In a hotel many of the rooms may be unoccupied and have not been rented to a guest.

How does housekeeping know which rooms have been rented and which ones are unoccupied? Do they just go in every single room and if the room looks fresh they assume it is unoccupied? What if the guest made the bed or did not use the bed? In that case would the housekeeper see the made bed and leave without cleaning the bathroom, assuming that the room was unoccupied?

  • 3
    I strongly suspect you aren't going to get a universal answer to this (a four room family hotel is going to operate differently from a 1000 room motel) and based on my recent experiences COVID will have changed things. Is there a specific location you're interested in?
    – origimbo
    Feb 3, 2022 at 7:55
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    I rolled back to the edited version as that is an improvement / update to the current accepted wording.
    – Willeke
    Feb 3, 2022 at 18:39
  • @Lemuel - once you post, be aware that the community and mods can edit your content to make it more appropriate. While you may not prefer this wording, we are catering for future visitors, so removing needlessly offensive terms is recommended. Please do not revert back to the original version. It is not appropriate.
    – Rory Alsop
    Feb 3, 2022 at 23:07
  • @Panzercrisis it may still be common where you are, it is not anymore in other parts of the world and will likely be less accepted in the future. It implies female staff of lower social standing in my part of the world, rather offending.
    – Willeke
    Feb 4, 2022 at 5:16

4 Answers 4


I travelled once with someone who had worked at hotels and resorts as summer jobs. He was excellent at finding power plugs in airports or hotel lobbies and his motto was "someone has to vacuum this place".

He told me that some of the things we don't understand about hotel cleaning are in fact signs from one cleaner to another. For example folding the toilet paper into a little triangle. If you pop your head in the bathroom and see that, you know nobody has used the toilet paper since the room was cleaned. Putting the little cards or the remotes in very specific places that may seem awkward to you (hard to find, or not where anyone would want them, or in the way) is similarly an indication the bed or table hasn't been used since it was cleaned.

So sure, there might be a sophisticated computer system that tells the staff which rooms are occupied and which are not, and tracks which were cleaned after the person checked out and which weren't, but I think it's far more likely the staff cleans every room, leaves a signal it was cleaned, and only leaves without cleaning if yesterday's signal is still in place.

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    That would be a huge waste of time and money, and a hotel has a list of occupied rooms anyway - they get paid for people sleeping in the rooms, so they need to keep track anyway.
    – Aganju
    Feb 3, 2022 at 19:06
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    Yes, they do, which is why way over half of the rooms are occupied at any time. Communicating to cleaning staff is also not free. And most importantly, the cost to the hotel of a guest finding a dirty room is far more than the cost of someone cleaning a room that is marked empty in the computer but somehow is dirty anyway. Feb 3, 2022 at 19:09
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    a "sophisticated computer system" ? These are basic off-the-shelf software packages nearly every hotel has. housekeeping is well aware of which rooms are occupied and when checkouts occur, this is utterly trivial stuff.
    – eps
    Feb 3, 2022 at 19:14
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    Standard procedures like folding toilet paper are also about communicating to the customer that the room has been cleaned: the guest has a clear visual indication that the room has been given care by someone with attention for detail. Seeing the folded toilet paper is a signal to the guest that the bathroom has been carefully cleaned (whether it really was or not). Feb 3, 2022 at 19:45
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    @eps as someone who works in software I wouldn't be surprised to find that the automation that makes this seem 'utterly trivial', while helpful, still requires cleaners on the ground who know the tricks described in this answer.
    – jcm
    Feb 3, 2022 at 21:41

Hotels of any significant size and complexity generally have a property management system, a computerized system that tracks the status of each room, guest booking, bill, etc...

One of the functions of this system is to prepare a housekeeping report (which could be accessed through tablets or simply printed out and distributed to housekeeping staff) detailing the status of each room: vacant or occupied, whether a guest is arriving, checking out, or staying through, whether the room has been cleaned or not, whether the customer has opted out of housekeeping service, inspection status, and so on.

The specific ways in which hotels will use this information will vary depending on the hotel and its operations, but it means housekeepers and supervisors know which rooms need to be cleaned for each day, what type of service to perform in each room (more steps are needed between guests than for stayovers), and how to prioritize the rooms.

