Room Service: Clothing-Related Hotel Hacks

October 11, 2019

A dirty hotel iron can instantly ruin a perfect white shirt.

Early in my career, I traveled around the Northeast to high schools and college fairs as an admissions officer for my alma mater. It was my first experience with business travel, and I learned a lot — how to eat under the per diem rate; how to open a bottle of wine with no corkscrew; unfortunately, not how to properly record and report expenses. Driving in a company Chrysler Concorde up and down the I-95 corridor, I was away from home for a week or two at time, and never in the same hotel two nights in a row.

One early lesson was to be wary of hotel room irons. Unless you’re an incredibly fastidious packer or wear all non-iron clothing, you’ll likely need one on travel for business or other formal occasions. It’s given they won’t be the fanciest models, and rarely new. But worse still: if they have mineral deposits or are otherwise dirty, they can quickly ruin your shirt by transferring the dirt to the fabric (often when the steam activates), then really tattooing it in there with high heat. I only had to stain one shirt to figure out that it’s always a good idea to iron a hotel towel first on high heat. That way, you can judge how clean it is — it could be fine. If there’s slight deposits, the high heat steam will usually clear them out; if it’s really bad, at least you know you need to find another solution.

In the spirit of hotel room hacks (like using hotel hangers with trouser clamps to pinch the curtains closed; don’t touch… anything), here are a few more hotel travel tips for your clothes:

  • Use the laundry service (or at least the bag): Many hotels offer laundry service, which is good for two reasons. One, you might actually need it; it’ll cost you. Hotel laundry rates are high, and if you have time, laundromats are far cheaper. Many hotels can also have your suit pressed (some will do it free if you’re in their loyalty program). The hack side is that hotels with laundry services will usually have a large laundry bag in the closet that you can take and use to keep your worn clothes or wet bathing suits separate from your clean/dry stuff. In a pinch, you can also tuck a wet bathing suit in a shower cap or ice bucket bag.
  • Use the dresser and closet: Some travel tips seem fairly obvious — pack light if you can, bring items that coordinate so you can mix up outfits — and some are too complicated. Rick Steves would have you bring laundry detergent and a drain plug to Europe and wash your clothes in the hotel bathroom sink. Right in the middle, to me, is a tip like “actually unpack your bag.” If you’re going to be there more than a day or two, fold your clothes and put them in drawers, and hang up your shirts, suits, and ties. It helps with the wrinkles, and will ensure you don’t go the whole trip without wearing something because it was at the bottom of your bag under something else.
  • De-wrinkle your clothes in the bathroom: The tip of hanging a suit or shirt in the bathroom and then letting steam from a hot shower relax the wrinkles gets passed around a lot. We’re not really fans (we’re also not into chemical wrinkle releasers). Hanging and steaming a suit, even with a steamer (vs bathroom fog, which is diffuse and not directable) can potentially damage a suit, especially if you do it often. In a real pinch, though, you can try the shower method (hang it OUTSIDE the shower, preferably while you’re taking a shower, so you’re not just wasting water and heat) or even use a hair dryer or steam from the hotel iron to get at one or two wrinkly spots. You can also check with the front desk — some hotels have a steamer you can borrow (for free) or can press your suit (less likely to be free).