Bacterial hand contamination and transfer after use of contaminated bulk-soap-refillable dispensers

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 May;77(9):2898-904. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02632-10. Epub 2011 Mar 18.


Bulk-soap-refillable dispensers are prone to extrinsic bacterial contamination, and recent studies demonstrated that approximately one in four dispensers in public restrooms are contaminated. The purpose of this study was to quantify bacterial hand contamination and transfer after use of contaminated soap under controlled laboratory and in-use conditions in a community setting. Under laboratory conditions using liquid soap experimentally contaminated with 7.51 log(10) CFU/ml of Serratia marcescens, an average of 5.28 log(10) CFU remained on each hand after washing, and 2.23 log(10) CFU was transferred to an agar surface. In an elementary-school-based field study, Gram-negative bacteria on the hands of students and staff increased by 1.42 log(10) CFU per hand (26-fold) after washing with soap from contaminated bulk-soap-refillable dispensers. In contrast, washing with soap from dispensers with sealed refills significantly reduced bacteria on hands by 0.30 log(10) CFU per hand (2-fold). Additionally, the mean number of Gram-negative bacteria transferred to surfaces after washing with soap from dispensers with sealed-soap refills (0.06 log(10) CFU) was significantly lower than the mean number after washing with contaminated bulk-soap-refillable dispensers (0.74 log(10) CFU; P < 0.01). Finally, significantly higher levels of Gram-negative bacteria were recovered from students (2.82 log(10) CFU per hand) than were recovered from staff (2.22 log(10) CFU per hand) after washing with contaminated bulk soap (P < 0.01). These results demonstrate that washing with contaminated soap from bulk-soap-refillable dispensers can increase the number of opportunistic pathogens on the hands and may play a role in the transmission of bacteria in public settings.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology*
  • Bacterial Infections / transmission*
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Environmental Microbiology*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Hand / microbiology*
  • Hand Disinfection
  • Humans
  • Schools
  • Serratia marcescens / isolation & purification*
  • Soaps*


  • Soaps