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.

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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, 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. So this morning at a Courtyard, I shampooed my hair and then tried to pump out the conditioner and just as I had predicted would happen, the damn thing was empty and all because the hotels (YES MARRIOTT) has decided to make our stays less welcoming by taking away the little bottles which I have the ability to look at and see if they are full.

    As a lifetime titanium member with marriott, I want good customer service. If these damn hotels are going to charge resort fees, parking charges, destination charges then I am ENTITLED (and no I’m not a milinnial) to good service and these damn bottles on the wall are NOT good service.

  2. BTW the study you cited included this statement
    “All of the contaminated dispensers were replaced with sealed-soap-dispensing systems after the first phase of the field hand washing study. After 1 year postinstallation, all of the soap dispensed from the sealed-soap dispensers was confirmed to be contamination free.” AND if you will note there is NO indication of illness related to the “contamination” – you’d be shocked if you looked at the bacteria on your kitchen sponge, counter, or on any door knob.
    Now, the issue of unfilled containers is one that the property needs to address – perhaps a point penalty or cash credit for not doing their job properly?

  3. Point penalty is great once you are out of the shower. However if you are in the shower, soaking wet, hair with shampoo and the conditioner is empty, well points really dont help.

    By the way, exactly what happened to me.

  4. I’m sorry your precious egos have to take a hit and be “inconvenienced” by a major corporation taking the massive plastic problem seriously. There is an island of plastic bigger than Texas floating through the Pacific. Oh but heaven forbid you get some germies.

  5. I haven’t seen any tree huggers begging for their plastic water bottles to be taken, or their plastic I PHONE covers to be taken or their plastic sunglasses or anything else made of plastic…

    This is the same deal as taking away the plastic bags from consumers….it’s all about making the egos of those corporation feel better about themselves pretending to give a damn about the environment.

    Its all about bottom line….just like the bogus resort fees….BS!

  6. Think about the impact all those single use plastic bottles have on the environment. Really this is a move in the right direction.


  8. Perhaps you haven’t seen any of the documentaries showing tiny plastic lids being cut out of fish or birds… I own in the hospitality industry and the amount of waste can be insane. If someone throws a tissue in a waste can the trash bag is removed. No body uses an entire “little” bottle in their one night stay. If the guest does not take the bottle, it is trashed… not re-used, not shared … TRASH — It’s a huge waste. If you enter into your hotel room at a nice establishment remember that the owners, staff, and housekeepers are people too, and if they have forgotten to refill your soap a simple phone call to the staff requesting what you may need and they are surely happy to fix their error. Stop being wasteful. I applaud all who choose a less wasteful method in their establishments. Every human should begin this practice in their travels as well as their homes.
    ~ a proactive inn keeper

  9. All I eat are small hotel shampoo bottles. They are packed with nutrition and delicious. I haven’t had a thing to eat since they put this mean rule in place. Thanks a lot, Marriott.

  10. I care about the environment. For the past 15 years, I only drink tap water, never bottled. I always drive for business instead of flying if my company will allow it. I recycle even though my neighborhood does not have recycling which is a lot of effort to pack sort, save and then load and drive it elsewhere. I really do try and yet I travel most weeks of the year and I’m tired of this wall dispenser nonsense. Soap gets caked onto the bottles or the edges of the dispenser. At IHG the tops of the containers are easily openable and I feel uncomfortable using them. They are often empty as well. My overall experience has been downgraded. I enjoyed my own little container of various brands of soaps and such. I also further donate each bottle that I use to homeless. Hotels are already doing self check in, mostly only one person working on site after 8pm at mid priced hotels, many amenities gone, sheets are rarely changed between guests and prices are rising and now this. I’m getting so tired of this. I would sleep in my car if I could I’m getting so irritated at the overall hotel experience these days. I believe that this is good for the environment but, I really hate the experience.

  11. I am in the hospitality business. I feel the industry is going in the direction of dispensers and it will be required soon. We will not have a choice. I can assure you that the motivation is not for money, especially those with a Bed and Breakfast or inn. Our hearts are bigger than that. Our true concern is our guests and protecting our environment. I see lots of people making statement on how they can sabotage this effort. If we don’t do something to help, the result will be no toiletries and people will be required to bring their own. This is an added amenity not a requirement. We love providing this for you. I know, I have spent hours trying to offer a quality product in a sanitary manner. The waste is real and we do need a process to reduce the harm it is causing. Feedback on solutions or ideas would be would be much more beneficial if we want to make progress in this area.

  12. Just came across this older article. I cannot help but notice that some people are pretty passionate but don’t really have actual rational arguments. I appreciate dispensers because I appreciate a company taking the right steps, regardless of what the motivation is. I also am able to grasp the very basic difference between plastics being used in general in our society for multi use items and plastics being used for one use disposable items. Having worked in both food service and hospitality there is a tremendous amount of waste and anywhere we can cut down on that is a win, even if it’s only a small one. Appreciate anyone getting rid of those ridiculous tiny bottles that some people seem to think they are “entitled” to.

    Especially since having long hair means that one bottle does not quite last me two showers and dispenser means I can just use the amount of product I need to use without leaving half of it in a tiny bottle and having to use multiples for a shower. The argument I usually hear here is that people just like the experience of having tiny little samples just for them and I think we all like taking the extras home with us. But just because I enjoy that experience doesn’t mean I can’t understand that it’s really not the best choice.

    So please, continue with the madness.

  13. And once again just last week, no soap inn the dispenser….leaving a bar or two of soap around the room wont kill the environment and I really wish the lazy jerks at marriott would see to it that house keeping fill those damn dispensers.

  14. What a bunch of first world problems, all because the little whiner can’t condition his $80 haircut.. Try being homeless, where shampoo, bottled water, showers, all that crap, are a luxury, not something to make a phone call and complain about. I really wish when petty people are complaining, they at least do a little spell check, as opposed to slamming a generation they are too old to claim, or blaming the world for their grand misfortune. In my experience, the older the generation, the more spoiled and thoughtless they are about the environment. I am in my late 50’s, so I know of what I speak. Never owned a car, so take my carbon footprint, put that in your dispenser and pump it!

  15. I really don’t see how the bigger communal dispensers are saving the environment when people can use as much product as they want because they’re not limited by bottle size. In turn, these bigger bottles may have to be changed out more often which will not be eliminating the plastice in landfills problem. They may even exacerbate the problem. If corporations want to help the environment, they may want to find a compostable container option in which to put their shampoo, conditioner, and soap in, or switch to bars for the shampoo, conditioner, and soap which can be wrapped in paper.

  16. We are in the hospitality industry. The waste from these plastic bottles is flabbergasting and quite frankly heartbreaking. They get thrown out half used most of the time. We switched to dispensers and the law in CA and NY is soon to be requiring dispensers in all hotels. Our guests love them because they can read the text and get as much quality product as they need. Dispensers are the future, plain and simple.


  18. Here’s a bad thing….Hotels in NYS will be REQUIRED to move to these things in the next few years. UGH….From a hotelier standpoint, this is going to be an annoying nightmare unless they reverse this law going into place. Heads up fellow dispenser haters…..

  19. Here’s the funny thing. I only found this artical because I was just in Miami in the Hyatt Regency, and this featured picture (the CO Bigelow wall dispenser) is exactly the one they had. I was looking to see where I could buy it. 🙂

  20. Oh, for pity’s sake, pick up that thing in the room that allows you to speak to the front desk or housekeeping (phone, that’s why they still have them in the room) and tell whomever that you are disappointed with the service and could they please send someone to fill the empties. I bet you’d get better results than this whining.

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