Bulk toiletry dispensers at hotels are catching on fast. But would you use them?
Yesterday I posted a review of the beautiful new Andaz Munich, a five-star property. But despite its luxury status, toiletries in both the sink and shower were in bulk containers. This upends decades of conventional practice.
And yet bulk containers are catching on. They’ve been present at budget hotels across Asia and Europe for years, but are now appearing in the United States as well. And in California, mini toiletries may soon be prohibited under state law. The proposed bill, AB-1162, is working its way through the legislature and would ban mini-toiletries effective January 01, 2023.
These are the sorts of bans that many hotels likely won’t protest. Think about it, they can claim to be responsible stewards of the environment while cutting expenses. It’s a win-win for environmentalists and hotels.
But is it sanitary?
In theory, of course. But I only have to think back a few years to my university days to remember some of the practical jokes that are played with communal bottles shampoo or soap…
I think we humans tend to be paranoid over unnecessary things and oblivious to far graver risks than contaminated soap dispensers. Thus, I’m perfectly willing to stipulate that there are far better things to be worried about.
But I don’t want to even question if someone added any extra ingredients to my soap, conditioner, or shampoo. And I’m willing to pay more (say, a carbon offset tax) for that luxury. More importantly, hotels should have the chance to pay more for single-use containers rather than just a blanket ban. That way, budget hotels will move toward bulk containers while luxury hotels will still offer single-use toiletries.
Moving to bulk dispensers may even backfire on hotels. Imagine if people (you know these people) start loading up on full containers from maid carts instead of individual bottles. You know it will happen…
What are your thoughts on bulk toiletry dispensers at hotels?
Of course. Single use bottles are really quite absurd. Perhaps the ingenuity of the greatest minds in the world can be harnessed to develop a revolutionary tamper-resistant variety. The odds of finding something “special” would be infinitesimally small compared to getting a glass wiped with the furniture rag or a mirror cleaned with a toilet brush.
I recently stayed at the Belmond in Anguilla, a luxury hotel if ever there was one. They had bulk dispensers. Very elegantly done ones, but bulk dispensers nonetheless. It actually didn’t bother me and I think it’s a positive development as we try to move away from single use plastics. I just saw a horrifying video of a huge plastic garbage patch in the caribbean and just listened to an NPR Planet Money podcast on how most of what we think gets recycled actually ends up just getting land-filled.
My mind has also flipped on business class amenity kits on airlines. It used to annoy me that SQ didn’t offer one and instead had the items available upon request or in the bathroom. Now I think that this is a good move to cut down on waste.
Communal use toiletries belong in locker rooms not in high end hotels. I would be highly skeptical of the security, safety and sanitary properties of these fluids and their dispensers and will go out of my way to avoid staying in properties, especially high end ones, that use them.
Agree with both of the above. Given some human ingenuity, we can discard the idea that single-use plastics are some sort of presumptive right or status symbol compared to a (gasp) large dispenser. Any “snowflakes” who can’t deal with the idea are of course allowed to bring as many tiny bottles as they can carry.
A hotel is communal use for everything.
Thousands of people have slept in your bed, used your pillow, cuddled up with that blanket, sat in that desk chair, pulled those curtains open, switched on that bedside lamp, grabbed the door handles, used that TV remote, sat on your toilet seat, laid naked in that bathtub…. And that’s just inside your room. Do you think EVERYTHING in that room was wiped down with sanitizing agent and laundered before you checked in?
The only reason people like the mini bottles is so they can take samples and souvenirs for home. I get it. I’ve done it! I’d like it to continue…
But don’t pretend it’s a hygiene issue you’re upset about.
I strongly prefer bulk dispensers. Single bottles are only useful insofar as I grab them for my guests to use when they visit me. While in a hotel, it’s always annoying to have to fumble with the various little bottles. Sometimes they are hard to open or to squeeze anything out of them.
would having larger, communal bottles, that can’t be opened, as in the cap and pump mechanism is permanently attached to the bottle itself. Would that be a viable solution to communal bottles, without the waste of single-use bottles
I had an allergic reaction from bulk dispensers- I was wondering if someone accidentally put cleaning solution or something else in them. I was covered in hives. I’ll never touch bulk dispensers again.
