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Three pump bottles of refillable hotel toiletries
Jo Panuwat D | Adobe Stock

Is It Safe to Use Refillable Toiletries in a Hotel Room?

One of the small joys of travel is trying out new (and often luxurious) brands from the miniature bottles of toiletries provided in most hotel rooms. However, as hotels become more environmentally (and budget) conscious, many properties are switching from single-use, travel-sized shampoos and conditioners to large, refillable bottles.

Unlike with travel-sized toiletries, which are replaced after every guest, these large bottles are shared between travelers, and simply refilled as needed. Is it safe or sanitary to use these bulk toiletries? 

We recommend erring on the side of caution and bringing your own reusable travel-sized containers filled with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. The large, refillable bottles found in hotel rooms can often be opened by anyone, and previous travelers could have easily tampered with them, adding unsavory contents such as bodily fluids or bleach to the shampoo for the next unsuspecting guest. 

Even if the containers are locked down and can only be opened by a housekeeper, using the shared toiletries is still not very sanitary. 

Refillable toiletry bottles in a hotel
hkt83000 | Adobe Stock

Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of virology at the University of Arizona, warns, “Bacterial growth is an issue with refillable dispenser use for soap and shampoos. Most of our studies have been on hand soaps, but we also did studies on shampoos in hotels—all of which can grow bacteria to large numbers.”

These refillable containers may not be cleaned thoroughly between uses. If anything, housekeeping probably quickly wipes them down when they clean the shower. It would be rare for these large containers to be emptied and cleaned frequently.

“Coliform bacteria can survive in soaps and grow. We have noticed that when the containers are refiled the bacterial numbers decrease—probably because they do contain some antimicrobial—but then increase rapidly again,” explains Dr. Gerba.

The best way to be sustainable and safe? Bring your own reusable travel-sized containers of toiletries with you when you travel. You’ll know exactly what’s inside (and how clean they are).

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