Do Not Disturb

michael BUGS IN YOUR BED--

By Michael Matthews

March 18, 2004 -- The rattle of the maid's trolley outside your hotel room usually signals the start of another day--even if it's a Sunday morning and you are trying to sleep in.

It's not the maid's fault that she starts at 8.00 a.m. and needs to be home to feed the kids by 5.00 p.m. In that time, her job is to clean between eight and 14 rooms. Deducting time off to gather and fill her trolley with linens, soaps and towels, time off for a couple of 15-minute breaks and a half-hour lunch and time off for removing linens and putting away her trolley at the end of the shift, she might have enough working time to clean two rooms an hour. That is: scrub the bathroom, tub, shower, basin and loo; pick up clothes; remove room-service leftovers and empty bottles; dust and vacuum; and change linens and make the bed.

For this work, she is paid anywhere from the minimum wage (in most states) to $28 an hour with benefits in New York (love those unions). If you really want to get technical, consider this: Most guestrooms average around 450 square feet, so the maid has just four seconds per square foot to clean and she is paid half-a-cent per square foot for her labors!

But is your room really clean?

Not so long ago, one of those "news" programs showed a hotel guestroom being inspected under a black light. To the untrained and unassisted eye, the room looked perfectly clean. But under the scrutiny of the black light, the room was disgusting. Bedspreads and walls were covered in dried semen. Carpets were stained where guests had missed the call of Nature. The room was littered with pubic hair, dried blood and other horrors.

The all-too-obvious conclusion is that a maid can't really clean a hotel room in less than half an hour. Or look at it this way: If you and your family live in a 2,000-square-foot home, can you or your spouse--or even a professional maid--clean it in just two hours?

Bottom line: When you return to your guestroom at the end of the day, it looks clean and tidy. There are fresh sheets on the bed. The bathroom looks fresh and it has been stocked with clean towels. The room has been given a cursory cleaning. But the room is not clean. And, sadly, unclean rooms are not the sole territory of the lesser chains and hot-sheet motels. This problem affects the entire spectrum of the lodging industry, including properties at the 5-star level.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Recent reports have shown an increase in Cimex Lectularius, a disgusting parasite more commonly known as the bed bug. The damn thing is about a quarter of an inch long and lives in the cracks and crevices of your guestroom and, more probably, in your mattress or bed frame. They come out at night to feast on your body, leaving painful welts and lesions, fecal smears--and blood spots on your nice, clean sheets. Not to mention that many in the hotel industry believe they are carriers of leprosy, Q fever and brucellosis.

Postings on hotel-industry Web sites have drawn attention to the growing proliferation of bed bugs. There is almost an epidemic and, again, bed bugs are appearing across the whole spectrum of hotels from the very chi-chi to the Bates Motel. They are certainly far worse than the odd drop of dried semen, which you can't see anyway. Besides, how do explain those bites to your loved one when you return home? "Darling, I swear, I caught them off a toilet seat!" Not very credible...

So what can you do to ensure that you are really getting a clean room and that the room is free of Cimex Lectularius, dried semen and the like?

Every good hotel has what is called a "deep cleaning" program. This is where a guestroom is taken out of inventory and stripped to the bare walls. All the curtains, sheers, bedspreads and other soft goods are taken out for dry cleaning. The room is probably painted. The mattress is fumigated and, if necessary, replaced. The bathroom is bleach cleaned. Desks, tables and other wooden items are revarnished. This deep-cleaning program is rotated throughout the year, so there are always newly deep-cleaned rooms coming back into inventory, usually every working day of the year.

These are the rooms you want.

To be sure that your room is as clean as it can possibly be, request a room that has been recently deep cleaned when you make your reservation or when you check in. If the reservations clerk or front-desk agent acts dumb--or honestly doesn't know what you're talking about--ask them to check with Housekeeping.

Get a room that has just been deep cleaned and it's likely to be free of semen and Mr. Cimex Lectularius. Just say Michael sent you.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.