Help Me Solve A Worldwide Hotel Mystery!

Filed Under: Hotels

I have a lot of thoughts about hotels, given that I live in them full time. I keep most of them bottled up, given that I have enough thoughts about hotels to write a book. I do sometimes share my thoughts, though, like some of my biggest hotel pet peeves, as well as some of my hotel habits.

I recognize there are a lot of things I’ll never understand about hotels. For example, why do hotels often decide to make “art” with the top few tissues in the tissue box? Am I the only one who finds that sort of unsanitary and wasteful? But I get that it looks nice, so I see where hotels are coming from.

But here’s something I don’t get, because it both serves no practical purpose and doesn’t make things look nicer either — why do so many hotels close the drain “stopper” when servicing the room? 


It doesn’t happen at all hotels, but I’d say it happens at luxury hotels more often than not. This isn’t a big deal at all, because it takes a split second to open it. Well, at least most of the time — I’ve been at some hotels where it took me a few minutes to figure out how to open the drain stopper.

But I just don’t get why. I assume the hotels which have this as part of their housekeeping protocol/checklist do so for a reason, but I can’t figure out what that reason is.

Anyone notice this as well, and have an explanation?

  1. My thought has always been that the housekeeper cleaned the sink bowl and forgot to unstop it. Now that I think about it, it’s happened way too many times for that to be a coincidence.

  2. this makes me insane when they do it to the shower. i’ll turn it on to let it warm up and they next thing i know the water is ankle-deep. please get to the bottom of this because if i understand it at least i will be less annoyed.

  3. I don’t know but the cleaning company that services my house does it too! Maybe to keep from accidentally sweeping something into the sink and down the drain?

  4. It’s to show you that your room has been serviced. Same thing as cleaners folding your next piece of toilet paper – “see, I was here”.

  5. My thoughts are to make sure no bugs or roaches come that way to the sink and you will be way more upset than finding the water stopper closed lol!

  6. I’ve noticed this too. My guess had always been that they wash the sink, then wipe it down to avoid the stains water leaves when it dries. When they wipe it down they end up pushing the stopper down and it just stays down.

  7. The tissue thing gets me too. I throw the top ones out unused.
    Always figured the drain thing was to let me know if the occupant actually used the sink or tub; that way they know they need to clean it.
    Living in Carlsbad I often book a hotel just for the night in San Diego, and sometimes wait to shower until I get back home.

  8. My dad used to work in hotel maintenance and I don’t know if he picked up this habit because of that, but every time he leaves the house for longer than a couple of days he closes the drain on both the sink and the bathtub to prevent cockroaches and other critters from crawling up the pipes and into the house. It’s more likely to happen if water isn’t running regularly down the pipes, which sort of makes sense if they don’t know when is the next time they expect the room to be occupied. But even better, since you live in hotels why not just ask someone at housekeeping and report back?

  9. On top of leaving the drain stopper down, I’ve seen new drains where there is no lever to pull. You have to now push down on the drain to make it pop up. Had to call maintenance on that one!

  10. I think this is so that no awful smell will linger in the bathroom. If you leave your drains without running water for a long time, you might get this awful sewer smell. So I think they do it in order to avoid this situation.

    I’ve had situations where I was in some nice and expensive hotels and that had this kind of thing happening.

  11. Its to avoid that bugs an roaches coming into the bathroom
    A Spanisch leadinghotel of the world ones told me

  12. I kind of agree with the cockroach theory, but it doesn’t entirely make sense to me since while many hotels close the sink drain, very few close the shower drain (and standalone showers don’t even have a drain that can be closed). Many hotels also have a drain in the bathroom floor that could be a source of cockroaches.

    I am with @David, I think it is just a little signifier that the room has been attentively serviced, like some of the other details that people have mentioned.

  13. Qasr was right, its simply a matter of habit while cleaning.
    Try to wipe down a sink like this with the stopper open or closed…
    What is easier?
    AND it keeps odors and bugs from coming in.

  14. I am a builder, so I understand this. They close the drain to prevent the water in the P trap from evaporating (if the sink is not in use for some time). If the water evaporates, then the room will get the smell from the drain system, rodents can also access the room.

  15. Checked with my home cleaning service and here’s what they said:

    “We put the stopper down simply to clean it as we’re wiping out the sink, it’s part of polishing the fixtures. Some of us raise it back up but mostly I feel it’s just left that way in the flow of that being the last step cleaning the sink and then moving quickly onto the next area.”

    So basically…we forgot to unstop it!

  16. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a simple precaution to prevent anything – a ring, contact lense, cases or other items of a personal nature falling down the drain while they clean!

