After being a hotel housekeeping manager at five different hotels, I feel that I am equipped to answer this question. I cannot speak for every hotel, only the ones I worked for, but I found that hotel housekeeping practices were very similar at all of the five locations I worked at.
As a general rule, yes, hotel rooms are really clean. Not every housekeeper likes his or her job, and some do a much better job than others. However, it was my job to go in behind these people, and inspect their work. This had to be done in every room that was cleaned, every day.
Since I was ultimately held accountable if a room was found to not be up to standards, you can bet your bottom dollar that I stayed on top of this task. If I found a room not to be clean, the housekeeper was called back in to redo the job. All of them hated this, and would do everything in their power to get it right the first time.
The biggest problem was always the beds. This will not bring much relief to those that already have phobias about sleeping on hotel beds. Changing the linens on hotel beds is a lot of work. Especially in locations that have triple sheeting. Because of this, some housekeepers will try to cut corners by not changing the sheets, and only remaking the bed that was slept in the previous night. This is called, “popping sheets” and many a housekeeper has been fired for doing this.
Before you panic, let me tell you about an industry wide trick that is done to prevent this from happening. Housekeeping supervisors will routinely go into rooms before the sheets are changed and using a pen, make a very light mark on one of the sheets. After the room is completed, he or she will go back in and see if the mark is still there. If it is, the housekeeper is given a written warning. Typically, after three warnings, he or she is fired. No, I cannot guarantee you that the sheets are clean, but I can tell you that there are measures in place to prevent you from ever sleeping on a dirty bed.
Another question that is frequently asked is about the comforters on the beds, and how often they are laundered. At the five hotels I worked for, all washed them quarterly. Yes, every three months. Washing them more frequently damages them, and is a huge amount of work. Therefore they do not get washed on a daily basis. My best advice here is to simply strip the comforter off the bed before you lie down.
I encountered many housekeepers that took great pride in their work, and many that could care less. Housekeeping is a hard job, and most of them only make minimum wage. Until hotels raise the bar on what they are willing to pay these people, they will only be able to expect to get what they pay for.
Overall, you can expect to stay in a clean room. Making sure that a room is clean is the sole purpose of every housekeeping supervisor. Good general managers will inspect rooms as well. With repeat business being the foundation of the hotel income, you can rest assured that most hotels are staying on top of cleanliness.