No Surprise: Luxury Hotels Caught Cleaning Glasses With Toilet Brush

Filed Under: Hotels

My general approach to hotel cleanliness is “what we don’t know can’t hurt us.” I’m a quasi-germaphobe, so I do spend a lot of time thinking about cleanliness in hotels, etc. Heck, at one point I even made a point of selecting rooms with two beds to minimize the amount of time I was sleeping in beds that other people had coitus in, but then lovely OMAAT commenters pointed out that they intentionally select rooms with two beds so they can do whatever in one bed, and then have a clean bad… and now I’m back to picking rooms with just one bed.

Every so often there’s an “undercover investigation” showing some of the horrible practices used by hotel housekeeping. Well, there has just been such an investigation in Harbin, China, including at the KempinskiShangri-La, and Sheraton, and the results will make you think twice about your hotel room.

Here’s the video showing their investigation (I wish I could understand what they’re saying):

Caixin has all the details of what happened:

At the Kempinski hotel, a cleaner used the same brush to clean both water glasses and the toilet, and wet a bath towel with toilet water to wipe the floor. At the Shangri-La, an employee cleaned the bathtub with a toilet brush and said, “When the customer is in, don’t brush like this.” At the Sheraton, a cleaner folded a quilt on the floor.

The Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts Group told Caixin that it is investigating the issue, and if the video shows what was purported, it is “unacceptable” and the company will immediately strengthen training and supervision and make sure that all employees follow its quality standards.

The Sheraton Harbin Xiangfang Hotel said on Sina Weibo that it was “deeply sorry” that certain employees did not strictly execute sanitation standards and re-trained its entire staff on Wednesday.

This is of course disgusting behavior and not condoned by the hotels, as it’s obviously not part of their training. However, in many ways hotels are turning a blind eye here, because they know very well that they’re giving their housekeepers too much work, and it’s not realistic for them to do a good job cleaning as many rooms as they’re assigned. So it’s no surprise that they’re cutting corners. As a housekeeper is quoted as saying, their schedules are very tight and it’s difficult to properly clean rooms, but they’re not allowed to say that.

The one part of this that I don’t understand is that this isn’t a hidden camera video, but rather someone is standing over the shoulders of the housekeepers recording. Does anyone get that? It seems like they wouldn’t openly clean like this if being recorded, though I must be missing something.

Does knowing how some housekeepers clean rooms change the way in which you use hotel rooms?

  1. Yes. I never have/will drink out of a glass in a hotel room….unless the glass is sealed in wrap. I guess I should be staying at the roadside Hoiday Inn. “Sanitized for your protection.”

    Still, at some point, staying in a hotel room is a leap of faith.

  2. Perhaps the government should do a little bit to encourage compliance? I’m not a fan of too much intervention and control, but some sort of bounty program or report hotline could go a long ways. But mostly this just seems like exploited and overworked staff taking revenge.

  3. Why do companies always say they will focus on “re-training?” I find that to be insulting, (just like when employees make culturally insensitive remarks). This is not a training issue – it is a blatant disregard of training in the first place. It’s not as if employees didn’t hear or understand the initial training, they simply take short cuts and don’t care.

  4. Standing over their shoulder?

    Undercover reporter hires on as a room maid? Uses some kind of hidden spy camera somewhere on their body during training?

    Lots of products with cameras built in for filming sold by various spyshops online, most ofthem are probably made in China.

  5. That is why paper cups at the Hilton Garden Inn are preferred by me.

    I also don’t mess up the room so that they don’t have a lot to do in the room. If the sheets look clean, I will make the bed and leave a note that they don’t have to make the bed. That way, they won’t throw the bedding on the floor while making the bed.

    One could even leave a note saying “no need to clean the room except new towels, please”

  6. My wife worked for a major hotel chain and when we first discussed drinking out of glasses in hotel rooms, she asked me if I had seen fresh, clean glasses on the service cart of the housekeeping staff. If you do, you should be fine drinking out of a glass in your room. If not, guess where and how the glasses are „cleaned“.

  7. Agree with everyone re: drinking glasses in hotel rooms. I’ve come back to my room, mid-cleaning, to find the housekeeping staff using a rag they cleaned the toilet with to “polish” the drinking glasses. Give me those cheap, plastic cups, wrapped in plastic any day.

  8. @Tim My cousin told me a similar story. (In Vegas) She got back while they were middle of cleaning and the cleaning person were using the drinking cup to get water from the toilet to clean the rest of the bathroom.

