This dirty hotel secret makes me sick!

The plastic cup war, as I like to call it, broke out after an exhilarating morning of spring skiing in Snow Basin, Utah, after we stopped for lunch at the mountain base cafeteria.

As soon as my middle son finished rehydrating, he discreetly returned his cup to the stack of clean cups in the cafeteria line. Almost instinctively, I smacked the used container out of my son’s hands.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

“Cleaning up,” he volunteered sheepishly.


And that’s when it occurred to me. This happens every day, everywhere. And I wondered: Is it time to rethink our assumption that the dishes set out in the lobby or neatly arranged in our hotel rooms are clean?


This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened with my kids. When we’re staying in the nicer hotels – you know, the ones with water glasses made of glass instead of plastic-wrapped, plastic cups – I’ve witnessed my children taking a glass from the bar, carefully removing the paper cover placed by the housekeeping staff, filling and drinking from said glass, then put it back, complete with that funny paper lid that supposedly proves it was cleaned.

So, without getting too paranoid, I wondered how can you really know that the vessel is clean? Especially when you’re on the road. Should you always just assume they are clean and ready to use?

Until having kids I really had no reason to question the cleanliness of anything. I blithely accepted that if I was being served food or drink, there were standards that were being kept. That was until 2008, when these reports about how hotels clean those cups in-room started hitting the Internet.

Now, rinsing glasses at the hotel before using them is almost a compulsion for me when we travel.

I’ve probably gone a little too far in the years since. These days, the first thing I do is a load of dishes in the dishwasher when we pull into the vacation rental. Or I’ll scrub the cups in the hotel room and keep them on a facecloth before I’ll let anyone use them. That way I know they’ve been cleaned.

Which brings me back to the hotels and restaurants we frequent, and one more incident, in particular.

My family and I were dining at a local mid-range chain restaurant in Orlando. It was a sit-down place with a small bar and lots of family-sized tables. After we ordered, the server brought over three plastic cups with lids for my kids. Then she placed two oversized glasses of water in front of the adults. Without missing a beat my better half, Chris, stopped the server and pointed to his glass.

“That’s not my shade,” he noted.

Along the lip of the glass was a smear of pink lipstick. It was also pretty obvious he wasn’t wearing any make-up. She hurried away to replace his glass.

From now on, I’ll always check my glass before drinking.

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