Jim Norowski

By: Jim Norowski on July 16th, 2021

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5 Common Hand Hygiene Dispenser Problems & How to Solve Them

Are you having trouble with the hand soap or sanitizer dispensers in your facility? Don’t worry, many facilities experience problems with their dispensers at one time or another. 

Depending on the system, your soap or sanitizer dispenser could be affected by a variety of issues causing it to malfunction. 

Luckily, there are several simple ways to troubleshoot an out-of-service soap or sanitizer dispenser. In many cases, the cause of a malfunctioning dispenser can be easily fixed. 

Keeping your hand hygiene dispensers in working condition at all times is critical to occupant health and safety.

As we were reminded during the Coronavirus pandemic, hand hygiene is an integral component to combating the spread of germs. 

Promoting handwashing and the frequent use of hand sanitizer will keep your guests protected against common illness-causing germs, like the cold and flu, that linger inside your facility year-round. 

Below, we’ll tackle the most common problems with hand soap and sanitizer dispensers and offer insight on how to fix them. 

Before troubleshooting with the methods below, first check to make sure that your soap or hand sanitizer dispenser is not empty and that the cartridge is properly installed. While seemingly simple, this is one of the most commonly overlooked things that causes people to think that dispensers are broken, when in fact they just need to be refilled or properly installed. 

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 

Internal Pump SpringWhen 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: No or Too Little 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. 

Sanitizer Drip TrayTo 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. 


Final Thoughts

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. If the dispensers in your facility are prone to issues, you may want to consider looking into newer, more reliable dispensers. 

Reach out to an EBP Account Executive today to find out more about some of the most innovative hand hygiene products and skincare dispensing systems

About Jim Norowski

Jim Norowski is the Senior Category Manager, Chemical, Equipment, and Supplies at EBP Supply Solutions. With over 20 years of janitorial sales and service experience, his extensive background and knowledge allows him to help customers in the Northeast to Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States select the right items to help their business shine.