How to Open a Paper Towel Dispenser

Paper towel dispensers are a staple in public restrooms and kitchens, providing a convenient way to dry your hands or clean up spills.

How to Open a Paper Towel Dispenser

While they seem simple, paper towel dispensers can jam or stop working properly. When this happens, you need to know how to open up the dispenser to fix it.

Types of Paper Towel Dispensers

There are a few main types of paper towel dispensers:

  • Manual dispensers – These basic dispensers require you to manually pull on the paper towel to dispense it.
  • Automatic dispensers – Automatic dispensers use a sensor to detect hand motion and dispense a paper towel without needing to pull on it.
  • High capacity roll dispensers – These house large rolls of paper towels, usually found in commercial kitchens and restrooms.
  • C-fold/multi-fold dispensers – C-fold dispensers hold stacks of pre-cut and folded paper towels.

The way you open each dispenser depends on the type. We’ll go through how to open the most common dispenser types step-by-step next.

How to Open Manual Paper Towel Dispensers

Manual paper towel dispensers are the simplest to operate. You just pull down on the exposed paper to dispense more towel.

To open a manual dispenser:

  1. Look for a release button or sliding lock plate. Many basic manual dispensers have a button or lock plate that you slide to release the front cover. Press the button or slide the lock plate sideways.
  2. Turn the bottom screw counter-clockwise. If there is no button, there may be a screw at the bottom of the dispenser. Use a phillips head or flat head screwdriver to turn this screw counter-clockwise which will release the front cover.
  3. Pull open the front cover. Once released, you can swing open the front cover to access the inside.
  4. Load a new roll and thread the paper through. Remove any jammed paper and load a new roll with the paper coming over the top. Pull the paper through the rollers and out the cover.
  5. Close the cover and lock it. Swing the cover closed and press the button, slide the lock plate back, or turn the bottom screw clockwise to lock it back up.

Key Takeaway: Manual dispensers open with a button, lock plate, or bottom screw. Just unlock it and swing open the cover.

How to Open Automatic Paper Towel Dispensers

Automatic paper towel dispensers use a sensor to detect hand motion and automatically dispense towels without needing to touch anything.

Follow these steps to open an automatic dispenser:

  1. Locate the release button. Most automatic dispensers have a button somewhere on the bottom or side. Press and hold this button for a few seconds.
  2. Swing open the front cover. While holding the button, the front cover should release allowing you to swing it open.
  3. Remove jammed paper. Carefully remove any paper towels jammed inside the rollers or mechanism.
  4. Load new paper towel roll. Place a new roll inside with the paper coming over the top feed roll.
  5. Thread paper through rollers. Pull the paper through the internal rollers and out the slot in the cover.
  6. Close cover. Swing the cover closed until you hear it click and lock. Test that the sensor works to dispense a new towel.

Key Takeaway: Press the release button on automatic dispensers while swinging the cover open to access inside.

How to Open High Capacity Roll Paper Towel Dispensers

High capacity roll dispensers are designed for large rolled paper towels, usually found in commercial restrooms and kitchens.

To open this dispenser style:

  1. Locate the side or top panel. There will be a removable panel on the side or top of the dispenser. This is held on with screws or an internal locking mechanism.
  2. Remove the panel. Use a phillips head screwdriver to remove any screws holding on the side/top panel. If no screws, find the locking tabs inside to release the panel.
  3. Cut and remove old paper roll. Cut the paper on the current roll so you can remove the roll tube from the dispenser brackets.
  4. Install new jumbo roll. Place the new jumbo paper towel roll into the brackets.
  5. Thread paper through rollers. Pull the paper over the feed rollers and out the dispensing slot in the cover.
  6. Replace panel. Put the side or top panel back on and screw it back in place if needed.

Key Takeaway: Remove a side or top panel to access the jumbo paper towel roll and feed mechanism.

