12 Secrets of Hotel Maids

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Hotel maids get little respect (or money) for their physically demanding work. We wanted to learn what their job is really like, beyond the “Do Not Disturb” signs and chocolates on pillows. Here are a dozen secrets about their duties, including the constant time crunch, the bizarre (and horrifying) things they have encountered in guest rooms, and the reason they suggest you don’t use the hotel cups.

1. THEY’RE CONSTANTLY PRESSED FOR TIME.

Hotels have different housekeeping policies, but most maids are allotted 28 to 40 minutes to clean each standard room and up to an hour for a suite. Depending on the hotel, maids may be assigned a list of rooms to clean or choose rooms to meet their daily quota, which typically ranges from 10 to 16 rooms.

According to one maid at a five-star hotel in Orlando, Florida, maids often feel pressure from their supervisors to clean rooms quickly. “I find it annoying when a guest has made too much mess to fix in the given time,” she tells Trivago. “To be honest though, management is more annoying. Sometimes they have high expectations, but they don’t give you enough time.” Because of the time crunch, most maids are not able to clean each room as thoroughly as they'd like, and they skip tasks such as vacuuming, scrubbing the bathtub, and cleaning under the bed. “I hated leaving a room not fully cleaned, but there is absolutely nothing you can do about it,” another former hotel maid admits on Reddit.

2. THEY KEEP ITEMS THAT GUESTS LEAVE BEHIND.

Maid entering a hotel room

At most hotels, maids must report any items they find left behind in a room after a guest checks out. If the items go unclaimed for a set period of time (perhaps 45 to 90 days), some hotels allow maids to keep the items they've found. “They're supposed to go back to the person who found them and anything they don't want is donated to charity, but usually the supervisors go through and take the good stuff first,” Booboo_the_bear, a maid who has worked in several five-stars hotels, shares in a Reddit AMA. “I’ve gotten a ghd [hair] straightener and a designer jacket.”

3. THEY MIGHT USE THE TOILET IN YOUR ROOM.

Although most hotels forbid maids from napping or using the toilet in guest rooms, some maids break the rules. Exhausted maids who have more time than usual to clean a large suite may secretly catch a few minutes of shut-eye in a guest’s bed. “Something else we do sometimes is that we use the toilets in the guest’s bathroom, but only if we are super busy and don’t have enough time to go to the staff toilets,” the maid in Orlando says. “It is something we are not supposed to do, but many do it anyway.”

4. THEY ENJOY WORKING SOLO.

Smiling maid in a hotel room

While some hotels pair up maids to clean larger rooms, most maids work solo, and interact only on a very superficial level with guests and coworkers. According to Booboo_the_bear, the best part of her job is the peace and quiet it affords: “I probably spend about 20 minutes of my work day interacting with other people. For an introvert its [sic] ideal.” But if the alone time ever makes them feel lonely, maids may sing and talk to themselves as they clean, entertaining and distracting themselves from the monotony.

5. THEY ENCOUNTER SOME PRETTY HORRIFYING THINGS …

Horror stories abound among hotel maids. Most have seen (or have coworkers who have seen) drugs, blood, vomit, sexually explicit materials, fecal matter, and even dead bodies. Evidence of illegal activity in a room necessitates a call to the local police or HAZMAT unit, who remove drugs and process a crime scene. But many hotels still make maids clean up the bodily fluids and excrement that remain in a room where criminal activity has occurred. Although maids are usually given extra time to deal with this type of extreme mess, it's never a pleasant part of the job.

6. … BUT THEY ALSO STUMBLE UPON AMUSINGLY BIZARRE ITEMS.

Multi-colored and dressed coleslaw

For all the disgusting scenes they encounter, most hotel maids also stumble upon some comical and downright weird stuff. One hotel maid shares on Buzzfeed that she encountered an amusingly bizarre scene in a room that a guest had recently checked out of. “It smelled a little funky, but I couldn't find the source of the stench. I went to strip the bed, pulled the sheets back, and the bed was filled with coleslaw,” she writes. “Coleslaw! I had no idea why, and I do not want to know why!”

