Hotel sanitation during a pandemic

Last updated: November 4, 2020

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When you visit a hotel, you put your trust in the management to do their utmost to make your stay safe. Sanitation programmes are at the heart of that trust. RightRooms examines what sort of sanitation programme should be apparent during your stay.

Cleaning v sanitising v disinfection

According to the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): ‘Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects.’ It removes germs from surfaces, but may not kill them.

Sanitising brings the number of germs on a surface to a safe level but does not kill all germs, the United States Environmental Protection Agency explains. It adds that no sanitiser-only products meet the standard to kill viruses.

The CDC says that disinfecting is what kills germs on surfaces, using chemicals. It does not remove dirt/organic matter, so you need to clean first, but it can lower the risk of infection spreading. According to an article in the US publication Becker’s Hospital Review, the wet contact time of a disinfectant is key to its efficacy. Wet contact time is the amount of time a disinfectant must remain wet on a surface to kill microbes including coronavirus. Depending on the specific product, wet contact times can range from 10 seconds to 15 minutes.

Cleaning guidelines

Cleaning routines that meet guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the CDC, or local authorities such as the government in the UK, have been introduced in a number of hotels, from big chains to independent boutiques. Approaches vary but typically new cleaning regimes are likely to have these things in common:

  • Use of hospital-grade disinfectants
  • More frequent and deeper cleaning of rooms and high-touch areas such as elevator buttons and door handles
  • Use of seals on rooms and items or areas in a room that are frequently touched
  • You might find that larger hotels have also introduced a new managerial role to specifically ensure enhanced cleaning protocols are followed.

What to look for when booking

The first stop for any potential guest is the hotel’s website (or listing on RightRooms). There you should find at least an outline of the cleaning routines being followed. The RightRooms listing will also highlight a number of Covid-related features. The UK government issued general cleaning advice for non-healthcare settings including hotels on 15 July. This covers cleaning, laundry, kitchens and communal canteens and bathrooms. These guidelines state that as a minimum ‘frequently touched surfaces should be wiped down at the beginning and at the end of each day’. It is not considered necessary to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when wiping down surfaces if there have not been any suspected Covid-19 cases in the building.


We are starting to see a number of independent certifications around Covid cleaning regimes. The Radisson Hotel Group, for example, is using SGS, an inspection, verification, testing and certification company, to introduce an official label of cleanliness and disinfection throughout its hotels around the world.

UK schemes

Although not a new scheme as it’s been around for about 15 years, Quality in Tourism’s ‘Safe, Clean and Legal’ accreditation has been expanded to include Covid-19 protocols. Hotels such as Best Western have signed up to this and it is recommended by the Hotel Booking Agents Association.

The AA has launched an assessment scheme for all hospitality establishments including hotels. Called COVID Confident, this will indicate how well the hotel meets the government’s and trade association UKHospitality’s published guidelines.

What cleaning materials can you expect them to be using?

The British government recommends using either a combined detergent disinfectant solution at a dilution of 1,000 parts per million available chlorine, or a household detergent followed by disinfection. A number of hotel groups including Hilton and Intercontinental Hotels are using hospital-grade disinfectant.

Any alternative disinfectant used should be checked to ensure that it is effective against enveloped viruses. It’s important to note that the CDC only recommends use of the surface disinfectants identified on List N against SARS-CoV-2.

How should cleaning look in my hotel if there has been a suspected case of coronavirus?

According to Public Health England:

  • Cleaning staff should wear disposable gloves and aprons. These should then be double bagged and stored safely for 72 hours before being thrown away in the regular rubbish
  • Hard surfaces should be cleaned first with warm, soapy water, using a disposable cloth. Surfaces should then be disinfected.
  • Frequently touched areas, such as door handles, grab rails and bathroom surfaces, should be cleaned regularly
  • Cleaning staff should wash hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds, after removing PPE used while cleaning
  • Cleaning staff should avoid creating splashes and spray while they are cleaning
  • Bleach should not be used with other products as it can cause hazardous fumes.

There appear to be no exact guidelines about frequency of everyday cleaning, but many hotels have devised their own, more exact regimes. For example, Countrywide Hotels has hourly checks of all washrooms, cloakrooms, staircases, door handles and so on in public areas, and provides disinfection stations at primary entrances and key high-traffic areas. This means, for example, that guests can wipe the lift button before they press it.

Technological solutions

Marriott is combining hospital-grade disinfectant with electrostatic sprayers as well as testing ultraviolet light technology for sanitising keys for guests and other shared devices. Other technological approaches include anti-viral coating, which is being implemented by Avani Hotels, along with UVC cleaning devices to sterilise items.

However, it should be noted that the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not recommend fogging, fumigation, or wide-area electrostatic spraying to apply disinfectants. The effectiveness of these processes has not yet been evaluated.

Time left between guests?

Finally, perhaps the best safeguard against Covid-19 is simply time itself. As the virus doesn’t last that long outside of the body, some hotels are also implementing waiting periods between the housekeeping team leaving the room and the arrival of the next guest.

For instance, Avani Hotels has a 24-hour rest period between guests. However, back in March a study by the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University scientists showed that the virus can live for up to 72 hours on some surfaces, which would suggest that a 72-hour gap is the optimum period.

What we know about coronavirus

Covid-19 is believed to spread through the air via invisible respiratory droplets that are dispersed when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The droplets can be inhaled by people nearby, or they can land on surfaces. If anyone touches an infected surface and then makes contact with their mouth, nose or eyes, the infection could be passed on.

  • Coronaviruses are enveloped in a fat layer that can be broken down by soap or dilute bleach. They are far easier to kill than noroviruses, for example, which have a more robust protein outer shell.
  • The Covid-19 virus is capable of remaining in the air for up to three hours, and can be present on stainless steel and plastic surfaces for two to three days after initial contamination.
  • Recent research from China has detected the virus in faeces, which means that it is vital hands are washed after using the bathroom, and that particular care should be taken when sanitising bathrooms.

Useful links Find up-to-date guidance on travel, safety, Covid-19 research and more.

RightRooms believes all information to be correct at time of going to press. As guidance, research and facts around Covid-19 are changing constantly, the information provided here is for general information only and does not constitute professional advice. Please check with venues, locations and attractions before travelling.

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