Housekeepers perform the most physically demanding work, cleaning an average of 10 to 14 rooms a day, yet are often invisible to the typical guest. So here are five myths, exposed, about what a hotel housekeeper’s job is really like.
1: There’s really no need to tip a hotel housekeeper.
A lot of Americans seem to believe that, since 31% don’t tip hotel maids at all, according to TripAdvisor. Yet these are the workers who are stripping and remaking beds, cleaning bathrooms, getting rid of the trash and vacuuming your room. On average, maids and housekeepers make just $21,800 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
So tipping them for their hard work seems like a good idea. The American Hotel and Lodging Association recommends tipping housekeepers $1 to $5 a night, depending on the level of service and cost of the hotel. Jacob Tomsky, a veteran hotel worker and the author of the hotel expose, Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality, suggests the high side of that figure.
“It’s always my most asked question,” Tomsky says, “and I suggest leaving $5 a day. Put it in an envelope and place that envelope on one of the pillows.”
Tomsky also advises leaving a tip every day of your stay, not at the end of a stay.
“Your housekeeper might have the day off the morning you’re checking out, so the replacement housekeeper would get the entire tip if you left it,” he points out.
At least one hotel chain has decided to address the issue head-on. Marriott International recently partnered with Maria Shriver’s A Woman’s Nation to launch a new tipping initiative. They’re calling it “The Envelope Please” to encourage hotel guests to leave a gratuity for housekeepers.
2. Those eco-friendly programs where you leave your sheets and towels, or even forsake room cleaning for a couple of days, make it easier on housekeepers.
It may be good for the environment when hotels go green, but it’s not without its downside for hotel housekeepers.
“There are hotels with green programs that allow the guest to skip a room cleaning, or to skip it for a few days ” says Annemarie Strassel, director of communications for UniteHere, a union that represents more than 100,000 hotel workers in the United States and Canada. “So that means when a hotel housekeeper finally cleans it, the room is even dirtier.”
A dirtier room means that the housekeeper needs to use more cleaning supplies and is exposed to more chemicals. It’s also more physically demanding work.
“They don’t have more time to clean that room,” says Strassel. “Every housekeeper has a quota. If the quota for that room is half an hour, then it has to get cleaned in half an hour, even if it hasn’t been cleaned for days. Everything gets speeded up and there’s retribution if they don’t do it in time.”
3. Housekeeping may not be glamorous but at least it’s not dangerous.
Strassel of Unite Here says that housekeepers have a 50% higher injury rate than all other hotel workers, and many have suffered work-related pain.
“Housekeepers can get debilitating injuries, suffer pain and even require surgical intervention,” says Strassel. “Think of those luxury pillow-top beds that many hotels now have. A housekeeper may be lifting 100 pounds just to make the bed. Many hotels don’t provide them with fitted sheets to make it easier. In bathrooms, they’re often required to scrub the floor on their knees on cold tiles.”
Tomsky notes that housekeepers can come in contact with bodily fluids that can endanger their health, since “Anytime you clean a bathroom, you’re exposed to fluids, and if they include bloodborne pathogens, it can be frightening.”
In a world where most housekeepers are overwhelmingly female, he also mentions one other possible danger in their daily lives, which is sexual harassment from male guests.
“The fact is that it can be dangerous to walk into a suite at certain times of day,” Tomsky says.
4. The bedbug scare is over.
You may not hear about them very often these days, but bedbugs remain a persistent problem and the housekeeping staff of every hotel is trained to look for them.
“I was working at a hotel in New York City when the bedbug thing started,” Tomsky recalls. “There was a bedbug registry and guests were always coming up to me and pointing to their arm and asking, ‘Is that a bite?'”
A lot of it was fear-based, he said, and while bedbugs are real, hotels will usually quarantine a room to contain the problem.
“The classic way that housekeepers look for bedbugs is to pull up the sheets to get to the mattress, “he says. “Every mattress has a fabric lip and if there are bedbugs, that’s where they stay during the day. They’re small and clear in color because they haven’t eaten yet.”
5. The TV remote control is the dirtiest object in your room and never cleaned.
No one will claim that the TV remote, which is notoriously difficult to clean, is spic and span. But it has company when it comes to the dirtiest objects in any hotel room.
“I always point to the minibar glasses,” Tomsky says. “They don’t have dish soap on the housekeeping carts and those glasses need to be spot-free. So some housekeepers will wash the glasses in the sink with hot water and shampoo. But many of them use furniture polish because it leaves the glasses spot-free and that’s the most important thing when the room is checked.”
If that’s not bad enough, be sure to toss those decorative pillows on the floor when you check in, since that’s what every other guest has been doing, Tomsky says. As for that remote, Tomsky has instructed friends to wrap a shower cap around it, “a sort of condom for the remote,” before using it to watch television.