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Automatic Hand Soap Dispensers

Published January 2018

How we tested

Handwashing is imperative during cooking—and sometimes problematic. If our hands are coated in grease or if we’ve been handling raw meat or poultry, we need soap. But we don’t want to contaminate our soap dispenser. It’s a culinary catch-22: Our dirty hands are the reason we need soap and an obstacle to getting it.

Automatic soap dispensers are designed to help. These hands-free, battery-operated dispensers help you lather up without pressing a pump. Instead, they have sensors that, when activated, prompt the dispensers to squirt soap. We hadn’t previously tested automated dispensers, so we were curious to find out if they made cleanup easier.

We selected four motion-activated hand soap dispensers, priced from $24.95 to $59.99 and ranging in capacity from 6 to 11 ounces. After filling each model with the nationally best-selling hand soap, we conducted two separate tests, repeatedly handling raw chicken and coating our hands in olive oil, using soap from every dispenser to wash our hands after each handling of chicken and application of oil. We also assessed the stability, sensor activation range, and durability of each model.

When we finished our testing, we had clean hands and a clear winner. Here’s what we discovered: First, some dispensers were harder to fill than others. Two of the dispensers had too-small openings, and one was especially difficult to fill because the sides of its soap chamber were opaque; we couldn’t see how much soap it held, and the soap overflowed while we were filling it. This model has a narrow window that shows the soap level, but it’s positioned too low to be truly useful. The other two dispensers had soap chambers with wider openings that were easier to fill. One was especially easy, owing to its completely transparent chamber that allowed us to monitor the soap level as we poured.

We also looked at the amounts of soap the dispensers released by activating each model 15 times and calculating the average amount of soap per squirt. One dispenser averaged 1 gram of soap per use, which was sufficient, and another gave us a more generous 1.5 grams. The remaining two dispensers allowed us to choose the soap amount—from 1 gram up to a gratuitous 9 grams. We preferred the 1-gram setting even though we had to do some guesswork to get there: These dispensers had only “plus” and “minus” buttons with no additional labels, so it was hard to determine the number of settings and which setting was currently selected. We deemed the maximum possible squirt—9 grams, or 2 teaspoons—wildly excessive.

Next, we looked at how well each dispenser, well, dispensed, based on two rating criteria: speed and soap release. Our top performers emitted soap in less than 1 second. The slowest models took about 4 seconds, meaning that we had to stand and wait before we could wash our hands. Two dispensers neatly released soap, and two gave us soap that left a trail of messy, wispy threads. Both of the poorly performing models had open, circular nozzles. The two models with the best soap release (manufactured by the same company) each had a silicone nozzle shaped like a tiny inverted triangle, which the company calls a “no-drip valve.” This valve creates a seal that cuts off the flow of soap, so each squirt releases quickly and cleanly.

Most of the motion sensors functioned well, allowing us to put our hands anywhere from 1 inch to 2.5 inches directly in front of the sensor. None of the dispensers was easy to accidentally trigger—a good thing—but one sometimes went rogue and squirted soap when we weren’t anywhere near the sensor.

Overall, two dispensers, both made by the same company, performed well. They quickly and neatly released an ideal amount of soap. But our winner, the Simplehuman Sensor Pump ($39.99), was the easiest to fill because of its wide opening and clear chamber. This model was also the most compact—a nice bonus since it made our counters feel less cluttered. Our favorite automatic hand soap dispenser made it easy to lather up, so we highly recommend getting your hands on—or off—one.

Methodology

We tested four automatic hand soap dispensers priced from $24.95 to $59.99. We filled each dispenser to its maximum capacity with the nationally best-selling liquid hand soap and then used soap dispensed from each model to wash our hands after handling raw chicken and after coating our hands in olive oil, repeating each test five times per dispenser. We positioned our hands at varying heights and distances to gauge sensor sensitivity, measured the maximum activation distance, and used each dispenser 20 times on a wet counter to see if it shifted during use. We activated each dispenser another 15 times to calculate the average amount of soap emitted, and we measured speed by timing how long it took from sensor activation until the soap was fully released from the nozzle. To assess durability, we activated the two top performers an additional 100 times and the highest-ranking product an additional 265 times to approximate a year’s worth of once-daily use. Finally, we cleaned each dispenser according to manufacturer instructions. Prices listed were what we paid online. Test scores were averaged, and the soap dispensers appear below in order of preference.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*