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A guest who gets impressed by the well-manicured garden, clean corridors and spotless façade of a hotel may wriggle his nose, the moment he is ushered into his room by the hotel staff. Either he is offered another room which is less ‘smelly’ or the housekeeping wrestles up a way to swish the smell out. What if there’s a repeat? In either case, by the time corrective measures are taken the damage is already done. The guest in all likelihood is never to come back again. A hotel’s clean and pristine existence is often taken for granted. This is what makes any untoward incident like odour in the room a huge set back, irrespective of the reason. Even luxury hotels suffer from this peculiar odour problem. In fact, a study carried by Hampton Hotels in 2007 proved that nearly 34% of Americans found their rooms and corridors with unpleasant odours and 23% identified the scent of strong cleaning products.

The ‘smell’ refers to both bad or strange odours and to those overpowering air freshners used in the hotels, a potential cause of headaches.

Why do hotel rooms smell? Who is to be blamed? Does it indicate a lacuna at the housekeeping’s end or the hotel’s complete disregard for hygiene and customer preferences? Says Prathima Jayasuriya, Executive Housekeeping Office, The Leela, Mumbai, “The housekeeping department at the Leela, Mumbai, has 158 trained people who work in three shifts each going about cleaning the whole place. This not only includes the rooms, restrooms, bathrooms, corridors and also the hotel façade. It’s in fact a round the clock process, which follows a certain pattern that ensures that every process is double checked. So the chance of odour in the room due to lack of hygiene or cleanliness is minimal, and may only occur by chance.”

Even though the rooms are cleaned, air-freshened and yet we are unable to mask the hint of moldiness that comes when you open the door. This is due to rain and humidity, which are major cause of distress. – Prathima Jayasuriya

“Rooms are cleaned every day, sometimes twice if needed. Like for instance, when a guest leaves, the room is cleaned thoroughly. If plumbing or electrical work is required, the room goes through a second round of cleaning too. And there is no scope for mistakes as everything is repeatedly checked.”

However hotels rooms can have an odour in spite of all the processes, upgraded machines and systems in place. In Mumbai for instance, concurs Jayasuriya, rains and humidity are a major cause of distress. “There are times when we have cleaned the room, air-freshened and yet are unable to mask the hint of moldiness that comes when you open the door.” This is the reason why during monsoon, Jayasuriya tends to ‘air’ the room for a few minutes before letting the guests in. “It’s not a permanent solution but it helps. Of course we also involve the engineering department as more often such odours are a result of problems on the walls rather than the furnishings.”

A similar drill is also followed by housekeeping staff at high end service apartments, who tend to over perfume the room to mask a strong smell like cigarettes. Says a source, “In spite of using air fresheners and changing the sheets and towels, there is a chance that one might catch a hint of smoke, which is hard to do away with completely.”

How does one get the processes in order to fight odour? Of course there are air purifiers and fresheners but with limited effectiveness. Says Jayasuriya, “To begin with, we need to use the best of cleaning materials. I mostly use Diversey products and have my machinery in place for floor, wall-to-wall cleaning of rooms during monsoon. Also, I use microfibre cloth that removes bacteria and does not circulate dust around. Dehumidifiers are used where necessary. Changing of all linen, should be done every day, twice if needed.” Dry vacuuming figures prominently in Jayasuriya’s ‘must do’ list. It is important to ensure that the carpet and furnishings are really dry. In short, the aim should be to clean the room for the new guest to make it clean smelling.


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