The Truth Behind Hotel “Cleaning” Practices Will Scare You

See recent posts by Katherine Alex Beaven

Never a good sign... (Photo credit: Flickr/VotePrime)

Never a good sign... (Photo credit: Flickr/VotePrime)

First of all, let's just start out by saying that not every hotel room is secretly swarming with skin cells of past guests, E. coli, and/or unidentified bodily fluids. Every hotel has different protocol, schedules, and cleaning staff that determine just how clean your temporary home is going to be. But just because your room looks spic-n-span doesn't necessarily make it so. We aren't dumb (and neither are you); we know that not all maids are spending hours scrubbing, buffing, and spraying down every surface and crevice of our hotel rooms. But after digging, we uncovered some pretty dirty secrets of hotel "cleaning" practices, hiding in the sheets, on your pillows, across the bathroom counter, in the glasses you drink from -- pretty much everywhere. Think you're better off not knowing about how dirty the bedsheets are or what infectious bacteria is colonizing on that remote control? Trust us, it's better to know -- and know how to deal with it. And we're here to help.

So what exactly should you be looking out for?

You might want to think twice about changing the channel.

You might want to think twice about changing the channel.

When researching hotel cleanliness,
we noticed a few areas of uncleanliness that are legitimately hazardous to your health. Off-the-charts repeat offenders included drinking cups and mugs, remote controls, light switches, faucets and, maybe the
most unnerving, bedding. According to the official reports of 2012 and 2013 Canadian
hotel room inspections, dirt, mold, and germs get ballsy. They not only hide
out in dark, unseen crevices like air-conditioning vents, but can be found
unapologetically out in the open. On-the-spot pathogen tests performed in these
studies and others found that hotel room remote controls were breeding grounds
for thousands of bacteria like E.coli (spoiler alert: that means feces), staph,
and the highly contagious — and sometimes deadly — MSRA, along with other
dangerous germs. Thanks, but no thanks. 

Don’t even get us
started on the beds. Investigations done with hidden cameras, the naked eye,
and UV lights uncovered some nasty things under the covers: nail clippings,
hair, fluffed-but-not-changed pillows, and scores of unidentified fluids (also
found on some seemingly spotless drapes). Studies have also found that many
frequently touched spots like light switches, telephones, and faucet knobs are
rarely cleaned, and thus become popular hosts of pathogen parties. Is it just us or
does it seem counter-productive to have the sink area, where we wash our hands,
be crawling with bacteria?  And speaking of counters, these were also home
to tons of bacteria — and for the same gag-inducing reasons you should
probably shy away from those shiny glasses and mugs. 

Is it really that bad?

This place isn't even trying to hide the mold growing inside the glasses.

This place isn’t even trying to hide the mold growing inside the glasses.

Okay, we’re all adults here. We can handle it. Here’s the nitty-gritty on why your room isn’t as clean as it looks. 

Glasses and mugs

Those sparkling
glasses hanging out by the sink…chances are they haven’t left the room in
ages. It seems hotel mugs and glasses are some of the dirtiest and most
dangerous item in the room. Why? Because as hidden camera after hidden camera has proven, glasses are too often cleaned in the bathroom sink (with no soap), dried
with a towel, and then replaced — sometimes with those pretty little paper
tops that make you think they’ve been appropriately sanitized when they haven’t.

And it gets
worse. Studies show that a common hotel practice is cleaning glasses with toxic chemicals like
window cleaner, or while wearing the
same gloves worn while scrubbing the toilets moments before. On top of that,
the towels used to the dry the glasses are often dirty. Some maids have been caught on hidden camera cleaning glasses with
used towels in the bathroom, or the same towels used to dry surfaces like
the toilet seat. Oh, and a hotel employee confessed on Whisper that some pee in the
glasses, dry them, and set them back on the counter. 

