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Whether you’ve been handling raw chicken or buttery dough, there’s an easy way to lather up without dirtying your soap dispenser.
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.
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.
Note: America's Test Kitchen continuously updates our equipment reviews and taste tests. The written content below is the most up-to-date information available and may not match what appears in the video segment.
This model was literally the clear winner—its transparent plastic soap chamber with a wide opening made it easy to fill. It was fast, and it neatly released soap with no wisps trailing behind. Finally, we liked that this dispenser was the shortest in our lineup, making it less obtrusive. One complaint: It had “plus” and “minus” buttons that allowed us to adjust the soap amount, but the settings weren’t marked, so we didn’t know which one was selected.
This dispenser, made by the same company as our winner, performed just as well—it gave us soap in less than 1 second, with excellent release from the nozzle. But this model was harder to fill because of its narrower opening and hinged lid that blocked part of the opening. As with our winner, we could adjust how much soap this model dispensed—and again, there were only “plus” and “minus” buttons, so we didn’t know which setting we were on. This product also had a rechargeable lithium battery that came with a small USB cord, which meant we’d need to buy fewer batteries—as long as we didn’t lose the cord.
This dispenser was easy to fill, thanks to its wide chamber opening, but it was much slower than our top performers. After activating the sensor, it took about 4 seconds until the soap detached. And while the soap usually released well, it sometimes clung to the nozzle, which gave us stringy soap strands that took longer to release.
We didn’t like much about this dispenser. First, its narrow opening made it hard to fill. There was a small window on the opaque soap chamber, but it was positioned so low that it was practically useless for observing soap level—so the soap snuck up on us, overflowing. This model also had terrible soap release—it took about 4 seconds and didn’t release neatly. Instead, we got wispy threads of soap stretching from our fingers to the nozzle, and those spider web–like threads of soap often blew back onto the dispenser. Finally, this dispenser sometimes went rogue, squirting soap when we weren’t anywhere near the sensor.