Sharon Denise Allison-Ottey
Hot Topics

How Clean is that Warm and Comfy Hotel Room?

Hotel Tips from Dr. Sharon
Sharon D. Allison-Ottey, MD

I’ve been blessed to travel both nationally and internationally and have literally spent hundreds of days/nights in hotel rooms. Fortunately, most hotel stays have been uneventful and in many cases pleasant. However, I do have some REAL stories of hotel nightmares. I’ve used my personal experiences, those of other experts and friends to come up with “Dr. Sharon’s Travel Tips”. My travel tips focus on hotel cleanliness, health concerns and to a lesser degree hotel security. I’m committed to updating and revising these tips and will be specifically identifying hotels that are the worst offenders as well as acknowledging those hotels that go the extra mile. Please send your suggestions and comments to

Examples of my personal hotel nightmares

  • I checked into an upscale hotel that’s part of a national chain which caters to “young, hip, techies” located in Manhattan, New York. Within five minutes of entering my room, I requested a manager and demanded to be moved. The reason? There was a white/cream colored thick stain in the middle of the comforter. I’m convinced, as was the manager of housekeeping, that this was a sperm stain. The manager said that it was a milk or lotion stain; however I disagreed due to the location of the stain, inability to simply wipe off and the scent. While I didn’t perform any scientific tests, the manager of housekeeping agreed that this was not milk or lotion.
  • As I climbed into bed at an upscale resort hotel in Destin, Florida, I was horrified to see a blood stain about the size of a small donut on the top sheet. I’ve found several hotel sheets with fecal matter and urine stains on them over the years at different locations.
  • The roaches roam free at a leading resort in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I was sitting in the bar area meeting with a colleague when a large roach crawled across our table. When we notified the waitress, she called the manager. The manager wasn’t the least bit surprised by the roaming roach. He calmly walked over, killed it and walked away with only a slight nod in our direction. If a roach is bold enough to walk across the table in the daylight, you can only imagine that is happening in the kitchen and other rooms when the lights go out.
  • A large hotel in Dallas, Texas had a major issue with bathroom cleanliness. There was mold growing in the corners and up the walls of the bathroom as well as a nasty odor that was not hidden at all by the air freshener. While I was repulsed by the mold, I was even more shocked to see a used condom next to the toilet in this “newly cleaned” room.
  • Southern hospitality was at its worse at one of the largest, most celebrated conference hotels in the country located in Nashville, Tennessee. The worst hotel experience of my life happened over a ten day period at this famous hotel. While I didn’t have cleanliness issues, it is impossible for me not to share the insanity that I experienced. These are TRUE events and in fairness to the hotel, I paid not one cent for the hotel room or the room service after their general manager was made aware of this fiasco by the staff.
    • At check in the front desk attendant swiped my credit card repeatedly and eventually told me that the charges were declined. I became irate after standing there for over thirty minutes and called my credit card company. Ironically, the company’s fraud department had already called my home and frozen the account because they saw the numerous charges placed by the hotel and were suspicious of fraudulent activity. The front desk had attempted to charge me 11 times within a three minute period.
    • A manager sorted out the problem and called for a bellman to escort me to my room. Then the fun REALLY began:

      • Room #1: We walked into the room which was obviously occupied; a cowboy hat, briefcase and dirty clothes were on the floor. The bellman apologized and we trekked back to the front desk, got new keys and I was fuming but realized that accidents do happen and we walked to my new room.
      • Room #2: This room had no furniture but rather had men in the room painting it and changing the wallpaper. We made the hike again to the front desk; the hotel is HUGE and now the bellman was upset.
      • Room #3: Lo and behold the third room was NOT the charm; when we opened the door we found housekeeping and another employee in a very compromising position and the room was not clean. (I can’t make this up, it really happened). Needless to say, room #4 was an upgraded room with no problems.
    • Room service nightmares: I ordered room service daily and each day my order was either wrong or the food was cold. There was one instance wherein I found a long strand of flaming red hair in my salad; I don’t have red hair! On our final night my husband was chilled and wanted soup. Being the dutiful wife, I reluctantly placed the order with room service. Given my continuous problems, my call was routed to the manager. He assured me that he was going to personally oversee our order which he supposedly did. I could only laugh after lifting the lid and seeing the soup still in the shape of the can that it came out of and noting that it was ice cold.