  17. …as they clean the tub, the housekeeper fills it with water to clean with some soft chemicals and then released the water…dry it and close the drain again and prevent any odors…if any…

  18. I always push he drink closed with my rag when I clean my sink at home while wiping. It just happens on its own. I think that it is a combination of what I’m saying and the “it’s been cleaned” remark, as well as the bug thing.

  19. I recall that a 4* hotel I stayed at in Hong Kong has really awful smells coming up from the basin drain. Given there was a ‘S’-bend, it was obviously very local and could be got rid of by a good dose of bleach or proprietory drain cleaner. Big fail with housekeeping. (Yes, I did report it on leaving; don’t know if anything was done though!)

  20. It’s the bugs and spiders that live in ALL drains and sewers than can crawl up, even against the flow of draining water and somehow get past the trap. I know do it at home regularly.

  21. Slightly off topic~ what is the general opinion about drinking glasses in the bathroom and bedroom? Are the paper bagged ones actually fresh from the dishwasher and bagged, or just wiped out in the room and popped into a bag? I don’t recall a housekeeping trolley loaded with fresh glassware for each room in the hallways, so I’m suspecting the latter. Can anyone in the industry give a truthful answer?

  22. Qasr and Nils got it right.
    I asked my wife who used to work for several hotel chains: in nice hotels they use a towel to wipe/polish away any water spots. Doing that is easier with the drain stopper down. And they consider everything to look better with the drain stopper down.

  23. @glenn t
    Look at the service carts that the maids have. If you see fresh unused drinking glasses on them, they come from the dishwasher. If not, I would suggest not to use glasses, because they were likely “cleaned” under running water in the rooms bathroom and “polished” with a used towel…

  24. Every sink has a p-trap. So there is no need for stopping it up the water prevents bugs and sewer gas entering. Also any sink with an overflow still has an avenue for roaches and sewer gas even after the stopper is set. I think it is to prevent accidental drops from making there way down the drain. Most of the time the sink counter is one of only two counters in the room. So wouldn’t be hard to set a ring up there and then knock it down the drain for example.

  25. I asked the front desk at a 5 star hotel in BKK – She told me it was prevent bad smells from the drain.

  26. @Lars~
    Yes! My thoughts exactly! Call me OCD, but my 100ml clear bottles travel pack has one with dishwashing detergent in it for washing glassware each day before I use. I don’t want to risk getting the last guests cold or flu, or worse!

  27. The “art” of tissue is a message that the toilet has been serviced. Shows a physical attention to detail. Similar to the suit handkerchief fold, that it is new and clean.

  28. 10 years in the hotel industry and I have noticed it happens from simply cleaning. I’ve not heard of any bugs crawling out of the sinks at any of my properties so I cannot speak to that.

  29. As many other people have already said, I think it is to stop smells coming into the bathroom and also to say to the cleaners that they have cleaned the sink or bath.

  30. This drove us crazy at a Le Meridien in India. For the life of us we could not get the stopper raised to drain the sink. We looked all around the sink and faucet to find a lever or button… nada. Finally realized that the stopper itself was spring loaded and had to be pushed to pop up!

  31. Last hotel I was in had one of the push-down drains (without lever). Problem was it was left shut and the thing had jammed up somehow. No matter what I did it would not raise up. Had to call maintenance on that one (not a luxury hotel, I think it was a case of poor quality bathroom furniture, I have had issues with bathroom in previous stays there)

  32. I used to have a job cleaning rooms, student rooms in a college dorm that were rented out in the summer. Thinking back on that I’m pretty sure that while scrubbing the sinks the stopper would get pushed down in the process. I don’t recall making a consious decision on whether to leave the stopper or pull it back up, but I’m sure it was left down most of the time due to having other things that needed to be cleaned and a time it needed to be done. I realize that it only takes a second to pull it back up but it’s just not a priority.
    Also, I have a theory that maybe it’s a universal way of showing that the sink has been cleaned because had it been previously used the stopper would most likely be pulled out.

  33. Definitely to prevent insects from climbing out…its also supposed to be good feng shui but I doubt thats the reason in this case

  34. Hi Ben,

    Construction project manager here.

    There actually is a very practical reason why they do it. All plumbing fixtures, including toilets, shower drains, sink drains, kitchen drains etc will release bad odors. In fact, living in hotels for so long I’m sure you have smelled it at one point or another -even if you didn’t know it was that- especially if you’ve been assigned a room that has not been used for a while. If you leave the pipes dry for too long, no matter what you do, smell will come out. It smells like water that has been left out for too long with a combination of the smell of plastic sometimes. They close the drains to block this smell from coming out.

