Soap dispensers are fairly reliable devices -- you push down on the finger pump, soap emerges through the spout, and the pump automatically retracts for the next cycle. When a pump isn't working, it's usually because it's clogged or the spring is broken. Internal seals may fail in a well-used pump, but they aren't replaceable and usually necessitate replacement of the pump.

How Does It Work?

The finger pump on a soap dispenser -- and on most bottles of soap, shampoo or lotion, for that matter -- is a surprisingly elegant device. The spring-loaded piston that you push down with your finger pushes air into the soap reservoir. This creates a vacuum in the reservoir, and when the piston retracts, soap is sucked into it. The next time you push, some of this soap is forced into a small tube that leads to the spout while the rest of it goes back to the reservoir, creating the necessary vacuum in the reservoir to pull in fresh soap.

What Goes Wrong?

The two most common problems on hand pumps are that the pump fails to retract or it fails to dispense soap. If the pump fails to retract:

  • The pump may be locked. Many soap dispensers lock when you push the pump all the way down and rotate it by 90 degrees. You can unlock the pump by rotating it back to its working position.
  • The spring may be broken. The spring fits inside the pump reservoir -- to access it, you must be able to unscrew the reservoir from the cap. This is possible on bathroom dispensers, but not on every plastic bottle dispenser.

The pump may appear to be in working operation, but you don't get any soap. This could be because:

  • You're out of soap. You might have just filled it, but you forgot about your daughter's slumber party -- oops!
  • The dispenser tube is too short or it's kinked. Dispenser tubes are plastic and easily damaged. All too often,. they don't reach to the bottom of the soap container.
  • The dispenser tube is blocked. Soap can congeal in the tube, effectively blocking it. To restore pump operation, you need to loosen this blockage.

Repair Procedure

Step 1

Unscrew the cap from the soap container and remove the dispenser pump assembly. Wipe off the dispenser tube with a paper towel, then immerse the entire assembly, including the pump and the tubes, in warm water. Leave it for 5 minutes. The water dissolves congealed soap, and if the pump wasn't dispensing soap, this procedure will probably fix it. If the spring is broken, this procedure cleans the pump and makes it easier to disassemble.

Step 2

Unscrew the pump reservoir from the spout if you can -- inexpensive pumps that come on shampoo and soap bottles are often fused and don't come apart. Separate the reservoir from the spout and remove the spring. Replace the spring with an identical one.

Step 3

Replace the dispenser tube if it's too short or it's kinked. You can usually pull it off of the reservoir tube, and you should be able to find a replacement at a hardware store, in the section for plastic tubing.

Step 4

Reassemble the pump and clean it out by pumping hot water through it. Screw it back onto the soap container once you're sure all clogs have dissolved.