Hilton Copenhagen Airport Hotel
Photograph ©2008 by Brian Cohen.

Why You Might Not Want to Drink Out of Glasses in Hotel Rooms

Would you drink out of a glass which was cleaned with a toilet brush — or, at least, a brush used to clean a toilet?

Once again, members of housekeeping staffs have been caught allegedly improperly cleaning glasses in hotel rooms — this time, using brushes used to clean toilets at luxury hotel properties located in China — and if you have been a reader of The Gate for years, this report will most likely not surprise you.

Why You Might Not Want to Drink Out of Glasses in Hotel Rooms

“Five-star hotels in China, including a Shangri-La and Sheraton, are once again mired in sanitation scandals, after their housekeepers were found to be using the same brushes to clean water glasses and toilets”, according to this article written by Zhang Erchi and Coco Feng for Caixin. “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 hotel properties face punitive disciplinary action from the government of Harbin, which is the capital of Heilongjiang province in northeastern China and reportedly confirmed the improper cleaning of glasses in hotel rooms.

Back in the beginning of September of 2017, five other luxury hotel properties in China — including the Intercontinental Beijing Sanlitun, Hilton Beijing, W Beijing Chang’an, JW Marriott Beijing and Shangri-La Hotel Beijing — were allegedly failing to properly clean hotel rooms between guests, according to this article written by Teng Jing Xuan, Zhang Erchi, and Pan Lei for Caixin.

This video has surfaced pertaining to the unsanitary practices of members of housekeeping staff…

…although my first thought when watching the video is how did the second person in the room manage to conceal the video — or, at least, the action of recording — from the unsuspecting suspects? What was a second person doing in the room? Would that not have aroused suspicion from whomever was being recorded?

If you understand whatever dialect of Chinese is used in the video, please provide a translation, as perhaps answers to those questions are explained in the video.

Not the First Time Hotel Room Glasses are Improperly Cleaned

I first reported about the practice of members of the housekeeping staff improperly cleaning glasses in hotel rooms in this article on Friday, April 19, 2013 pertaining to an undercover video from an investigative report by a reporter at a local television news station in Atlanta back in 2007 — which is greater than ten years ago.

I do not typically watch television, but I was at home in the Atlanta area watching the local news on WAGA-TV Fox 5 when Dana Fowle — who is an investigative reporter — appeared live on television to present for the first time a now-legendary undercover hidden-camera exposé on the cleanliness of glassware in hotel rooms. The links posted in various places on FlyerTalk — such as this one — are no longer good, but I found the original report at an Internet web site called snotr:

I hope that you do not find any snotr in your drinking glasses — but that may be the least of your problems in certain hotel rooms as indicated in the video report, unfortunately.

Response From a Former Industry Insider

FlyerTalk member 2lovelife — who was originally known as seanthepilot and whom I know personally — responded to the original article which I wrote with this comment:

Having worked in a 5 star hotel for 20 years in a previous life, I feel the need to comment on this article. Although many hotels will have a process for sending glassware down to the kitchen to be cleaned, budget cuts and staffing levels often supercedes company policy.

If I were to assess each hotel, I would ask myself a few questions. You may want to try these yourself.

Does the Front Desk, Restaurant staff, or housekeeping seem understaffed? This is a big alarm bell. If one department is tight on the budget, housekeeping is too. When time is not enough, shortcuts have to be made. Think about it.

Does the maid’s housekeeping cart have clean glassware on it? Glasses should be kept on each floor, and will likely be in industrial glass washing racks either by the elevator or in their supply room.

If you don’t see any glassware, where do you think they are replacing them from?

When you see the maid, ask for 2 extra drinking glasses. If it takes the maid 20 seconds to get them, it’s likely that all the glassware on that floor has been replaced. If it takes the staff several minutes or more, you can bet dollars to doughnuts that they have no stock available.

In a larger type hotel, housekeeping it its own entity. Virtually running as a closed system. Laundry coming and going, and lots of cleaning of rooms and public areas. There is interaction with other departments, like communication with the Front Desk, interactions with bellmen, room service, and maintenance. But for the most part, they operate like a closed system

Glassware coming up from the kitchen involves another department and some hotels will just not have a process set up for it. Dirty dishes coming down are a separate issue, as they can be just ‘dumped’ in the kitchen to be washed. Often, room service will collect dishes, not housekeeping. Another system would have a separate staff member exclusively doing glassware for all the rooms. You may not notice this over the period of a single stay, but during multiple stays, or an extended stay, you are likely to notice whether they have a system built in or not.

