Are hotels as clean as their lobbies would make you think?
I spend my day trying to minimize people’s exposure to harmful pathogens. Medical settings are required to dispose of waste and keep the area sterilized in very specific and highly regulated ways. But sometimes I need a vacation, and then I can’t help wondering: Who is disinfecting the surfaces I share with a whole lot of strangers OUTSIDE the medical setting?
Can I trust regular hotel housekeeping to keep me and my family safe?
Ideal hotel housekeeping is rigorous and regulated. A good hotel will ideally keep at least three sets of sheets and towels for every room in inventory, so it’s easy to change them, and replace them every time a stain is stubborn or it gets “tired” from washing. In a good hotel, the sheets and towels won’t be older than one year.
ALL linens and towels should be replaced between guests, even if the bed appears unused. They should be laundered at high temperatures, with harsher chemicals than you would use at home. A really great hotel will wash the blankets and bedspreads too.
All solid surfaces should be wiped down with appropriate cleaners and disinfectants. The bathroom should be mopped, the bathtub filled with a cleanser, scrubbed, and emptied again. Carpets should be vacuumed, perhaps treated for odor. A good hotel will use just the right amount of chemicals. The scent of excessive disinfectant or perfume is just as bad as a musty or smoky scent for a guest.
The only things a guest should find in the room are the hotel-issued amenities. Whatever has been used, should be switched, and cleaned before going into a room again. (Think: Coffeemaker) The fridge, microwave, drawers and cupboards should be cleaned as well.
A good hotel will ideally keep at least three sets of sheets and towels for every room in inventory.
Rooms should be cleaned every day. That way, if one spot is missed, it will be caught promptly, so dirt or dust doesn’t accumulate. On top of that, a good housekeeping supervisor will create time to get to more obscure assignments that are easily overlooked, like dusting the tops of picture frames, or checking the irons to make sure they work. A good supervisor will only consider a room “ready” when it has been cleaned AND inspected to make sure nothing was overlooked.
Every couple of months, each room should be more deeply cleaned: Mattress aired and flipped over, drapes laundered, furniture cleaned, and carpet steamed.
Depending on who the previous occupant was and how well the room was disinfected, you can catch anything from scabies to a norovirus through contact with contaminated surfaces. (Just to give you an idea- the amount of norovirus particles that fit on the head of a pin would be enough to infect more than 1,000 people.)
Think about these 9 useful tips before your next hotel stay.
So here are 9 tips to avoid infection during your hotel stay.
1 – Pack Smart:
Handy items are a travel-size Lysol disinfectant spray, alchohol (or other disinfecting) wipes, slippers, and clear plastic bags.
2 – Inspect your room before you unpack:
Take a look around. Check the floor, bedding and furniture for stains, hairs, crumbs and debris. Check for mold and mildew in the bathroom and look over the toiletries- they should all be sealed.
Peel back the fitted sheet and check the mattress for signs of bedbugs: dried blood stains, tiny white eggs, or transparent/yellow bedbug skin or shells.
You can also use a cheap bed bug trap- supermarkets sell them. Put the trap under the mattress, (following instructions on the packaging). Check back after an hour. Until you are sure the bed is safe to sleep in, don’t sit on it or put personal belongings on it.
Check the vents and the bathroom fan. Sniff for stange smells, or dust and debris around the ducts that can aggravate allergies or affect your breathing. Also, note if there is a stale smell of cigarettes in a non-smoking room.
The previous guest may have decided to smoke in it anyway.
3 – Wash your hands:
80 percent of infections are transmitted by hands. A lot of people have touched the doorknob, elevator button, stair railing, etc. It’s a good practice to eliminate pathogens on your hands before you eat, drink, touch your face- or contaminate other surfaces in the room.
4 – Sanitize:
Start with the bathroom- it’s the most germy. Use a tissue to lift the toilet seat and spray both sides of the seat with Lysol. Then use alchohol wipes on frequently-touched surfaces: the flush lever, the faucets, doornknobs, drawer handles, light switches, the phone, clock radio, and the remote control. Because the remote control has many crevices, it’s a good idea to simply slide it into a clear plastic bag and use that as a protective cover.
5 – Avoid water glasses:
They are often poorly sterilized between guests. (Sometimes they are just given a quick scrub in the bathroom sink and then placed back on the counter as if they were new.) Either bring your own cup, use the disposable wrapped plastic cups, or wash glasses/mugs with hand soap and hot water and leave them open-side up to dry. The same goes for ice buckets without plastic liners.
6 – Avoid skin contact with surfaces:
Hands off the drapes. They trap a lot of debris and allergens, and the germs build up over time. Be fully clothed when sitting on chairs or on the sofa.
The carpet isn’t likely to have been sterilized since the last guest. Wear socks or slippers and use shower shoes in the bathroom. If your room has a hard floor it is a bit safer; floors are cleaned more frequently.
7 – Put away the Bedspread:
You are not likely to catch a norovirus from the bedding, but it may be full of allergens or just plain dirty. If there’s a bedspread, put it away in a corner. It’s not likely to have been washed or changed recently. A duvet is a bit safer. Keep the top sheet between you and the cover and fold the sheet over the edge to keep your chin covered as well. Also, for an additional barrier and protection, use a bug repellent like BugBand towelettes or essential oils (lemon, peppermint, rosemary and citronella repel bugs.)
8 – Take a Careful Shower:
Squirt shampoo or soap in the tub or shower and run the water on its hottest setting for a minute to de-germ the area where you will be standing. If you have cuts or abrasions on the bottom of your feet, bandage them or wear slippers. Skipping a bath is recommended due to biofilm, a layer of bacteria that sticks to surfaces like tubs and only comes off with vigorous scrubbing (with a brush) and soap.
9 – Avoid the Drapes!
They trap a lot of debris and allergens.
If you stay at hotels often, you might consider investing in a travel garment steamer. You can use it to steam upholstered surfaces, and even the toilet seat, bedsheets, and parts of the floor. Another useful gadget is a portable UV air sanitizer to get rid of bacteria, mold, dust mites and pet dander in the air.
More information on hotel rooms:
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