Are we saying goodbye to those little hotel shampoo bottles?

There are many reasons why staying in a top hotel can be such a treat. Great beds (and someone to make them for you), fluffy towels, and room service are just a few. While some travelers never use anything but their own shampoos, lotions and soaps, many of us love to try the new brands a hotel offers — often brands we might never splurge on at home.

Usually, that includes bringing some of the little bottles and little bars of our favorites back home. (Although, to be fair, many travelers, including most of our office, bring such items back to donate to women’s shelters.)

Of course, the downside to these little bottles, besides the cost to the hotel, is the waste. This is why some cruise lines and hotels are beginning to switch over to refillable dispensers. Celebrity Cruises, for example, has been using dispensers in standard cabins for some years now, instead of individual bottles.

In London, for example, the Radisson Mayfair, a recently refurbished five-star hotel is doing the same thing. The hotel’s shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion are all made by Gilchrist and Soames, and are ONLY available through in dispensers within easy reach of the shower, tub and sinks. This is good for the environment, but not so good if you want to try any of their products at home. (Although all of the products can be purchased online.)

Personally, I have mixed feelings about this development. In trying to be environmentally conscious, I’ve gotten used to hanging up towels, turning off lights, and using the necessary signs for them not to change bed linens every night. And if a hotel has separate garbage cans for recycling, I’ll try to use those too.

But the little bottles and soaps are somehow different. I don’t use that many hotel products, though I sometimes bring items home for the shelter and have taken home an extra bottle of a particularly wonderful shampoo or lotion for myself on occasion. (After a splurge at the Four Seasons London once, I enjoyed the remnants of a larger than normal container of Floris shampoo a few times over some months. It was a great reminder of the trip.)

It will be interesting to see how this trend spreads, or doesn’t spread, throughout the industry. No doubt as with many things, it will depend on customer feedback. My sense is that at moderate to budget properties, most people won’t care, as the products provided are pretty basic. (Although Holiday Inn Express, for example, just signed a new deal this year with Bath and Body Works.)

At the higher end of the hotel spectrum, however, where products from big names like Bliss, Aveda, and Occitane, are standard, travelers may feel differently. No doubt in a year or two we will know whether the dispensers are the wave of the future, or another in a long line of travel industry experiments that end up down the drain.

How about you? If a hotel chain asked your opinion, which would you prefer — little bottles or dispensers?

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  • OTC

    If it’s that important to you, buy a collection of small bottles and fill them yourself.

    If you thought about it more, you’d realize you could now fill up a much larger bottle of your own from the dispenser, rather than the little bottle provided now.

  • Laura Townsend Elion

    For me the most important thing is that I don’t have to bother with taking my own shampoo, etc. with me in the luggage – tiny bottles, dispensers, I don’t care as long as its there.

  • janet baker

    I’ve been traveling with my own bottles of shampoo etc. for years. From a green standpoint, it’s a waste to have all those bottles end up in a landfill. If you want upgraded products, buy them yourself and bring them along. I can fit them in my plastic zip bag and save a bit of landfill. I’d love to see more recycle bins at hotels, too. They are quick to ask you to reuse towels and sheets, but how about a place to put papers, etc? I’ve noticed that Courtyards do not put papers under your door either stating that it is a green policy. Why is it that they consider anything that saves them money “green”?

  • Jeff L

    I’m all for this, with the caveat that the dispensers work well and are maintained.

    There are a lot of potential pluses here, and relatively few minuses. Lower cost, less packaging, less waste (if I stay one night at a hotel and use one drop of shampoo, the bottle still has to be disposed of), less work for the housekeeping staff…

    The one downside as I mentioned above is that if the dispensers are not maintained, they can become breeding grounds for various and sundry bacteria in the moist air that inhabits most bathrooms.