I am confused about the Andaz pics. Are those bottles stationary? If not, why can’t you take them?
I suppose you can, but they were not full and were clearly intended to stay (or so I thought).
The alternative is to insist on real recycling of those little bottles. In theory though I am fine with the bulk dispensers. Tampering can be made obvious through the use of tape seals (clear or whatever) around the screw cap.
It is not like if I leave an unopened lotion bottle in my hotel room in the bathroom the staff replace it for the next person, they just leave it in place and replace the bottles I did use. I could conceivably tamper with that, put it back, and make it look like I didn’t use it and ruin somebody’s day. There will always be a way for asshats to act as such. You can’t live your life that way. And I prefer to not have tiny plastic bottles in our landfills and oceans. As much as I love bringing my favorites home to enjoy or donate to the women’s shelter.
I don’t prefer bulk, but will use since it’s there. Marge likes the little bottles. At a certain Courtyard by Marriott which has switched to bulk, they still have the individual portions at the front desk, unadvertised, but complimentary upon request.
I don’t care for them, but for a different reason – far too often the bulk dispensers aren’t in proper working order. If they are a necessary evil, the hotels at least need to ensure that they actually, well, dispense.
I’m 100% in support of bulk dispensers. I’ve stayed at a number of higher end properties in Europe that have bulk product in lockable containers. I feel this is the perfect balance – sanitary and tamper resistant while avoiding the absurdity of wasteful individual containers. Approximately 5,700 Marriott properties x 100 rooms x 365 days = 208,050,000 bottles per year. Assume that many guests use multiple bottles per night (shampoo + conditioner + hand lotion) and we’re talking 1/2 billion bottles per year just with Marriott. I love le Labo products at Fairmonts but it simply isn’t sustainable to expect individual bottles.
Surely the solution is to have lockable and tamper proof dispensers rather than just the larger bottles as in the Hyatt pic ( the same large bottles are used in a number of airport lounges). It would be difficult to contaminate the bulk dispensers ( even assuming there is a 1/50 million guests who might want to do so).
It is scandalous that the single use bottles are still used. They should be banned everywhere.
I would much rather have bulk dispensers, regardless of the quality of the hotel. In a recent study, 100% of the animals sampled on the bottom of the Mariana Trench had plastic in in their digestive tracts. Recycling, right now, is often in name-only, a fraud, in this country, and even China has stopped accepting our plastic. And I won’t live my life in fear of contamination that is highly unlikely to happen, especially when I can help prevent something awful that is absolutely happening.
Will I use them? Yes. Do I like it? No. Would you drink bottled water from the minibar that the seal is broken?
I’m pretty sure that most high end hotels are in places where the tap water is perfectly safe and drinkable.
Tell that to my stomach after brushing my teeth at the Peninsula in Beijing.
You’re not drinking shampoo or conditioner.
I’m not saying someone who claims to have gotten a rash or some other discomfort after using a communal shampoo dispenser is lying, but I very much doubt it was contaminated by an previous occupant. I just can’t imagine a giant crime wave of perverts or evil-doers paying $100 or $300 or $1000 a night to check into a hotel room to mess with or foul the toiletries. It’s like razor blades being given out on apples at Halloween. Doesn’t happen.
I hate the bulk containers. People can and do put urine in them.
I like the single use containers. Actually, there is more shampoo than for one use. I take them home and use them maybe 3-4 times as well as give them to house guests.
This year, I will not stay at Marriott hotels because they are converting to them.
By the way, California should ban contact lenses because that contributes to plastic pollution. Also ban the sale of electric cars to low mileage drivers because the toxic battery impact is too great for a low mileage driver.
