Whether you’re starting a small business or moving into a new office, you don’t want to get stuck not knowing how to change the toilet paper in the public restroom.

To cut down on maintenance, many public restrooms come installed with toilet paper dispensers. For added security, or to make sure the dispenser does not fall open, these come with locks that hold them in place. 

Typically, locks are on the top or front of the dispenser. These open either a lid at the dispenser’s top or have it fold down from a hinge at the base. Most models use a simple lock with a pressure plate at the base, simply insert the key and turn it to open. 

Usually, these keys are universal, or universal by company, with generic versions available for purchase in bulk. Certain models come with stronger security and require a key made by the manufacturer. Other models have a pressure button or latch at the bottom that you press to pull down the outer casing.

Figure Out the Type of Dispenser You Have

Not all dispensers are equal, and differences in size or need will largely depend on the area where your restroom is located. The biggest distinction is which roll size it’s designed to fit—standard or “jumbo.” 

Standard Toilet Paper Dispensers

Standard dispensers are the rolls found in most households. For business owners, these have a lower capacity for use and will require more maintenance to replenish rolls in higher traffic areas.

They’re great to use in hotel rooms or small establishments, like coffee shops, that have a more intimate atmosphere. They are also much smaller and can fit in areas where size is a concern.

Jumbo Toilet Paper Dispensers

Jumbo dispensers are the better option for more heavily trafficked areas, or as a way of saving costs by buying in bulk,. These are generally always plastic dispensers and are rarely offered in metal. These tend to have a lock at the top that is opened to pull the outer casing down by a hinge at the base. Some models have a pressure button or latch at the base to unlock.

Jumbo dispensers typically have either 1 or 2 roll options, given their size. Each roll lasts longer than a standard roll and will still not need to be replenished as regularly for maintenance. Double roll dispensers allow people to take from both rolls simultaneously until they’re empty.

Enclosed Dispensers

Enclosed dispensers are larger and protect the toilet paper rolls while being generally more durable. They are designed for areas with higher foot traffic, or in areas prone to vandalism. They protect the dispenser and prevent either theft of unused rolls or damage to the device. 

Enclosed dispensers come in several varieties, though they’re generally either metal or plastic. 

Plastic Enclosed Dispensers

Plastic dispensers hold multiple rolls to keep replacing rolls as they empty and work with either standard or jumbo rolls. Usually these have a plastic outer casing that has a key or slot at the top to open it using either a provided or universal key. Typical models have a hinge at the base that allows the case to swing down to refill.

To Open Plastic Dispensers

The first thing you should do is determine how the case opens. If you need a key, you’ll see the lock on the case, usually at the top. It’s not unusual for the dispenser to have either a pressure pad or latch to open instead.

If you don’t need a key, press the button or pull the latch at the base to release the dispenser. It should pull open at the hinge to allow access.

If you need a key, retrieve the manufacturer key, insert it into the lock and turn. Once the dispenser is unlatched, it should pull open on the hinge, typically at the base of the dispenser.

If you no longer have the key, generic ones can be purchased, though make sure you match them to the company that makes your dispenser. Keys are standardized, but they’re not universal. San Jamar or Kimberly-Clarke may have different keys.

If you need to open the lock without a key, a paper clip will likely enough. The locks are simple and have a pressure plate at the bottom to unhook the lock.

Metal Enclosed Dispenser

Metal dispensers used for standard rolls are vertical. They are a metal box with an opening at the bottom to access the toilet paper. They have a U-shaped track inside that the roll is inserted into, and the roll rods can be slid out from the top to be replenished. They can usually fit 2 rolls of toilet paper without replenishing.

Metal dispensers open either from the top or through the front, and the lock will be in the corresponding location. If there is no lock, then likely the top will open freely.

To Open Metal Dispensers

Retrieve the key provided by the manufacturer or obtain a generic key.

Insert it into the slot and turn to open. If the latch is on top of the dispenser, it will pull open at the top. If it is at the front, the front panel will pull down.

If you don’t have a key and need one, you will likely be able to get it open using a paper clip. The locks are made of a simple latch and pressure plate, and they can be easily unlatched.

Partition-Mounted Toilet Paper Dispensers

These are another space-saving option and are a variation of the recessed mount that are built at the partition to provide toilet paper to 2 stalls simultaneously. They often include toilet paper and toilet seat covers within one area, though variations can be purchased that include disposal of sanitary napkins or feminine hygiene products as well. 

To Open Partition Mounted Dispensers

There is a lot of variation between design for this type of toilet paper, but the ones that lock are typically front-facing panels with openings cut into them. There’s usually a lock at the front that will open like a door panel.

Determine how the partition opens. If the design has a lock, retrieve the manufacturer provided key and insert it into the lock to open. The panel will open to allow access. 

If you don’t have a key, it’s possible a generic key or paperclip will be able to open the lock.

Dispenser Alternatives

Health centers often have different types of dispensers for better accessibility. A common design is the folding toilet paper dispenser, which releases sheets one at a time. 

They open similar to the metal dispensers for standard rolls. Most often, they are refilled from either the top or the front and will have a lock accordingly.

Find the corresponding key and insert it into the lock, then turn to open. 


Toilet paper dispenser designs are not totally uniform, so there will likely be some variation in how dispensers are opened. They are simple mechanisms that occasionally hide their locking mechanism, especially in models with more focus on design and aesthetics.

It’s simplest to hide latches at the bottom of the dispenser, where there’s already an opening. If you’re having continued trouble, looking up the manual for your specific model is your best bet.