand pump, soap has to be drawn up to the nozzle or spout.

On these dispensers, the main reason for soap dripping is when soap residue has built upon the nozzle or spout and created a poor seal. Replace the cartridge.

Fixing and/or avoiding the most common hand hygiene dispenser problems helps promote regular handwashing and encourages the consistent use of hand sanitizer to reduce the spread of germs.

Always check your dispensers to make sure they are adequately stocked with soap or sanitizer. Many times people or employees can mistake a broken dispenser for one that is simply out of soap or sanitizer.

One of the easiest ways to avoid empty soap or sanitizer dispensers is to look for automated touch-free solutions. Automated touchless hand hygiene dispensers often offer visible blinking or colored lights that indicate to staff that the dispenser is empty, helping your cleaning team fix any soap or sanitizer outages more quickly.

Fewer empty soap and sanitizer dispensers encourage frequent hand washing and also lowers occupant or guest complaints.

Soap and sanitizer dispensers, like anything else mechanical, will eventually wear out.


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