Looks can be deceiving
Since so many people stay in hotel rooms, perhaps it shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise that those rooms aren’t always as clean as they should be. In one pre-COVID study—and only read on if you have a strong stomach—81 percent of hotel surfaces contained at least some fecal bacteria. But that was before the pandemic, so things must be different now, right? Not necessarily. One study from September 2020 published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases found COVID germs on eight of 22 hotel room surfaces tested, as well as on the pillow covers, sheets, and duvets of two rooms where presymptomatic people who then tested positive stayed. Although the amount of COVID particles needed to actually make you sick is still up for debate, and the rooms in the study hadn’t been cleaned yet, the report highlights the need for rigorous sanitation protocols to eliminate any germs left behind by a previous guest.
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 especially after the hospitality industry was so hard-hit last year, one way they keep more of that money is by cutting corners. Today, cleanliness is more important—and more important to guests—than ever. Yet there have been few investigations on how well hotels are sticking to their new cleaning guidelines. Some recent anecdotal reports from guests have given hotel cleanliness mixed reviews, and because of the dirtiness that was often commonplace pre-COVID, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You should also be aware that some spots are dirtier than others. Let’s take a look.
They’re reusing the sheets
Although this was an issue before COVID-19, it seems almost unthinkable today—but it’s still a problem. Previously, 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. According to a 2016 Inside Edition investigation, three out of nine hotels tested secretly didn’t change sheets (insert vomit emoji). Disturbingly, an Inside Edition report from June 2020 found the same unnerving results 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 all 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 germs from previous guests could be lurking there. In your own home, this is how bad it is to not wash your sheets every week, never mind 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 checked in and before you get comfy.