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Is Your Hotel
Room Really Clean?

January 14, 2020

We’ve all heard horror stories about dirty hotel rooms. Many of us have experienced some of these offenses firsthand. Whether you’re a germaphobe or just go with the flow, a dirty hotel room can mean more than general ickiness, it can be hazardous. From unpleasant remnants of previous guests to horrifying bedbugs, some hazards are more obvious than others.

But how do you know if your hotel room is clean and healthy? You may not see any hairs, stains or dirty build-up anywhere, but how can you be sure about germs and bacteria? The sad truth is—you can’t. Short of bringing along testing equipment, there’s really no way to know how clean (translation: sanitary) your room is just by looking around.


There are ways to check if your hotel room was likely cleaned well. Fresh, clean rooms have a feel and smell that most of us recognize. A good cleaning leaves behind common clues, too. Here are a few things you can check that show your hotel is serious about keeping things clean.

Start your inspection in the parking lot

“First impressions mean a lot,” is a familiar saying for a reason. If your hotel gives you a first impression that they’re not overly concerned with cleanliness and tidiness, you can be sure that impression isn’t going to change. 

As soon as you exit your car, start taking notice of some key areas. 

  • Is the parking lot well maintained and free of trash?
  • Does the landscaping look well cared for and healthy?
  • Is the exterior of the hotel in good shape and reasonably clean?

Once you enter the hotel, look around the lobby and see if it gives an overall appearance of being clean and maintained. 

  • Does the lobby area smell fresh and clean?
  • Are the floors vacuumed, mopped, swept or otherwise well-kept?
  • Do tables, couches, lamps and other furnishings in sitting areas look dusted and polished?
  • How does the staff look? Are they disheveled and disinterested or do they have an overall pleasant appearance?

So far, so good? Let’s head up to our room.

Can your hotel room pass the sniff test?

As soon as you enter your hotel room, take a big, deep sniff. Does the room have a pleasant aroma or a nose-wrinkling odor? Can you smell cleaning solution and disinfectant or do you smell stagnant, stale air? In the bathroom, do you smell mildew or lingering odors? Do you detect body odors or other unpleasant smells around your room?

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Some people have very sensitive noses and can pick up on even minute smells, while others only smell highly offensive or pleasant odors. Offensive odors can be the result of commonly missed cleaning tasks. Keep in mind that a single unpleasant whiff doesn’t mean the whole room is dirty. But dirt, bacteria and mildew create odors familiar to most of us and they’re NOT the smells you want to sniff in your hotel room. 

Bottom line—if your hotel room doesn’t smell clean, it probably isn’t.

Is the bathroom squeaky clean?

After your sniff test, it’s time to head back into the bathroom. Hotel bathrooms typically receive frequent cleaning and may even be cleaner than that remote you’ll be using later. Bathrooms are cleaned more frequently and thoroughly than other areas because they show the most dirt and grime and are often what many travelers check first. 

What does a professionally cleaned bathroom look and smell like? Shiny and free of offensive odors is a good start. There should be no dust, hair or sticky residues, even behind the toilet and door. You shouldn’t smell anything funky, just the welcome scent of cleaners and disinfectants. For a closer inspection, check the bathroom trash can under the bag and the exhaust fan for cleanliness. 

On to our next stop—your hotel bed. 

Good night, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite!

While bed bugs are terrifying to many travelers, they aren’t actually a sign of a dirty hotel room. Even the cleanest and most expensive hotels can have bed bugs. Bed bugs don’t spread disease and aren’t a significant health hazard, but they can cause you to break out in hives and itch like crazy. Hotels can be a hotspot for these scary bugs because bed bugs move around by “hitchhiking” in suitcases, purses, on clothing and other belongings. Here’s how to check your bed:

Pull the comforter off the bed and check the corner seams of the sheets for signs of bed bugs. Next, pull the sheets off the bed and check the perimeter of the mattress, especially along the seams, and look for red and black stains, exoskeletons and active bed bugs. Use the flashlight on your phone to get a clear look at all the nooks and crannies. Unfortunately, bed bugs don’t just infest beds; we can also find them on the bed’s headboard, couches, armchairs, office chairs, and pillow cushions. All these areas should be thoroughly inspected. 

Oh, and that comforter you pulled off? Leave it off. According to travel experts, the vast majority of hotel chains do not change bedspreads or duvets regularly. The norm is to change them four times per year. Yuck!

Don’t forget the little things

Harrison Jacobs, an international correspondent for Business Insider, has spent more than 300 nights at hotels. His go-to check for overall cleanliness? The coffee maker. Jacobs says checking the coffeemaker is a great way to tell if your room has been well maintained since moisture is almost always present in these appliances.

“If they aren’t cleaned regularly…they quickly become gross. As such a small item and a tedious one to clean, I’ve found that coffeemakers and electric kettles are frequently overlooked by less diligent hotels.”

A study from 2012 found that TV remotes are one of the most bacteria-infested objects in your hotel room, and not much has changed since. Before you grab that remote, consider that it may not have been cleaned ever! Oyster, a travel website, published a report that confirms the remote bacteria problem and adds mugs, glasses and light switches to the mix, reporting that all these items are breeding grounds for bacteria like E. coli.

Don’t use the glassware or mugs, period. Your safest bet is to use the individual wrapped plastic glasses or drink from a bottle you’ve purchased. Avoid the ice bucket, too. Even if it has a fresh plastic liner, there’s no telling how clean or sanitary it is.

What if your hotel room isn’t up to par?

Using the above tips to inspect your hotel room is practical and in your best interest. You have the right to a clean and healthy room and the last thing you want is to catch something or room with bed bugs. But bacteria and germs are everywhere and when you’re traveling, you will come into contact with them. Don’t expect that the carpet will be cleaned between every guest or every inch of the bathroom will be shined and polished. Do your diligence, but don’t expect perfection.

If your room smells funky or there’s hair all over the bathroom, ask for a different room. If you see bed bugs, demand another room immediately. Don’t be afraid to ask for a different room, a quick cleaning of the bathroom or fresh sheets. Most hotels care about their guest’s experience and any issues you’ve discovered may be the exception and easily fixed. 

How to handle invisible germs and bacteria and other stuff I can’t see

The best way to protect yourself from bacteria and germs in a hotel room is to be prepared from the beginning. Start by NOT putting your suitcase or other belongings on the bed or furniture (bed bugs!). Either leave your luggage in the hall or put it in the bathtub until you’re through disinfecting. Bring along sanitary wipes or spray disinfectant and get rid of bacteria on these commonly touched items and areas before you touch anything:

  • TV remote
  • Light switches, lamp switches and phones
  • Bathroom counters, sink, faucet and toilet
  • Desks and other flat surfaces
  • Refrigerator handles
  • Coffee maker handle

Even with your whole room inspection and disinfecting attack, it’s still a good idea to practice an increased level of hygiene and awareness. Keep your toothbrush and anything else that goes in your mouth or on your face in your travel bag instead of on the counter. Wash your hands frequently, run the exhaust in the bathroom when you bathe to reduce the growth of bacteria and never, ever put that comforter back on your bed.

Want to make sure your permanent home is as clean and healthy as it could be? The Maids offers a range of cleaning services with a focus on cleaning for health.

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