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Most Provocative OpenThread of 2011: Toiletry Dispensers—Eco-Friendly Or Unsanitary?

December 30, 2011 at 10:31 AM | by | ()

It's what you've been waiting all year for--The 2011 HotelChatter Awards! We'll be bringing you the best and worst of the year all day today and part of tomorrow. Agree or disagree with our picks? Air your thoughts in the comments below.

In August, we decided to resurrect an ever-popular topic of discussion—Toiletry Dispensers—and boy, were you guys full of ideas. This thread easily proved to be the most fruitful of the entire year, and why wouldn't it? What's a hotel bathroom without all its free soaps, gels, shampoos and creams?

But what we (and the hotels themselves) still haven't quite figured out is how to strike a balance between the eco-friendliness of dispensers and the luxury of individually packaged toiletries.

Many, many hotels—especially, smaller, more independent brands or sister brands—have gone over to the dark environmental side, installing dispensers in each and every shower (Aloft, Ace, Element, Viceroy and James, to name a few). As we see it, the conversation boils down to a question of sustainability: are hotels places to go and simply indulge, heedless of whatever environmental impact your stay might have? Or should we all be contributing to the evolution of greener, waste-efficient—and, of course, beautiful—hotels?

One reader bbphx dropped these stats about Phoenix's Clarendon Hotel and Suites in 2010:

"We currently dispose of 125,000 little plastic bottles per year.. most are only 1/4 to 1/2 used, sending loads of unused chemicals into our groundwater supply.  The caps of little bottles increase risks of slip/fall.  Again, this should be the law - shame on hotels that continue to carry small bottles past the end of this year!"

Fast-forward to 2011, and this reader voiced a continuing concern about the unsanitary nature of dispenser bottles:

"The dispensers are in a wetmoist location so waterborne bacteria will certainly arise.  Unless housekeeping cleans them thoroughly each day, which is unlikely, people will likely be infected. Just like mildew on the tiles."

When one commenter suggested hotels try cleaning out the dispenser bottles each time a new guest arrives (for fear of contaminated soaps/shampoos being left in the bottle), another reader fired back this response:

"I think some people are confused.  When you refill a dispenser you refill from the top.  And when someone pumps product from the dispenser they are pumping from the bottom. Twist off the top and see that tube attached to the pump...yes, the one that reaches all the way to the bottom of the bottle.  The product pumps through that tube, which is at the bottom, which means the product is properly dispensed according to when it was added to the bottom.  Refill from the top, dispense from the bottom.  

That said, the argument of old product being left in the bottle and only new product being dispensed is baseless. You're just mad because you can't take them home with you!"

Amen, brother! Luckily, we're letting hotels take their time with their toiletry dispenser decisions. As our list of 2012 hotel resolutions showed, we're more concerned with things like hotel art, free wifi and paperless check-ins. It's a long road to the perfect hotel.

Archived Comments:


I'd like to continue to chime in about this topic, since it's one I'm very passionate about.  If someone is really concerned over bacteria ON the dispensers, they just need to make sure they wash their bodies with the soap IN the dispensers.  Also, they should be just as concerned with having their bodies near shower curtains and the walls of the shower, as I'd venture to guess that most housekeepers don't scrub those very often.

Also, rather than refillable dispensers, there are ones from Sweden with hermetically sealed vacuum refill bags, that's what we use (from GroupeGM through TY Linens), so we think they're more sanitary.

The biggest thing here is our fresh water, energy, landfills and groundwater.  Wall mount product dispensers require less fumbling with tiny bottles (that many guests cannot even read, especially if they wear corrective eye wear!) resulting in shorter showers and less cleaning up of gooey bottles, so that's the savings in water and energy.  

Those tiny bottles come in boxes that come in cases that come on pallets that are shrink wrapped and come on big trucks from a warehouse where all the components came on big trucks from many different warehouses, so that's more energy saved and fewer dumpsters and less landfill space used.  Those bottles are usually mostly full, so there's less chemical leaching into our groundwater, rivers, and oceans.

Finally, there's a savings on payroll, trash disposal and insurance... payroll from less time to clean a bathroom and re-stocking, trash disposal because we use about 12 fewer dumpsters a year, and insurance because our insurance company gave us a nice discount because no bottles = reduced slip and fall claims when people drop the bottles and slip on them and their tiny caps.

So, in closing, our annual savings come to about $309 per room per year... in reduced product costs, reduced water, reduced natural gas, reduced payroll, reduced insurance, reduced waste disposal, etc.  Take a 500 room hotel and that's $154,500 a year in savings!!!  That's huge.

My big beef is that since franchises make money off of franchisees at every corner, including % of amenities, stationary, FF&E, linens, etc., etc. they're very reluctant to move to wall mount dispensers as it results in reduced income for the brand, which is just shameful and unethical and downright irresponsible.

Then again, 2012 is now being coined as "The Year the Franchise Died", the proof is in the data: independent non-franchised business growth is outpacing branded-growth like never before... and there's probably a big reason: brand greed that doesn't offer a proven ROI.


i do prefer the bottles because i feel they are more sanitary and i like to take them home. however, reading the environmental stats above, i feel guilty.

my other major issue with dispensers is that unless it's something crap like dove, the dispensers aren't labelled. now, if a hotel was to install a dispenser and label it as filled with aromatherapy associates/bliss/l'occitane, my hatred of dispensers might dissipate entirely. in fact, i might even learn to travel with little bottles i can fill myself.

it's just that at the moment, in certain properly green hotels (LEED certificates etc), i totally understand/accept dispensers. but in others, it seems less like an environmental thing, more like a money saving thing, along with the towel washing cards. either go really green or don't pay lipservice to greenness in a way that will hit my hotel toiletry obsession.

An elegant, customizable, tamper proof dispenser?

Based on the information from the readers the environment  and guest safety, as well as brand recognition are key factors if moving towards a dispenser. Having a momento where a nice feature is secondary minimizing Carbon footprint.
There is one company in California that recently created a dispenser fixture for hospitality that is locking, tamper resistant stainless steel, and is completly brandable to most amenity products.

Launched last March the Aquamenities Amenity Station has already been installed in several Destination Resort as well as Kimpton properties and recently The Roger New York.  Guest Reponse has been positive and dramatic.  

In order to keep the momento seekers happy, Hotels are offering the fixture in the shower and a Small bottle of hand lotion at the counter.

The fixture takes  up to 1000 bottles and over 5 gallons of partially used product out of landfills every year. Its stainless steel parts limit bacteria growth and its bottles assure that guest feel that the bottles are always full but housekeeping has the opportunity to know when it is time to refill.