Information about the status of rooms as cleaning happens is reported back into the system so the front desk knows whether a room is ready to be assigned to a newly arriving guest. This also ensures that no guest rooms are missed (e.g. a guest has the Do Not Disturb sign on in the morning when housekeeping visits; they'll need to return later in the day to see whether the guest has taken down the sign). The system for this can be as simple as a clipboard with a list of rooms and a pen or more complex, such as two-way radios to report room status back to a supervisor, special codes entered on the guest room telephone to update the room's status in the property management system, or with tablets or smartphones.

There's been a recent shift toward less frequent housekeeping in many hotels in the US, and so the report would also be used to track that and ensure that housekeeping is provided on whatever the hotel's desired schedule is or in response to guest requests.

I should add that some hotels have occupancy sensors (a slot for the guest to insert their key near the door and/or motion sensors) in guest rooms. This is primarily for energy conservation and may be required by building codes, but some hotels will use it to help direct housekeeping to rooms while the guest is out, rather than wasting time and causing disturbances knocking on doors of occupied rooms.

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    This fits in with what I see in smaller places. The system is not likely to be on a computer but front of house staff and cleaning crew will communicate which rooms need doing/are done.
    – Willeke
    Feb 3, 2022 at 9:11
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    I'd add that for smaller hotels that don't have computer systems, then the desk personnel would easily manually construct such reports. But even the smallest hotels I have stayed at in the boonies in the US typically have some sort of computer based system that at least does electronic billing of credit cards.
    – Peter M
    Feb 3, 2022 at 13:35
  • "whether a guest is arriving" -- the importance of this can not be overstated for better-than-motel chain hotels because guests with status -- who are the bread and butter of these chains -- often will have specific requirements for their rooms such as temperature. Last thing you want is an unsatisfied Platinum Elite/Diamond/etc member complaining to corporate because their room/suite was not set up to their satisfaction.
    – user4188
    Feb 4, 2022 at 0:57
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    This has gotten more important since the pandemic. Some hotels now have a rule that there must be a day of more thorough cleaning between different customers in a room.
    – Barmar
    Feb 4, 2022 at 15:35
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    @PeterM Yeah, I honestly don't remember the last time I stayed at a hotel that had no computer. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say probably somewhere in the 90s?
    – reirab
    Feb 4, 2022 at 17:14

When I worked in housekeeping (small hotels only) each housekeeper got a list of the rooms they were responsible for that day with codes for what was to be done (checking out/checked out/staying/sheet change/etc). The master list would be prepared by the front desk or manager (as they had the info) and either divided by them or the head housekeeper (depending on hotel size). The room should then be cleaned as expected for the code.


Historical Answer:

- before computers and electronic keys were common place

  • and guests were strongly encouraged to leave the key when leaving the house
  • period of personal experience: 1975-1980

Sometime before breakfast (6-7h) started, the House mistress (Hausdame) would prepare (or receive) a list of rooms that had been let out

  • often on a form per floor

The maids (Zimmermädchen) would then receive a list of rooms for which they would be responsible for.

Rooms that haven't been rented out would often be checked to ensure that the rooms are still in a orderly condition.

Rooms would then be done where the guest has left the house based on whether the key had been deposited at the reception.

Around 10h, they would start the rooms where the keys have not been deposited and ignoring rooms where it is know that the guests sleep late (experienced guests will inform the reception that since they work late, they get up late).

After knocking, a maid would enter the room if no reply is received looking for signs that the guest may still be there (noises from the bathroom etc.)

Goal is that everything is to be compleated by 12h.

  • Does a historical answer justify historical language? Or should the same language that got the question locked be banned here too? Feb 5, 2022 at 7:41
  • 5
    Several mods had a look and we came to the conclusion that as a historical answer it can stay as it is.
    – Willeke
    Feb 5, 2022 at 14:31
  • I've been to multiple hotels in Europe that still practiced the "return key when going outside" policy as recently as the late 90s and early 00s.
    – undercat
    Feb 5, 2022 at 21:31

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