If you’re a seasoned traveler, there’s a strong chance you might be a germophobe.
Spending dozens of nights a year in a hotel, over time, provides one with certain insider knowledge about what’s clean, what’s likely borderline, and what’s not.
The TV remote is likely filthy.
The glassware on the minibar may have been quickly wiped with Pledge rather than replaced.
The throw pillows and that runner at the foot of the bed? Remove them the moment you enter the room and wash your hands after.
And these were our germophobic tendencies before the coronavirus.
Luckily and importantly, hotel companies have substantially raised the cleaning bar after the onset of COVID-19.
With increased cleaning frequency, seals on doors indicating a room hasn’t been touched after cleaning, and new technology like electrostatic spraying, hotel cleaning is being enhanced like never before.
We explore how hotel rooms are being cleaned in the era of the pandemic, specifically looking at how hotels clean the air; hard surfaces; and soft, porous surfaces inside the guest rooms.
Cleaning the Air
We’ve all staying in a hotel room with a noisy air vent.
But what exactly brings the air into and out of hotel rooms, and how clean is that air?
Air filtration technology removes particles like dust and dirt from the air.
At hospitals an onboard most commercial aircraft, HEPA filters are used, which are required to remove at least 99.9% of airborne particles that pass through them.
But HEPA filters aren’t common in hotels.
At hotels, air is typically filtered though the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system. These systems have their own air filters, though their effectiveness varies based on the specific filter used and frequency of cleaning. Certain hotels have committed to changing HVAC filters more frequently during the coronavirus pandemic.
A recent article in The Atlantic mentions that well-functioning HVAC units that are up to code shouldn’t allow a virus to spread from room to room via air conditioning. However, this assumes the hotel maintains the HVAC system, ensuring things are working to specification.
Certain hotels offer localized air purifiers in each room.
Hilton offers PURE allergy-friendly rooms at select properties. Originally designed for allergy sufferers, the rooms do offer in-room air purification systems.
Independent hotels like Ocean House Rhode Island have recently installed the Instagram-popular Molekule air purifiers, which claim to remove up to 99.99% of COVID-19 virus concentration in hours.
Sandals Resorts sanitizes room air vents before each new arrival.
At this stage, there’s not enough data to know exactly how the virus might spread through HVAC systems, but it’s wise to choose a hotel with in-room air purifiers or with a meticulous commitment to maintaining its HVAC system and filters.
Self-contained Airbnb or Vrbo rentals — meaning single-family homes, cottages, or unattached townhouses — that do not share a ventilation system with other units in the same building are also worth considering.
Cleaning Hard Surfaces
How are the hard surfaces in a hotel room cleaned? The desk, bathroom counters, and yes, even high-touch surfaces like the remote control?
Whereas these surfaces were simply cleaned pre-coronavirus, most major hotel companies are now using hospital-grade disinfectant on the room’s hard surfaces.
Heavy-duty disinfectants typically used by hospitals to kill microbes like Hepatitis B, MRSA, and salmonella, hotel groups like Accor, Hilton, and Marriott now use hospital-grade disinfectants in their cleaning procedures to sanitize surfaces. Example of hospital-grade disinfectants include Viraclean and MD-125.
Hotels are also experimenting with electrostatic spraying.
Informally called “fogging”, it’s a cleaning process where an electrostatically charged mist is sprayed onto in-room surfaces. Using a large handheld spraying device, housekeepers shoot an electrostatic mist of disinfectant atomized by an electrode inside the sprayer.
Applying hospital-grade disinfectant in this manner produces a fine mist that covers and wraps around surfaces, coating them much more effectively than if done without the sprayer.
Marriott is rolling out the technology. Hilton and Hyatt are piloting it.
Some hotel companies are also experimenting with ultraviolet light cleaning, a cleaning process that uses intense germicidal ultraviolet (UV) light to disinfect a room or surface. Primarily used by hospitals, the Westin Houston Medical Center first utilized UV cleaning in March 2020 by deploying robots made by Xenex which destroy microscopic bacteria and viruses.
You’ll also find that many nonessential hard surface items are being removed from hotel rooms for the time being. Glassware, pen and paper, and the printed hotel compendium or directory are no longer provided by default in many hotels.
And as for that remote control, hotel groups like Dallas-based Remington Hotels are piloting a single-use sleeve which is placed over the TV remote before each arrival.
Radisson Hotel Group disinfects remote controls between stays and then places them in sealed protective bags.
Cleaning Soft Items
What about the bed sheets, duvet, towels, drapes, and carpet?
These are soft, porous surfaces where standard disinfection is less straightforward.
State government cleaning guidelines recommend hotels clean soft, porous surfaces by first removing any visible dirt or contamination and then cleaning the surface with products designed for soft surfaces.
Following the surface-level cleaning, soft items should be laundered in the hottest-allowed water setting before being dried thoroughly.
As for non-launderable items like drapes, we’re inclined to steer clear for now, or to wash our hands immediately after touching them.
Carpets are also tricky.
Sandals Resorts is steaming and sanitizing carpets in guest rooms on a daily basis.
Or consider selecting a hotel with hardwood or tiled-floors in the rooms, which are easier to disinfect.
Finally, if you’re traveling right now, request a hotel room that’s been vacant for at least 72 hours.
While there’s no guarantee of virus-free surfaces, the Cleveland Clinic cites a forthcoming study suggesting the coronavirus can remain on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to 3 days.
With hotel occupancy at low levels in many cities right now, hotels should be willing to give you a room that’s been vacant for 3 days or more.