By Catharine Hamm
10:30 AM EST, January 27, 2014
Question: Recently I stayed at a luxury hotel. My stay was pleasant enough, but one day I was in the room when I heard a knock on the door. It was the hotel maid who had come to clean the room. I told her that I just had to grab my coat, that I was leaving, so she started to clean up. Then I noticed a pillow lying on the carpet. Instead of replacing the pillowcase with a new one, she simply moved the pillow back onto my bed. Too shocked to say anything, I wonder now if this a common practice, or am I in error to assume that a pillowcase should be replaced with a new one if it is on the ground?
Answer: There are two problems here: perception and personnel.
Sleeping with a pillowcased pillow that has been resting on the floor probably isn't a death sentence, but there is a giant ick factor that's hard to get beyond. You don't know who has walked in and who has walked out, said Dr. Nikhil Bhayani, an infectious disease specialist on the medical staff at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. "Who knows what's on the ground?"
"It's not crazy," he said of the grossed-out reaction, "but [the floor-touching case] is not going to kill you."
The bigger issue may be the common surfaces that travelers come in contact with: remote controls, light switches, telephones and sometimes keyboards. You can wipe those down (although the hotel should do that for you), but, Bhayani said, you also might want to keep that hand sanitizer close by. He's a big proponent of that, especially after a small infectious disease study he did that showed that hand sanitizer trumped even a 30-second soap-and-water hand-washing.
Keep this in mind: Hand sanitizer and hand-washing are good practices whether you're in a hotel or out in public. The California Department of Health reports that flu activity is widespread in the Golden State; the Centers for Disease Control recommends hand-washing and sanitizing as a commonplace but effective way to stem the disease, which usually peaks about this time of year and has already killed at least seven in California. That's small compared with, say, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, in which as many as 50 million people may have died worldwide. But health officials are concerned about this current flu season that, Bhayani says, looks to be worse than usual.
Makes hand-washing look like a bit of heaven.
What's not a gift from heaven: a housekeeper — sometimes now called room attendants — who doesn't follow cleaning procedures.
At the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz., near Tucson, which is not the hotel in question, the executive assistant manager of the rooms division who oversees housekeeping said his attendants are trained to follow protocols, and that includes using surfaces other than the floor if something needs to be parked for a minute or two.
"There are definitely various protocols … when cleaning a room," said Christian Jaquier, whose nine years with the rooms division includes four with housekeeping.
If pillows are removed from the bed during turndown, "we never put them on the floor," he said. "We'll put them in the closet, [or] if there's a cubbyhole next to the nightstand, or we'll put them on the chair, because even though the floor has been vacuumed or the carpet has been shampooed, it's a perception issue."
Cleanliness — the fact of it and the perception of it — is a sensitive topic for guests. A wait at the front desk, for example, may annoy a guest, but a room that isn't clean to the occupant's satisfaction is much more damaging to the hotel, he said.
To make sure rooms are cleaned to standards, random inspections, using black lights, are performed, Jaquier said. Bodily fluids will fluoresce. You can do the same thing as a traveler — black-light flashlights are easy to find, partly because pet owners sometimes need them to track down the source of a mystery smell — but you may not want to. Pillow on the floor or on the bed, you may never want to rest your weary head anywhere again.
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