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Hotels normally provide a big amount of sets (well, depending on the quality, but however, many!) that can help you feel more comfortable there.

So for example you can get towels, slippers, candies, pens, shampoos, shaving kits, sponges, ...

The same in the self-service breakfast: pastries, bread, ...

They are meant to be used during your stay. However, they can be provided in such an amount that there are some extra by the time you leave... and make you feel like taking some back home.

My general rule is to take those things that I used but didn't finish. However, sometimes I may be tempted to take the brand new stuff lying there before I close the door for the last time.

So the question that pops is: what kind of things is it correct to take from hotels and what is it not recommended? Else, what items may differ from country to country?

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    Makes me think of this Friends episode. :)
    – JoErNanO
    Dec 12, 2014 at 13:43
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    It varies by hotel. In the last week, I've had 3 hotels put a bottle of water by my bed. 2 of them it was complimentary, one ended up charging me as apparently it was an extension of the minibar :(
    – Gagravarr
    Dec 12, 2014 at 14:18
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    My friend managed to take the cute receptionist, they have a kid now.. Dec 12, 2014 at 16:49
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    @MeNoTalk I tried the same in Singapore, except she had a kid :D
    – AKS
    Dec 12, 2014 at 18:04
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    I've seen a few hotels with "In Room Shopping" catalogs. The one I was bored enough to spend a minute flipping through priced out everything in the room including things you'd need a moving truck to haul away. IIRC it did provide a way to order items from the Hotel Foo living collection normally; although it clearly directed at the idiots who try to walk off with bedding, etc. Dec 12, 2014 at 18:22

8 Answers 8

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Taking Complimentaries Home

I would say that it all boils down to how cheap you want to look, in the eyes of the hotel management. If you don't care, and probably you shouldn't, then there are some things you can take with you upon check-out.

Taking Consumables

As a general rule I would say: you can take anything that is single-serving. For the purpose of this answer, the definition of single-serving includes anything that, if opened/used, cannot be re-used by the next guest. Hence an incomplete list would include: soap bars, shampoos, sewing kits, shaving sets, shower caps, slippers, shoe buffing kits, chocolates, etc. Most of these items are often prey of serial collectors, in particular shampoo bottles and slippers.

Hotel rooms often also include branded material like pens, pencils, notepads, postcards, and the like. These can be considered as marketing material. Every time you use the hotel's pen, for example, you will indirectly be advertising the brand. It is probably safe to assume that the hotel management will be OK with you taking such items with you when you leave.

The mini-bar is a completely different story. You can safely assume that anything in the mini-bar will be chargeable. Some hotels however offer complimentary water bottles to their guests. When in doubt, ask.

Recycling Plastic Toiletry Containers

You could also be fighting the recycling crusade, and using your ecological struggle within to justify yourself when taking shampoo bottles. According to this article:

I was shocked to learn that the vast majority of hotels in the US have no recycling program, meaning that untold millions of these plastic bottles end up in landfills each year.

Leave Towels, Linen, and Furniture

However, you cannot take anything that is not single-serving. This includes towels, bathrobes, coat hangers, sheets, pillow cases, etc. Towels and linen can be washed and re-used by other guests. Taking them would be considered stealing.

You cannot of course take anything that is part of the furniture, or the design of the room.

Here is a good read on the topic.

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    @fedorqui When acting in this moral grey area, would you care about being rude? :) Honestly I would be more worried about the local legislation regarding stealing, rather than focusing on what is rude and what is not. I wouldn't want to be accused of stealing in a country where the local authorities are notoriously strict. That would be a great way to spoil my holiday. Note that there have been cases of hotel guests being arrested for taking towels, like this Japanese couple.
    – JoErNanO
    Dec 12, 2014 at 16:18
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    As far as I know, the slippers used in hotels are disposable. They come pre-packaged and every new customer gets a fresh packet. My hypothesis is that cleaning them cost more than a new pair. Moreover, since the sole is made of cardboard, dry-washing would be the only solution. But the more important question @DJClayworth is: would you use someone else's slippers, not knowing what mycotic cocktail their feet might harbour?
    – JoErNanO
    Dec 12, 2014 at 16:50
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    It is worth reading, and interviews lots of managers about what they don't mind people taking. Consumable stuff is fine, but much fewer are Ok with other stuff. Dec 12, 2014 at 18:00
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    In some hotels, stuff such as bathrobes and towels can be bought, and will be automatically charged if you leave with them.
    – njzk2
    Dec 12, 2014 at 20:09
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    Also, for slippers, I'd make sure that they're not of a reusable nature before taking them. Of course, if they are of a reusable nature, then I'd likely avoid using them in the first place. - haha
    – reirab
    Dec 12, 2014 at 21:25
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Things like towels, bathrobes and slippers are not there to be taken, they are to be left behind.

Small toiletries like soap, shampoo, lotions, toothbrush are yours to keep if you so desire. And while hotels assume a single guest will use only one set, they won't chase you down if you take the second set.

