Hotels Need to Stop the Shampoo Wall Dispenser Madness

Marriott is enforcing wall mounted toiletry dispensers in the showers of their managed North American properties. They’re not the only ones going in this direction, it’s cheaper and they get to pretend their motivation is the environment.

I have five concerns with wall mounted dispensers replacing individual bottles.

  1. Authenticity While some upscale hotels in China have been known to distribute counterfeit branded toiletries even in individual bottles to save money, it’s far more likely that you’re getting what’s on the bottle when it’s in the bottle versus just refilled into a branded package on the wall. You don’t know what you’re really getting when you don’t see the package.

  2. Security Previous hotel guests might find it funny to put something other than shampoo or bath gel in the bottles, or to mix them up. Last year someone replaced the soap in dispensers at the Detroit airport with bodily fluid and you don’t know who was staying in your room before you.

  3. Germs I just don’t believe that the dispensers themselves get thoroughly cleaned and sterilized between guests. Here’s a National Institutes of Health study on bacterial contamination of bulk-soap-refillable dispensers.

  4. Availability Housekeeping just doesn’t refill these, the way it’s obvious when a bottle has been opened or is missing.

  5. Experience. It’s not a premium experience. There’s no ‘take away’ to remember the stay.
    Indeed I use shampoo and bath gel at home that I discovered at a hotel, I imagine many of you do too.

I stayed at the same Marriott Courtyard two weeks in a row last month and was assigned the same room both times. My bath gel was empty throughout my first stay, and it was still empty a week later. In fairness they say they’re moving to more transparent dispensers where it will be easier for housekeeping to see when top off is required, however I haven’t found that to actually work.

For the past few days I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington in Renton outside of Seattle for the second time this year. It is a gorgeous hotel, on the water, and right next to the Boeing factory so many rooms have a view of planes waiting for their finishing touches.

A post shared by Gary Leff (@garyleff) on

This hotel has wall mounted toiletries too, C.O. Bigelow.

There are two things they’ve done that should in theory address my concerns.

  • First a guest cannot simply pop the top and put something inside. They’re ‘locked into place’. But that means it’s more effort for housekeeping to refill the bottles.

  • Second the very bottom of the bottles is transparent so housekeeping can see easily when it’s time for a top up. Note that it’s only the bottom of the bottles, so expect you may run low even if they’re taking their queue from this transparent window.

Unfortunately during my stay I checked in and the bath gel was empty. And it wasn’t refilled at all during my three night stay.

By the way I have long liked C.O. Bigelow, but I’m not inclined to have the same affinity for the stuff when it’s in a wall mounted dispenser. They’re also in American Airlines lavatories. Is it strange this makes me downgrade my estimation of C.O. Bigelow while upgrading my estimation of American’s (pre-Project Oasis) lavs?

Wall dispensers do not work. Stop the madness.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary we I think will have to get use to this trend. I regularly stay at the Hyatt Lake Washington many months ago the GM wrote me asking my opinion of the soap dispensers. I have no real issue with them as long as there is security as you have pointed out.

    Another alarming issue is the A Loft at SEATAC does not provide newspapers in the am. I asked the GM about this and she said that SPG under their brand does not require newspapers when I wrote SPG something. Yet another nickel and dime from operators.

  2. Gary, you may use products at home that you found at a hotel but I have almost never found anything at a hotel that I consider decent. I find most products to be far too scented and rough on the skin and hair. I always take my own products with me when I travel. Yes, I know. TSA hassle with liquids but I usually check in a bag since I hate the scrum at the gate and often board last with no carry-on. Different strokes for different folks.

  3. @Ghostrider

    You don’t need a newspaper when you have a smart phone. What a trivial thing to complain about, especially from an Loft hotel, where it’s aimed at millennial’s & “minimalism”.

  4. My latest snafu was a housekeeper had accidentally put shampoo in the conditioner. So two shampoos, no conditioner. When you discover the issue, you are at the end of the shower and it’s incredibly hard to get rectified.

  5. At lower end properties I am fine with them and actually like them. Especially for 100+ night travelers – the environmental impact is big and I carry a lot of guilt. I sometimes travel with my own bottles from Mujiwhich are great for after shave, face soap, body wash etc.

