Traveling for an extended length of time brings certain logistical problems. Among so very many of those challenges? Well, at some point you're going to have to wash your underwear. But, other than paying for the hotel's inevitably over-priced laundry service, or wasting precious time seeking out a laundromat, what are the options?
Anyone who has ever traveled with limited time and an unwillingness to be blatantly fleeced by their hotel has opted for the bathroom sink and a travel pack of detergent — or, in a pinch, hotel shampoo — scrubbed the undies, squeezed out the water, and hung over the bathtub or towel rack. That, surely, is the easy, fool-proof method for washing underwear in a hotel room. Right?
Well, apparently some travelers have an alternative, highly unsanitary, method, which may put you off ever making an in-room cup of coffee ever again.
Some people, it turns out, boil their underwear in hotel kettles. This dark truth was uncovered by an Australian reporter for Gizmodo who spotted someone on her Twitter feed asking: "Real question: does anyone I know clean their underwear in a kettle when traveling?" No one responded to the Twitter question in the affirmative, but a quick search reveals that at least someone in China does it, as indicated in this oddly translated message on Best China News: "The hotel will use the electric kettle in the room to cook boiled underwear, meaning should be placed directly in the pot boil." The U.K site Metro found another piece of evidence from China (with photos) on Weibo, while a user of the British forum Mumsnet advised: "Just pack some normal washing powder in a sandwich bag and boil the kettle to dissolve and leave it steep."
In case you think that the word "kettle" denotes this as a particularly non-American habit (Americans, as the world recently found out, don't really use kettles), we also came across a travel blog commenter who wrote the following: "if you have a room with coffee maker take your underwear put in an empty coffee pot turn the coffee maker on walk away and forget about it come back dry underwear" (sic). The U.S.-based site Extra Crispy also hinted at the habit in an article about hotel coffee makers by embedding the following tweet.
"Well," you may be thinking, "if everyone else is doing it ..." But no. Just no.
Gizmodo reached out to Dr. Heather Hendrickson, senior lecturer in molecular biosciences at the Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at Massey University in Auckland, to explain why this is a very bad idea and potentially risky for whomever is unlucky enough to make a cup of coffee afterward.
Dr. Hendrickson told Gizmodo that boiling kills "most, but not all microorganisms. For example, some bacteria form spores that are highly resistant to anything other than 120 celsius and high pressure for extended periods of time. The Clostidium botulinum spores (which causes botulism) are a prime example of this sort of resistance to the environment."
"These don't cause sickness if they are consumed, but their presence in certain environments can encourage them to produce a toxin that can be deadly."
Guys, no one wants to find potentially deadly toxins in their cup of hotel coffee.
Dr. Hendrickson pointed out that bacterial pathogens in water that has been contaminated in this way will either be killed by boiling, or be brought to a low level that is unlikely to negatively affect health. "However, who knows how long that water, with nutrients that have been introduced and then sterilised, sits around in the kettle before someone else uses it?"
The underwear washer is "unlikely to have a large number of highly heat-resistant pathogens in his dirty undergarments but we do not know what he DOES have in there or how sick he might be ... There are simply too many unknowns and hotel kettles are not industrial strength cleaning facilities."
In case that's all too technical to really resonate, Dr. Henrickson also had this takeaway, easily accessible to laypeople: "It is super super super super gross."
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