Update, January 2022

Recently, our top two automatic hand soap dispensers, both by Simplehuman, were discontinued. We tested the latest model from Simplehuman, which is rechargeable, and a new battery-powered dispenser from Secura. We like and recommend both models but prefer the Secura 17oz / 500ml Premium Touchless Battery Operated Electric Automatic Soap Dispenser, which is our new favorite automatic hand soap dispenser.

The Tests

  • Load each dispenser to maximum capacity

  • Handle raw chicken with both hands and use soap dispensed from each model to wash hands 5 times

  • Coat hands in olive oil and use soap dispensed from each model to wash hands 5 times

  • Place hands beneath dispenser at varying heights and distances to assess sensor sensitivity

  • Use each dispenser 20 times on wet counter to determine stability

  • Activate each model’s sensor 15 times, weigh amount of soap dispensed, and determine average amount per squirt

  • Time how long it takes from sensor activation to soap release

  • Continually activate 2 highest-rated dispensers 100 times to assess durability

  • Continually activate winning dispenser additional 265 times, totaling 365 times

  • Conduct and monitor user testing with each model

  • Clean each 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 several motion-activated hand soap dispensers, 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. Some 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. Our favorite was especially easy to fill, owing to its completely transparent chamber that allowed us to monitor the soap level as we poured.

Associate editor Emily Phares had very clean hands after evaluating the sensor range and responsiveness of each machine in our lineup.

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. Our favorite allowed us to choose the soap amount—from 1 gram up to 6 grams, and to set that amount with a volume dial. Another model we liked let us choose amounts from 1 gram to 3 grams by placing our hands nearer or farther from the spout according to a simple graphic on the front of the device.

We found that about 1 gram of soap (on the left) is an ideal amount for handwashing, although some models can be set to release a whopping 9 grams per squirt (on the right).

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 releaseeach had a silicone nozzle shaped like a tiny funnel with a slot-like opening at the bottom. This opening works as a valve, opening to release the soap and then closing to cut off the flow, dispensing quickly and neatly.

We took points away from machines that continued dispensing soap after the user’s hand had been removed.

Most of the motion sensors functioned well, allowing us to put our hands anywhere from 1 inch to 3.75 inches below the spout. 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 our desired amount of soap. But our winner, the Secura 17oz / 500ml Premium Touchless Battery Operated Electric Automatic Soap Dispenser, was the easiest to fill because of its wide opening and clear chamber. It held a generous amount of soap and dispensed it reliably and quickly. This model made it easy to lather up, so we highly recommend getting your hands on—or off—one.

Winning Traits

  • Emits soap in less than 1 second

  • Soap immediately releases from nozzle, with no soap trail

  • Wide opening that allows for easy filling