Close this search box.

How clean should you leave your hotel room?

Checking into a hotel has evolved from a moment of disconnection to a full-on decontamination drill for some travelers. Scouring under beds, sanitizing sinks and disinfecting door handles and that notoriously germ-infested remote have become essential steps in the post-pandemic world in which we’re hyper-aware of germs. And don’t forget to check behind the curtains for intruders before bolting the door.

Yet just when you thought you’d navigated all the rituals, there’s a new room riddle — and this time it’s about checking out. An exasperated LinkedIn post by hotel manager Dinesh Tewari showing a filthy room littered with trash, plastic bottles and cigarette butts exposed the horrors faced by housekeepers and opened up a whole new can of worms for guests.

In the comments, hotel regulars proudly pointed out how they strip sheets, make beds and wipe down surfaces when checking out. These humble brags were met with adoring praise from cleaners — and mild befuddlement from everyone else. Unlike Airbnbs, hotels are surely the one place you can kick back, relax and check out without worrying about chores.

Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of early-20th-century etiquette empress Emily Post, suggested that these sometimes-over-the-top checkout cleaning rituals stem from a desire to acknowledge and respect the efforts of hotel housekeeping staff. “It’s genuinely sweet, being aware of your potential impact on other people,” she said. Larry David might disagree; in the premiere of this season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the antihero feels judged by a housekeeper after he left what he thought was a reasonable mess.

Across the pond, the London-based protocol pundit and podcaster William Hanson offered a decidedly more British view: that in a country famously obsessed with social standing, some fear expecting housekeepers to clean up after you perpetuates the class divide. “They don’t want an upstairs-downstairs relationship, or they think they’re really not the kind of person that has to be waited on hand and foot,” he explained.

So, what’s really expected of us during our stay?

Whatever you do, don’t make the bed

It might be part of your morning routine at home, but making the bed in a hotel room isn’t saving anyone time. The first thing your housekeeper will do is strip off all those dirty linens and send them straight to the laundry.

Calvin Kanoho, a former rooms manager for the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, spoke of strict cleaning protocols covering things such as scuffs on the walls and the way chairs are facing. Under those rules, if you’re in a twin room and didn’t use the other bed, the sheets are still going in the wash — and at luxury hotels, the same goes for the unused towels.

The legend of Michelin inspectors dropping a fork on the floor to test restaurant service may have long since been debunked, but hotels still don’t want to risk a black mark — literally. Housekeepers are sometimes warned that notoriously finicky auditors could leave dirt on “unused” linens to see whether they’re replaced during the stay, Kanoho says.

Post said she lets the staff know anyway if she used only one bed — just in case.

But do leave the towels in the bathroom

Our experts all agreed on one thing: Putting your used towels in the bathroom is always appreciated, and a handy indicator to housekeeping during your stay that you want them replaced. Not that they always pay attention; some five-star properties will replace every damp towel in sight, regardless of your aspirations of saving the planet.

Hotels generally keep a minimum of two sets of towels per guest, so there are plenty to go around. That’s not to say you should slip one into your suitcase, though. According to Kanoho, housekeeping keeps track — and you may get charged for taking them.

Cleaning up your trash goes a long way

Research shows that cleaning up your trash is something that actually helps housekeepers. In 2021, academics at Spain’s University of Seville timed each cleaning task and found that removing used and dirty items from areas such as the bathroom takes just under a minute.

According to the same study, making a bed is the most labor-intensive task for housekeepers, taking four times as long as stripping off the sheets. The difference is that cleaning up trash is the only thing you can do to wipe off time for the cleaning crew while not inadvertently creating extra work.

Post, who sits at the top of an etiquette empire that includes books, a podcast and training courses, goes a step further. She makes sure any takeout is packaged up “with no food smears, used napkins or utensils hanging out of the bag.”

The Do Not Disturb sign is complicated

For some guests, like Kanoho, who admitted that he’s ridden with guilt from his days as a housekeeper, flipping the Do Not Disturb sign isn’t about dodging human interaction. “It leaves them one less room to clean,” he said.

But this tactic really only works if you’re the type of guest who touches little more than the towels. Otherwise, letting the mess pile up for three days can turn a quick tidy-up into a herculean task. During longer stays, Kanoho suggests having housekeeping come by twice for a quick refresh.

Before the pandemic, Marriott drew ire from employee unions by offering loyalty points to guests who shunned housekeeping under its “Make a Green Choice” program. A 2018 union survey of one hotel suggested that most cleaners found those rooms harder to clean because of buildups of trash and towels. Two years earlier, housekeepers at six hotels in Boston claimed that they had lost more than 6,800 shifts and $1.7 million in wages and benefits due to the program.

Airbnb rules are different

If you’re staying in an Airbnb, hotel rules and etiquette go out the window. If you leave behind a mess, the host has the power to leave a negative guest review, affecting your chances of securing a stay at another place in future.

Despite paying sometimes-exorbitant cleaning fees, guests are still expected to put in some work before checking out.

According to Post, the key is to “really pay attention to the rules set out by the host,” even if you think that separating the trash into three separate bags and wiping down the mirrors until they’re streak-free is excessive.

There’s no need to make the beds (unless it’s required), but you do need to clean up any crumbs and avoid leaving pools of water in the bathroom. “It should be looking like all it needs is a vacuum and a wipe-down,” she said.

If you’re staying in a private home, communication is key

Things get more complicated if you’re staying at a friend’s or with family, as they so often paradoxically do. Hanson advised that proactively offering to strip the beds will go a long way, even if your host says no, and according to Post, “asking what to do is always the best solution.”

“We’re all individual, and we all have our own way of doing things,” said Grant Harrold, a former under-butler to Britain’s royal family. “But whether you’re in a grand house or a three-star hotel, you should just enjoy the hospitality and let the staff get on with their jobs.”

King Charles III, he insisted, was always a “respectful” guest who let staff work — and if the monarch’s army of footmen disappeared tomorrow, he would be “very good at making beds.”

No matter how clean you are, don’t forget to tip

Making the bed doesn’t save time, and deploying the Do Not Disturb sign remains controversial. The jury’s out on unused beds. But in an industry notorious for its low pay, there’s one thing housekeepers generally do appreciate: a tip.

According to numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2022, the mean wage for cleaners working in traveler accommodations was just $14.94 an hour, so some cash left behind can go a long way.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association suggests $1 to $5 per night, left daily in cash to account for changing shift schedules. Just make sure you clearly address it to housekeeping, otherwise the tip might be squirreled away into the hotel safe as lost property.

Kanoho says tips were uncommon — although some generous guests left behind hundreds of dollars after particularly long stays. “Instead of you lifting a finger and trying to clean, just leave a gratuity,” he said. “That’s one thing your housekeeper will always be happy about.”

Scott Campbell is a freelance journalist based in London and Dubai. He covers hotels and the hospitality industry.

Share the Post:

Related Posts