    Yeah… I don’t use cups in the hotel room since I heard that.

  9. It is a leap of faith. Same with airplanes. In hotels, I lock all my toiletries in my suitcase every morning and I never drink out of a glass unless I just can’t come up with another option. In that case I wash the glass under hot water for quite awhile first. For remotes, I either don’t use them or put a plastic bag over it so I don’t actually touch it. Still I’m sure I am exposed to all sorts of filth that would disgust me if I knew. But all worth it for the thrill of seeing the world! Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Since I usually drive, I bring a glass jar to drink out of and my own coffee mug. I’ve seen enough Hotel Impossible episodes to be wary of cleanliness. How many toe nails fo find on the the carpet? A lot?

  11. I once entered my hotel room to find the maid sitting on the edge of the bathtub with my toiletry bag open beside her and using my manicure kit to cut her toenails. I don’t even want to think what else might have been “borrowed”.

  12. Lucky, assuming single and double bed rooms have equal probability of being coitus rooms: if you pick a room with 2 beds, you would only sleep in a coitus bed, on average, 50% of the time, whereas you will sleep in a coitus bed 100% of the time in a single bed room.

  13. If they’re not wrapped disposable cups, don’t use them. As far as the linens, I’d rather have my 500 Starwood points anyways. I never have my room serviced. Just gotta hope they’re clean originally, and there’s nothing I can really do about that.

  14. Pretty concerning, although it makes me sort of glad in a way that I don’t waste money on 5 star hotels. The money clearly isn’t going towards the cleaning budget.

    The issue of cleaners being poorly paid and overworked seems to be a real problem in the hotel industry in many parts of the world. Even in Australia, where minimum wages are relatively high, one sees stories of cleaners forced into doing unpaid overtime because the hotel/contractor has cleaners signed up to completely unrealistic schedules that mean that they’ll never be able to clean the number of rooms in the allotted (paid) time unless they cut corners. This plus the related issue of companies wanting to squeeze every last cent of profit out of their operations is at the root of the problem in my opinion.

  15. Thanks Kate for the tip about using the plastic bag over the remote.

    Remember that China IS A COMMUNIST NATION. The old adage still applies today….they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work. Or MADE IN CHINA by children. Some east Europeans economies are still marred today after 40 years of Communist control.
    The leaders (like Putin) live a capitalistic life while the workers outside the capital live a low level existence.
    Also, ever wonder why some people work in hotels, hospitality…..FOOD. The free food can be fairly good in these expensive hotels. One can cut their living expenses somewhat and save that money.

  16. @lucky

    I can understand Chinese. In the beginning of the video, it says the investigator pretended as a trainee housemaid and learning from the senior maid on how to clean. So the camera must be some sort of spy cam as some said.

    What offends me is that in the conversation, the senior maid specifically said several times that it is against the policy and don’t do it when the guest is around. So it’s not like that don’t know and needs retraining . It’s clearly they are ignoring the policy. But at the same time the maid mentioned several time “so busy”, so as you said, they aren’t paid enough and have overworked. So in a way they were forced to cut corner.

    Towards the end of the video I think the investigator is acting as a guest asking the manager if all their cups, towels, sheets are properly cleaned. The manager assured her several times “yes. We are 5 star and we sanitize everything. We have regular inspections…”.

    Hope that helps.

  17. One of my colleague always bring her own sheets, towels and everything when she has to stay in a hotel room. And she travels a lot …

    I cannot do that so “what we don’t know can’t hurt us.”

    Sad …

  18. I wash glasses first with soap and hot water. I bring my own pillowcases. And I bring my own cleaning supplies and clean rags to clean the bathroom myself – wash the floor, toilet, inside the shower, sink and counter. I use disinfecting wipes to clean the switches, phone, tabletops, tv remote, door handles. Then I tell them no housekeeping or, just empty the garbages and leave more toilet paper. I put the garbages by the door so all they have to do is empty them and not even go in the room.

  19. This is why as a general rule I put the “do not disturb” sign out when I first walk in, and take it off as I leave for the last time. On the rare times I don’t, I lock my toiletries, especially the toothbrush, in the hotel safe before I leave.

  20. There’s seriously no excuse for cleaning glasses with the toilet brush. None whatsoever.

    Can we please stop pretending this is a question of being busy? Disgusting pigs do it because they’re disgusting pigs.

