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14 Gross Things Hotels Are Still Doing to Save Money

Hotels say they're cleaning more thoroughly than ever because of COVID...but are they doing enough? Before you kick off your shoes and relax on that big, comfy bed, you’re going to want to read this.

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Looks can be deceiving

Since there’s often a quick turnaround between guests, perhaps it shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise that hotels aren’t as clean as they should be. In fact—and only read on if you have a strong stomach—one 2012 study found that 81 percent of hotel surfaces contained at least some fecal bacteria. But that was before COVID-19, so things must be different now, right? Not necessarily. While travel experts say they trust certain hotels to be super clean, here’s the general issue: Hotels are in the business of making money, and one way they keep more of that money is by cutting corners where they think they can get away with it. And we hate to break the news to you, but surfaces aren’t the only things you need to worry about in your guest room, though, of course, some spots are dirtier than others. Here are the gross things that hotels are still doing to save cash, despite the pandemic.

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They’re reusing the sheets

This was an issue before COVID-19. If there weren’t visible stains, some hotels didn’t clean the sheets regularly between guests, says Philip Biton, the cofounder of NDOband who also helps hotels find ways to generate money from their rented rooms. And in fact, three out of nine hotels tested secretly didn’t change sheets (insert vomit emoji), according to an Inside Edition investigation in 2016. Unfortunately, Inside Edition found the same disturbing results in June 2020 in at least three hotels in New York City—the Hyatt Place in Times Square, the Hampton Inn Times Square Central, and Trump International. These hotels didn’t change the linens or clean thoroughly between visits, the report found, despite the stringent COVID-19-related cleaning measures that hotels should be following right now.

Of course, sheets should always be replaced, says Biton. After all, bodily fluids, hair, and other seriously gross stuff from previous guests could be lurking there. In your own home, this is how bad it is to not wash your sheets every week. Now imagine that at a hotel, with multiple people you don’t know rolling around on them. Pro tip: Ask the hotels to change the sheets (again?) after you’ve actually checked in and before you get comfy.

Businessman with face mask sneezing into elbow in a hotel room.Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

They’re letting sick employees continue to work

The stakes are high when it comes to COVID-19, but apparently, the economic stakes when it comes to hotel employees are even higher for some hotels. At the Holiday Inn LAX, when an employee told her bosses that she had a headache and body aches, she was given the day off to take a COVID-19 test but continued working until she received her positive result, according to NBC.

How could something like this happen? According to Jon Jarosh, a spokesman for Destination Door County in Wisconsin, many businesses are struggling to find and maintain employees due to all of the travel restrictions right now (though he didn’t say that this is affecting the cleanliness of the Door County properties). While there isn’t much you can do about other peoples’ actions or inactions, you should regularly wash your hands, engage in proper social distancing, and wear a mask whenever you’re not in your hotel room. Here are more eye-opening facts that will convince you to wear a mask.

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They may allow COVID-19-positive guests to stay there

Sure, the hotel may disinfect the rooms, and the chlorine should kill the virus in the pool. But there may be COVID-19-positive guests lurking behind closed doors. And we’re not just talking about people who don’t disclose (or know about) their COVID-19 status. According to the Santa Clara County Public Health Emergency Operations Center, lodging facilities in California are allowed to provide rooms for COVID-19-positive guests as long as they’re in an isolation area consisting of at least 5 percent of the total available rooms of the facility and they’re all adjacent to one another. If there are fewer than 20 rooms at the hotel, at least one room must be reserved for an isolation area. If possible—and, of course, it’s not always possible—the isolation area must have entrances and exits directly to the outdoors. Those exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms but who do not have a positive test are also allowed to stay but are supposed to isolate in their rooms. Of course, “supposed to” is the key phrase there.

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They may continue to skimp on washing the glasses

Unfortunately, there are no international standards for the cleanliness of a hotel, even in these times. And it’s easy to make a glass look clean: You simply have to rinse it under some water or quickly wipe it with a towel, especially if the previous guest only drank water out of it. If the housekeepers have limited time to clean each room, there’s a good chance they’re going to save some of those precious minutes by not washing the glasses properly. An undercover investigation by ABC News in 2009 revealed that 75 percent of the glasses examined had just been wiped down and rinsed out instead of being properly sanitized. Other investigations at various hotels found that cleaning staff washed the glasses with dirty cloths and with spray that was not suitable for drinking.

While there haven’t been any post-COVID-19 studies about the state of the glasses, many hotels have replaced their glasses with disposable ones, according to Town & Country. It’s not as environmentally friendly, but it’s safer at the moment. Pro tip: Don’t risk it if you do see those glasses, and bring your own reusable water bottles when you stay in a hotel, just in case. Here are another 12 things you shouldn’t do at reopened hotels.

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They don’t wash the coffeepots

Let’s be honest here: When was the last time you washed your own coffeepot? Exactly. So, you really shouldn’t expect a hotel to do a better job. One ABC News exposé found that hotels aren’t using soap or any other cleaners to clean their coffeepots. And researchers from the University of Valencia examined nine hotel Nespresso machines that had only been used for a year and found bacteria in all of them. (There hasn’t been a study post-COVID-19.) That’s why we bring our own mini French Press with us when we travel, and why you should do the same—or clean everything before using, at least until the coronavirus is under control, says USA Today. Many hotels may actually be getting rid of in-room coffeepots altogether. They’re among the things you might not see in hotels anymore.