Countertops, bathtubs, and other large spaces

We’ve met a lot of
people who refuse to take baths in hotels. Their reasoning? Hundreds if not
thousands of people have probably bathed in that same tub. Understandable to a
certain degree, but we find it much more disturbing to think about the
possibility the bathtub could be cleaned with a toxic cleaning chemical
and then only wiped down afterwards, or worse, that it might be wiped down,
like the glasses, with a towel used to clean the toilet. And we aren’t going to
lie, we’ve seen a few loose hairs from other guests that didn’t quite make it
down the drain before our arrival. Another surface that seems like a no-brainer
for a necessity of cleanliness is the countertop and sink taps, but in reality, because of the
high-risk of cross-contamination from using the same towel throughout the
entire cleaning process, these areas are also at high-risk for bacteria and
other pathogens. 

Bedding and other linens

We’d like to think
that the one safe place in a hotel room is the bed. We spend most of our time
in there, between the sheets, cuddled up next to the pillows (ok, drooling on
them sometimes). We were shocked to learn that bedding was also something that
needed to be addressed. While many hotels change and wash sheets frequently,
surprisingly, pillows, blankets, and bedspreads sometimes get left out. In
fact, this unknown hotel’s cleaning schedule shows that it only
requires bedspreads, blankets, and mattress pads to be cleaned once every three months!  OMGross. What’s more, one of
the undercover videos showed a maid merely fluffing the pillows, and not replacing them. This has to be one of the most disturbing and unhygienic
offenses in the book since our faces — eyes, mouth, and nose — have direct
contact with the pillows, putting us up close and personal to any germs,
illnesses, or whatever the
person before us may have left. Oh, and if you get cold in the night, skip
grabbing that extra blanket in the closet. A Whisper confession revealed they hardly (if ever) get
changed or cleaned. 

Why is this happening?

You try cleaning this up in 15 minutes.

You try cleaning this up in 15 minutes.

While we can’t pin down a specific reason substandard cleaning practices are utilized at hotels across the board, we’ve got a few good guesses. As we highlighted earlier this year, hotel staff wages aren’t the best. The housekeepers paid
to clean your rooms are usually making a meager salary and often are short-changed on tips. Unfortunately, this could give little incentive for a
maid to go that extra mile in making sure the room is 100% clean and sanitary. In a similar vein, housekeeping staff is usually required to turnover several rooms in a short amount of time —
particularly in large resorts — causing corners to be cut. Think about it. If a
1,000-room hotel has even just half of their guests checking out at noon, and
new guests start checking-in at around 3 p.m., that only gives a handful of
cleaners only three hours to clean roughly 500 rooms. Think you can fully clean a
room in under 20 minutes? And let’s face it, when we
are on holiday, not all of us are minding the messes we make. Even if it’s not a
large resort, it’s probably safe to bet the housekeeping sector is

In addition to low
wages and possible understaffing, some hotel cleaning staff may not be armed
with the most sanitary supplies. We saw several housekeepers with one bucket
for all their brushes, rags, sponges, and cleaners, which almost undoubtedly leads to hazardous cross-contamination. In these cases, it’s no wonder bacteria is on almost every surface. Furthermore, hotel staff may be poorly trained in the proper sanitation
methods, or just ignorant to the actual danger of some of the methods they use
to cut corners. 

Clean and simple tips to help you sleep at night:

Bag it up. (Photo Credit: Flickr/baldiri)

Bag it up. (Photo Credit: Flickr/baldiri)

So you never want to step foot in another hotel room again? Don’t be silly. We aren’t going to let this stop us from enjoying hotels  — after all, they’re not all particularly unclean. But if you’re really worried, you can rest easy if you adopt these methods sure you’ve got a clean spot to sleep. 

  • Try packing a few extras like anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, Ziploc bags, and maybe even your own cup and pillow case. 
  • Grab the wash cloth from the bathroom and squirt some anti-bacterial hand sanitizer on it. Wipe down all the trouble areas like light switches, TV remotes, door handles, phones, clock radios, taps, and toilet seats. It may sound overzealous, but it actually can get rid of over 80 percent of the nasty lingering germs.
  • Use a hand towel to cover the bathroom countertop before putting out your toiletries.
  • Throw the throw pillows on the floor. Most likely, that’s where they’ve spent most of their lives. 
  • If you are still worried about the remote control, stuff it inside a shower cap or Ziploc bag. Voila! 

All products are independently selected by our writers and editors. If you buy something through our links, Oyster may earn an affiliate commission.