Experts: Stop Cleaning Your Underwear In The Hotel’s Kettle

Experts: Stop Cleaning Your Underwear In The Hotel’s Kettle
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“Real question: does anyone I know clean their underwear in a kettle when travelling?”

Scrolling through social media this morning, these 14 words, in one foul (pun intended) swoop, ruined every relaxing cup of tea I’ve ever had in a hotel room.

My mind was racing. Who would do this? Why?

And is it really as gross as it sounds? I reached out to some experts on the matter to find out if the simple fact the underwear is literally boiling means this actually a safe thing to do, or nah.

Dr Heather Hendrickson is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biosciences at the Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at Massey University in Aukland.

She knows what she’s talking about.

“It is super super super super gross,” Dr Hendrickson says.

Here’s the science of the matter, as explained by Dr Hendrickson.

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, Dr Hendrickson says.

“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.”

Dr Hendrickson points 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?” Dr Hendrickson says, calling the act “unbelievably irresponsible.”

Why risk other people’s health in any way by doing something like this?

“Your friend 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,” Dr Hendrickson horrifying points out.

“There are simply too many unknowns and hotel kettle’s are not industrial strength cleaning facilities.”

Look, it should be obvious, but introducing and then removing items from inside the kettle is not a sanitary behaviour, and Dr Hendrickson backs me up on this.

“Be respectful of other people and don’t do this!” Dr Hendrickson pleads, and I along with her. “I am totally grossed out by your friend!”

Me too, Dr Hendrickson.

Me too.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • “One foul swoop”

    This may well have been a pun, but I feel the need to point out to my fellow readers that the expression is “one fell swoop”.

    fell – adjective
    of terrible evil or ferocity; deadly.
    “the fell disease that was threatening her sister”

  • For some reason that I can’t remember, other than probably being OCD, whenever I first entered a hotel room, I would boil a kettle full of hot water, pour the whole thing down the drain before drinking or making tea from the second batch. I do this every single time. IN light of this story, I’m not sure how much “germ” or “organism” I have managed to sterilise but I am glad to know I did it 🙂

  • So… if I place detergent and boil it, will this decontaminate the kettle for me to use? or should I bring my own to travel from now on? This is so gross, I’ve never heard of anyone doing it till now.

    • In short no.

      Detergent is a surfactant, all it does it make oil soluble, thereby enabling you to remove oils and fats from your cookware, plates etc. It is not an anti-bacterial agent, and therefore will not kill bacteria that have formed sprores from someones faeces stained underpants.

      On anther point, washing kitchenware with detergent does not kill microorganisms, the water is far too cold for that, all it really does is remove them from the kitchenware mechanically. This is why dishwashers are superior to hand washing, they can get to a far higher temperature that would otherwise burn your skin.

        • No, boiling is not used to sterilise medical tools. That would be incredibly stupid since some microbes can withstand 100°C, and many microbes have spores that can withstand 100°C. Medical tools are cleaned in an autoclave, often also with UV light. An autoclave can get to temperatures far exceeding the boiling point of water.

          • I stand corrected, I should have used the term disinfect rather than sterilize.

            But then, I doubt you’d go so far as to claim that a kettle must be sterilized rather than disinfected to be made ready for use?

  • Sounds like something someone who had mummy (or the help) do their laundry when they were growing up would do.

    Do they wipe their backside with the hand towels too?

  • Let’s face it – most hotel rooms are probably revolting if even half of the stories are true. As are planes. What you don’t know can’t kill you (right?)?

    Ignorance can definitely be bliss about some things.

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