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  • Ed

    I love those little personal bottles of shampoo…I never use them, but I take them home as little tokens of our vacation…
    I still have the bottles from my honeymoon 17 years ago at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani in Honolulu…The distinctive pineapple caps makes no mistake as to where they came from!
    And for some hotels like the Sands in Las Vegas, these little things can be a remembrance of a bygone era!
    Last year I was able to bring my wife with me on a business trip to Hong Kong…and yes, we brought home the shampoos…all written in Chinese with a distinctive Chinese Lantern shaped cap…These little mementos can bring back a time when you didn’t have a care in the world!

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  • Jack

    I have always taken each and every bottle when I leave. I donate the unopened/ unused ones to local shelters who are in desperate need for this size container of toiletry. On occasion, I use the materials and then take them with me on subsequent trips until gone. No waste.

    Agree with the post on recycling. I believe the hotel industry could do a much better job providing opportunity to recycle items by offering sort options within the rooms and throughout the facility.

  • Allison

    I LOVE the “sample size” bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotions and whether I use them or not during my stay, I ALWAYS bring them home to finish using them. I also try to use one bar of soap in both the shower and at the sink and bring the other bar home (haven’t had to actually buy a bar of soap in many years). I find it helpful to use a different shampoo or conditioner several times to determine whether the consistency or scent is something I really want to invest more money in with the purchase a larger bottle. Many times I do not, ultimately, decide to make that commitment. However, there have been a few times when I was not sure after the first use or two, but by the end of my “sample” bottle, I found I really liked it and did splurge on a more expense bottle than I ordinarily would purchase. I suppose I could go the route of bringing a couple of small bottles of my own, but I’d have to remember to do so, and also to write down exactly what the shampoo (etc) was before leaving the hotel in case I decided I really loved it after getting home. I’d definitely vote to keep the little bottles! And as Ed said, sometimes the bottles themselves are some of the most interesting souvenirs and remembrances of any trip.

  • Donna

    It doesn’t matter to me if the toiletries are individual bottles or from a dispenser, so long as they’re good products that work. I’ve at times gone through an entire little bottle of shampoo and still not be able to work up a good lather, leaving me feeling I had less-than-completely-clean hair. (Which is precisely why I now always travel with my own hair products.) But what I’d like for hotels to do is not encourage waste themselves. On a recent trip, two of the hotels I stayed in threw out my perfectly good used bar of soap every day and replaced it with a new package. One also replaced every towel that looked like it had been touched–twice a day–even when I asked them not to. Totally unnecessary.

  • American Traveler

    This is a disappointing development! I do use shampoos/etc and bring the remained home. Some of the nicer ones make nice little gifts for friends/relatives who otherwise would not have such products to enjoy. The extras I donate to the Veteran’s Hospital as they are ALWAYS in need of the small person sizes. BTW, once they are empty, I put them in my blue recycling. I KNOW they get recycled that way. I can not say the same for hotels making sure empties are recycled.

  • MollyNYC

    I prefer the small bottles, because I don’t trust the cleanliness of the big “filler up” containers by the tub. They probably never get cleaned, just refilled, day after day, month after month, year after year. EEEEWWWW!

    BTW, I bring home any unused portion of shampoo/conditoner that I’ve started and then recycle the bottles.

  • Liz Zollner

    I gotta admit, I love the things, but I only take home one per stay. I leave it on the counter until the last day so they don’t replace it, same with the soaps. When I use them up at home, I recycle that teeny little bottle along with all the big ones we use.

    Now, however, if they DO move to dispensers, I’ll bring along a regulation 2.5 oz. bottle and filll ‘er up! Then maybe they’ll return to the little bottles.

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  • Pele

    Having worked on the cleaning side of a hotel room – I can say that the amount of wastage involved in this process of providing individual bottles is ridiculous. So yes, take them home if you’ve opened them.

    As for dispensers (properly maintained of course) – it would reduce an enormous amount of waste in packaging. All very well that you recycle those little bottles, but what about if you just didn’t use them at all?

    All this talk about being ‘green’ and recycling and everything is pointless if it just allows us to feel alright using more of everything unneccessarily because we feel like it doesn’t matter.

  • [email protected]

    Just stayed at a Hilton for a few days. I love to bring home all the little bottles and soap. We love to take them camping or send them with the kids to camp.