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Water Consumption Reduced with One Simple Change

faivre, isabelle, deb groupThe sustainable and efficient use of resources continues to be an area of emphasis for companies’ environmental responsibility initiatives. Many organizations are striving to reduce their environmental impact, and in the process save money, by reducing their use of energy and natural resources—including water.

An area that companies tend to overlook when assessing their environmental impact is the restroom, which accounts for about 37% of water usage in the average office, according to the EPA.

Beyond fixing dripping faucets and installing low-flow toilets, companies should consider the hand hygiene products used in their offices or facilities, which can have a significant impact on the total water consumption.

Research on Hand-Washing Practices

Wall-mounted, non-aerosol foam hand wash systems are an alternative to traditional liquid soaps. In these systems, an integrated pump in the cartridge mixes a special formula liquid soap with air to increase its volume by 10 times and provide an instant lather for hand washing.

Using foam soap rather than a liquid soap results in considerable reduced water usage, according to independent research conducted in the UK in 2009.

Researchers asked 150 people to dirty their hands to a moderate level and then wash their hands—once with traditional liquid/lotion soap and once with foaming soap. Participants used their hand-washing method of choice without specific instruction. Researchers measured the water flow rate for each faucet. They also rotated which product was tested first to avoid order effects, and all the participants used liquid/lotion or foam soaps on a day-to-day basis.

Within the controlled study, participants used an average of 1,758ml (0.464 gallons) of water with the faucet on for 21.8 seconds when testing the lotion soap. For foam soap, the amount of water used was reduced to 1,475ml (0.390 gallons) of water with the faucet on for 19.7 seconds—representing a 16 percent water savings.

Presuming people wash their hands three times a day at work, an office of 100 people currently using lotion soap would save approximately 20,000 liters, or about 5,283 gallons, of water per year simply by changing to foam soap.

The study also looked at the different methods people used to wash their hands. There were three main hand-washing methods used during the test that represented the standard practice of about 85 percent of respondents:

1. Soap dispensed, faucet on, lather made and rinsed

2. Faucet on, soap dispensed, lather made and rinsed

3. Soap dispensed, lathered, faucet on to rinse

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6 thoughts on “Water Consumption Reduced with One Simple Change

  1. Nice idea but you did not conduct a comparison of how much water is consumed in the manufacture of this foam soap. What is the water footprint of making the foam soap? And how does that compare to the water use when using regular soap or none (some people don’t use soap)? Without that information it is not a fair comparison. People could convert to foam soap thinking they are selecting the best option when in fact it might not be.

  2. Michele – great question!! From a formulation-only perspective, the manufacturing process for foam soap will use about 25% less water per handwash.

    Foam soaps also have a much lower viscosity, which means we use less water to clean manufacturing vessels, filling equipment, and pipework, than we do for lotion soaps. Foam soaps are also quicker to mix, which means they consume less energy, either directly (pumps, stirrers, etc.), or indirectly (factory lighting, ventilation, heating, etc.).

    The dispensers and packaging are the same for foam and lotion soaps, so no difference there in terms of natural resources.

    And because a foam soap handwash involves a smaller amount of chemicals than a lotion soap handwash, there is less chemical waste and packaging waste per handwash to dispose of, which again is better for water and energy consumption.

    I cannot think of a single reason why foam soaps might place a higher burden on environmental resources than lotion soaps.

  3. To Enviro Equipment, Inc – Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of bacteria on them in most situations. Furthermore, soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing or inactivating certain kinds of germs, like Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile. If soap and water are not available, CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. We suggest using foam sanitizer instead of gel for all the reasons listed above!

  4. I work in health care where we (unfortunately) just rolled back all our low flow faucet taps due to infection control issues.

    I noticed in your story you made no mention of an analysis of germ fighting effectiveness of foam vs. liquid soap. It may seem like a moot point but trust me, the Doctors here will not allow this change until we can prove that foam is just as effective as liquid soap.

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