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September 15, 2004

More Ways To Dispense Paper Towels Than To Skin A Cat?

As I have increased the frequency of my handwashing (best way to prevent colds!), one thing I noticed is that there is an astonishing variety of mechanisms for dispensing paper towels. You'd think it's a pretty, well, solved problem. You'd think that, by now, the optimal solution would have been hit upon, and just used.

But no. So, I've gone into bathrooms and photographed some of the variety I've seen...

There's everything from the spring-loaded...

...to the pull-and-tear...

...to the one that got me started, the wave-your-hand...

...and much more.

As a design-minded person, I find all these different approaches to the same problem fascinating, because they each betray different concerns. I would think that, for the user, the most optimal is the upside-down-kleenex box -- easy dispening, and no need to touch anything.

But for the provider of the paper towels, they probably like the big rolls, because I'm guessing they're cheaper than the sheets, and last longer before refilling.

I don't know why bathrooms still have dispensers that require manipulation -- touching them defeats the hygienic purpose.

And do we really need motion sensors in them? (And I find that those motion sensors tend to work poorly).

Anyway, I'd love to start a collective album of paper towel dispensers over on Flickr. I've developed a tag, papertoweldispenser, that can serve this singular purpose. People of earth: go into your public bathrooms, photograph your dispensers, upload them to Flickr, and tag them so they appear here! Let's see just how many varieties there are.

Posted by peterme at September 15, 2004 10:16 PM



Great idea, at least in what concerns those of us fascinated by mundane everyday objects most people just suffer through helplessly.

I used to work for a co. making these (dreadful) objects. To date I have yet to see ONE such dispenser properly resolved functionally, let alone from a hygienic point of view. Mechanisms jam, paper roll breaks, people inevitably vent out on the darned things, they get replaced by another more hideous and just as badly-designed one, and so on...It's one reason why electrical hand dryers, another atrocious "invention" persists - no maintenance costs.

I don't think many trained designers work in these firms, their products haven't changed in decades even if economical working solutions stare them in the face. Sad indeed, lots of inertia in the industrial products sector.

Keep it up friend.

Posted by: Adrian at September 16, 2004 12:06 PM

OK, Peter, hand over the ditcam. You can get it back when you show you know how to use one properly. (Is it also your phone? And you think I care? Fork it over.)

Actually, met a kid the other day who liked a restaurant because it had fully automated (wave-and-wipe) towel dispensers. She was really taken with the concept. Joe -- my son -- adores the damn things. (Try explaining "waste" to a 3-year-old returning to a restaurant table stocked with free sweetener packets and graced with a half-pound of pasta in the kid's meal.)

You need explicitly to invite people in Japan to address this issue. You know they must have some wicked good paper towel dispensers over there.


Posted by: Whit at September 18, 2004 08:42 PM

Yes, You're on to something here. And while you're at it, how do we get the door open without touching it. Because it only takes that one dirty guy that doesn't wash to nullify all that hand washing. Have you noticed that some places have the trash can placed so that as you leave you can toss the towel after opening the door with it?
Perhaps I'm overdoing it, but I think you shouldn't have to touch anything for the washing to be truly effective. If you solve this problem, whoever solves this problem, will have accomplished a worthwhile goal. Notice the way doctors wash up? Really, all that most people do in the restroom is add the smell of soap to their germy hands! Gee, I hope I don't seem excessive!

Posted by: Charles Floyd at September 20, 2004 06:41 AM

I worked at a design firm that developed the wave-your hand dispenser you've pictured above. The simple reason why these and other types of 'alternative' dispensers exist is because it's drastically cheaper than the inverted kleenex box to keep these stocked. Paper towel rolls are a fraction of the cost compared to stacks of fan-folded towels. The cost of the dispenser itself (even with batteries) is negligible compared to the cost of keeping these things filled.

Posted by: SJ at September 20, 2004 01:47 PM

I purchased 4 of the enmotion towels you mention above, for the restrooms in our church over a year ago. They work fine all the time. We even have a small Nursery and Grade school and the smallest child learns quickly how to use the dispenser with no problem. The rolls last a long time cutting down on constant refilling. Much less paper is wasted.
We are happy with them.

Posted by: Paul Munro at October 14, 2004 01:58 PM

I find your usage of the term "to skin a cat" archaic and completely offensive.

Posted by: Roxanne at October 18, 2004 06:30 AM

I sell janitorial products for a local company, and just got a call from a customer wanting to know if we had the "wave & wipe" dispensers available for sale-(we don't)-lots of our customers have gone to these-they prove to be very popular.

Posted by: Cora at October 19, 2004 10:47 AM

get better paper twels

Posted by: Anonymous at October 27, 2004 05:34 AM

I just love paper towel dispencers! Not many people will amit that but I do. Where would be with out them our hands would cold and wet. We would propable get pneumonia and DIE! I prefere the kind that you can motion activate they are a dandie. So thank you to all the people who create paper towel dispencers.

Posted by: Maggie at February 5, 2006 06:21 PM

I just love paper towel dispencers! Not many people will amit that but I do. Where would be with out them our hands would cold and wet. We would propable get pneumonia and DIE! I prefere the kind that you can motion activate they are a dandie. So thank you to all the people who create paper towel dispencers.

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