Yeah, I’ve seen that before as well. I think it’s more common than people in this comments section want to admit. If they plan on converting to bulk dispensers, they need to make them tamper proof and operable with a key only. No way would I use the ones in the photos above.
Don’t worry, this will be a short lived idea. As soon as someone get’s pissed off that they didn’t get their upgrade, or they are just sadistic jerks and replace the shampoo with Nair, blue dye, or even some bodily fluid and the hotel gets sued, it will come to a screeching halt.
The only story I found about a bulk container being contaminated with a bodily fluid was in a soap dispenser in an airport bathroom.
Unless there are thousands of people a day freely passing through your bathroom and shower area inside your personal hotel suite, I think you’re OK.
I guess I prefer bulk because I never use it. I actually pack my own toiletries in 3 oz containers because no hotel in the world provides Head and Shoulders and I don’t like dandruff. I’m much more likely to use the toiletries at airport lounge showers, when my own toiletry bag is packed away, but it seems all of them use bulk toiletries.
I agree with Derek that bulk containers seem a little chintzy. To be clear, those same toiletries are available at Walmart for $1 each … and we all know Marriott doesn’t stock premium brand toiletries. But I agree with Lucky’s recent post on Delta: it isn’t one thing that gets you to favor one hotel over another, it’s the offering as a whole, and Marriott’s bulk containers are just one part of an overall bad offering.
I think it is disgusting and will just force me to bring my own shampoo in travel bottles. As long as these plastic containers are collected and don’t go into the ocean there is no environmental problem. It is nice hotels and airlines are going toward non single use plastics (paper straws and bamboo utensils). But mini shampoo bottles and toiletries are part of a higher end experience and it is not feasible to change. Let’s hope California has a massive earthquake and the rest of the country is not subjected to their ridiculous policies of more government control and less freedom anymore. Fingers crossed.
I one time stayed at a Candlewood Suites hotel for over a month that had the bulk shower bottles. Although refillable they would just replace the whole thing and throw out the old ones when empty which I found interesting. I don’t trust bulk dispensers when left in a private area like a hotel room. I haven’t done it but I bet Youtube or other places feature tampering with these. Even if they didn’t open them imagine what could be done with these. Sad and gross.
It’s strange that those defending tiny containers – which weigh more than their usable contents – generally have no issue sleeping on a mattress someone else slept in, use a coffee maker that someone else ran their fluids through (and it was likely not cleaned at all), drink from the glasses washed by whatever rag was nearby, lay in a bathtub or take a shower where others have likely left fluids, use dishes that are of questionable cleanliness (and on and on)….but have this one extremely specific hangup about someone depositing bodily fluids into a shampoo bottle as though it’s this widespread, insurmountable phenomena. It’s bizarre.
What Alec said.
Dunno if it’s a trait of a particular group of people/posters or what, but everyone everywhere is leaving inappropriate bodily fluids on everything. The EDITION hotel fuzzy throw on the bed? Contaminated. Bulk use soaps and shampoos? Contaminated. Your toothbrush? Contaminated by rogue housekeeping.
What is further mystifying is that these foul individuals can afford to stay at $200-$500/night hotels to perform these debauched acts. Maybe they’re faithful readers of these luxury blogs, and go there on points…
Clearly pump bottles are preferable for the environment. What is more, hotels usually refill rather than replace them as they empty, which is even better. I work in the hotel industry and we have many eco-friendly guests to keep us on our toes. When we replaced the little individual amenities with pump bottles we upgraded the product and the feedback from the guests was nearly all positive. I wish we could find such a happy solution for water bottles which is oh so complicated. We replaced plastic bottles with glass but runners and ladies with handbags complained…. People say that we should just recycle the plastic, but unlike glass or metal, PET plastic can be recycled a maximum of five times, and it becomes more opaque after each cycle…..