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    Slippers, unlike towels and robes, are single-serving. They won't be washed for another guest to use them so I think they can be taken.
    – JoErNanO
    Dec 12, 2014 at 14:15
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    You may find single use slippers in some hotels, but not as a rule.
    – user13044
    Dec 12, 2014 at 15:27
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    You forgot pens/pencils, they are the most items to be "taken" from hotels, actually everywhere.. Dec 12, 2014 at 16:57
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    Pens, paper pads, stationary, and post cards are considered marketing materials
    – rbp
    Dec 12, 2014 at 18:58
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    yes, I'd never take slippers from a hotel unless they look cheap and I've already used them myself... Bathrobes, towels, etc., never (unless in an emergency to pack something breakable maybe, and then I'd if at all possible ask them for something to package it in). Pens, notepads, shampoo bottles, nice mementos and if there's a hotel name and phone number on it they're meant to be taken...
    – jwenting
    Dec 13, 2014 at 3:44
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INSIDER INFORMATION: (I was front desk manager in luxury hotel)

  1. Take Consumables - Shampoo/ opened soaps /used box of paper towels etc
  2. Newspapers, marketing catalogs, guides, promotional materials placed by biz houses
  3. Perishable food items which will be considered unusable even if you leave it there
  4. Most items for kids - hotels know that it is very hard for parents to get them back from kids
  5. Office items - Notepads, small stack of paper with hotel logo, few envelopes - placed there to enable guests to communicate. They are there for promotion of hotel too, as people will see hotel logo etc when you send it to them. Hotels love free publicity.
  6. Directory of hotels from the same chain, if placed in the room. Hotel chain HQ supply them to franchisee hotel to promote other places in the chain
  7. Very important: Even if it is not meant to be taken, like towel,pillow - with you and you want it, ask the front desk, they will mostly happily let you take it. A satisfied, repeat customer is an asset, they will want you back there. Management will consider it as a discount.
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    I think point 7 will vary very much depending on what kind of hotel it is. The luxury hotel you worked at may have been happy to give away towels and pillows; a budget hotel running on tight margins almost certainly won't be. Still, no harm in asking. :-) Dec 14, 2014 at 11:48
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    @DavidRicherby Most luxury hotel prefer to entertain requests for items as it is rare. We had to keep complimentary tooth brushes, hair oils, combs, special items ladies need, common non-prescription medicines and what not. All of them free at the front desk. Occasional request for towel already used several times would be nothing compared to regular supply. Such requests are rare. Also, we used to keep loosing such items unasked for, so no point to deny to the guest who is decent enough to ask. :)
    – Heena Shah
    Dec 14, 2014 at 16:06
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    I would say that, usually (sometimes?) point 7 is not true. You should sometimes see a sheet of paper writing "If you broke this and that, how much you need to pay" - If you see that you don't even need to ask. Just leave the towel here and do the checkout ;)
    – JCCM
    May 3, 2015 at 4:55
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Apparently there are hotels that encourage and even make fun of it:

enter image description here

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    It's a fun label, but not really "true" since you can't steal the single-use toiletries from a hotel .. they are freely yours to take.
    – Fattie
    Jun 27, 2015 at 4:02
  • Well, the whole question is about who is the owner of these things.
    – fedorqui
    Jul 7, 2015 at 8:09
  • ok .. well such single-use toiletries as these, are freely given to the guest. Generally you can even use them, and then ask for more if you happen to want or need more.
    – Fattie
    Jul 7, 2015 at 8:22
  • Again: that's the scope of the question: what can be taken and what not :)
    – fedorqui
    Jul 7, 2015 at 11:10
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    Hi Fed - I'm not really sure what you're saying, sorry. My point: THE JOKE ON THE LABEL does not "work", because in fact you cannot steal soap. The soap is yours. So the joke does not work. I applaud you posting the answer in fact I think I voted it up. I'm pointing out that the joke is "wrong", it does not "work".
    – Fattie
    Jul 7, 2015 at 12:29
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As there is a wide variety in things that can theoretically be taken from a hotel room, I'll restrict this answer to the items listed in the question (and to my limited experience in countries):

So for example you can get towels, slippers, candies, pens, shampoos, shaving kits, sponges, ...

Towels are usually exchanged during your stay, and reused across guests after laundry. They are not meant to be taken by guests. Clues to support this point:

  • Hotels near the sea often explicitly point out in their hotel rules in each room that it's prohibited to take the towels to the beach, and usually it is also forbidden to take the towels to the sunbeds at the hotel swimming pool. Guests are supposed to use their own towels for that purpose.
  • Essentially all hotels that I have been to, both in Europe and in Asia, made the procedure of exchanging towels quite explicit. While they explicitly speak about getting a new one when it comes to the other items you list (i.e. implicitly saying they don't care what happened to the old one), towels are usually said to be exchanged or replaced, thus implying that the new ones only come in exchange for the old ones (e.g. on the standard signs found in most hotel bathrooms that point out that only towels on the floor will be exchanged, and that you should save water and the environment by not requiring new towels every day).

