Frequent guests of hotels won’t like hearing this, but there’s a good chance that the room you stayed in last was not sanitary.

I love to travel. I’ve been around the world and I’ve stayed in many hotels, motels, motor inns, hostels, backpackers, Air BnBs, cabins, cabanas, tents – okay, you get the picture, I’ve stayed in a lot of holiday accommodation. Not only that but 25 years ago, I cleaned hotel rooms for a living so I know a thing or two about the subject.

The makings of a chambermaid

It all began when I was 19 years old, living with my father in Nova Scotia, Canada and aching for an adventure. When I saw a housekeeping position advertised in the newspaper for Banff, I asked my dad to help me write a cover letter to go with my resume.

When Paula Mattison, the hotel manager at Buffalo Mountain Lodge, called to offer me the job, I nearly passed out. It wasn’t long and I was on a plane to Calgary, then a bus to Banff. When I arrived to the luxury resort in mid-December, it was snowing. I thought I had died and gone to some winter wonderland in the sky (Banff is 4500 feet above sea level). Paula greeted me as I stepped off the bus and my new career in hospitality began.

Fast forward five months and I was back in Nova Scotia due to homesickness. But my experience in housekeeping landed me a job at the Halifax Hilton (long gone now). Buffalo Mountain Lodge was great and all, but the Hilton was definitely a top-shelf employer. All positions were governed by a Union, so staff were paid well, fed on shift and rostered on for eight hours a day – plenty of time to get your 14 rooms cleaned to the high standard that was expected.

Both hotels provided full training to all new staff. Both places had high standards in cleanliness. Just one hair was unacceptable. Dust on the picture frame was grounds for a verbal warning. Both places made me the meticulous control freak that I am today.

Not all hotels are as clean as The Hilton

Between the ages of 19 and 26, I worked in several hotels as a housekeeper, front desk clerk and supervisor; reservations agent and switchboard operator. But for the past 20 years, I’ve had a few different careers, including owning and operating my own home cleaning business in Far North Queensland.

My life as a cleaner has made me a picky hotel guest. I’m the customer who checks in and pulls the bed back to inspect the sheets. I scrutinise the bathroom and remember my Hilton supervisor saying, “even one hair in the bathroom is unacceptable”.

When I checked into my hotel room in Bangkok last January, I had to ask for a different room because the one I was given was far too dirty for my comfort level. Sure, it was cheap and I do understand that you get what you pay for but I expect the sheets to be stain-free and the bathroom to be free from stray hairs.

Now, I’m not trying to scare anyone out of staying in paid holiday accommodation but remember, you are a paying guest and hotels are cheap. Sure, I rented in a beach hut in Mexico for $15 USD a night. When my (then) boyfriend and I returned to it and found it (and our luggage) crawling with cockroaches (I am so serious), we left and didn’t bother to complain.

I’m writing this post about hotel room cleanliness so that travellers can be more savvy to what actually goes on in SOME hotels.

Hotel cleaning practises that will turn your stomach

  • Dirty towels from the previous guests are used to clean the bathroom.
  • Bed sheets are not changed unless the guest has sleep between the sheets. In other words, if a guest has slept between the bedcover and the blanket, the bed is not changed.
  • Glasses and mugs are rinsed in the bathroom sink. Some housekeepers use soap and hot water, some don’t.
  • Mop water is not changed throughout the day, which means only the first tiles mopped are actually clean. The rest of the floors have been washed with dirty water.
  • Toilets are sprayed and wiped (yep with a dirty towel) and the bowl is quickly scrubbed with a filthy toilet brush.
  • Kitchenette sponges are not replaced. Sometimes for weeks or months.
  • If there’s a stain on a blanket or bed cover, it’s turned over or hidden with a pillow or towel on the bed.

Disclaimer: Just to be clear, that list of nastiness did not go on while I worked at the Halifax Hilton or Buffalo Mountain Lodge. It certainly is going on at some hotels at this very moment though. Sometimes it is lazy cleaning staff who have no pride in their work. But sometimes it’s owners or management who are super strict with the time allowance to clean each room.

Ways to tell if your hotel room is really clean

Here are a few easy ways to see just how clean your hotel room is.

  • Pull the bed back and look for stains on the sheets, blankets and mattress protector.
  • Remove the pillow case. What’s the state of the pillow?
  • Look under the bed. Anything under there? I once found $20 in a Fremantle B&B I stayed in. Straight in my wallet. Thank you very much.
  • Run your hand around the bathtub. How does it feel? If it’s smooth, it’s clean. If it’s textured, that’s probably someone’s dead skin cells on your hand. Yuck, I know.

Okay, so I don’t rip every room I stay in apart but I do want what I pay for. I don’t want to get all Gordon Ramsey on every hotelier’s ass. I’ll let one or two hairs pass my view but a toothpaste-splattered mirror in a 4-star hotel in not on. I believe guests have the right to clean hotel rooms.

Do you have an dirty hotel room horror story you’d like to share?

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