The maid in Orlando says that she once found an abandoned baby lying on the bed and promptly carried it to the hotel’s management. “It turned out to be a robot or fake baby that would make noises just like a real one,” she says. “It was left by guests attending a medical or science convention or something.”

7. THEY COMPETE WITH EACH OTHER FOR ROOMS AND TROLLEYS.

Besides feeling pressure from their supervisors to clean rooms quickly, some hotel maids also vie with their coworkers. “The more senior [housekeeping] staff can sometimes make it stressful. They fight for the more expensive rooms or suites because better items are left behind for the taking if nobody claims them,” the hotel maid in Orlando reveals. “They also fight to take the better trolleys, leaving myself and others with old ones that don’t have the right products or supplies, meaning a lot more running around.”

8. THEY SUGGEST YOU DON’T USE THE CUPS.

A cup in a hotel room

Although you’ve probably heard warnings about the bacteria teeming on your hotel room’s remote control, hotel maids reveal that there’s another item in your room that's rarely cleaned as well as it should be. “Not using the cups is my number one rule that I tell everyone,” Booboo_the_bear says. “I’ve definitely seen [other maids] polishing glasses with the same cloth they just used to dust the room. I’ve never seen the toilet brush used but knowing some of the people I work with, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.”

Author and hotel worker Jacob Tomsky adds that the minibar glasses need to be spotless, but maids don’t have dish soap in their housekeeping carts. “So some housekeepers will wash the glasses in the sink with hot water and shampoo. But many of them use furniture polish because it leaves the glasses spot-free,” he tells USA Today.

9. SOME OF THEM USE THE TITLE "CERTIFIED GUESTROOM ATTENDANT."

Some hotel maids study to become Certified Guestroom Attendants at the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI). This certification prepares maids with the knowledge and skills they need to clean and maintain rooms. The AHLEI offers a variety of classes, workshops, online education, and on-the-job training to aspiring hotel maids who hope to enter the hospitality industry. After completing their courses and passing a 30-question multiple-choice "Guestroom Attendant" exam, maids can get certified. While some hotels require their maids to be certified, many maids use their certification to find higher-paying housekeeping jobs.

10. THEY MIGHT GO DAYS WITHOUT GETTING A TIP.

A hotel maid getting a tip

Tipping customs vary around the world, but no matter what country they work in, most maids rely on tips to survive. In the U.S., where maids’ median annual salary is just $21,820, many hotel maids can go days without receiving a single tip. Reddit user JustBeth22, a hotel maid who works at a four-star hotel in upstate New York, estimates that only 40 percent of guests leave a tip. She emphasizes, though, that tipping can vary greatly: “Some people tip, some don't as a rule, some don't realize they can. I have gone days with no tips at all then in one day I made $40.”

Maids suggest that guests leave a dollar or two each day rather than a larger tip at the end of their stay. That way, the maid who cleans your room on any given day (rather than just the day you check out) receives a tip. And if you’ve ever wondered if your hotel maid would appreciate food and drink as part of their tip, the answer is yes! Many hotel maids enjoy receiving unopened snacks and beverages. Because hotel policies vary, though, make sure to leave a note indicating that the food and drinks are for the housekeeping staff.

11. THEY’RE VULNERABLE TO ASSAULT.

Besides being exposed to a variety of strange bodily fluids, hotel maids—the majority of whom are female—face the potential threat of being assaulted every time they enter a room. While movies such as Maid in Manhattan (2002) romanticize relationships between hotel maids and guests, the reality is that maids are vulnerable to abuse. “People frequently open their doors naked or just in a towel or underwear,” Booboo_the_bear says. Some male guests—as well as male members of the hotel staff—make advances, grope, or try to intimidate maids into having sex with them.