  21. Real pigs (the ones that some human eat) are not disgusting. They are highly intelligent creatures and would prefer to swim in pools of clean water rather than mud to stay cool. On the other [pig’s] foot, [some] humans ARE disgusting.

    In China, “education and retraining” carry special meaning. See Cultural Revolution.

    I prefer drinking from a glass made of . . . wait for it . . . glass. So, I pack a real glass tumbler in my carry-on.

  22. It is kind of crazy that people are surprised at all… here is what I have been doing and it has worked well for me! Bring a couple of cheap tiny spy cameras that you can find on ebay. Set them up in your room when you first arrive. It takes about 5 minutes or so to come up with good hiding places, even less time after you’ve done this a couple times. Set them to record on motion and let them film away. When you get time after you get home or the plane ride back home… fast forward through the footage and find any instances like the article describes or just general disgusting behaviors by the maids or other workers. You then have proof and can submit it to the manager of the hotel and the corporate office. Generally, they are very quick to respond with a very favorable settlement…. I have had to sign numerous non-dicosure forms regarding the details of the incidents ans thr amounts that I have been paid, but let me say they are very well worth it… 5 figures sometimes. If more people did this it would probably motivate them a little more to be sanitary. I have proceeded on three occassions to file lawsuits after being offered piddly amounts initially, but each of those three suits were settled quickly after filing the suits…. way before trial.

    Obviously, this really only works on more than one night stays since you have to leave the cameras set up while it is still “your” room, but I have had remarkably “good” or “bad” luck depending on your viewpoint on three or more day stays at numerous hotels. Also, major chain hotels are much quicker to pay quickly and higher amounts. One last tip that should be obvious…. MAKE certain to take your cameras with you when you leave… you don’t need legal problems for leaving hidden cameras in rooms when they become “other people’s rooms”.

  23. I always take a glass from the breakfast area or dining room of the hotel up to my room. My bigger concerns are bed and linen. Hard to know if the linen has been changed from the previous guest, even harder to know if there’s bed bugs or scabies infestation. Even expensive hotels have had outbreaks.

  24. This isn’t surprising, this is China afterall. This goes perfectly along with the mannerisms from the locals. Not standing in line, not respecting personal space, me first mentality, horrific tempers, always trying to cut corners are a few things that come to mind. Not to mention food quality/safety issues and the amount of “fake” or chemical items in everyday consumption. To those who experienced it, I’m sure i’m not the only one who shares this sentiment about what otherwise is a fascinating country.

  25. Way more clean freaks out there than I thought. Not that I am condoning any of the behaviour portrayed in the clip, but, you clean freaks need to step back. You have drunk the reckitt/colman, Unilever and Palmolive etc cool-aid.

    Most household ‘germs’ are killed by air exposure, time, and some simple cleaning products.

    Current theories suggest that the epidemic of allergies and intolerances is contributed to, by our lack of exposure to pathogens to keep the immune system active.

    Just think – hotel uncleanliness, may be contributing to you good health?

  26. The “maids clean the drinking glasses with toilet brushes!” story has been around for at least a couple of decades. Does it actually happen? Yeah, some isolated cases.

    All this “I bring my own glasses and sheets and towels and pillows!” hysteria is just laughable.

    Get a grip, everyone. Or better yet, just stay in your supposedly sanitized homes.

  27. Good reason to always ask for single-use disposable cup whenever possible. I’m still kind of shocked at the level of work ethic of those workers, but it is still quite common occurence.

  28. Some extraordinary comments here. The person advocating using hidden cameras to blackmail hotels needs to take a long, hard look at themselves. All of the ‘germophobes’ would be better off consulting a psychologist if they want to improve their overall health…

    I have stayed in hotels for years and not once got any kind of illness or infection as a result.

  29. I liked the idea about the hidden cameras and told my husband about it. He went on ebay last night and ordered some kind of camera. Not really sure about how that would be blackmailing… he’s just letting a hotel know that their service was not up to standards and showing evidence of it. I dont see much of a difference in that and being bumped from a flight or walked at a hotel. A certain reimbursement should be made if the terms of the agreement are not met. If you found out that someone peed in your coke at your favorite restaurant and your friend that works at the register saw and videotaped the whole thing and shows it to you, I would think most people would demand to not only not pay but otherwise be compensated… if not adequatley compensated youd file a lawsuit. The people that say that the germophobes should stay home are probably the same people that have absolutely no sanitiation stanards otherwise how in the world could ypu not be completely disgusted?

