Travel tip #3: hotel hygiene

This is meant to discuss the topic of room cleanliness, in terms of a rented room when you travel, whether in a hotel, motel, hostel, dormitory, etc. If you’re the type to not care much about it, this may not help at all; if you’re the type to carry hand sanitizer at all times, this may not be enough. I’ve never stayed in a bed & breakfast, so I can’t comment on any of that, and it differs from the other types of lodging in that the proprietors often don’t have to monitor so many rooms. Most of my travel lodging has been in hotel rooms (in the US), so this will be geared towards hotel stays, but the basic principles are applicable to all. It also depends on your level of trust in the hotel chain/owners.

Let me begin with a clarification on the last travel tip: it would have been better if I called it “choosing clothes,” because I didn’t really tell you how to pack into your luggage.

It is becoming more common that hotels are suggesting you refrain from fresh towels and sheets every day, often by use of a card on the bed pillow or the door handle, or based on where you leave the used towels (on the floor = please replace). I certainly don’t need new towels and linens every day, as it is energy wasteful (water and electricity). I could even go an entire week without changing them. Here’s where the trust comes in.

Most people will tell you to always look out for yourself, which is excellent travel advice. In that case, have the towels and linens changed after the first day, so you can guarantee freshness, then don’t change them for a while (your own preference on period length). You don’t really know how long the room has been unused (days or weeks) and the linens just left there the entire time, nor do you know if they were really exchanged after the last guest (no matter how long that has been).

In the same vein, you should want to be sure the rest of the room is clean enough to your standards. Get rid of the top duvet on the bed, maybe even the second blanket. Usually only the sheets and pillowcases are exchanged by housekeeping, and rarely the other blanket layers. Have you seen the size of those carts? They’re big enough to carry sheets for an entire floor of rooms, but certainly not thicker blankets. Without knowing how long it has been since they have been cleaned, leave them in the corner of the room and don’t touch them again. If you are concerned about a cold room, call housekeeping and ask for new blankets. If you’re a regular reader here, you no doubt know I’m not bothered by a cooler climate. Some of these tips were also seen on Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs.

Next, we move into the private bathroom and sink area. If you are in a hostel (or other dwelling) that uses shared bathrooms, this won’t help much. Again, if you want to ensure cleanliness, here’s what I recommend. Assuming you are in (or near) a city with relatively modern conveniences, go to a convenience/grocery store, pharmacy/chemist, or maybe even the hotel gift/sundries shop for a bottle of isopropyl alcohol (also called rubbing alcohol). It’s really cheap, but if you can’t find it or want to clean right away, then just use the soap in the room (liquid soap works better).

Using the hand towels, get them (more than a little) damp (but not dripping) with the alcohol and start wiping down every surface: countertops, shower/tub floor and walls, all around the toilet, sink and faucet, even the mirror if you want. Surely you’ve heard that water fountains have more germs than toilet seats, and the reason is people’s dirty hands get all over them. So continue to all the commonly touched surfaces of the room. Here’s where you definitely don’t want to use a dripping hand towel. Wipe down the door handles (inside and outside), light panels and switches, drawer handles and lamps, chairs and window handles, telephones and clock radios, television and the remote control, mini-fridge and safe, and all the other room fixtures that you might touch, including keys/keycards, pens, thermostat, phone book, etc. If you’re running low on isopropyl alcohol, you can dilute it and use it on the lesser touched surfaces.

If you consider using slippers in the showers (especially in shared bathrooms), I recommend hard plastic thongs instead of the softer spongy-type. I have the latter, only because I got them for real cheap and years ago, so I don’t feel like going through the trouble of finding new ones in my foot size (US 13 leaves less fashion options). They take much longer to dry out (even longer in humid, tropical climates), often are thicker and take up more space volume in your luggage, and may even provide a growth substrate for the fungus you’re trying to avoid in the first place. There are those plastic ones mentioned earlier with two layers for better drainage and keep you an extra half inch off the shower floor, which are the ones I would want to buy if I need a new pair.

