Q During a recent stay at a luxury hotel I saw a maid pick up a pillow off the carpeted floor and move it back onto my bed -- instead of replacing the pillowcase with a new one. I was too shocked to say anything. Is this now a common practice, or am I in error to assume that a pillowcase should be replaced with a new one if it is on the ground?

A There are two problems here: perception and personnel.

Sleeping with a pillowcased pillow that has been resting on the floor probably isn't a death sentence, but there is a giant ick factor that's hard to get beyond. You don't know who has walked in and who has walked out, said Dr. Nikhil Bhayani, an infectious disease specialist on the medical staff at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. "Who knows what's on the ground?"

The bigger issue may be the common surfaces that travelers come in contact with: remote controls, light switches, telephones and sometimes keyboards. You can wipe those down (although the hotel should do that for you), but, Bhayani said, you also might want to keep that hand sanitizer close by. He's a big proponent of that, especially after a small study he did that showed that hand sanitizer trumped even a 30-second soap-and-water hand-washing.

Cleanliness -- the fact of it and the perception of it -- is a sensitive topic for guests. A wait at the front desk, for example, may annoy a guest, but a room that isn't clean to the occupant's satisfaction is much more damaging to the hotel, said Christian Jaquier, executive assistant manager of the rooms/housekeeping division for the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz., near Tucson (which is not the hotel in question).


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"There are definitely various protocols ... when cleaning a room," Jaquier said.

If pillows are removed from the bed during turndown, "we never put them on the floor," he said. "We'll put them in the closet, [or] if there's a cubbyhole next to the nightstand, or we'll put them on the chair, because even though the floor has been vacuumed or the carpet has been shampooed, it's a perception issue."

To make sure rooms are cleaned to standards, random inspections, using black lights, are performed, Jaquier said. You can do the same thing as a traveler -- but you may not want to. Pillow on the floor or on the bed, you may never want to rest your weary head anywhere again.

Today's column comes from Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times.