Many years ago, actually make that many, many years ago while serving in Vietnam I had an experience that left an indelible impression on me.  No, it’s not what you might expect.  Of course, I encountered few ‘colorful moments,’ but being a helicopter pilot was still far preferable to being in the infantry where privations were commonplace.  In fact, compared to the grunts humping around in the jungles and rice paddies those of us in the air wing lived like princes (which we thought we were.)  We lived in ‘hooches” (sandbagged Quonset huts) a few of which even had sinks with running water.  We had access to hot showers (most of the time) and flush toilets (again, most of the time.)  Not only that, but as officers we hired local Vietnamese women to sweep out our hooches and make our beds daily and hand-wash our laundry all for $15/mo.

So it was that one-day after returning from a mission I walked into my hooch and found my hooch-maid Kim (I think 90% of all hooch-maids were named Kim) brushing her teeth—with my toothbrush!

Now before you say, Yuck! allow me to paint a more detailed picture.  Many Vietnamese women, especially the older ones like Kim (my guess is she was about 40-years old) chewed a mild narcotic that was colloquially known as betel nut.   Aside from being a stimulant, betel nut had another unique characteristic—it stained the user’s teeth jet black and their gums a grotesque reddish brown—get the picture?  OK, now you can say “Yuck” or “Ooooh, Gross!” or whatever.

Needless to say, I asked Kim to refrain from using my toothbrush in the future but allowed her to keep the toothbrush she had been using (whatta guy, eh?).  And just to make certain it never happened again, I wrote home and asked my family to send me a dozen toothbrushes and several tubes of toothpaste so I could give them to Kim for her family.

The aforementioned experience occurred in a combat zone where less than sanitary situations and conditions are to be expected.  But what about here in the U.S., just how sanitary do you think your average hotel or motel room is, and what do hotel maids do to maintain a modicum of cleanliness especially since the advent of COVID?

And while it’s important to consider the cleanliness of the hotel, it’s the actions that bring you into close contact with other people, i.e., taking public transportation, going to restaurants or movies, socializing — require even more care.  So, the reality is, you’re more likely to encounter germs and viruses (including COVID) from these activities than from being in your hotel room.

Nonetheless, hotel rooms harbor dark secrets and are often swarming with things like old skin cells, E. coli and other unidentified bodily fluids.  To the untrained eye your average hotel room may appear to be spic-n-span but just because we don’t see the germs, doesn’t mean they’re not there.  The reality is that hotel cleaning practices hide some dirty little surprises, which can be found in your sheets, on your pillows, across the bathroom counter, on the TV remote—actually, pretty much everywhere.

So, what should you be looking for?

The primary health hazards are water glasses made of glass (although those have largely been done away with and are now wrapped in plastic) T.V. remotes, light switches, faucets and perhaps the most unnerving of all—the bedding.  Dirt, mold, and germs not only hide out in dark, unseen crevices like air conditioning vents, but also can be found out in the open.  Studies have shown that hotel room remote controls are breeding grounds for thousands of bacteria like Ecoli (that means feces), staph, and the highly contagious MSRA, along with other dangerous germs.

Studies have also uncovered some nasty things under the covers including nail clippings, hair, fluffed-but-not-changed pillows, unidentified fluids, and bed bugs.  Countertops and taps are also breeding grounds for bacteria—sort of like a petri dish to welcome unsuspecting guests.  But perhaps most disquieting is that fact that hidden cameras have caught poorly trained maids on video using the same towel throughout the cleaning process, i.e., sinks, toilets, countertops, faucets, etc.—and this practice is far more common than one might think.  (I’ll bet my betel nut chewing Kim doesn’t seem so bad now does she?)

How to protect yourself

Now that I have your attention there are ways to protect yourself.  When traveling by car, consider bringing your own pillows and pillowcases, or perhaps give some thought to grabbing the washcloth from the bathroom and squirt some antibacterial hand sanitizer on it and wipe down all the trouble areas like light switches, T.V. remotes, door handles, phones, clock radios, taps, and toilet seats.

Another simple trick to keep safe is to use one of the hotel’s sanitized hand towels to cover the bathroom countertop before placing your toiletries on the counter, and of course, whenever possible, take those hotel throw pillows and throw them on the floor (where they’ve spent most of their lives anyway.)  You might also consider purchasing bedbug spray and “travel sheets,” both of which can be found Online.

And lastly, before lying down on the hotel’s bedspread, give some thought to the number of suitcases that have been dragged across countless airport bathroom floors and then placed on the very bedspread you’re thinking of putting your face on.

Quote of the day:  “What we don’t know can hurt us.”—Unknown

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