Now for advice that can be used everywhere. When opening doors, I would lean into it to avoid using hands. If you have to push using the hand, I would use the back of the hand or a fist and touch an area closer to the pivot point (farther from where it opens widest) because that is where most people touch, or push near the center of the door or on the glass part. Next time you get to a door with a panel, try to notice a worn-down spot, where the varnish/shininess has been worn away from constant hand contact, and just imagine how many hundreds of hands have touched that exact area.

If I have to pull a handle, I pull my hand into my long-sleeve shirt sleeve and use the shirt as a barrier to pull. If I’m not wearing a long-sleeve shirt, I use the bottom of the handle, as most people grab towards the top of the handle (look for a worn area). It may be more awkward, but it’s just peace of mind. If it looks especially dodgy, I’ll pull out a tissue (that I always carry around) and use that as a barrier. If you have gloves (mittens, driving, etc.), that’s perfect, but using latex/vinyl gloves just makes you look weird.

Pumping gas/petrol can also use these methods. I prefer to keep my hand on the bowser, because I like to make sure I control the fill rate, rather than rely on a hinged clip to detach. There’s also the danger of igniting a fume fire with static electricity if you go back and sit in your vehicle when auto-filling. Re-watch Mythbusters episode 2 for more details.

When pushing buttons, such as on an elevator, ATM, public phone, or whatever, I’ll use a knuckle or tissue barrier. I suppose you could also use a pen or a keychain item, as they are typically covered by only your germs, rather than stranger bacteria. When using shopping carts/trolleys, I’ll push on a wireframe section, because you know those handles have been touched by dozens to hundreds of people, and maybe even small children. Fortunately, some stores are stocking antibacterial wipes near the cart storage area, specifically to address this concern.

When staying in a bed & breakfast or with relatives, it’s trust again. I would trust them to be clean, since there are fewer rooms to maintain and it is essentially their own private home, so have motivation to maintain a high level of hygiene. Still, it is possible to be covert about the above mentioned methods.

Share your own tips on cleanliness when traveling.

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2 Responses to Travel tip #3: hotel hygiene

  1. Phillip Buggers says:

    Hi there,

    I was reading your site and came across this post—very interesting and helpful! I myself have had a lot of concerns about traveling, especially internationally and becoming susceptible to dirt and germs. Your hints are great–I esp like the one about not touching the handle of shopping carts! I am quite wary of small children too as they are covered in germs and completely filthy. I try to avoid them at all cost, but they always seem to be at the supermarket, running amok and touching everything! I also love your idea about wiping your hotel room down with rubbing alcohol. There was a report released in 2008 in the Journal of Modern Hygiene that said that the average hotel room is approximately 65% covered in fecal matter! This occurs, no doubt as a result of improper hand sanitation after using the bathroom.

    I have a few questions that perhaps you can help me out with…I have been a bit too embarrassed to ask anyone before, but you seem to be a like-minded individual:

    1)How do you handle situations where you have to shake someone’s hand, knowing that you won’t have an opportunity immediately after to go wash up? I am worried about cold germs, and as I mentioned above, fecal matter from improper bathroom hygiene. I have actually been guilty of what you mentioned above–wearing latex gloves–and you’re right, people are a bit off put by it. Do you know of any less weird way of protecting myself from germs in a “hand-shake” situation? I have tried using liquid latex to create a plastic film over my palms and fingers, but it created quite a bit of trouble when it started to peel off mid-handshake and the person thought my skin was peeling off into their hand!

    2)I am very concerned with my underpants (which have obviously been touching personal areas of my body) touching the inside of my washing machine and dryer and contaminating it. I currently have to rinse both machines with a dilute solution of bleach before I can put the rest of my clothes in for cleaning. This is very time consuming, as you may imagine and I was wondering if you had any alternative ideas?

    3)Can you give more details on decontaminating your relatives houses “on the sly”? I very much don’t want to offend them, but if I’m visiting, I don’t know if I can bring myself to “trust them”. Esp if they have small children, which ruin every attempt at cleaning the relatives may do, as who knows what they are covered in!

    Thanks for your time, and thanks for posting an AMAZING blog!!

  2. Pingback: Travel Gear and Gadgets #5: Cocoon Coolmax Travel Sheet « One City At A Time

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