12. THEY TRULY APPRECIATE TIDY, CONSIDERATE GUESTS.

A maid putting an orange daisy on hotel towels

Hotel maids sing the praises of guests who are tidy and considerate. “We have a lot of business people that come in to have a quick sleep, take a shower and leave,” Booboo_the_bear says. “A handful of times I've had to check if the guest had actually checked in because they've left the room so tidy.” To make a hotel maid’s job easier, you can make sure you put your trash in the bin, leave used towels in a pile in the tub or on the floor, and flush the toilet. “I’d say at least 1 in 3 [people] don’t flush. It boggles my mind.”

All images via iStock.

10 Secrets of Brewmasters

Being a brewmaster is about more than just sampling beer and coming up with new recipes. Maintenance and sanitation also play a huge role in the job.
Being a brewmaster is about more than just sampling beer and coming up with new recipes. Maintenance and sanitation also play a huge role in the job.
Stone Brewing

With roughly 7500 craft beer breweries in the United States—a number that continues to grow—it’s clear consumers like their ales and lagers. And as more of these breweries pop up in towns and cities every month, it’s up to brewmasters to constantly produce new beers to satisfy demanding (and evolving) palates, maintain a sterile workspace, and properly operate all the complex machinery that pumps out your favorite IPA. To find out what goes into owning and operating a brewery, Mental Floss spoke with a number of brewmasters about what their days entail. Here’s what they had to say about taste tests, oyster beer, and getting doused in hop sludge.

1. A lot of brewmasters started out as home brewers.

Stone Brewery equipment.
A brew kettle from Stone's Richmond, Virginia, location.
Stone Brewing

While brewmasters sometimes attend college to study chemistry or even specific brewing courses, a fair number get their start in their own homes. “When I started, I would say about 50 percent [were home brewers],” Tom Kehoe, co-owner of Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says. This was back when there were only around 649 breweries in the country, according to Kehoe. That number has only grown with time, and now he says as many as 90 percent of current brewers experimented with home brewing before moving on to larger productions.

While home brewing can be a good start, Kehoe says that there’s a limit to how much you can learn in a garage setting. “The basic knowledge of how beer is made is exactly the same. However, good brewing practices need to be learned on site. The environment working in a brewery is a lot different than brewing at home.”

One example? Size. According to Jeremy Moynier, brewmaster of Stone Brewing in San Diego, California, people are surprised when they see the scale of some brewing operations. "A home brewer is used to making a few gallons," Moynier says. "We could be making a 250-barrel batch [at Stone]. Each barrel is 30 gallons."

2. Brewmasters use sound almost as much as taste to evaluate the brewing process.

Brewing equipment from Yards Brewing.
This is just a sample of the brewing equipment employed by Yards.
Yards Brewing

Breweries come in all shapes and sizes, but all of them implement a lot of machinery, stainless steel vats, pumps, and bottling lines to concoct their brews. It becomes a symphony of sorts, according Moynier. And if one instrument sounds off, he can tell.

"You use all of your senses, from taste to sound," he tells Mental Floss. "Breweries are noisy, and there are sounds you get attuned to. If something sounds wrong, you know there’s a problem somewhere. Your senses being in tune are important."

Once, Moynier heard an unusual squeaking noise in the factory. He discovered that the tank that held the crushed malt was backed up, which would eventually ruin the conveyor belts if no one noticed in time. Thankfully, Moynier picked up on that change in noise, and the problem was corrected before the machine required a more expensive repair.

3. Brewmasters are always trying novel flavors. Even oysters.

There’s no shortage of creativity among brewmasters, with breweries constantly experimenting with different flavor profiles, from tea to chocolate to fruit. "There are so many different styles, flavor, and aroma profiles you can hit," Moynier says. "We’re constantly learning about new ingredients.” One that impressed Moynier recently was an oyster stout, a style that was originally billed as a beer that simply paired well with oysters more than a century ago, but has since evolved to include actual oyster meat and stock in modern recipes. This one came from Liberty Station, one of Stone Brewing’s locations in San Diego. "It was pretty fascinating," he says. "They got a real briny, oyster thing going."

