Editor's note: the following piece was translated and edited from an article that first appeared in Xiandai Jinbao, a Zhejiang newspaper managed by Xinhua News Agency. The article is the written account of two reporters for the newspaper who went undercover to investigate the cleaning practices of the average hotel housekeeper at an express hotel in Ningbo. What they discovered is that hotels in China leave a lot to be desired in terms of sanitation.
Most of us are quite familiar with the whole “express hotel” concept. They're marketed as clean, convenient and economical lodging options for businesspeople and budget travelers. In a city like Ningbo, such establishments can be found on most main streets. Recently, the Xiandai Jinbao newspaper sent a special investigative report group to speck out a number of the area's well-known express hotel chains. What they found will certainly have you second guessing your next accommodation booking—washcloths used to clean the toilet, bath towels used to mop the floor, drinking cups dried with the same bath towels. Such shocking scenes witnessed by these reporters no doubt illustrate the disturbing health code violations that are commonplace in these express hotels.
Applying for jobs at a Home Inn
On the morning of March 8, two reporters arrived at a Home Inn (如家快捷) located on Zhongxing Bei Lu in Ningbo. Out front, there was a big LED display playing a looped video of the branch manager "inviting applicants for housekeeping positions". The reporters went inside to apply for the jobs.
Reporter: "Excuse me, are you recruiting for the housekeeping positions? Both of us would like to apply."
Front desk clerk: "Oh, you're interested in working here? Wait one moment."
Subsequently, the two reporters were directed by the front desk clerk to go talk with the operations manager in his office. After waiting for a while, the operations manager, a young-looking man named Xu, came out and started interviewing them. As the interview proceeded, the two reporters fabricated backstories for themselves about their previous work experience. Although they hadn't really planned what to say—even contradicting one another on the details more than once—the manager didn't seem to notice or care. Moreover, he didn't ask either of them to provide health certificates or other official documents. All he said was that they should spend the afternoon familiarizing themselves with the area and report back the next day to begin work.
Posing as newly hired housekeepers, the two reporters returned to the hotel the next afternoon to begin learning the workflow of their new jobs. Both reporters immediately hit it off with the senior housekeepers, and after friendly introductions all around, the two reporters parted ways, each following their senior housekeeper who would teach them the secrets of hotel housecleaning. What follows is a rough summary of what they were taught during their on-the-job training session.
1) Cleaning the toilet and floor with the same rag
One of the reporters followed a housekeeper (in her late twenties) into the hotel room of a guest that’d just checked out. As to be expected, the bathroom floor and the bed were both in disarray, so the housekeeper quickly set to work cleaning those areas and tidying up. Inside the bathroom, there were two towels hanging against the wall that looked like they hadn't been used. The housekeeper didn't bother to replace them with fresh towels, and continued about cleaning the bathroom.
The reporter watched in shock as the housekeeper proceeded to take a brown colored rag and first wipe around the inside of the toilet bowl before using the same rag to wipe down the outer lid. Next, she flushed the toilet and used a second rag to dry off the lid. Then she took the first rag (used inside the toilet bowl) and wiped down the bathroom floor with it.
Reporter: "Auntie, you're using the same rag to wipe down everything. Why are you wiping the inside of the toilet first? That doesn't seem very sanitary."
To this the housekeeper responded that the hotel actually provided them with three different colored rags that were supposed to be used to clean different things. However, as she was only paid 4 RMB per room and had to clean dozens of rooms each day, some times she was “too busy” to switch back and forth between different rags.
2) Using the guests’ washcloth to wipe down the toilet; bath towels used as mops
Meanwhile, the other reporter worked with her housekeeper in a separate room. According to the woman, she'd been a housekeeper at the hotel for a long time, ever since it first opened. This housekeeper started in the shower area, pulling up the non-slip mat and placing it on the toilet while she grabbed the showerhead to quickly rinse off the mat. Shaking the excess water off the mat, she tossed it back on the shower floor. At no time during the process did the housekeeper use any sort of disinfectant on the mat.
Done with the shower, the housekeeper moved on to the toilet. She grabbed a white toilet brush, did a once-over around the bowl and then picked up a discarded wash cloth that the previous guest had used to wipe down the inside of the bowl until it looked clean. After that, she took the white toilet brush she'd just used and rinsed it off in the bathroom sink before returning it to her cleaning supplies box. As for wiping down the bathroom floor, she didn't have a rag handy so she just used a discarded bath towel to mop up the wet spots on the floor.
Reporter: "Auntie, are we supposed to be using the guests' wash clothes and bath towels to clean the bathroom?"
Housekeeper: "The boss doesn't know; she'd flip out if she saw us doing it."
3) Change the pillowcases only if they're visibly dirty
While working undercover at Home Inn, the reporters were primarily in charge of changing the bed sheets and making up the bed. It was while doing this that one of the reporters learned that pillow covers were only changed if they appeared visibly dirty to the housekeeper.
Reporter: "How do I tell if the bed sheets should be changed?"
Housekeeper: "If they look dirty, change them. Otherwise there's no need to."
Reporter: "And if it's an ‘hourly-rate’ guest? Do we need to change them?
Housekeeper: "We strictly enforce a 'one-guest-one-change' system. Remember that."
However, while the reporter was helping clean a standard room, she discovered an exception to this “strictly enforced” rule. It was apparent two people had slept there, but one of the beds looked unused, other than that its pillows were out of place. The reporter asked the housekeeper if they should change both beds regardless—since according to the one-guest-one-change system, two guests merited changing both beds—to which the housekeeper responded: "Don't worry about changing the bed sheets or the quilt cover for that bed. Just flip the quilt over.”
