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How well do hotel maids really clean?

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By Jeff Rossen and Josh Davis, TODAY

(NBC News) - When you check into a hotel room, you assume the maid has cleaned everything, including changing the sheets and disinfecting the bathroom. But a hidden camera investigation revealed that may not always be the case.

The Rossen Reports team booked rooms for two nights at some of the most popular hotel chains and rigged them with cameras (all three of the hotels were in northeastern New Jersey). In each case they put soda in the glasses, threw towels on the bathroom floors and made the rooms looked used before calling to have housekeeping make them up, as well as prominently displaying the card requesting that all linens be changed.

At a DoubleTree hotel (part of Hilton Worldwide), the cameras recorded a maid stripping the bed while putting the pillows off to one side. She replaced the sheets with fresh ones, but after a quick fluff, the same pillows went right back on the bed.

The maid also scrubbed everything down in the bathroom. Then she used a towel to dry the toilet and the shower, and used the same towel to quickly scrub the counter — the same place a guest would put their toothbrush.

Similarly, at a Holiday Inn, the maid changed the sheets but not the pillowcases, also putting the used pillows back on the bed. Upon viewing the hidden camera footage, Jacob Tomsky, a former hotel housekeeping supervisor and author of "Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality," said: "Housekeepers should change the pillowcases, obviously. That's where you put your face. That's what you sleep on."

Tomsky added: "What really bothered me was that she put the pillowcase on a dirty chair prior to putting it back on the bed. That just gets it even more dirty."

At a Crowne Plaza hotel, the maid collected all the used drinking glasses, put them into the sink, and turned on the water. Then she gathered all the dirty towels from the bathroom floor, held onto one, and used it to help dry the cups.

The Crowne Plaza maid then used the same towel to wipe down the countertop, the toilet and the bathtub. She never used soap on anything, but she did return to spray the room with air freshener.

In a statement to NBC News, InterContinental Hotels Group, the company that owns Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn, said "health, safety and comfort" are "top priorities." It said it "performs regular inspections" and is working to "review ... standards."

The DoubleTree hotel also provided a statement to NBC News, in which it said "cleanliness ... is a focal point of our operations" and that management has "procedures and guidelines in place" to make sure things are "sanitized properly." The hotel said it plans to conduct a review and "address any infractions."

Acknowledging that hotel maids may be cleaning 15, 20 or 30 rooms every day, Tomsky said, "Management should stay vigilant and check and make sure that they have everything they need to do the job.

"Any human being is going to miss something here or there," he added. "That's why these [kinds of] spot checks are good."

None of the top blankets or comforters at the hotels Rossen Reports tested was changed. Experts advise travelers to be specific: Call housekeeping when you get in and tell them, "Please change all the bedding, including the pillowcases" or "We used the glasses, can you bring fresh cups?" Better still, they suggest, use the plastic cups that are wrapped instead.

Full statement to NBC News regarding Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn:
"IHG, owner of the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza brands, holds the health, safety and comfort of our guests and employees as our top priorities and sets stringent quality standards for all hotels bearing our brand names. The two hotels in question are franchised properties, which are independently owned and operated under a license agreement with an IHG affiliate. The license agreements require hotels to comply with all governmental laws and regulations, including those regarding the health and safety of guests and employees, and IHG performs regular inspections of all properties. IHG takes this report seriously. We are working directly with both properties to review cleanliness brand standards and are planning site visits within the next week to determine what future action is needed by the hotels."

Statement from DoubleTree Hilton:
"We expect all of our hotels to abide by our brand standards and we have a robust quality assurance program to enforce our standards and expectations around hotel quality and service. Customer feedback also informs our quality assurance process. We will follow up with hotel ownership and management if it is confirmed that it failed to follow quality standards. "

Statement from DoubleTree Hilton franchisee in Fort Lee, New Jersey:

"The well-being, safety and security of our guests are of paramount importance at the DoubleTree by Hilton Fort Lee. Cleanliness of our hotel is always a focal point of our operations in order to continue providing guests with an optimal hotel experience. We do not take these issues lightly.

We have procedures and guidelines in place regarding the cleaning of guest rooms. If the linen card is placed on the bed, all bed sheets and pillowcases should be changed. When that guest checks out, the duvet is also laundered. Our procedures also make sure the bathrooms are sanitized properly in accordance with health laws and our own high standards. Once we have viewed the video, we will be able to understand exactly what has happened and will address any infractions with the employee in question." 

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