Dear Dot: Are Hotel Linen Reuse Programs Actually ‘Green?’


Dear Dot,

I always see in hotels that they’re making a “green” choice by not changing sheets and towels every day unless requested. I know this was not always their policy, so has it actually made a “green” impact?


The Short Answer: With many states anticipating a water shortage (and many parts of the world already suffering), reusing your towels and linens means thirteen gallons of water saved for each averted load. What’s more, fewer washings extends the life of the linens, which saves further resources. It’s a simple way to do the right thing and, fortunately, the vast majority of hotel guests participate

My dear Julia,

Roughly twenty years ago, one of the mothers I was acquainted with through my children’s school started toodling around town in a Smart car. It was adorable. Orange and tiny and electric. I was early in my climate writing career and was, at the time, driving a hideous burgundy minivan that broke down regularly and felt unaligned with my growing eco-sensibility.

Julia, Dot was envious. Dot sulked and pouted. Dot whined to Mr. Dot, pointing out this woman’s hypocrisy. Smart car lady parked her electric car in the garage of a gigantic house referred to by neighborhood kids as “the castle.” Her other car was a beast of an SUV that could seat an entire hockey team and their equipment. I was certain she bought this adorable car — which surely I deserved — because it was cool and trendy, not because it was electric. Not because it was better for the planet.

Mr. Dot, endlessly patient and often wise, listened to me grouse, and then he released a mighty sigh. “People doing the right thing for the wrong reason are still doing the right thing,” he said. 

Julia, hotels are people, too.

By which I mean that, though they might be motivated by something other than a virtuous urge to save the planet (for instance, they might have noticed that encouraging guests to reuse towels and linens saves them a whack of dough), the fact remains that doing the right thing (saving water) for the wrong reason (saving money) is the still the right thing (saving the planet). 

But does it really make a difference? Indeed, it does, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which notes that hotels in the U.S. account for fifteen percent of the country’s water use. While much of that is swallowed by landscaping and the hotel kitchen, laundry makes up sixteen percent of total hotel water use. Hotel Intel puts a number to each load of laundry averted: thirteen gallons (fifty liters) of water saved. With forty of fifty state water administrators anticipating a water shortage in the next decade, any water saved is a good thing. 

What’s more, washing sheets and towels less frequently extends their life, which saves more resources. 

While a (somewhat dated) study from the UK indicates that eighty-seven percent of guests “appreciate” linen reuse programs, getting people to participate isn’t as simple as putting a sign in the bathroom encouraging environmental responsibility. Some people even oppose being guilted, as they perceive it, into helping a hotel save money and water. 

The best motivator for linen reuse, according to a study by social psychologist Noah Goldstein, was a card in the room that cited specifically what percentage of hotel guests who’d stayed in that same room had participated in the water saving program. 

Of course, there are other environmental costs to travel and hotel stays, but simply reusing your sheets and towels (just like you would at home) strikes Dot as a simple way to help save water. And even if the hotel benefits by saving money (a savings that is unlikely to be passed along to you), you can bet that if costs to hotels go up from water use, so will the price of a hotel room. 

What’s more, unnecessarily wasting water impacts not just the hotel but also the people in the nearby community who share local water resources.

I eventually got over my hissy fit about the woman with the Smart car. By driving her cute zippy little car, she got a whole lot of us talking — about fuel economy, about electric vehicles, about how darn cute we’d all look if we weren’t behind the wheel of a bloody minivan. 

And whatever her motivation (and let’s be honest: Dot doesn’t have the gift of reading people’s hearts and minds), Smart car lady was nonetheless doing the right thing any time she chose to drive her teensy electric car over a gas-guzzling SUV.. 



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