Dirty Secrets: What You Need to Know About Your Hotel Room

by AOL Travel Staff Subscribe to AOL Travel Staff's posts Posted Dec 16th 2009 06:18 PM

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Dirty Secrets: What You Need to Know About Your Hotel Room

The dirty truth: Just because that hotel room looks clean, doesn't mean that it is.

Just how clean are hotel rooms? At first glance everything may seem to be in order-the bed is neatly made, paper covers rest atop the drinking classes in the bathroom, and the toilet paper is folded to a point-but first impressions can be deceiving.

The simple fact is: You have no idea who slept in that bed, used that bathroom or walked barefoot on that carpet the night before. What's even more disconcerting is that you have no way of knowing how well the staff has cleaned these areas.

Recent investigations into hotel cleanliness by ABC News and Fox News revealed some downright disturbing cleaning practices among major hotel chains like Embassy Suites, Holiday Inn and Sheraton.

There's no need to cancel your next hotel stay, but it certainly doesn't hurt to take a little extra care when bedding down in a room away from home, especially now that it's flu season. Here, we've outlined five of the dirtiest secrets hotels don't want you to know about their cleaning practices (or lack thereof) and what you can do to protect yourself.

Dirty Secrets: What You Need to Know About Your Hotel Room

Tired? Thirsty? Need a drink of water? Well before you take a sip from that glass by the sink, you might want to wash it out. Hotel housekeeping staffs are worked hard, and unfortunately for us, sometimes they take shortcuts. As was frighteningly revealed in a recent Atlanta Fox News expose, some hotel maids don't even bother to use soap when "cleaning" drinking glasses.

At an Atlanta Embassy Suites, a hidden camera showed a maid wiping the room's glasses with a blue glass-cleaner clearly labeled "do not drink." No soap was involved, but some potentially toxic liquid was. Down the road, at a Sheraton Suites, the maid simply rinsed glasses under water and set them back out for the next traveler. Again, no soap was used.

A similar ABC News investigation found that "From Kansas City to Cincinnati to Baltimore, 11 of 15 hotels tested did not take dirty glasses out of the room for cleaning and sanitizing." Meaning they were not cleaned in a dishwasher. Often were just wiped with rags or cleaned with cleaning solution. Yuck.

Protect Yourself: Don't drink from glassware in your hotel room. Instead ask for sealed, plastic glasses at the concierge desk or go with bottled water.

Dirty Secrets: What You Need to Know About Your Hotel Room

Most hotel rooms don't have ample seating, so life revolves around the bed, the largest surface in your average hotel room. Sitting, eating, jumping, and any number of-ahem-intimate activities can take place on top of the bedspread. Some parents even change diapers on the beds. So before you snuggle up to a throw pillow on the bed, beware.

Kris Calhoun, a former hotel manager, told the Associated Press, "Don't believe that hotels wash these bedding items after every checkout. Most [bedspreads] lucky to be washed every couple of weeks, if that."

You also can't be sure the sheets and towels are clean either. According to The Bedbug Registry, since bed bugs are easy to transport and hard to get rid of, they've become a problem for hotels, which have hundreds of potential infestees coming through their doors each day. According to the site, infestations have been reported recently in hotels in San Francisco, Allentown, Pa., Auburn Hills, Mich., Daytona Beach, Atlantic City, Portland and elsewhere. Also don't assume that the bed is the only place you'll find these critters. They can live in any cracks and crevices in headboards, floorboards, carpets and furniture, etc. And bad news for four-star hotels: Bedbugs don't discriminate.

Protect Yourself: Before you book, check reviews for reports of cleanliness on TripAdvisor.com or infestations at BedbugRegistry.com. When you arrive in your room, pull off throw pillows and comforters and set them aside. Then check the room, bed and especially mattress seams for critters and signs of their excrement (small red or brown dots).

Dirty Secrets: What You Need to Know About Your Hotel Room

Unless you travel with a personal assistant or you permanently wear gloves, there's no way to avoid flipping on a light switch. The bad news is that only the most conscientious maids would think to clean the light switch, or the other most-touched elements in a hotel room: the door knob, remote control, alarm clock, lamps and toilet handle. Hopefully they've cleaned the sink faucets, but you can't be sure.

Travelers beware: Dr. J. Owen Hendley, professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia and co-author of a 2006 study on rhinoviruses, told Travel & Leisure that cold-causing germs can live on hard surfaces for a day and are easily transferred from these surfaces to your fingers, then to nose and eyes.

Protect Yourself: Bring disinfecting wipes such as Clorox or Lysol and give the room a once-over. Treat your hotel room as if it's a public bus: Wash your hands frequently.

Dirty Secrets: What You Need to Know About Your Hotel Room

Usually travelers worry about unfiltered water in foreign countries, but there is such a thing as water that has been "too" purified. On December 14th, CBS News reported that three guests of the EPIC hotel in Miami had come down with Legionnaire's disease (one later died from the infection). It turns out the hotel's high powered water purification system was filtering out chlorine from the city water supply, which allowed bacteria to grow. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 8,000 and 18,000 people are infected with the bacterial, Legionnaire's disease each year. It's spread through contaminated water vapors.

Protect Yourself: Don't trust the water supply. Drink bottled water; it's the only way to know exactly what water you're getting.

Dirty Secrets: What You Need to Know About Your Hotel Room

Think twice before you brew coffee or store ice-you never know what the visitor before you did with those common hotel-room amenities. During Calhoun's hotel-manager days, he found all sorts of things, including cigarette butts, vomit and urine, hidden in coffee makers and ice buckets.

"If I have found it, I guarantee room attendants have found it," writes Calhoun in the Associated Press, but "that doesn't mean they do anything more than dump the contents out, rinse the inside of the pot or maker, and move on.

An ABC News investigation found housekeepers treating hotel coffee pots no better than they did drinking glasses. At the Millennium Hotel in Cincinnati, they discovered a housekeeper "cleaning" a coffee pot with a bottle of Lysol mildew remover. At an Embassy Suites in Cincinnati, a maid used a towel to wipe down the dirty bathroom floor; then she used the same towel to clean the coffee pot.

Protect Yourself: If you use the coffee maker be sure to clean the pot and filter portion thoroughly with hot water and soap. The same goes for the ice bucket, and if the hotel offers plastic liners, all the better (but don't make that a substitute for cleaning the bucket itself).

Dirty Secrets: What You Need to Know About Your Hotel Room

Filed Under: Hotel, Tips & Tricks