As for the other items, they can usually be taken away. Judging by other answers and comments, slippers seem to be a special (varying) case, however, I personally only know slippers in hotel rooms from Chinese hotels, where they are most definitely one-way products.

For many of the remaining items, you need to consider the following: Maybe you have noticed that almost all of them, in particular pens, often also shaving kits and sponges (or their packaging), are printed with the hotel logo. That is probably not just to give you a feeling of corporate identity while staying within the hotel room, but, as always with low-cost items, for the advertisement factor. Especially the pens (and the paper often accompanying them) is expected to be taken away and used outside of the hotel, so the hotel name is spread (same as with all the pens that you get as gifts in other places). I think this can often be assumed for the other remaining items, too, and it also applied to the hotel slippers that I've come across.

I personally follow the general rule that, unless there are any explicit pricing signs for the items in the room, I usually take all of these items at least once during my stay, open or not. My suspicion is anyway that in many hotels, all items are thrown away when you leave, so the hotel doesn't risk leaving a used item (without any visible traces of the use at the first sight) in the room for the next guest.

The same in the self-service breakfast: pastries, bread, ...

I have seen many hotels (primarily, I remember this from various European countries) whose breakfast buffets have quite noticeable signs that it is strictly forbidden to take anything from the buffet out of the breakfast room. Obviously, the rationale is that guests who are paying only for breakfast could otherwise take enough food to also have lunch and dinner in the breakfast buffet, which is neither computed into the breakfast prices, nor is it the way the hotel would like to charge if guests actually do have lunch and dinner in the hotel.

In general, I would assume that you cannot take anything from the breakfast buffet for later use, even if it is not explicitly stated.

EDIT: One thing that I just remembered: Especially with "travel equipment" such as sewing kits (usually a piece of cardboard with one or two needles and a few centimetres of yarn), I have already considered those a service of the hotel for the traveller for the entirety of their journey. The chance that I have to sew something right when I encounter a room with a sewing kit is somewhat small, but the chance that at some point during my journey, I have to sew something, open the little sewing kit and once again am positively reminded of the fabulous service of the hotel I got the sewing kit from. Yes, those should be safe to take, as well.

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    One hotel I stayed in had an amusing way of phrasing this. There was a sign in the room which said something like: "We're proud of giving you the best towels and bathrobes we can find, and we hope you love using them. If you love them so much that you want to take them with you, you can do so and a fee of $xx each will be added to your bill. Or you can buy brand-new ones in the lobby shop, or from our website, for half that." Which is a rather polite way of saying "don't steal them, buy your own."
    – keshlam
    Dec 12, 2014 at 23:05
  • I wouldn't say that branded products are expected to be taken. However the marketing side of things is definitely a good point.
    – JoErNanO
    Dec 13, 2014 at 0:04
  • @JoErNanO: I'm fairly sure that with respect to pen and paper, being taken is the only purpose of those objects. For the other items, it is indeed debatable. Dec 13, 2014 at 1:10
  • @keshlam I know of a few hotels where the the bathrobes have a little sign hanging on them saying "I've love it here! If you want to take me home, please buy my twin from reception"
    – Gagravarr
    Dec 13, 2014 at 3:03
  • @keshlam seen similar things in some hotels, often a nice display case in the lobby with items for sale to guests including price tags. Those often include towels, bath robes, and slippers.
    – jwenting
    Dec 13, 2014 at 3:46
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You can take the bible. The Gideons put it there for that reason.

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I think the consumables in the rooms are well covered in the other answers. The thing I miss in most of them is the food at breakfast (and maybe other buffets.)

In Norway there are extensive breakfast buffets in hostels, when I was there most of those had a notice that you could eat as much as you liked but were not allowed to take food out of the room. Bad luck if you were a small eater at breakfast and liked a packed lunch. The way around that would be buying all your food and not to buy the hostel breakfast.
I feel the place is allowed to set its own rules. And I feel that these rules are sensible for all hotel and hostel breakfasts, maybe even for all buffet meals. Eat but do not take out.

Most hotels and many hostels will be happy to provide a packed lunch, most others will tell you where you can buy food. And when asked, some might even tell you it is OK to pack a lunch from the buffet.

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You can take away daily consumables, which you have used and which cannot be used again or given to others like soap, shampoos, shaving kit, sponges etc. and you can also take pens, magazines and note pads.

I do suggest to take away towels if it's necessary during your travel, because some of the hotels consider it as scrap. They won't mind taking that with you.

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    I think most hotels do not agree with towels being taken without asking. Some even post notices that you should not take your towels out for the day. But when asked a hotel might provide you with an old towel to take with you on your travels.
    – Willeke
    Jun 26, 2015 at 13:47

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