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Indispensable: a Few Words on Haverford’s Soap

Since this article was written, a miraculous turnaround has occurred with regard to the functionality of Haverford’s soap dispensers. These days, students wishing for clean hands no longer have to deal with the horrors described below. In honor of this pivotal change, The Clerk is publishing the letter that made it all happen.

It is a familiar experience to all on campus: you have rinsed your hands and are ready for the next step. You hold your hand under the white oblong fixture on the wall and, a few seconds later, a paltry amount of white foam is dispensed into your awaiting hands. You move your hands back to the sink, just as a second wave of foam flies out from the dispenser. With no hands to break the fall, it lands on the floor, making an unsatisfying ‘plop.’

That is, if any soap comes out at all.

As I write this, there is only one working soap dispenser on my hall. We began the year with four soap dispensers between two bathrooms. Half of those dispensers were not fixed on the walls, and the sensor was broken for one of those. Then the sole working dispenser in the largest and most frequently used bathroom stopped working.

The change was gradual; one day, the sensor worked for roughly one in two uses. And then it was one in three, and so forth. By the time we noticed something was wrong, it wasn’t working at all.

It didn’t used to be like this. Once, the entire school had mechanical dispensers, ones that would secrete soap based on the user’s push rather than the whim of a malfunctioning sensor. This system seemed to work perfectly. So why did it change?

Last August, Facilities switched cleaning product companies from 3M to Hillyard due to a  contractor issue. When the transition first came about, a colorless unscented soap was used. But this soap didn’t lather, and so Facilities quickly swapped in a scented, green, lathering soap. This soap is not only a better cleaning agent, but is also more cost-effective.

The new dispensers work by connecting a sensor to a battery; when the sensor detects movement, it signals to dispense the soap. The dispensation is not a smooth rhythm, however, which causes the two-step dispensation. Most issues arise when the sensor breaks, the battery runs out, or the sensor fails to communicate to the battery. Because many of the soap dispensers are not fresh out of the factory, many of the batteries are old and thus more likely to malfunction.

In the case of dispenser malfunction-which happens frequently-Facilities makes an effort to fix the dispenser as soon as possible. As Associate Director of Facilities Management Fern Hall says, “That’s the price you pay for using modern technology.”

I believe it may be time to go back to the soap dispensation of olde, when individuals dispensed soap with their own hands rather than through a machine. Hall claims that Hillyard is currently working on updating its soap dispensers. However, as is the case when sticking your hand out for a wad of soap, I wouldn’t hold your breath.

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