Selecting a hand soap for your school should be a complicated decision. That may sound strange to you. Why should it be complicated? Unfortunately, many schools don’t make it complicated. Instead, they simply include their hand soaps in a massive bid with several vague specifications, like pink soap with cherry fragrance, and then pick the bidder with the lowest price. However, to make the best decision for the health of the students and staff, as well as the environment, it should be more complicated than that.
There are six factors you should consider when selecting a hand soap and dispenser combination for your school buildings:
1. Completely Avoid Antibacterial Hand Soaps
Antibacterial soaps are unnecessary for general student and staff use. There is now substantial research that indicates for normal handwashing, regular hand soap works just as well at removing dirt and germs from hand as antibacterial hand soaps. Plus, we do not need to continuously expose our children to antibacterial agents. I like to explain it by asking a few questions:
Question: “What is the purpose of an antibacterial soap?”
Typical Answer: “To kill the germs.”
Response: “That’s correct.”
Question: “Okay, what is the purpose of a hand soap?”
Typical Answer: “To wash dirt and germs off the skin.”
Final Question: “So, what difference does it make if the germs are alive or dead when they are washed off the hands and down the drain?”
Typical Answer: “hmm, I guess it doesn’t.”
The truth is, there really is no good reason why we should subject our kids to antimicrobial agents, such as triclosan, when it isn’t absolutely necessary. And one more thing, antibacterial soaps are more expensive than regular hands soaps, so it pays to stick with regular soaps.
2. Avoid Dyes.
There is absolutely no good reason to include a dye in a hand soap or hand sanitizer. None at all. You see dyes in all sorts of personal care products at the mass merchant. In almost all cases, that dye does nothing functionally for the product, except for get your attention. Kids are very sensitive to dyes these days. One of the most problematic dyes is red dye. Red dye is commonly used in cheap “pink soaps” available from every janitorial supply company. Always buy dye-free hand soaps and avoid the potential irritation and allergy risks that go along with dyes.
3. Pick your Fragrances Carefully, Or Avoid Them Completely
Fragrances are another very sensitive subject. Kids are very sensitive to smells and some fragrances can cause serious reactions. Plus, it is very challenging, almost impossible, to select a fragranced product that every product user will like. Some people don’t like citrus, some love it. Others don’t like lavender, some love it. It seems everyone really dislikes certain scents, but if you ask people what scents they really like, and they tend to struggle to articulate it. One thing I can guarantee is that whatever you pick, someone won’t like it. The best practice is to do one of two things:
- Conduct a trial of potential products with a sample group of students and staff. Collect and tabulate the results and pick the most favored product.
- Select a fragrance-free product and avoid the complication of a product trial and the risks associated with fragrances.
4. Go Green. It’s Easy and Inexpensive. But, Ask Vendors to Prove it.
Unfortunately, marketers of personal care products, such as hand soaps, have been too liberal with their “green” claims in the past. All soap is destined to go down the drain. So, from an environmental perspective, the biggest concerns are whether or not the product will be biodegradable and not kill aquatic life when it reaches a water shed. Since you can’t trust every “green” claim that you hear or read, you can quickly assess the validity of an environmental claim with hand soaps by asking one simple question….
Please provide me with the reports that indicate that your product is biodegradable and non-toxic to aquatic life.
Don’t settle for a simulation or modeled results. You want to see third party laboratory testing. You may see the sales person squirm when you ask this question, but at least you’ll know the truth…quickly.
5. Larger Refills Save Time and Money
One of the biggest mistakes a school can make, in terms of promoting hand hygiene, is to let dispensers become empty. The problem is often that in high-traffic sink locations, the soap refills don’t last very long. A great way to minimize the opportunity for dispensers to run dry is to use 2000 mL refills. Refills that last longer reduce the maintenance cost associated with serving that dispenser, plus there is less overall packaging, which can cut down on waste.
6. Go with Recyclable Packaging
Most schools now have great recycling programs, so this is a very logical rule but is often overlooked. Hand soap refills come in all shapes and sizes. To minimize the environmental impact a soap product has, select hand soap refills that are made with easily recyclable material such as PET or HDPE. Most of the flexible “bag” refills on the market are not recyclable. Avoid the bags and ask maintenance staff to place recyclable containers in recycle bins.
School purchasers have a lot of items they are responsible for buying and budgets are always tight. However, making an investment of time to select the right hand soap for your school can have substantial health benefits for students, for the environment, and can save your school money.