Hotels With Wall Mounted Toiletries Aren’t Taking Covid Cleaning Obligations Seriously

Major hotel chains are moving to less expensive wall-mounted toiletries in their rooms. Not a single chain has announced a reversal of this during the pandemic. Despite huge efforts to assure guests that it’s safe to travel and to stay, hotel chains have remained silent on the practice of having one guest after another use the same liquids dispensed from shared containers in their bathrooms.

There are several problems with this arrangement.

  • It’s unhygienic. Bulk toiletry bottles are often not cleaned properly or thoroughly by housekeeping, and are more likely to be tampered with despite use of locks to make tampering more difficult.
  • It encourages use of counterfeit products. Do you expect any hotel in China will use legitimate branded products when the guest doesn’t even see the refill bottle?
  • They’re more likely to be left empty. This has already happened to me on multiple occasions.

A reader passes along this video from his Aloft Wichita shower:

The Points Guy writer Richard Kerr shared this germ-laden photo of a bulk dispenser in his guest room last fall.

And while some of these have locks on them, which are easy or hard to open (and may sometimes be left open), someone put bodily fluids in Detroit airport restroom soap dispensers.

This isn’t an outlier. I’ve stayed in hotels where the toiletries were empty, and at a Marriott Courtyard was assigned the same exact room a week later where the dispenser was still empty. These dispensers aren’t getting close cleaning attention they require. Here’s a National Institutes of Health study on bacterial contamination of bulk-soap-refillable dispensers.

We aren’t re-using grocery bags right now, or dishware on airplanes – everything is moving towards single use because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Hotels need to recognize that and take it seriously and end this ill-fated experiment with getting guests to re-use each others’ shampoo.

I’m not suggesting environmental considerations aren’t meaningful – they just point towards single use biodegradable packaging, which have been in some hotels for years, not communal use.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Yawn.

    Multiple use dispensers like this have been commonplace for years in places like public restrooms, gyms, restaurants, airplane lavs, airport lounges, stores, etc.

    Not sure why it is the end of the world that hotels are using them.

  2. @Bob because they aren’t cleaned properly, and in the age of COVID, thats a BIG worry. They also don’t get filled many times, and in rooms with showers and tubs, the soap products are many times BOLTED to the wall in one or the other.

  3. There can be quite a lot of mold build-up along the underside of many a hotel bathroom pump dispenser. The hair conditioner pumps can be especially bad in this regard after 3-6 months of use.

    But who needs any bath soap and shampoo and conditioner in hotels for hotel use if the shower water flow has been restricted to much lower flow levels than even may be required by local authorities?

  4. Last year, I ran into hotel bathrooms with one or more empty dispensers repeatedly. Maybe on about 1 out of 4 or 5 stays where the hotel bathroom had 2 or more wall-mounted dispensers.

  5. Just before the pandemic, I stayed in a Kimpton hotel in Philadelphia where the shampoo and soaps were not even wall mounted/locked to the wall so that people in theory would not be able to tamper with them. They were simply large, standard pump dispenser bottles sitting on the counter by the shower. Every one of them had a top that could be unscrewed freely. Revolting.

  6. @Bob: It’s not like rates have dropped because owners are saving thousands by having dispensers. They want you to think it was about going green. No, it was 100% about giving them more green, aka more money.

  7. I am not a big fan of the mounted toiletries. And, Gary, I think you have the right solution: individual toiletries in biodegradable packaging. I understand the environmental concern re: lots of single-use plastic bottles, but there is an alternative that allows single-use toiletries to be presented AND offers better sustainability. Would love to see a hotel chain really go there.

  8. Excerpt that the CDC some time ago revised their guidance on surface contact to say that it was not very significant. An interesting article reporting on the idea of “cleaning theater.” Doing things that make us feel safer, but actually do nothing. Sure, basic cleaning of wall-mounted dispensers should happen as it always should have happened (and doesn’t always, as we know). But this really has nothing to do with SARS-COV2.


  9. “It encourages use of counterfeit products. Do you expect any hotel in China will use legitimate branded products when the guest doesn’t even see the refill bottle?”

    Key point not to overlook

  10. Dude, if this really concerns you, please do not eat in restaurants. Having served a decade of my early life as a dishwasher, busboy, waiter, and bartender, the stuff that happens to your *food* is way worse than anything some punk could do by placing his DNA into your bulk shampoo bucket. Think eating at home is safer? Not. And what about the sheets that do not get changed in between guests? Of the people who do naked ass races on towels and then neatly fold them back up and put them on the rack for you? So many other gross hotel things that can keep you up at night. Let. This. Go….

  11. @Gary

    Agree with you totally and if I am driving to my destination, I bring my own products. When flying, i often bring travel size bottle or go to store when I arrive. I wish they would bring back the single use items.

  12. Individual toiletries are too small. This is why I just bring my own. Then I don’t need to worry about you talking heads complaining about anything

  13. wait, didn’t you argue that “Is The Huge Focus On Cleanliness In Travel Just One Big Waste?” just yesterday?

  14. @rollie fingers, Gary is correct, he merely posed the question, a simpleton by the name of Doug replied in the affirmative, which is not supported by the science.

  15. @Jason,
    And yet there is some support in the science (as posted above) that the excessive cleaning is not useful as even the CDC have indicated that surface transfer, while it can happen, is no longer considered a primary factor. So, it seems that cleaning is not a bad idea, but doesn’t really seem to do much.


  16. @Florida man Single use items can be purchased at CVS, Target and Walmart (I dont shop there). If you can not find them then to go the Container Store or Dollar Store and get a 3oz container to make your own. Bring 2 3 oz bottles of Shampoo if you have to. Bring a bar of Soap and put it in a plastic bag.

    Do not be like my Cousin Deb and bring the Family Size Shampoo bottle for a week in Florida for one person.

    If you forget it , be daring and go to a local Market and buy a German bar of Soap or a French deodorant. If you want that “SPECIAL’ brand to try ask for a free sample

    I just do not get how lazy some MEN, yes MEN are to bring a bar of soap and bottle of Shampoo with them are then but want to add to the landfill and make enviormental problems for future generations.

  17. Ease fix give the guest a soap on a rope at checkin and issue new ones if guest stay over.

  18. This is silly. Fomites are not a major source of infection. Additionally, a human being has to touch those single use toiletries to put them in your room. If fomites were a source of infection, you would be more likely to pick up something opening those individual bottles than you are to catch a virus by using the back of your hand to push down on the pump on the dispenser (you know, just like you do when you wash your hands in a public restroom). Besides, washing your hands with the soap in the dispenser is going to break down the virus. It’s hard to think of something less inherently threatening than a soap dispenser.

  19. Fomites aren’t the major source for spreading this headline-grabbing coronavirus, but if finite aren’t a substantial source, then what is with all the recommendations to wash hands well? It’s not like hand-shakes are the major source for this COVID-19 pandemic.

    Fomites, almost by definition, are likely to harbor pathogens of concern. This novel coronavirus isn’t likely to be much of an exception.

    Pay attention to the spread of this virus even in environments where some of the meat/poultry factory people weren’t living in densely packed accommodations. Fomites may be a source of even aerosolized spread, and shared equipment does spread “bugs”.

  20. @TomRI

    Did you not note that I said that:
    “When flying, i often bring travel size bottle or go to store when I arrive.”
    Hence, I already know where to buy them, but your list is probably helpful to others.

  21. The single use biodegradable packaging used by Capital One in their new lounge showers is the simple, easy, and best solution all around here.

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