    The Muji tubes are awesome – highly recommend:
    http://www.muji.us/store/pe-tube-30g.html

  6. Folks you should be worried about bed germs instead. I don’t want to be in any bed that has had bodily fluids on it. You can’t wash a mattress.

    If the soap is locked in place that all that is needed. It is soap. It kills germs.

    I would use that said soap and wash the phone receiver, buttons on alarm clock and TV remote. Those are the items that never get maintained.

  7. I wrote to Marriott and told them of my opposition.

    I have also decided not to stay at any Marriotts unless absolutely necessary. I fear that this won’t be enough.

    Write to Marriott. Write in different ways, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

  8. I also don’t understand what the fuzz is all about. I always carry my less than 100ml bottle of shampoo and facial soap.
    And how about pretty much all the airport lounges offering these kind of toiletries? I have just left the Star Alliance shower at LAX and it was not a very good set up like these C.O. Bigelow that AA have at the Flagship / Admirals Club out there.
    I think the only place I have seen soap and shampoo is in the Latam lounge at GRU.

  9. I was staying at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington two weeks ago and the soap was empty on my second night and never refilled. I even placed the steel container for the cotton balls over the soap dispenser handle to alert housekeeping. The maid didn’t get the clue. These soap dispensers are worthless.

  10. I’m torn on this one. I love walking away with high-end toiletries (some of which I’ve since purchased). I also agree with your hygienic points above.

    That said, as a species, we use FAR, far, far too much PLASTIC. It is undeniably in our oceans at alarming rates, and it’s polluting the very places we all strive to visit using points and miles. (*cough* Bali plastic *cough*)

    We all should strive to use less plastic, especially the single use kind. This is is low hanging fruit (that also happens to save money). FWIW, I find the individual bars of soap incredibly wasteful.

    If hotels can do it in a way that the Hyatt Seattle did, I’m good with it. If they do it like the Element NYC that I just stayed at, where I didn’t know which dispenser had body wash or shampoo (no labels), then I’ll take a hard pass.

  11. Meh I haven’t heard of anyone getting killed by this… I’d rather they cut down the waste.

  12. One could make the same claim about facial tissue dispensers. Having a guest put something dangerous in a shower dispenser seems far fetched. Hotels obviously know who stays in each room. Also, nothing prevents hotels from refilling partially used bottles. And a prior guest could put a harmful substance in a bottle that appears unopened to staff and the next guest. The world will survive the introduction of wall mounted dispensers for shower amenities.

  13. I agree. This is nickel and diming madness. Marriott has even said that a typical 150 room hotel will save all of $1000/yr going with these dispensers. Are they really worried about the $1000 in savings if I take my $5000+/yr. annual spend (at this one particular Marriott) business to Hilton?

  14. If enough people request “sealed toiletries” to be brought up to the room at these hotels, the extra cost to them will ensure that the sealed toiletries are back.

    And couldn’t agree more. These are positively disgusting.

  15. The easy solution, of course, is to bring your own travel-sized shampoo and conditioner. And nearly every hotel still provides a bar of soap.

  16. 1. Most “green” certifications reward this over single use throways. Just like the dumb “green” notes in hotels about saving shamu by not giving you new towels this is all operational savings under the guise of “green”
    2. Germs aren’t worse. Hotels are about as disgusting as you can get, perhaps second to commercial airlines. Adding a sterile item to a dirty room accomplishes nothing. Thankfully, the human body seems to be amazing at defending against threats.
    3. We’re all sheep. Until we vote with our wallets this will only get worse. This is where things like AirBNB’s disruption of hotels is the best shot of convincing hotels that going to the basic economy model of airlines is a bad idea.

  17. I like the dispensers. I am not in a shower while the little bar of soap I was supposed to use *once* is still wrapped up on the counter. I like the abundance of shampoo when I want it and I feel good that whatever I didn’t use is not wasted.