Dr. Sharon’s Travel Tips

There are exceptions to every rule, these are general guidelines and meant for informational purposes. They are not meant to burden the hotel industry but rather to assure your health and safety. You deserve a clean, comfortable and safe room. These are my recommendations based on personal experiences, friends/colleagues, research and other expert advice. Please email me at drsharon@sharondeniseallisonottey with any of your tips!

Before You Make the Reservation

1. Investigate the hotel online, view the pictures and search for any hotel ratings or reviews. This does not need to be a long, tedious process and should be completed in less than 15 minutes. An important issue is that of safety and location; I suggest that you find out whether the hotel is in a busy metro area or remote location and the ease in getting to and from the hotel. The telephone, a tool that is quickly being overlooked in the day of the internet, is invaluable to the traveler. I suggest that you CALL the hotel, ask general questions about location and general safety. (This is especially important for women traveling alone). This phone call directly to the hotel will also give you a “hint” about the friendliness and accessibility of the staff. Many would recommend that you stick with large, national hotel chains as they value their reputation and may put more effort into the hotel’s safety and cleanliness. The jury is still out with me on this as I have mixed experiences with large versus smaller more intimate hotels.

A. Request that you DO NOT have a room on the ground floor; if there are doors or windows that open directly to the outside.
B. Request that you ARE NOT located next to a vending machine (noise factor) but do consider being closer to the elevator (noisier but safer).
C. Make sure that you give a staff member or family member has the name, address and phone number of your hotel.

Once You Arrive

2. When you walk into the hotel lobby take a deep breath. A rank, smelly lobby tells you that cleanliness is not the main focus of the hotel. If the “living room” of a house is dirty—imagine the attention that is given to the hidden bedrooms.

3. Before entering your room, locate the exit signs in the hallway and look for the closest stairways. Make sure that the hallway is properly lighted and that you feel secure.
A. Make sure that there is a deadbolt lock, chain lock and peephole on the door.
B. Look in the hall for sprinklers and for smoke detectors.

4. Thou shalt inspect your room with your bags in hand. Do not send up your bags and wait to go into the room, have them stored if necessary and call for them when you’re ready to occupy the room. If there is a problem, it is best to take care of it right away versus waiting until later on in the evening when you’re tired and transportation may become an issue. Another important tip; the general managers generally work during the day and the “other” manager (often a person with little or no authority) will have the graveyard shift.

5. Do Inhale. When you walk into the room take another deep breath. If you smell musty or foul odors, WALK OUT and demand a new room. Beware of overly floral scent which may indicate that the room has been saturated with air freshener to cover up a not so clean room. A room that is clean and FRESH does not require cheap air fragrances.

6. You are the Inspector. Inspect the room CAREFULLY with a specific focus on:
A. Bed:
1. Inspect the bedspread/comforter on BOTH sides.

A. Dr. Sharon’s extra tip: DON’T sleep under the bedspread/comforter unless you are 100% sure that it has been laundered between guests or brand new. I would err on the side of caution; turn up the heat and sleep under the sheet only. Generally bedspreads aren’t cleaned frequently because hotels see this as costly and time consuming. I suggest that you call ahead and request SPECIFICALLY that the bedspread/comforter be cleaned prior to your arrival and then upon check-in confirm that your request was honored.

2. LOOK before you SLEEP. Pull back the bedspread or comforter and LOOK at the sheets. I’ve seen blood, semen, feces and bugs on “clean” sheets at some of the “BEST” resorts/hotels in the world. Do not under any circumstances just jump into the bed blindly.

