Spend enough time in a hotel room and eventually you will probably make some type of mess.
Maybe you spill a drink on a sheet or drop some room service food on your pillowcase or you simply dirty a towel pretty bad.
In any of these scenarios, you might be wondering if the hotel will charge you for the stained linens?
In this article, we will take a deep dive and see how hotels handle this situation.
Will hotels charge for stained sheets, towels, and other linens?
Most hotels will not charge you for stains that can be removed by normal cleaning processes.
However, if the stain cannot come out or if it presents a biohazard hotels differ on how they handle this. Some hotels (usually budget properties) will charge you but others will not.
In situations where you cause substantial damage to the bedding, pillows, and linens, most hotels will probably charge you a replacement fee or cleaning fee. In some cases, that could be a couple of hundred dollars.
Keep reading below for tips on how to handle these situations!
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Different types of damage done to linens
Let’s start off talking about “light” or superficial damage to sheets, towels and other linens.
Light damage would consist of stains from:
- Soda, coffee, tea, alcohol, wine, hot cocoa
- Ketchup, mustard, etc.
- Salad dressings
- Tomato sauce
- Pen ink
Typically, these would be small drops or blotches but the occasional mega spill could happen with these.
Hotels use powerful cleaning agents to remove stains from linens so often times they are able to get these lighter stains out without issue.
The vast majority of hotels will NOT charge you if they can get a simple stain out their linens.
On occasion you may run into a property that will try to charge you and some people consider this to be a borderline scam.
That’s because if the hotel can get the stain out through normal cleaning and re-use the sheet then they don’t really have a basis for charging you extra. I would be very suspect of any charges for small stains that happen in the ordinary course of a hotel visit.
Unfortunately, it will often be the cheaper, lower quality properties that try to nickel and dime you for these things. Some of these properties don’t really care about bad reviews and negative publicity so it can be an uphill battle to fight them on these things.
Now let’s talk about what is often the worst case scenario — when you stain the sheets with bodily fluids. This would be something like blood, urine, feces, throw up, etc.
Very small traces of these things can probably get by without being noticed and so you could avoid getting charged for them.
If there is something noticeable on the sheet then hotel housekeeping will probably just throw out the sheet, although some hotels have in-depth protocol for dealing with bodily fluids. Some hotels may charge you for this but others will not.
Now, if there is a situation where these bodily fluids are not only on a sheet or towel but also get into the mattress, pillows, or possibly even the carpet or couch, then you could be hit with replacement fees or cleaning fees.
In some situations a hotel may not be able to distinguish between mud and feces and so they may just assume the worst in which case you could be charged. The same could be said of ketchup and blood.
In these situations, you could leave a note by the stain to put the housekeeping person at ease but YMMV.
Stains that won’t come out
Now let’s talk about stains that won’t come out.
This could happen in certain sheets with common liquids like wine but there are some specific instances where stains are extra difficult to get out.
For example, often when people use a towel to clean things like dirty boots or the outside of a car, the towels get stained up pretty bad to the point where the hotel cannot practically get out the stain.
(Pro tip: If you ever need a towel for cleaning, just ask the hotel for a cleaning towel and they probably have one.)
Other things can cause bad stains on towels like spray tans, hair dye, and even removing some make up (some hotels offer special make up removal towels). And don’t even think about cleaning ashes or putting out cigarettes on towels because that is a sure way to ruin them.
Some hotels may consider an irremovable stain just the cost of doing business. They may even convert them to cleaning towels, maintenance towels, etc. So for these hotels, you don’t have to pay anything even when you ruin a sheet or towel.
But there are a lot of hotels out there who will absolutely charge you for these type of stains. It can be difficult to dispute the charges because sometimes they are explicitly mentioned in the contract you agree to when you pay for the room.
Things change whenever the damage level is turned up a couple of notches.
For example, let’s say that you drench the bed with spilled wine. We’re talking stained pillows, sheets, and even wine seeping into the mattress. The vast majority of hotels are going to charge replacement fees or cleaning fees.