4. Sanitation is one of the most important parts of being a brewmaster.

A picture of Stone Brewing's beer equipment.
Stone's barrels hold 30 gallons of beer.
Stone Brewing

The stereotype of brewmasters sipping beer all day and hovering over batches is slightly misguided. According to John Trogner, co-owner with brother Chris of Tröegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, Pennsylvania, most of the job is making sure beer is made in clean conditions. “People usually think you’re sitting around all day dreaming up recipes and tasting beer,” Trogner says. "That’s a very small component. Physical cleaning is probably 80 percent of it. Sanitation is paramount. It’s like a chef keeping a kitchen clean. Workers spend most of their time scrubbing."

Just because the breweries are kept clean doesn't mean the brewmasters are quite as lucky. Depending on the valve and your luck that day, that could sometimes mean an unintentional beer shower for workers. "I’ve taken baths in yeast and beer sludge," Trogner says of his early days, explaining it's a hazard you face when you're opening the valves on the brew tanks.

5. Brewmasters know they're expected to bring beer to most gatherings.

A look at the Tröegs brewery.
Foeders are large wooden vats that age a beer to create a unique flavor profile. It's part of Tröegs's Splinter Cellar, and each foeder was custom made and shipped to the brewery.
Tröegs Independent Brewing

Like any other profession, brewmasters can sometimes be greeted with an expectation that their services and goods are free for friends and relatives to enjoy at gatherings and family events. "If it’s appropriate to bring beer, I will," Kehoe says. "And sometimes when it is not so appropriate. I have brought beer to a business networking breakfast and somehow it turned out to be a great icebreaker. I find that people are disappointed if I don’t have at least some beer at the ready."

6. The job can make you critical of other beers and even food.

Working to perfect beers all day can have an effect on how brewmasters regard other beer options. "I still love beer, but it changes the way you approach it," Moynier says. "You pick out a flaw, and it will bother you. It might ruin your enjoyment. But if you find a beer you really like, it can also make it more enjoyable."

A brewmaster doesn’t just develop a sense of what makes for a good beer; they’re also constantly thinking about what type of food pairs well with certain beers. "It definitely affects the way you taste things," Moynier says. "It’s made me a pickier eater. You’ll think about how food will pair with beer sometimes, where you wouldn’t necessarily think about that before. It made me appreciate how things go together."

7. Brewmasters know names and logos can make or break a beer.

Tröegs Independent Brewing Mad Elf beer is pictured
Tröegs's Mad Elf is one of the most recognizable beers around the holidays.
Tröegs Independent Brewing

With so many beer options, it’s imperative for brewmasters to use marketing as a way of setting up a consumer’s palate before they sample anything. For Tröegs's Haze Charmer, which offers pineapple and grapefruit notes, the brewery went to great lengths to describe how the "haze" of the recipe carries hop oil into the mouth.

"Haze Charmer emerges from a soft, swirling cloud of oats and unmalted wheat. Vigorous dry-hopping adds a second phase of haze, propping up the oils of Citrus and El Dorado," the website description of the beer reads.

"The name is a critical component," Trogner says. "Consumers are getting to know it before they try it."

The right—or wrong—name and design can make all the difference. Trogner promoted a cherry, honey, and chocolate ale around the holidays and called it Mad Elf, with bottles and packaging decked out in cartoon images of a tipsy elf enjoying one too many. It's become a perennial hit.

"It’s a celebration of the holidays," Trogner says. "Mad Elf is kind of part of social webbing, which is nice to hear. Grandmothers come in and buy five or six cases for family coming over for the holidays."

Similar beers with different branding didn't fare as well. "We’ve done beers like Mad Elf out of season and it didn’t have near the fervor or excitement," he says.

8. A brewmaster associates a beer’s personality with color.

Yards Pale Ale is pictured.
Yards's Philadelphia Pale Ale is lighter in color and far more citrusy than an amber lager.
Yards Brewing

According to Kehoe, light and dark beers each give off a distinctive personality trait depending on their color, which comes from the grains used. "To me, the color of the beer is the mood of the beer," he says. "Light color is fluid and exciting; darker [is] slower and more filling and relaxing." Amber is more middle-of-the-road and more versatile. "[It] can be whatever personality that you want to project in the moment."