    You may say why don’t they “plug” the toilets, and why don’t they close the showers? Sometimes – toilets, and often-times showers have a special S-Type plumbing (S-shaped pipes with the ‘S’ laying down on it’s back). This ensures that some water is always stuck in the S pipes and thus blocks the odors from the pipes from coming back up. As a matter of fact, sink and kitchen piping often have S-type plumbing as well underneath them – which is an “automatic” odor blocker.

    The problem is when the drains are left unused for too long, or when they are very slightly used, either the water dries out, or the water that has been left in the s-pipes started growing some bacteria and it will start smelling. That is why it is always good to run water down the drains in properties that are not used often. Once the smell starts, it is not very easy to get rid of it.

    So why do they do it at hotels? Well, in theory, for a room that is used often, they shouldn’t have to. However in complex piping systems (and sometimes old and renovated piping systems) there is always the possibility of bad odors to come from somewhere. Furthermore, sometimes rooms are not used for too long, or they may be very slightly used so long periods, and there is always the risk of the smell coming out. Therefore some maintenance/management teams make it mandatory for housekeeping to always close the drains – just in case.

    Hope this solved your mystery 🙂

  35. Double function: stops the smell and on other side the lines of closed things looking always better and aesthestically – same with the toilette! Cheers!

  36. “why do so many hotels close the drain “stopper” when servicing the room?”

    Wow, great minds think alike! I too just pondered that same highly existential question after I became keenly aware of it during my 3-week stays at a number of high-end hotels that set the standard for “luxury” (Conrad Koh Samui, WA Beijing, Conrad HKG, Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, Park Hyatt Siem Reap). Yeah, what’s with the closed drain stopper business?! Thankfully, our resident plumber @AN on January 12, 2016 at 1:44 am has provided what seems like the definitive answer…

  37. Besides of the information for the guest, that the cleaning staff did their job, it is a hidden information mainly for the cleaning staff itself.
    If they get back another day and all their “signs” they left on purpose (e.g. folded toilet paper, special placed towels, closed drain stoppers in sinks and bath tubs, etc) did not change or just some of them are removed, they know how much and intense they have to clean this bathroom.
    So if no signs are removed (still closed drain stopper, wrapped soap, placed towel, folded toilet paper) chances are high that the bathroom was not in use!

  38. Former Hotel Manager here: I’m loving all of these ideas about it being secret communication between staff or barriers for cockroaches or smell protection… I hate to ruin it all, but it’s quite simple… When the drain is down, it’s easier to wipe the sink. That’s it.

    When you’re cleaning 12-16 rooms/day and have only 30-ish minutes for a turn (new guest check-in), you’ll take any hack possible to get your work done without sacrificing quality.

  39. In many countries, sink pipes aren’t required to have the S-curve that presents the backup and escape of sewer gasses, so in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, if you leave the drain open, you really smell it! I was just at a hotel in South Africa where this happened– I left the drain ope because I was annoyed, and could smell all sorts of odors in the bathroom just an hour later. I think the carryover might be with where the staff come from as well–we all pick up habits somewhere…

  40. I’ve had cockroaches come out of the unclosed drain before in 5 star hotel. Depending on the type of plumbing system and frequency of use, you can also get a smell of sewage coming back up he line. Equally, it is easier to clean. Many reasons

  41. Probably one of the many little things to show that the staff did clean the room.
    Like the tissue and/or towel folding.

  42. All wrong. It’s to prevent the crocodiles and alligators living in the sewers coming up through the drains. Wrestling a crocodile in your bathroom should only be done in Australia.

  43. how else do you expect them to wash your dirty glasses?? …right after having sex on the spare bed (but which one is the spare one??)

  44. Not sure if this was said, but I am almost positive it is b cause the room may not be used for a while, and therefore the water might not run for a while, so closing the drain prevents sewer gases from leaking into the room.

  45. Here’s a different view of why it’s not only annoying but dangerous. So I turn on the water and then step into the shower, only to realize the drain stopper is down and the tub is filing with water. So I step forward with one foot and lean down to unplug it, but my back foot slips on the slick surface and my forward knee shatters the soap dish causing a laceration that requires a trip to the ER for stitches. But seeing as how clean hotel rooms are(n’t), I development an infection. That infection does not respond to the antibiotics and I then require surgery to clean out the infection. Which comes back from the lab as MRSA. Three weeks post surgery, I’m still on mega antibiotics, still don’t have full motion in my knee, still can’t exercise, and lost two weeks of work (as a self employed person with no paid sick leave). So yes, I find it HIGHLY annoying that they can’t take 2 seconds to unplug it after wiping it down.

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