A. Bedbugs seem to be on the increase and in general if you travel you will encounter them. Bed bugs are small wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of warm-blooded animals. Adult bed bugs are generally flattened and reddish brown in color. They resemble apple seeds in appearance and size. Bed bugs are most active in the middle of the night, but when hungry, they will venture out during the day to seek food. Their flattened bodies allow them to conceal themselves in cracks and crevices around the room and within furniture. Favored hiding sites include the bed frame, mattress and box spring. A quick (although not full proof) inspection would include looking around the headboard and the mattress. Bedbugs often leave small dark blood spots. Although they are pesky and may cause a rash, bed bugs do not pass on any diseases.

I am sure that you don’t want to take the bed bugs home with you. Don’t leave your clothes on the floor or near the bed and the same goes for your suitcase. Use the luggage rack in the room but make sure that it is away from the bed. I don’t recommend using the hotel’s furniture drawers, which may be the “home” of bedbugs. If you do choose to use the drawers; pull them out, shake them and spray them with disinfectant. You can also call housekeeping and request that they wipe them out for you. I prefer to hang most items; even undergarments, in the closet. When you get home, don’t throw your luggage on your bed; at the absolute minimal shake it and inspect it.

B. Bathrooms:
1. Inspect the bathtub/shower for mold or mildew. If there is a mat in the bathtub or shower, you must look underneath it as well. If you have traveled with your disinfectant, use it on the mat.
2. CHECK the shower curtains; often they are filled with mildew at the bottom and smell like mildew/mold. If you see black dots lining the bottom you know that this is mold. You can request that housekeeping install a new shower curtain.
3. Lift up the toilet seat prior to use. You should check for cleanliness; you might be surprised at what is waiting for you. Also look at the wall behind the toilet, often there will be urine stains that have not been cleaned.
4. Avoid using the drinking glasses and coffee cups in the room, this is a major issue in many hotels as they are often not properly washed. The housekeeping staff has been known to spray it with window cleaner, rinse it and dry it with a towel (sometimes an unclean towel). Further, they have rinsed the glasses while wearing the same gloves that they use to clean the toilets. If you must use the coffee cup or glass, I recommend that you personally wash it with some soap and hot water and allow it to air dry. However, the BEST advice is to use a plastic cup.

Check out this link: CLICK HERE

C. General Areas of the Room:
1. Look in the corners of the carpet/floor for “droppings” of rodents.
2. Check for other bugs that might be visible to the naked eye like roaches, spiders and other pests. Check the window sills and the corners of the room for droppings and dead insects.
3. Check for excessive dust; look at the nightstand but also around the television area and on top of dresser drawers.
4. Look UP; check the ceiling for water marks and sagging areas that might begin to crumble on you.
5. Look outside of your window and make sure that your room cannot be easily accessed by a potential intruder. Make sure that the windows and sliding glass door is locked. I also advise that you look around and see if you can easily look into other rooms and get a good view of people that can get a good view of you.
6. Pick up the phone and dial the front desk.
1. Look at the phone and make sure that dried makeup and other “stuff” isn’t on the phone. (I suggest taking your own wipes and cleaning the phone prior to use.)
2. Make sure that the telephone actually works.
3. Make a mental note on how long it takes for the operator to pick up the phone. When they do answer the phone, inform them that you’re checking response time and the security of the hotel. Report any unusually long delays to management.

Once You Leave

7. Spread the Word!
Write an online review of the hotel, avoid only giving negative reviews; encourage the good hotels to become great! Don’t forget to leave a tip for housekeeping if their service was worthy and notify management if it was not.

Dr. Sharon's Travel TipsWhat a SMART Traveler Packs:
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Spray Disinfectant
  • Baby Wipes
  • Plastic cups
  • Pillowcase
  • Light Blanket (for longer trips)
  • Slippers/House Shoes or Socks to wear in the room
  • Mace (if legal in your state)

Please email me at 
with any of your tips!