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How Do Good Hotels Always Feel So Clean and Fresh?

Posted: 05/30/2012 2:28 pm

This question originally appeared on Quora.

2012-05-30-mjones.jpg
By Michael Forrest Jones, Beechmont Hotels Corporation

Housekeeping. You may think your own home is nice and clean, but even if you're an obsessive-compulsive neat freak, hotels play it at an entirely different level. We have to. 

For example, do you change and launder your sheets every day? No? But you put fresh sheets on the bed if you're expecting house guests for a few days, on any bed intended for their use, right?  And you supply them with fresh towels, not one you used yourself once already. And even then - well, when was the last time you steamed the carpet in your guestroom, or turned the mattress over?

All hotels deal with are house guests.

You might use one of your own towels at home once, and then be okay with saving it for another use the next time you take a shower: it is, after all, your towel. You can even use it over several days if you want. In a hotel, the next user of the towel in your room will be a total stranger. It needs to be so clean that you give no thought as you're using it to the fact that the last person who used it, unless it's a brand new towel, was also a total stranger - perhaps even someone that you wouldn't care to share a towel with.

Ideally, a hotel will keep three 'turns,' or 'par,' of sheets and towels - that is, enough to make every room in the hotel, three times over - in inventory (even more if it's a busy property with high occupancy). And we're always replacing them: any time one has a visible stain that didn't come out in the wash, it's retired. (If it's not too bad, we'll cut it up, dye it red or blue, and use it as a cleaning rag.) When the available supply in a hotel gets down to two and a half turns (again, not even that low if it's a busy property, but it's never a good idea to let it get any lower than that in any property), it's time to order more. During the course of a year, every sheet and towel in most hotels will be replaced: in a good hotel, you'll never use a sheet or a towel that's more than a year old.

All linens and terry in a hotel room - even those that do not appear to have been used by the guest - are replaced and laundered when the room is made following check-out, and before the next guest arrives. If it's a double room and only one bed appears to have been used, the other bed gets stripped and changed, too. A really good hotel will even do the blankets and bedspreads. Your washer at home would probably not tolerate temperature settings that are quite normal for the big ones used in the hotel laundry room, and the chemicals are more heavy duty.

All solid surfaces are squirted down and wiped clean with a spray cleaner - disinfectant as appropriate, something with fewer chemicals on surfaces where that will suffice. The bathroom area is mopped, the carpet is vacuumed and sometimes treated with a powder for odor control. There's a balancing act involved - fresh means fresh - so we have to watch it with the chemicals, even disinfectants and deodorizers. A disinfectant or excessive perfume smell in a room goes over almost as badly as a musty or locker-room smell. You want a hospital or clinic to have just a little bit of a disinfectant smell, but you shouldn't smell anything in a hotel room when you check in, whether good or bad, whether pleasant or unpleasant, whether fragrant or stinky, whether indicative of neglect or indicative of recent disinfection.

Smokers will not likely notice a smoke odor left by a previous guest if the room is properly ventilated. Non-smokers will notice a lingering smoke odor even if it's been days or weeks since the room was last smoked in, unless the room has been treated with an ozone generator or a fogger chemical to break it down. (Sometimes, if a smoker occupied the room for several days, not even that is enough: we have to deep-clean the room.) Hence, smoking and non-smoking rooms are separate room types and assigned by desk clerks accordingly.

None other than hotel-issue items should be left in a room for the next guest to find. If the coffeemaker has been used, it will be switched out with another, clean one, and the old one will be taken out for cleaning. We go through the refrigerator, the microwave, and all the drawers and any cupboards, removing anything left behind by the last guest and doing any cleaning or dusting, as appropriate.

Underpaid room attendants might take shortcuts, but ideally all this is done every day. In any event, it's like shaving or mowing your lawn: even if you miss a spot one time, if you do it again promptly the next time it needs doing, chances are you'll catch that spot next time; and in the meanwhile, you can always hope it's not too noticeable. Even so, when an expert like Anthony Melchiorri on Hotel Impossible - given the caliber of hotels that he's managed prior to getting his own TV show -  over and again suggests always bringing your own can of Lysol, and spraying down things in your room as soon as you check in, starting with the telephone on the nightstand; how much more real can we make it that your housekeepers are human like everyone else?

Additionally, a good housekeeping manager or supervisor will add a one or two 'job of the day'-type tasks to the assignment sheets - things that are easy to not check and to let get bad, but on this day, each of the room attendants will check it and apply any necessary fix. One day, it will be 'dust the top of the picture frames.' Another, it will be 'make sure the Gideon Bible and the telephone directory is where it's supposed to be in the nightstand, with no marks or damage, check the material on the dresser display, and repair or replace as necessary.' The next day, it'll be something else: 'check the iron and make sure that it works, and make sure the ironing board cover isn't scorched, torn or otherwise in need of replacement,' or 'check the phone, make sure it works, and go over it with an alcohol wipe and beat Anthony Melchiorri to the punch if he ever shows up' - seemingly random things, but all things that has to be kept right, and the only way to do it is check them ever so often.

Our 'room rack,' our list of available rooms maintained at the front desk (in days of old, kept up on an actual metal display rack with a pocket for each room and indicator cards for each pocket; nowadays, kept up on a computer screen) has three settings - 'dirty,' 'clean,' and 'ready.' A room may be clean but not ready: we try to avoid renting it until it is cleaned and inspected, gone over by a manager or a person other than the room attendant who cleaned it, just to insure that nothing was missed.

Every three or four months max (it takes an entire day, give or take, with each room so we try to avoid having to do it during busy times when we know we can rent all the rooms), each room is scheduled for deep-cleaning. Mattresses are stripped of all linens and mattress covers, left to air for several hours, then flipped over (front to back in spring and fall, end to end in summer and winter) and left to air some more before the bed is again made, with a freshly laundered mattress cover in addition to fresh linens and bedspread. While that mattress is getting its much deserved rest, furniture is removed and cleaned completely, the drapes are taken down and laundered, and the carpets are steamed cleaned. Carpet, drapes, and furniture in a room should be no more than ten years old, and that's pushing it. After five years, we start scrutinizing it more carefully than usual: we might not wait for them to get that old before replacing them. Mattresses have a life expectancy of maybe five years, even if they are flipped regularly.

How often do you do your own housecleaning - and replacement of furniture and other articles - at that intensity? Not very often, right?

Then again, it - or more, if not all of it - might be doable if you had a maid.

We have several. A good hotel that stays pretty busy will have one for every ten to fourteen rooms.

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