9. Smells are a big inspiration for new beers.

Don’t think brewmasters develop recipes based just on tasting other beers; it’s more of a multi-sensory experience. Trogner says that most beer ideas come from everyday life. “We’re not sitting around and looking at other types of beer,” he says. “It’s more about an experience, like having an amazing dish at a restaurant. Or you might be hiking and smell something floral in the air, like pine.”

10. Yes, brewmasters sometimes drink early in the morning.

While downing beer is probably not as common an occurrence as you might think, brewmasters are still expected to sample their wares before it goes out for distribution. According to Moynier, those executive samples can happen at odd times of the day depending on schedules.

"Tastings can happen at six in the morning," he says. "We also have structured tasting and daily taste panels to approve beer about to be packaged. Three times a week we have a brewmaster taste panel where we focus on new beers we’re trying out for release or changes to recipes. There’s an executive panel once a month with [Stone's founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner]."

Or, as Kehoe puts it, “I don’t drink all day, but I do drink every day.”

14 Secrets of TSA Agents

Being a TSA agent means plenty of job stress.
Being a TSA agent means plenty of job stress.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Last year, more than 964 million people boarded airplanes departing or arriving within the United States. Barring any special security clearance, virtually all of them were filtered through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a federally operated branch charged with screening passengers to ensure they’re complying with the rules of safe air travel.

Some travelers believe the TSA’s policies are burdensome and ineffectual; others acknowledge that individual employees are doing their best to conform to a frequently confusing, ever-changing set of procedures. We asked some former TSA officers about their experiences, and here’s what they had to say about life in blue gloves.

1. CATS ARE THE REAL TERRORISTS.

A cat escaping from its carrier.
"Cats are a nightmare."
Lightspruch/iStock via Getty Images

According to Jason Harrington, who spent six years at O’Hare Airport as a Transportation Security Officer (TSO), rogue felines have created more havoc and confusion than any suspected criminal. “Cats are a nightmare,” he says. “They don’t want to come out of their carriers, they scratch and claw, and they don’t come when you call them.” A cat that’s made a break for it and who hasn’t been patted down to check for weapons is technically a security breach, which a TSA supervisor could use as justifiable cause to shut down an entire terminal.

Dogs, however, are no problem. “A pat down on a dog amounts to going over and petting them,” Harrington says. “That’s actually pleasant.”

2. THEY HAVE CODE WORDS FOR ATTRACTIVE (AND ANNOYING) PASSENGERS.

Because TSOs are usually in close proximity to passengers, some checkpoints develop a vocabulary of code words that allows them to speak freely without offending anyone. “Code talk for attractive females was the most common,” Harrington says. An employee might say “hotel papa” to alert others to an appealing traveler heading their way—the “h” is for “hot.” Others might assign a code number, like 39, and call it out. Harrington was also informed by a supervisor that he could signal for a prolonged screening for an annoying passenger if Harrington told him that the traveler was “very nice.”

3. FANCY HAIRDOS ARE A SECURITY RISK.

Any passenger coming through with an elaborate hairdo—either carefully braided hair or the kind of up-do found on women headed for a wedding—means additional inspection will be required, because piled-up hair can conceivably conceal a weapon.

“Just about anything can set off an anomaly in the head area, from braids to a scrunchie to a barrette to a bad hair day,” Harrington says. “And those body scanners are especially fussy when it comes to the head, giving false positives there more than any other area.”

4. THEY LIKE YOU BETTER WHEN YOU’RE EXHAUSTED.

A customer sleeping in the airport.
A tired customer is a pleasant customer.
AlexBrylov/iStock via Getty Images

“Tina”—a former TSO in the northeast who prefers not to use her real name—says that travelers taking evening flights are typically more cooperative than morning passengers. “People are actually much nastier when they’re flying out in the morning,” she says. “The really late-night travelers are the best ones to be around.” (Also on Tina’s naughty list: business travelers. “They’re generally meaner.”)