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They don’t change their mattresses often

Mattresses are expensive. As a result, high-end hotels tend to change their mattresses every three to five years, while less expensive hotels will change mattresses every ten years, according to Traveller.com. Do you actually think they’re changing their mattresses now, when most hotels are empty and suffering from the economic impact of COVID-19? Even if the mattress is torn or stained, many hotels will simply hide or clean the issue, as it’s too expensive to swap out a mattress every time there’s a problem. Here’s why you need to replace your mattress sooner than seven years.

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They neglect the pillowcases

Often, hotel beds are piled high with pillows, and chances are, you aren’t actually sleeping on all of them. And even if you do sleep on a pillow, do you really leave a mark? When the Today Show investigated top hotel chains in the United States back in 2014, they found that many of the housekeepers put the pillows on the chair next to the bed while they changed the sheets. Then, they fluffed the dirty pillows and put them right back on the bed. No visible stains equals a reuse. Plus, the pillowcases last longer that way, saving hotels even more money in the long run. This is a serious cause for concern: A new study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases found that COVID-19 can be spread through pillows used by presymptomatic patients. Our advice? BYO pillow. Here’s one thing you can still learn from hotels: how to get perfectly fluffed hotel-like pillows at home.

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The light switch is rarely cleaned

We all touch them multiple times per day, but the light switches in hotels aren’t cleaned properly…or maybe ever, say researchers from the University of Houston. And this is a huge problem because the light switches—especially those on bedside lamps—are covered in bacteria. Since housekeepers are only allotted 30 minutes to clean each room, they don’t have time to wipe down everything and also inadvertently carry bacteria to multiple rooms by reusing the same sponge and mop. As a result, bacteria in the hotel rooms were found to be between two and ten times higher than the levels accepted in hospitals. Add to that brand-new research from the CDC that found those infected with COVID-19 can shed the virus on light switches, though items that received “prolonged contact,” like sheets and pillowcases, contained a higher viral load. Cleaning products are among the unexpected things you should be packing for a vacation during the pandemic.

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They don’t change the bedspreads

The first thing you should do when you get into your hotel room? Don a pair of gloves and remove the bedspread from your bed. Seriously, don’t touch it. Most hotels clean bedspreads just four times per year, according to TravelTruth.com. If that bedspread is colorful, it’s more likely that it’s one of those special ones that’s not changed regularly. It was created to look good and hide stains, saving the hotel money in the process since it doesn’t have to be washed for each new guest. While new guidelines from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) recommend that hotels change the bedspreads and other linens between guests, it’s just a recommendation, not a requirement. So, which is safer: a hotel or an Airbnb? We investigated.

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They don’t bother with the throw pillows

You know, the decorative ones that you toss off your bed and onto that gross carpet as soon as you enter your room? The housekeeping staff simply pops those germ-laden throw pillows back onto your bed—touching your (hopefully) clean pillowcases, according to Thrillist. Super duper gross. Are their throw pillows ever washed? Are yours? Up your chances of having a clean hotel room by avoiding these hotel chains with the worst reputations in the industry.

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Some have poor water pressure

Hotels can save money by controlling the flow of water, according to the Hotel Association of New York City (HANYC). Conserving the flow of water not only saves on water costs, but it also saves money on energy and more—so the hotels may have actually installed low-flow devices. What does this mean for you? Aside from poor shower quality, you’ll also get linens that aren’t so clean and an overall filthy vibe. Here’s how professional cleaners can tell if a hotel room is clean.

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They don’t always change their towels

“They utilize the apathy of guests by stating that only towels left in the bath and shower will be changed,” says Jeremy Scott Foster, CEO of TravelFreak. “This can save hotels so much money on labor, detergent, and electricity.” Previously, Foster says, all towels not on the original rails were washed. Still, some good does come out of this cost-cutting policy: It benefits the environment. Laundry makes up 16 percent of a hotel’s water usage, and by not washing those towels, the hotel can save on water, sewer, labor, and energy costs, according to National Geographic. This is one reuse we don’t actually mind, since we’re the only ones using and reusing those towels. Here are another 20 tiny everyday changes you can make to help the environment.

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They skip cleaning days completely

For better or for worse, most hotels are skipping cleaning days. Pre-COVID-19, many offered guests a $5 per day credit if they chose not to have their room cleaned, or alternatively (depending on the hotel), they’d tack on additional costs for daily cleaning. Today, however, the majority of hotels aren’t cleaning your room unless you’re staying more than three nights. These hotels have realized that it’s not cost-effective, necessary, or even safe to do a thorough cleaning every day. While this means that no outsiders are entering your room (a good thing at the moment), it also means that your room may not be as clean as it could be, since it’s not getting its daily wipe-down. These are the 10 amenities slowly vanishing from hotel rooms.

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They choose colorful carpets on purpose

The purpose: to hide stains. Let your mind envision any stains you want, and chances are, they’re embedded in your lush, colorful carpet, according to Bustle. Yes, tiles are easy to clean, but those colorful carpets can also be viewed as works of art, according to the website Hotel Management, so they’re technically doing double duty. The most recent popular colors include grays, brown tones, and non-directional designs with heavy layers of texture. In case you were wondering, this is how often you should be vacuuming your own carpet.

For more on this developing situation, including how to stay healthy and sane, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at www.Daniellebraff.com. You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff, and Instagram at danikarp.