4) Cups in bathroom dried with used bath towels
Staying in a hotel, one of the things your most likely concerned about is the cleanliness of the cups provided in the room. While helping prepare another room, one of the reporters let out a horrified gasp as she saw her housekeeper quickly rinse out the small cups next to the bathroom sink and then dry them with the used bath towel that she'd just mopped the floor with. Once dry she set the cups back down, arranged the toiletries by the sink area and exited the bathroom.
Reporter: "Are we supposed to clean the cups like that?"
Housekeeper: "Of course not. Technically we're supposed to disinfect them daily. Whenever the supervisor comes by for inspection, we're sure to collect all of the cups, load them up in a tray and take them down to the washroom for cleaning. But on days when the supervisor doesn't make the rounds, we don't bother."
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Keywords: Express hotel hotels in China
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Feb 24, 2014 22:52 Report Abuse
None of this surprises me. But it's everywhere - have you ever seen the famous "black light" trick when examining hotel rooms, that exposes the stains, and leftover bodily fluids that the naked eye doesn't see on unchanged bedding? It's gross. I always always boil water in the kettle here and pour it over the cups and sink, etc. to disinfect as best I can. My sister even brings her own Sleep Sack when staying in hotels. Always wear the slippers provided.
Apr 23, 2013 23:48 Report Abuse
I once worked in a very busy restaurant in downtown Guangzhou. The customers give great feedback on the food the restaurant serves, but no one ever pays attention to the utensils they use. Although I'd been warned by my mother that things outside of home are dirty, as a rebellious kid I couldn't care less until I worked in a restaurant. Yes, the utensils might have been sterilized and been cleaned perfectly. But has it ever occurred to you how they got on your table and are placed in order? They all are handled by the hands of the people who work in the restaurant. Those people do not only serve food. They need to clean the tables as well after the customers leave. And during busy hours, they would not have the time to go to the washroom to clean their hands in between clearing leftover on the tables and putting new utensils on table for customers before serving. Have you ever paid attention how they clean the table for you? I suppose most people didn't notice the people work in restaurant mostly use their hands to pick up rubbish like used napkins the previous customers left on the table. And in order to give you their fastest service, they would go directly to the utensil drawer to take out new utensils and put them nicely and in order in front of you, with their hands. And you don't wanna know where the hands of the people who work inside the kitchen have been to. The food they serve might be good, but I myself will not go there to eat.
Apr 10, 2013 16:35 Report Abuse
Interesting management attitudes. Not caring trickles down the chain of command. If I was working for that pay I would be tempted to do much worse than some of the cleaning staff. For an interesting comparison check out the film "Fight Club", where the waiter in a restaurant actually pees in the soup before serving it to an unknowing guest.
Apr 10, 2013 04:51 Report Abuse
Just imagine how many times we have capture different diseases from these places.The sanitary issue is a big problem here in China. Do you know that most Chinese restaurants also use those pots with so much Rust inside? I have seen it so many times and for them it is just oky. You may see the hotel room spotless , but the process that led to that is so out of place.Don't even think its better at a 5 star hotels because they all pay the same low wages to employees and employees in turn fail to care.This is why Chinese products are always defective. Chinese people true personality is hypocritical . In your presence, they are someone else and in your absence they are real trash. In short, when traveling around China, always have your personal things in your backpack. It could reduce your risk of getting infections from those towels,cups,slippers or bed-sheets.
Apr 10, 2013 01:12 Report Abuse
Very right ! I was stay in a hotel in Shenzhen for 3 days and in the website it was look great, but when arrived there, I was sure the pictrures was not real... Dirty floor , and everything looked so bad, exception the view from that hotel ( can see the city from floor 30 ) .. Even I used my own bed things, even I used my own everything was need there, even I didn't touch the toilet , but when I arrived at home, after 3-4 days I had an infection and I was doing serious treatment for it ... So, it is enough to touch dirty water ( from floor to jump up on your legs) and you can get infection. Or if water from toilet jump on your body skin.. I hate this things and I think a hotel is more dirty than a hospital here.. About the workers, in my country they do the same , everywhere they do this , not only in China. But in China is really dirty almost everything. If you look at peoples who eat from the street from that peoples who are cooking in the street with dirty hands and that food smell horrible ..... I am wonder when I see them, how they not get infections ? ... In fact, I met so many peoples in my way and cannot stay near them, their mouth smell horrible , I think many of you met this situation in China... They don't know to eash and to care their health. If they have a smell, they think is natural ..
Apr 10, 2013 12:50 Report Abuse
Always read reviews before you book a hotel. There is always people more picky than me when it comes to cleanliness of a hotel. If I see several recent bad reviews about a dirty hotel and notice a trend, I'll quickly move on to the next hotel. Yes, there are some who complain to just get a free hotel stay, but you can spot a true negative review from someone who constantly likes to complain. I will most of the time read people's reviews for other hotels to see how honest they are. A 5 star hotel could have the same lack of quality in cleaning, but it is extremely rare. In China, I've never run into a 4 or 5 star hotel that I couldn't eat food off the floor. Chinese people love to bitch and complain about every little thing, and are very demanding in hopes they get a discount on their stay, so most hotels work their asses off to keep the rooms looking spotless.
Apr 09, 2013 12:11 Report Abuse
welcome to China :( That's why I do not choose cheap hotels, even my wife disagree as wasting the money. Once in Beijing, I changed 3 hotels till i get some, which i can accept. In one of them, The floor was really dirty and in the washroom, I opened the towel and there was some long black hair sticked ! and 299 per night :(
Apr 09, 2013 10:47 Report Abuse