This would also be the case if you caused structural damage. For example, let’s say that there were substantial tears on the comforter and sheets from someone being reckless with a sharp object. You’d likely have to pay something.
You can also expect to be charged if it looks like you intentionally damaged your bedding or other linens. For example, if you poured paint all over your bed, that’s not going to look like an accident. In that situation, you could get kicked out the hotel or even banned.
And of course, you can expect to pay certain fines for things like your room smelling like smoke or weed.
Don’t throw your linens away!
If you ever stain up a sheet or towel don’t throw it away.
One thing that lots of hotels will do is charge you for missing linens.
You stand a much better chance of avoiding getting charged for the linen if you simply leave it in the room and let housekeeping and management decide how to handle the stain.
Some people wad up the sheets or towels so the stained linen is in the “core” of the wad. If you do that the housekeeping team may just throw that wad into their basket and by the time they dump it in the laundry room it could be difficult to trace it back to you.
This isn’t a full proof method but it can help decrease your chances of getting charged.
How much would a hotel charge for stained linens?
If you cause a stain that could not be removed in a sheet or towel, you could be paying around $25 to $75+ for a replacement. The nicer the hotel, the more expensive the linen could be.
The problem is that some hotels take this opportunity as a time to charge outlandish cleaning fees and bogus fees like this $250 fee for a crayon stained sheet. It becomes a cash grab.
Anything around the $200 to $300 range typically is a cleaning fee that is being tacked on so it is not necessarily correlated to the value of whatever was damaged.
Whenever you check in, you may be agreeing to a cleaning fee that could cover things like stained sheets or towels so it’s a good idea to review the terms of your contract whenever you book or check in.
But ultimately, the amount that you pay could come down to what management decides is appropriate.
This could be a subjective determination which means that if you have been a pleasant guest and are apologetic or were able to explain what happened, you could probably avoid getting charged in a lot of cases.
What to do if you are charged an amount you don’t agree with
If you stain up some linens and are charged by a hotel for an amount that you don’t agree with here are some steps to take.
Document with photographs
First, hopefully you were able to document the damage with photographs or video. Having evidence is always very handy.
Be aware that some hotels will also be taking photographs if they decide to charge you. Sometimes they will send you those photographs but other times you may be able to request them.
Leave a tip
If you leave a room in bad condition, consider leaving a tip for housekeeping. The standard tip is about one to two dollars per day at a standard hotel.
So if you tipped them something like $10 to $15 and perhaps left a note that might make it less likely for housekeeping to report a ruined linen or for management to come down hard on you.
At the same time, if they did end up charging you then you are now out more cash so it is a bit of a gamble.
Review the terms of the contract
Review the terms and conditions of your stay if you can locate the contract.
This can give you an idea of what type of basis the hotel has for charging you.
Request an itemized list of charges
If you’re getting charged something that you think is too high then request for the hotel to provide you with an itemized list of all of the charges.
You want to see exactly how much it costs to replace or clean whatever was damaged. Look out for hotels that charge you an amount suitable for a replacement when they actually are only doing extra cleaning!
If the hotel is part of a corporate chain then that is where you want to go to launch your complaints.
These type of complaints can be be costly for properties so they often like to do what they can to put them out or avoid them.
If the charge is truly ridiculous then corporate should do something about it.
Go to social media
You can always go to social media and report the injustice. Try tagging travel bloggers to get more attention. Or if it’s a really bad situation, go to the local news and contact them.
Request a charge back
If the hotel charges your credit card on file and you don’t agree with it then you can file a charge back against the damages. Lots of people have success with this route because defending suspect damage charges is not easy to do for a hotel.
Refusing to pay
If you can’t get a charge back or settle the dispute with the hotel and you end up refusing to pay, it’s possible that the hotel could send a collections agency after you, even for what you would perceive to be small amounts. So just be aware that this can happen.
So to summarize, most hotels will not charge you for stains that can be removed. If the linens have to be thrown out, some hotels will charge you but many will not if it looks like the damage came from normal use. However, if you caused substantial damage or the damage looks intentional then you should expect to be charged.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.