The reality is that whether or not glasses are brought down and cleaned in the hotels kitchens depends on several things; The integrity of the management team; Their likeliness to be ‘in touch’ with what’s really going on; And the level of under-staffing in the housekeeping department.

Should You Be Concerned About Using Plastic Cups in Hotel Rooms?

As you may have noted in the report, one hotel property as a result replaced the glasses in its hotel rooms with plastic cups which were individually wrapped. Should you be concerned about their cleanliness as well?

“All glassware — including glass coffee carafes and cups — are to be washed in a dishwasher and, once cleaned, never again touched by ungloved hands with the understanding that the gloves being used will have never been used previously for any other purpose”, according to FlyerTalk member Starwood Lurker, who is also known as William Sanders, the Online Guest Feedback Coordinator and one of the official company representatives of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide on FlyerTalk.

If the plastic cups are manufactured similarly to how the plastic cups used by flight attendants of Delta Air Lines aboard aircraft are manufactured, I can personally vouch by emphatically resounding no — you need not be concerned about cleanliness at all. A company in Tennessee which manufactures those plastic cups was a customer of mine, and I was taken on a tour of their plant. I can assure you that the first human hands to touch each of those sterilized plastic cups are the flight attendants once they rip open the protective plastic wrapper containing the plastic cups — and the machinery used to create those plastic cups are clean, as well as the facility itself in which the machinery is located.

Similarly, it would therefore stand to reason that you are the first person to touch a plastic cup in a hotel room once you remove it from its protective plastic wrapper — although sometimes the wrappers have a few small holes in the covering. Although it is a long shot, I suppose that it is possible that water can splash from the sink and through one of those little holes, depending on the proximity of the plastic cups to the sink — but I highly doubt it.

Why do fancier hotels insist on using glassware instead of plastic cups in hotel rooms? Is it because the customers insist on it? Would it not be easier, less expensive and more sanitary to use disposable plastic cups which could be recycled? Surely there must be a way to improve the appearance of plastic cups in higher-end hotel properties.

By the way, I do not have first-hand knowledge of paper cups which are individually wrapped; but I would surmise that sanitary measures for paper cups which are individually wrapped are similar to plastic cups which are individually wrapped.


So what is a person to do?

Well, what I do is if I am at a hotel where the rooms are supplied with plastic cups which are individually wrapped, I take one or two of those cups and store it into my bag to carry around with me for future use. If I find myself in a hotel room containing glassware whose cleanliness is questionable, I will use the plastic cup instead — although I do not remember the last time I actually used glassware in a hotel room, come to think of it.

Not everyone agrees with me. I believe that FlyerTalk member downing has a good point with this response to the original article which I wrote:

There is a very simple solution, just rinse out the glass before you use. Much better than wasting petroleum oil and making mountains of plastic trash to appease a paranoid public. Our obsession with cleanliness and ‘anti-bacterial’ everything has done little more than created a generation of children with very weak immune systems, while spawning the creation of superbugs which are far more deadly and impossible to kill. Without bacteria, there would be no life anywhere. Yes, there is good and bad bacteria, but exposure to the bad bacteria is necessary for our immune systems to properly operate. The human body is a remarkable device.

“I always wash hotel room glasses and coffee cups and spoon with hot, soapy water before using them”, FlyerTalk member daph commented. “It’s a pain. I do it daily. Rarely have a cold or flu.”

I can tell you that long before that undercover investigation aired, I never used a glass which simply sat upside-down on the counter or table with no protective material between the glass and the surface on which it sat. Who knew what awaited on the rim of that glass?

Not that it was a guarantee of any sort that the glass was clean, but I only used glasses that passed the intense scrutiny of my spotlessness check.

Obsessive? Perhaps — but as I wrote in this article and numerous other past articles, I have not suffered from a cold, fever or other illness in years. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

By the way, you may have noticed the remote control in the investigative video report and thought to yourself about the germs and bacteria that are probably lurking on that device as well as in coffee carafes — but that is the topic of another article

Photograph ©2008 by Brian Cohen.

Editor’s Note: Literally minutes after this article was posted on Wednesday, December 27, 2017, Amanda Davis — who was the female anchor person in the WAGA-TV Fox 5 video embedded in this article and a beloved journalist in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area for greater than 31 years — died at the age of 62 after reportedly suffering from a massive stroke while waiting to board an airplane at the international airport in Atlanta. My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and colleagues. May she rest in peace.

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