Soap dispensers in public toilets could have deadly bacteria inside, study finds

A new study has found that soap dispensers in pubic toilets could be hiding deadly bacteria inside.

The scientific research, which was conducted by Dr Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona, came to this conclusion after testing the inside of  soap dispensers from 296 different food establishments across Arizona, New Jersey and Ohio.

The professor and germ specialist found of these soap dispensers tested, that 15 per cent contained harmful bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant E. coli and salmonella.

Additionally discovered by the team was klebsiella oxytoca, a superbug that attacks the skin and flesh. In some circumstances this latter bacteria can also be deadly.

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These findings suggest that liquid soap cannot necessarily safeguard against dangerous bacteria, despite the fact it is a cleaning, antimicrobial agent.

The risk is allegedly higher when using refillable bulk-soap dispensers, as seen commonly in fast food restaurants and grocery shops, as they may be less frequently cleaned.

These soap dispensers have been deemed a 'public health concern' by Dr Gerba, who has warned that by providing an environment for bacteria to grow, their use could lead to non-foodbourne disease outbreaks.

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The American professor stated that although these larger soap dispensers are cheaper for food establishments to purchase in bulk, the danger of harmful bacteria entering them is greater. He said: 'These water-low solid formulations may be less expensive to manufacture, but they are more likely to be contaminated.

‘Fast food and grocery stores are more likely to be contaminated than convenience stores; this may be because in the former, there is less maintenance and management oversight in the bathrooms, whereas convenience stores typically have small bathrooms that are cleaned frequently.'

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The germ expert also suggested that cleaning public soap dispensers in between refilling might not even make much of a difference to the presence of germs: ‘Cleaning in between soap refills might not prevent recontamination, and difficult to clean biofilms (cluster or germs) may develop.'

And that's not all - apparently bacteria risk could also be present in at-home soap dispensers!?

So what can we do to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria within our own homes?

Read more: The hidden health danger in your washing machine you need to know about

Ralitsa Prodanova, a cleaning expert with Fantastic Services, spoke to Metro to share their advice: 'If you’re refilling a dispenser in your kitchen or bathroom, it should be cleaned meticulously each and every time to stop the growth of bacteria either inside it or on it.'

Prodovoa also warned against adding water to the bottle when you're running out of soap: 'Using a soap formulation which is diluted can also result in the anti-bacterial agents being ineffective.'

So make sure you wash the soap dispensers within your home regularly and with care.

And next time you're in a public bathroom, maybe think twice about using the soap if it's coming out from a bulk dispenser?


Freelance Lifestyle Writer

Niamh McCollum is a freelance lifestyle writer who has written for Future titles GoodTo and Marie Claire UK, plus the Irish Independent. The Dublin-based journalist specialises in stories 

affecting families - from health updates, to the freshest parenting debates and celebrity announcements.