Gone are the days when you could walk into a hotel room, drop your suitcase onto the ground, and plop yourself onto the bed. Now, each doorknob and pillowcase can harbor a potential microscopic killer. The hotel room minibar no longer looks like fun; it seems like an infection control issue.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed travel for the time being, maybe forever. The world may have to reimagine ways to make flying safer and minimize infection when traveling. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides guidelines for “personal and social activities,” one of which is Traveling Overnight which includes hotel rooms. In the guidelines, much of the focus is on the check-in and registration portion of the experience. However, the hotel room itself remains a point of concern.
As customers, we may have to take it upon ourselves to ensure our safety. One way to do that is to inspect our environment wherever we go. A hotel room should be on that list of places to inspect. After all, a hotel stay will bring you into close contact with an unfamiliar environment for an extended time. Making sure your hotel room has been disinfected and cleaned is essential for a safe stay. Your health and safety are on the line. The following are some tips to help you spot clear signs that your hotel room could use more cleaning.
1. Look for Dust
First, do the same thing you would do at your own home and check for dust. Let a little sprinkling (or more) of dust be a red flag for you. Dust on the side tables and bathroom counters mean that the room requires more cleaning. Dusting a table or a counter is the simplest thing to do. If proper dusting did not occur, then you can assume that the other, more in-depth aspects of cleaning were not done correctly, if at all.
2. Check the Coffee Maker or Kettle
Leftover water or moisture in the coffee maker means that it hasn’t had any cleaning done since at least the last occupant. That means the previous occupant handled the coffee maker and the dishware around it. Cleaning the hotel room appliances is on every hotel room cleaner’s list. If the coffee pot is not clean, it means other items in the room may have been missed as well, despite being on a cleaning checklist.
3. Inspect the Bed Sheets and Comforter
Check to see if the bed has any hairs, bugs, insect droppings, or non-laundry-related scents (women’s perfume, body odor, etc.). According to a recent research article published in The Lancet, COVID-19 does not last long on porous surfaces. On cloth surfaces, the virus can only last about 48 hours. Unfortunately, if the bedsheets were used in the last two days and not cleaned, they could still contain viruses. So, check the sheets when you stay at a hotel. Better yet, bring your own sheets and pillows.
4. Look at the Shower
You’ll know a sparkling clean shower when you see it. We all know what it looks like. If you see a film from old suds or a clump of hair that’s not from your body, then it needs cleaning. Look around the drain area to see if there are hair or soap particles. A well-cleaned room should have a spotless shower area.
5. Check the Bathroom Sink Area
Are there toothpaste remnants in the sink? Is there makeup powder scattered throughout the counter? If the sink area looks used, it probably was and hasn’t been disinfected. The sink area in a hotel room shouldn’t look like the sink area in your own home on a Tuesday morning.
6. Look at the Toilet and the Floor Around It
Take a quick look at the toilet and the floor. Dust, hair, or water spots could mean the area wasn’t clean or disinfected. And we can all agree that this area should be as sanitary as possible.
7. Inspect the Windowsills
A mound of dead bugs or droppings at the bottom of a window is a red flag that the area has not been cleaned or inspected for quite awhile. The lack of attention to detail may extend to the rest of the room. The window itself may not be a direct COVID-19 issue, but the fact that it’s not clean says something about the housekeeping practices of a hotel.
8. Check the Mirrors
Finding handprints and smears on mirrors is a sign that the room needs further cleaning. Mirrors pick up dirt and oils easily, but they’re also very noticeable. A filthy mirror might reflect a dirty room.
Hotels Have Stepped Up Their Cleaning Game
While customers have to take it upon themselves to ensure safety, hotels have made significant changes to their cleaning policies because of the pandemic. For instance, the Hard Rock Hotel implemented a SAFE + SOUND cleaning program to provide peace of mind for its customers. The program, developed by a team of hospitality and sanitation specialists, allows for independent inspections from the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). Each Hard Rock Hotel must pass a 262-point check to make the SAFE+SOUND status. Some of the SAFE+SOUND cleaning guidelines include:
- Increased cleaning and disinfecting of high touch areas such as elevators, check-in desks, dining areas, and meeting rooms.
- Sanitizing guest luggage prior to it entering the hotel’s common area.
- Placing a SAFE+SOUND seal on each room after it is cleaned and inspected.
Many other hotels are following suit. From safety seals on sanitized rooms to the increased availability of room service options, hotels are making drastic changes to help make customers feel reassured of their safety. For instance, it’s not only hotel rooms that can spread infection. High-traffic areas such as lobbies, elevators, swimming pools, and conference rooms are problem areas when it comes to COVID-19.
Hotels have changed how often they sanitize doorknobs, light switches, and handles. In addition to these high-use spots, their cleaning equipment has also been a concern. Taking the same duster or broom from room to room can spread germs. Instead, hotels have had to re-evaluate their old cleaning methods for the new requirements of the pandemic.
So, with all that in mind, are hotels safe? In the age of COVID-19, it’s hard to say if anything is safe. The only way to avoid the virus entirely is to remain isolated and indoors without contact for the pandemic’s duration. That scenario, for most people, is not feasible. So, in short, staying at a hotel is a personal choice where you have to weigh your own risk versus your individual needs. That said, there is always a degree of risk when you are out in high traffic areas during a pandemic.
What Can You Do to Decrease Your Infection Risk at a Hotel?
If you stay at a hotel, there are a few precautions you can take to minimize your risk of infection. As stated earlier, you can choose to bring your own bed linens and pillows. You may also bring your own disinfectant wipes or ask for some from the hotel. After you’ve inspected the room and decided that it’s clean, you can wipe down the:
- Light switches
- AC remote or buttons
- Door handles, including those on sliding glass balcony doors
- Drapery handles and cords
- Bathroom counters, faucet, sinks, toilet, and shower handles
- Lamp switches
- TV remote
- Desks and tables
- Refrigerator door and handles
- Coffee maker/tea kettle handle
From the start, you can take action to prevent yourself and others from infection. Try to decrease the amount of time you spend in crowds or common areas like the lobby. The lobby of a hotel is a high-traffic area where people from everywhere congregate, so wear a mask when outside your room. Wash your hands and use sanitizer frequently. Refrain from touching your face, because your eyes, nose, and mouth are infection sites for COVID-19.
Once you’re in your room, don’t place your suitcase on the bed or furniture. Instead, leave your luggage in the hall or bathtub until you can wipe your luggage down and disinfect the room. Also, remove the comforter from the bed. Many hotels view the comforter as decorative and only wash it sporadically. Set the comforter aside and don’t use it during your stay.
There is nothing the hotel or you can do that will provide 100% assurance that you will not be infected. If you feel your room is not clean, you may request another room. However, expecting every hotel room to be 100% spotless and perfect throughout may not be reasonable. At some point, a good faith judgment has to be made so that you can take precautions and enjoy your stay.