  30. Means someone could drink particles of human waste and urine and could get sick enough to die. And the eating establishment , they clean the dishes and cups there also,

  31. True luxury would never have this happen. Ps. Do you ensure that you only have coitus while in your home city?

  32. Why am I not surprised that this happened in a luxury hotel?

    The true cause is clear: overworked, underpaid staff (and I’m sure the case is the same in the U.S.) They can retrain the staff all they want and investigate, but unless hotels properly pay staff and don’t overwork them, this will keep happening. Hotels, like any other business, try to squeeze every penny from their staff, and it’s obvious to me the people actually responsible (i.e. the managers and supervisors overworking staff) won’t experience any consequences.

  33. I have to point out that the scandal happened in Harbin, northeast China (the southeast part of China is better, even not a lot). In northeast China, people who are not working for the government are considered as hopeless and worthless. The result is, every worker underestimates himself, and thus underestimates the people he serves.

  34. Staying at hotels is always a leap of faith. They don’t really change the bedsheets or if they do they don’t change the pillow cases for unused pillows. A friend of mine even found a heating plaster beneath her pillow (or that is what she thought cause it may have been a used condom). The hotel said it may be the housekeeping’s heating plaster that slipped off while making the bed. The issues shown in the video is true not only in China but all over the world. But because my work requires me to travel so frequently I just suck it in. To minimize the problem I don’t have my room cleaned everyday. To check if they changed the bedsheets I put little marks on the sheets and pillow cases. If these are still there I call housekeeping to change it immediately while I am in the room. But I always make it a point to give a tip afterwards. I don’t use their glasses and towels. Just be creative. The shower area will be cleaned after you shower in it. I also bring my own slippers and I don’t walk barefoot ever.

  35. The same investigation and hidden camera happened in New York City as well.

    There was another program before the Chinese version.

    Marriott and IHG also included.

  36. Hotels are aware that the housekeeping don’t wash glasses with soap and use bath towels because the Hotel has not provided the housekeeping with a separate towel and separate soap for the glasses, cutlery and Coffee maker.
    When the hotel says we are sorry and will train the staff better, is nothing but a bunch of lies. Because in order to do so, first the Hotel will need to place orders for special towels and soap for cleaning which the so called Housekeeping trolley does not have.
    Also the housekeeping will not clean the glasses in their own homes using the toilet brush but will do so in the Hotels because they don’t give a damn about the guest and are there only for the salary.
    Training the Staff alone and providing materials for the same alone will not work. Because Hotels feel that the employees of the Hotels are very Honest and Sincere. This is nothing but fooling yourself. Yes there are plenty of Honest and sincere working people in the hotel but unfortunately I don’t see that in the Housekeeping department. Because wherever one goes the same story. Just cleaning and keeping things tidy is not what a guest wants. A guest also should get a room which is hygienic and bacteria free. This is the right of the guest. Guest come with children who could catch infection and is a very serious thing providing things to use without proper washing.

    Disposable material is a must and should be provided by all Hotels irrespective of star. Also I feel that there must be a kind of strict check on the Housekeeping to see that they don’t do what they are not supposed to do. Some may say that its wrong to keep a check on them but unfortunately I don’t see any other way at least for the time being.

    I travel a lot and as a habit I do inform the housekeeping manager and reception at check in that I would like the servicing to be done while I am present in the room and don’t like the room to be serviced behind my back. I have noticed that each time the housing comes, they don’t wear gloves that they should. They put their hands everywhere inside the waste basket and clean the floor etc and with the same hands give you fresh towels. I find this gross and disgusting. I keep all my toiletries away from them when they come as I don’t like them to touch it.

    My suggestion is that Hotels should have 2 trolleys per floor of housekeeping. One that cleans and the second that only puts fresh towels and disposable glasses etc with clean and fresh hands. Sanitisers Should be given also for the housekeeping to clean hands.

    I only stay at 5 star Hotels or 4 star where there are no 5 stars.

    The more Guests start complaining and making this a issue in each stay, eventually Hotels will be forced to start disposable and will be forced to be more responsible. Just keeping quite and posting on forums alone won’t help. Make a big deal out of it at the Hotel. When all guest swill start doing it, I guess things will start changing for the better.

    For the time being, don’t use any glasses, cutlery and Coffee maker in the hotel. Just go to a grocery and buy a few disposables. It costs nothing. And dont forget to sanitise the remote, door handles and light plugs with Dettol wipes on each stay and Phones for sure.

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