How to Open C-Fold Paper Towel Dispensers

C-fold dispensers hold stacks of pre-cut and folded paper towels. They require a bit different process to open and load.

Follow these steps for c-fold towel dispensers:

  1. Find release button or lock. C-fold dispensers usually have a button or sliding lock. Press the button in or slide the lock to release the front cover.
  2. Swing open front cover. After releasing the lock, swing open the front cover to access inside.
  3. Remove any jammed paper. Carefully remove any jammed towels stuck in the mechanism.
  4. Load new stack of folded towels. Neatly place a new stack of C-fold paper towels into the feed tray.
  5. Pull first towel through. Grab the first towel and pull it through the feed rollers and out the slot.
  6. Close dispenser. Swing closed the front cover and press the button or slide the lock to re-engage it.

Key Takeaway: C-fold dispensers hold stacks of pre-cut paper towels. Make sure to neatly load the stack and pull the first one through the rollers.

TypeHow to Open
ManualButton, lock plate, or bottom screw
AutomaticPress release button while opening
High CapacityRemove side/top panel
C-FoldButton or lock to open cover

Troubleshooting Jammed Paper Towel Dispensers

Now that you know how to open the dispenser, you can troubleshoot issues like jams. Here are some tips:

  • Carefully remove any jammed paper from inside the dispenser mechanisms. You may need to pull or cut it away with scissors.
  • Disconnect dispenser from power source when working inside an electric dispenser.
  • Clean any debris, grease, or dirt buildup on the internal rollers and feed mechanism parts.
  • Make sure the paper towel roll is loaded correctly, with the paper coming over the top and through the rollers properly.
  • Test dispensing a few new towels to ensure the mechanism is working smoothly after fixing a jam.
  • Replace any worn out rollers or parts that are preventing smooth feeding of towels.

Key Takeaway: Carefully remove jammed paper and clean parts inside. Check paper is loaded right and mechanically test dispensing.


How do you open a paper towel dispenser without a key?

Many dispensers can be opened with a flathead or phillips head screwdriver rather than a key. Turn screws counter clockwise or pry off a front cover.

What to do if the dispenser screw turns freely but won’t open?

If the screw spins freely, try carefully prying open the front cover while turning the screw. There may be a tab that needs to release.

How do you reset an automatic paper towel dispenser?

First open the cover. Remove any jammed paper. Then reconnect power or batteries and test the sensor. Load new paper towels correctly and test dispensing.

Should paper towels go over or under the roll in the dispenser?

Paper towels should always feed from over the top of the roll. If underneath, it can cause jams.

How do you stop paper towels from ripping off too soon?

Check that the paper feeds over the top of the roll, and that internal rollers are clean. Frayed rollers can cause tearing.


Learning how to open the different types of paper towel dispensers is the first step in fixing any jams or issues. Once open, you can identify and clear jams, clean parts, load new paper towels, and get the dispenser working properly again.

Knowing how to release the cover, where the buttons or locks are located, and what type of dispenser you have is key. Taking a slow and careful approach will allow you to successfully troubleshoot and repair your paper towel dispenser.

Emma Kellam
Emma Kellam

I'm Emma, and I run Towels Edition, a website for fellow home goods enthusiasts who, like me, are passionate about textiles. After working in high-end retail, I was amazed by how little most people (myself included!) know about all the towel options out there.

I research and write all the content myself. Whether it's specialized towels like bar mops, Turkish cotton production methods, or comparing hair towel absorbency, I cover it. My goal is to share my knowledge and enthusiasm to help others.

Running Towels Edition allows me to constantly expand my own expertise too. I love learning about innovations in bamboo fabric or ideal bath towels. It's so rewarding to receive emails thanking me for recommendations that improved my readers' routines.

I want Towels Edition to be the ultimate online towel resource, making this overlooked necessity far more fascinating. My aim is to open people's eyes to how specialty towels can thoroughly enhance hygiene, cleaning, recreation and self-care.