ORLANDO, Fla. – When you stay in a hotel, what would make you return there for another stay?
"The No. 1 reason people return to a hotel is the cleanliness of the guest room," said Jim Inglis, program director for Hotel Restaurant Management Program at Valencia College.
But the big question is: just how clean is your room? We took our own cameras as well as hidden cameras supplied by Spy Geeks in Altamonte Springs to two local hotels to find out.
Inglis said the biggest problem is lack of time. He said housekeepers used to get a half hour for each room, to handle 16 rooms a day. But now, in many instances, the housekeepers are required to clean up to 32 rooms a day in the same amount of time with the same pay. That means the time they can spend in each room is cut way down, and they may not be able to do as thorough a job.
"That half hour could be shrunk down and what we're doing now in the hotels we're putting a lot of new amenities in, like the towel animals, where we create these really cool towel animals," said Inglis. "We set them up on the bed. We can make a dog, a swan, a monkey, and the housekeepers are now required in some instances to make the towel animals. So what would you rather have your housekeeper doing, cleaning the room and spending the time cleaning or spending the time making towel animals?"
Keeping that in mind, it stands to reason some things may be overlooked. But what ends up being the dirtiest part of the room?
"The dirtiest areas are, in general, the remote control usually wins hands down No. 1," said Inglis. "They can even contain E.coli which means fecal matter, which means someone might have gone to the bathroom, didn't wash their hands, came out and used the remote control."
We found that to be true, too.
Our producer put honey on the remote and on the faucet handles in both hotels and both times, the honey wasn't cleaned off the remote.
Inglis said the door and the light switches also tend to have a lot of bacteria on them.
However, when we purposely dirtied up the sinks and the tubs, they were clean when we checked back in on them. Inglis said that's because the bathroom is probably cleaner than you think.
"If you were to eat in your hotel room, the cleanest place to eat might be the bathroom," said Inglis. "Most people will plunk right on the bed and eat right there, but that may actually not be the most sanitized place."
We saw that first hand, when right after checking in at the Best Western Orlando Gateway hotel, we found a pair of dirty panties still in the bed.
Inglis said though sheets should always be changed between guests, housekeepers just don't have the time to wash the comforters or duvets regularly.
"That may only happen once or twice a year, and that means, you know how big a king bedspread is, try to put that in your washing machine," said Inglis. "It doesn't fit, they require a lot of space and a lot of time to wash and dry, so we historically don't launder them that often."
But it's not just the bedspread you should stay away from. Inglis said a lot of hotels now put disposable cups in the rooms, but if you have an actual glass in yours, you'll want to wash it yourself first before you use it.
"Unfortunately, a lot of the housekeepers are told to just rinse the glasses out, even spray them with a product like glass cleaner which says right on the bottle do not drink," said Inglis. "Then they just wipe them out, and put them back. So they've never touched hot water, they've never been sanitized to 160 degrees. I always look at the maid carts to see if they have a glass rack on there. If they do, that pretty much tells me they are being washed. You can even ask, 'Are these glasses being sanitized or being washed in a dishwasher?' There's nothing wrong with asking."
Another big concern for travelers? Bed bugs.
"It's extremely serious and there's not a hotel in Orlando I can tell you, doesn't matter one star or five star, they've all had bed bugs in their hotels," said Inglis. "The way that we have to destroy the bed bugs now is heat. We bring in heat machines that blow out hot air and heat to 140 degrees. It kills all the bed bugs, but we have to put the heat in there for several hours. They only do it if there's a reported incident and you can check yourself. I know your bed is already made when you check in, but if you were to undo your bed and where the mattress has that bead that runs around it, a lot of times if you pull that bead back, you'll see telltale signs of blood spots and stains and things like that. Even check around the headboard, behind the headboard, it's very easy to lift the headboard off the wall and the telltale signs would be there."
You can also check out the Bed Bug Registry to see if the hotel you're planning on staying at has had any complaints.
The bottom line?
"It should not matter whether you're at a one star or five star whether your room is cleaned appropriately," said Inglis. "The standards for housekeeping, the standard operating procedures we have for cleaning guest rooms and bathrooms, should be the same throughout the industry."
And if there's one thing you should never leave home without, Inglis said it's alcohol wipes.
"Just bring alcohol wipes with you. Even at the grocery store now when you get your cart, grab one, bring your alcohol wipes, wipe the remote, wipe the light switch, wipe everything down and look at the glass glasses in the room."