  18. I dislike the little ones so much plastic for two table spoons of product.. Any unused left in these bottles I pack in my suitcase to reuse at next hotel to minimize waste. Yes i am sure you are right this like other “green” trends are just a way of saving money and environmental benefits are bonus, but given the total disregard for our planet by most people occupying it, I’ll take the incidental green benefits of these actions at the risk that perhaps someone has accidentally filled my conditioner container with shampoo, or somehow the germs on the soap dispenser located inside a showe are worse than all the germs that surround me in the hotel room., on the plane in the lounge, or in the cab.

  19. I believe in science. Although the link Gary cites is only one paper, it shows that for unsealed soap containers there is are 26 times more gram negative bacteria on the hands of students and teachers after washing. And in general, if the soap container is a sealed non refillable one, the amount of germs on the hands is significantly reduced. More studies are needed, but from my point of view, refillable contained should be outlawed — or are we going to wait for one terrible incident that hospitalizes hundreds and kills a few hotel guests that is traced back to a contaminated refillable soap dispenser. It can’t cost more than a dollar or two to do the right thing here. Do the right thing.

  20. I think it’s great. No one needs those little plastic bottles. I like them. I enjoy having a sample size from every hotel. But they are just creating more waste. The thing about change and sacrifice is that they aren’t fun. But we can’t just keep dumping things at this rate. If you want to enjoy going to places that aren’t clogged with plastic waste you have to accept some change. This one is pretty minimal.

  21. Another thing to consider. Many travelers I know take home the left over stuff to donate to homeless shelters. Not anymore.

    Many hotels work with charities to donate partially used items as well.

  22. ben senise:

    Um, I think the different strokes from different folks is exactly what Gary’s worried about.

  23. @Gary: during your stay did you contact either housekeeping or the front desk to get the shower gel refilled, or did you just take a “wait and see” attitude?

    Also, to be honest, I don’t care what toiletries are in the hotel. I don’t use anything other than the bar of soap, and even that comes with me to re-use until it’s gone. They could put “premium” shampoo and shower gel in tiny crystal decanters, but that’s not going to make my stay any better or worse.

    Slow wifi? That’s going to make me upset. Wall mounted dispensers? Meh.

  24. Listen up, folks. When you are in a public restroom do you press the soap dispenser button when washing your hands? I’ll bet you do. (I hope you do.) Well there are about ten thousand times the number of people touching that as there are touching the soap dispenser in your hotel shower.

    Jeesh, and I thought I was a germophobe!

  25. I’ve complained and I get the ‘environmental BS from the hotel…
    The only way I know to break them of this nasty policy is to empty the dispensers….takes a little time, (and a bunch of pumps) but if enough of us do it, it will cost them more and maybe they will come to their senses.

    be sure to complain on the surveys you get after your stay….Those seem to get attention.

  26. I usually take my own and just take those to donate to homeless shelter. I just stayed stay a Four Points who had the wall dispenser and smelled too masculine good for a man but not a female.

  27. When I was in grade school the bad kids would pee in the soap dispensers as a practical joke. I hope no bad kids stay at Marriott.

  28. I just checked into the Brice in Savannah and they have large free standing containers that anyone can take down off the shelf and whatever they want. Its cheap, unsanitary, and totally disrespectful of the guest. Going to CVS and buy my own…shame on the Brce and Inassume all Kimtons

  29. I hate the big common dispensers for all the reasons above. I love the idea of emptying them. Also of calling down to ask for the little individual ones. I do carry my own, but also donate the little ones to the shelters at home. And I do buy brands I find that I like. I’ve been using a shampoo from a hotel for several years now, and would like to buy a lotion I found but it’s being sold for $1 a small bottle (!). It’s that good and that popular, from a Marriott. I sure hope they don’t give up on it!

  30. Frankly, with everything that is going on in the world, most of these comments make me ill. What the hell is that matter with you people. Bring your own toiletries with you. I spent some money and bought the silicone travel sizes. I fill them up before I leave. Have you all had your heads in the sand? Have you seen the problems with plastic on this planet? I forgot, this is the ME generation, and as long is people don’t suffer any discomfort, like not having enough f’ing conditioner in the brand that they like, then all is good in the world. There is something wrong with this world, and I can tell by reading this thread that we are in BIG trouble.

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