5. THEY SOMETIMES LIE ABOUT WHERE THEY WORK.

Because public criticism of the TSA is so pervasive, Harrington has found that many employees stretch the truth about where they work when asked. “If I had to admit it, I’d say I was working for the Department of Homeland Security,” he says. “When I made mention of that on Facebook, I got a ton of officers who said they did the same thing.”

6. CHEESE CAN LOOK JUST LIKE A BOMB.

Airport X-ray screening.
The foods in your bag can really confuse agents during an x-ray screening.
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

That giant wheel of cheese you’re bringing back from the holidays? It’s going to cause a lot of agitation among employees monitoring the x-ray machine. “A block of cheese is indistinguishable from C4,” Harrington says. “There is no difference on the screen. Meats, too. All organic products look orange on the display and similar to explosives.”

7. YOUR GENDER CAN CONFUSE THEM.

When a passenger enters a full-body scanner, the device operator hits a button to tell the unit whether it’s a he or she. It makes a difference, since a female passenger’s anatomy would raise a red flag when the machine expects to see male-only parts, and vice versa. If a person's gender isn’t easily ascertained on sight and a TSO guesses, a pair of breasts could initiate a delay. “The machines detect things under clothes, and if it doesn’t match what’s been pressed, it means a pat down,” Harrington says.

8. THEY DON’T DO THE SAME THING ALL DAY.

TSOs typically get assigned to different stations (ticket taker, x-ray operator, shouting-at-you-to-take-your-shoes-off officer) at the security checkpoint, and never for very long: 30 minutes is typically the limit before a new officer is brought in. According to Tina, the revolving schedule is to avoid employee error. “After 30 minutes, you may begin to miss things,” she says.

9. OPTING OUT GETS THEM ANNOYED.

Harrington’s security checkpoint had a code word for passengers who “opted out,” or refused to submit to the full-body scanners—they were “tulips,” and they proved to be an annoyance.

“It slows down the whole operation and a lot of guys would hate it,” he says. “Now that it’s millimeter [radio] waves and people still opt out, they get annoyed, thinking the passenger doesn’t even know what they’re opting out of.”

10. THEY’RE WRITING ON YOUR TICKET FOR TWO REASONS.

A TSA agent looking at a traveller's documents
No, TSA agents don't love it when you opt out of their full-body scans.
John Moore/Getty Images

Policies can vary by airport, but generally, security officers sitting up front and checking tickets are looking for irregularities in your identification: If something causes them to be suspicious, they’ll write something on your ticket that would prompt a more thorough inspection. “They’ll also write their badge number and initials,” Tina says, “so the airline knows they’ve been through security when they board.”

11. “CREDIBLE THREATS” STRESS THEM OUT.

According to Tina, turnover rates for TSOs can be high, and that’s due in large part to the perpetual stress of preparing for a hazardous situation. “In 10 months’ time, we went through active shooter training three times,” she says. “Another time, we were told there was a credible threat against the airport and not to wear our uniforms to or from work.”

12. THEY HATE WHEN YOU ASK THEM TO CHANGE GLOVES.

"The most common complaint [from TSOs] is when passengers ask them to change their gloves before a pat down," Harrington says, "because we change them all the time. We might have changed them just before getting to someone and passengers will still insist they use new ones in front of their face."

13. IT’S REALLY HARD TO GET FIRED.

TSOs undergo regular training and performance reviews where they're expected to simulate a screening in a private room for supervisors. After two years, the probationary period is over, and employees are generally set. “They’d call it being a ‘made’ man or woman,” Harrington says, referring to the mafia term for acceptance. “It’s really hard to get fired at that point. The only way to lose your job would be to commit a crime.”

14. THEY DON’T GET AIRPORT PERKS.

As federal employees, TSOs don’t enjoy any perks from airlines: Accepting a gift could be cause for termination, according to Tina. “But there’s a loophole,” she says. “If you’re friends with a pilot or have a personal relationship with an airline employee, you can accept it.”

A version of this story originally ran in 2016.

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