Ridiculous or not? The “myth” of the unchanged hotel sheets

No recent story has generated more hate mail than my investigation of hotels that don’t change their sheets between guests.

I use the term “investigation” lightly, since the topic was so well-covered by my colleagues that I simply reviewed some of the previous articles, told a few of your stories, and added my two cents — which is that a vast majority of hotel always change their sheets.

That didn’t go over very well with some of my readers.

“You apparently fancy yourself a crusading journalist a la Woodward and Bernstein,” scolded one hotel executive. “In fact, you’re at the vanguard of your own self-styled movement of coach-potato journalism.”

Ouch.

The executive went on to say that the sheet-changing story was nothing more than a myth, and berated me for not including any examples.

“I have worked in the lodging industry for 35 years and have never — repeat, never — heard of hotel, whether a budget or luxury establishment, that didn’t change it sheets between guest stayovers.”

I’m not going to embarrass this executive by naming him in my story, because it turns out, he’s wrong. But he makes a valid point. Why didn’t I include any real stories from hotel guests? And why not let someone from the industry address this issue?

Well, I did. In the online version, I linked back to a story on my site in which a woman complains about unchanged sheets on her bed. But it happened at a budget motel, where, as I say in the story, these things are thought to take place from time to time.

So was that just a single incident that made for and interesting story? Hardly.

Carolyn Golaszewski, a flight attendant for a major airline, wrote to me after the story appeared to say the dirty-sheets problem was widespread.

“Over my career, I’ve stayed in many a room that were not clean,” she told me. “Sometimes our layovers are less than nine hours so there’s no time to mess a room up. It’s still disgusting that I may be sleeping in a bed not made over. So to make sure it’s cleaned correctly I strip the bed I’ve slept in. I know it doesn’t help me but at least the next guest hopefully gets clean sheets.”

Michael Lynch, another hotel executive with more than three decades of experience, said the dirty sheets are likely just housekeeping errors, and aren’t done intentionally. And they can happen anywhere, “no matter what type of bedding or hotel.”

“It is, and always will be, buyer beware,” he added. “No industry can provide a 100 percent guaranteed clean product to its customer base. This is true from apple orchards to zebra ranchers.”

How about an example? I’m working on a changed-sheet case right now that is so disgusting, I can’t bring myself to publish all of the details. (Warning: If you are easily offended, stop reading now.) It comes to me by way of reader MA Schulman, who was a recent guest at a full-service hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“I arrived close to midnight, and after unpacking, getting everything ready, I pulled back the sheet on the bed and there was a brown substance resembling human feces down the middle of the sheet,” he says.

In fact, it was human feces.

“I called the front desk and explained this, whoever answered said they would send someone up to take care of the problem. A few minutes later, a maintenance person showed up, dropped sheets, and left, I asked but they refused to change them,” he added.

Folks, it doesn’t get any worse than that.

I sent the angry hotel executive this letter and the links to my previous story, along with a polite explanation that essentially said I didn’t harbor any fantasies about being the next Woodward or Bernstein. (Actually, I don’t “fancy” myself as anything more than someone who helps consumers, but that’s beside the point.)

His reply was far more polite.

“I understand that we in the hospitality industry sometimes fall short of the mark,” he admitted. “However, it is helpful to remember that every day, tens of thousands of rooms in this country are cleaned by people who are proud of their work and graciously hospitable to their guests.”

Also, he said housekeepers worked long hours at low pay, yet still managed to bring a lot of “care and enthusiasm” to the job.

Fair enough.

But my conclusion is the same: While an overwhelming number of hotel beds are changed between guests, there’s always a chance your sheets will be recycled — or worse.

Note to commenters: It’s come to my attention that some of the discourse has been less than polite lately — in the words of one reader, too much “like FlyerTalk.” I would appeal to you to keep the conversation civil. Our commenters have a reputation for being level-headed and cordial. Please, let’s try to keep it that way.

(Photo: jon k/Flickr Creative Commons)

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