I think it’s a horrible concept and of course allows for cheap, ineffective products “on tap”. Like some others, I will either bring my own stuff in travel size containers or buy it at my destination. I actually don’t mind buying stuff in foreign locales, I’ve gotten some great products (lotions, soaps) superior to a lot of brand names we get in the U.S.
As well, we can try to choose hotels that don’t (yet) do this but it seems inevitable as the usual cheapening, dumbing down, copy-cat routines take hold everywhere and will do so in other hotel chains. IHG (Holiday Inn brand) now does this. Could this also be a reason that diseases spread quickly on cruise ships – they have this on Princess and Holland America lines. That’s it,….I’m just packing my own stuff or buying it as I go along.
Would I use them? Of course; I’m not about to just wash myself with plain water or go out and buy my own toiletries. Doesn’t mean I agree using reusable bulk containers is the way to go though.
Some claim they’ve ejaculated in shampoo dispensers. And science says they are dirty and unsafe
PLEASE ADD AN EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION OPTION LIKE EVERY OTHER BOARDING AREA BLOG
You linked to a story that was posted by a company that sells sealed dispensing systems, (so obviously in their best interest to scare people into buying their products) who use a man to backup its scare tactics who lists “Spokesperson for Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System” as the first sentence in his bio.
And again, they are referencing public areas with a huge volume of traffic. I don’t think the shampoo dispenser in a hotel room sees as much action in a year as a soap pump in a shopping mall sees in a day.
I work in the hotel industry, and actually for an Upper-Midscale line of hotels. To address all of the paranoid commentary regarding sanitation and “mystery liquids”, I can assure you the majority of bulk-amenity dispensers have locking mechanisms that prevent anyone but the room attendant from opening them.
In regard to this discussion, I can tell you that for years, I felt the same way about bulk-amenity dispensers – turning my nose up at them like they were meant only for cheap, roadside motels. Over these years I also managed several hotels, and the amount of travel sized amenity bottles (many of them not even halfway used), that were thrown out each day was alarmingly wasteful. I found a company while working at one property that for a small cost, would take all unused amenity bottles for the month and recycle them, while using the leftover product to make into some kind of organic ec0-friendly soap. (To be honest, I thought the whole soap idea was unsanitary, but I really hated seeing the waste of all those bottles).
Each month, I would look at these huge storage containers, filled to the brim with hundreds of plastic bottles in each of them. Even the hotel snob in me knew that this was wrong.
Did I switch to bulk dispensers then? No. Still a snob. Four years later, I work for a hotel line that recently adopted a sophisticated stainless steel amenity dispenser in all its hotel bathrooms. Honestly, we should have done this before. They look great, and since the roll-out I’ve had minimal complaints about losing the single-use bottles and many compliments about the new quality product line we have. It’s not just about cost savings; As a hotel operator, it’s about being environmentally responsible, and as a guest – it’s about awareness, understanding, and embracing a movement that truly is for the greater good of our world; a movement that quite honestly is here to stay.
So get over yourselves. The tiny amount of joy you have from seeing travel sized amenities in your room is short-lived, and not worth the long-term consequences. If it means so much to you, I’m willing to bet there’s a travel sized product section in your local grocery or drugstore that can appease your tiny product needs. In answer to the original question – would I use bulk-amenity dispensers? Actually use them and not just put them in my hotels? I can finally answer: yes. I’ve ditched my snobbery, accepted my worldly responsibility, and embraced the change. Here’s hoping you can too.
NAIR is easily mistaken for shampoo, especially if it is in a “mislabeled” container. Just sayin’.
We just stayed at a Springhill Suite in Louisville, KY. I had not seen the larger Shampoo, Body Wash , Conditioner till then. I like that less plastic will go in land fills. But with Covid I’m also very careful about items that are touched and retouched by person after person. I did travel with a can of Lysol so I did spray the containers , couch, headboard and other areas before we settled in. It only took a two min search to see how the wall unit holding the bottles opens. So they are far from tamper proof. We usually take home unused bottles of toiletries to use in our guest bath so they aren’t thrown away half used.