Why Do Hotels Use White Bed Sheets?

How Westin invented the Heavenly Bed and how it changed our perception

Arun Rafi
Arun Rafi
Jun 21, 2019 · 6 min read
Photo by Logan Nolin on Unsplash

This morning, I woke up early and made my bed. Last week, I read Charles Duhigg and Gretchen Rubin, who are proponents of the ‘make-your-bed’ habit. Navy Seal William H. McCraven shared their sentiment in his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas. He shared the following quote:

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

Today was Day Eight of making my bed. I’m not sure if I’m changing the world yet, but it’s definitely been good for me. The more I repeat the process, the more natural it feels.

I’m now on auto-pilot when I make my bed. So much so that when I see a bed while trying to book a hotel (my wife and I are planning a vacation), I visualize making it in the morning. Things are getting weird.

But, Wait…

As I was looking at all those bed pictures, I started noticing something. Something is different. All of the beds are white.

I checked to see if we had any white bed sheets and the cupboard replied, “negative.” I called my mom and she didn’t have white sheets either. She told me white gets dirty very fast and other garments’ colours might spill over.

So why do hotels use white bedding?

The Importance of a Bed

The hotel bed is an important part of the experience of staying at a hotel. A good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to ensure higher ratings and customer satisfaction. In a travel survey, 78% of respondents said they feel it’s very important for hotels to offer comfortable beds.

A rule of thumb for hotel beds is that they should be better than the one you have at home. Good hotels go into extremely fine detail to make their beds perfect.

Guests should leave the hotel feeling better than how they arrived, and sleep is one of the cornerstones for that experience. Soft sheets that do not irritate the skin, the right pillow, the type of fibres used, and thread count are just a few things that go into making a perfect sleep experience.

Marriott allocated $190 million in 2006 under its Marriott Bedding Program to overhaul the sleep experience across 628,000 units. Overall, a bed is a major influence on how we perceive the room or the hotel.

The Ugly Truth

Hotels are not the cleanest places in the world. Surprise! There is a great reason to go to a local cafe for coffee rather than using the hotel kettle. Investigations also show why some hair dryers are dirtier than sinks and toilets.

Can’t see, can’t be

There is a reason why the kettle and the dryer go unnoticed. You do not see visible proof of uncleanliness on the outside. This works both ways — the cleaning staff believes it is not dirty since it ‘looks fine,’ and the guest believes that it ‘looks fine’ and is not dirty.

Operational Costs

If we look at a study of hotel costs, electricity makes up almost 60% and water 24%.

Services like laundry use both water and electricity. Because of that, they have a huge impact on the cost of operations. Water utilisation is a big part of saving costs, and that explains why hotels want to go green all of a sudden.

It does make financial sense for hotels to have coloured sheets. In fact, that was the case until the 1990s. Hotels preferred coloured sheets as they could be used longer before stains became visible. This was a big part of keeping costs down.

What Changed?

The rise of multiple options for booking hotels along with a focus on customer experience. The 1990s saw the rise of travel agents, loyalty programs, and offerings like free breakfast.

Hotel chains diversified greatly, and technology made booking easier. More people started travelling for business, and hotels started adding room-service, mini-bars, and other utilities. Hotel chains started focusing on building a differentiated factor.

The Heavenly Bed

Westin wanted to be different too. Internal research done by Westin revealed an unmissable insight. Guests rated ‘a good night’s sleep’ as the single most important thing that is expected out of a hotel room.

Noticing the close link between the sleep experience and overall satisfaction, Westin set off on a journey to make the perfect bed. In 1999, Westin launched the Heavenly Bed. It was a complete departure from the earth-tone and cheap polyester bedspreads of the past.

The Heavenly Bed offered a custom-designed pillow-top mattress set, high thread-count triple sheeting, three different types of down blankets, a comforter, a duvet, and five goose feather pillows. The entire ensemble was white from the pillows to the sheets to the comforter.

The Heavenly Bed resulted in a dramatic rise in customer satisfaction and loyalty, and ‘comfort of bed’ received Westin’s highest-rated guest satisfaction score. Not wanting to be left behind, the white bed made its way across the hospitality industry, and it’s now a norm.

Impact on Guests

When you enter a hotel room, the biggest piece of furniture is the bed. It’s a reference you typically use to form your first impression of the room.

The white bedding makes guests feel confident about the cleanliness of the hotel. If the bedding is white, it must be clean. Cleanliness gives us comfort in an unknown space.

According to Westin’s research, guests found the room to be more luxurious when the bed was white. Some believed that the room had even been renovated.

The fluffiness of the duvet makes it great to snuggle under, and the slight heaviness makes the blanket perfect for wrapping around you. This creates a sense of being held and comforted. It’s a reason why infants are wrapped snugly.

The cloud-like appearance of the light, fluffy, and white bed often creates a sinking-in effect. White sheets have an unsaid rule of, ‘We trust you to not ruin our trust in you.’ This is far more effective than a ‘Keep it clean’ message.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Impact on Hotels

White sheets are the easiest to stain, and that’s the reason why guests try extra hard not to stain them. There is a fear of being judged. Regular customers may also worry about being remembered for staining the sheets.

It’s also easier for the cleaning staff to check for stains and clean the sheets. There is no risk of colour loss since all the sheets are white. If a sheet gets remarkably dirty, it’s easy to bleach white sheets.

Key Takeaway

What I love is the ‘I trust you, you trust me’ phenomenon. By making it impossible to hide a stain, guests become ultra careful. This also has a subconscious effect where the guests believe they are ‘sophisticated’ enough to not mess up.

It’s a win-win for both the hotel and the guests.

Final Thoughts

I am unlikely to get a full white bed ensemble myself, but I can now sleep in peace knowing why hotel beds are white.

Then again, I’m now stuck with two more questions in my mind:

  1. What would be the possible impact of changing the bedding in alternative accommodation industries, like Airbnb? How would the hosts approach this?
  2. Westin pioneered the Heavenly Bed, which is now an industry standard. What further actions could hospitality brands take to differentiate the sleeping experience?

Maybe I’ll dream of the answers. Until then, sleep tight. And remember to make your bed.

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Arun Rafi

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Arun Rafi


Better Marketing

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