Hotel scams: The laundry service
Avoid using the hotel laundry service
No, those aren't the prices to buy those particular items of clothing. That's how much this hotel is charging merely to wash them.
This is the biggest rip-off at the hotel. Oh, sure, the phone charges are the most insidious—cause the phone is one of life's daily necessities, plus unlike with minibar or laundry, they don't warn you with a price list first—but in terms of sheer overcharging for services rendered, the laundry just might be the worst.
How much a hotel laundry service overcharges
Just take a look at the list to the left, taken from a hotel in Tuscany (I admit it is hard to read, but squint). Those prices are in Euro, so that means that, at the current exchange rate of €1 = $1.44, it would cost $3.60 per piece to have a t-shirt or pair of pants washed, or $6.50 for a dress. Heck, they're even charging $1.45 for a pair of socks or a pair of underwear.
And that's just to wash them. They'd come back to you still sopping wet.
OK. Let's assume you followed my packing list, and that you are going to wear one set of clothes while washing the rest—and that you won't bother washing the sports coat or sweater you brought alone for warmth and style. That means, to wash a single load of travel laundry (pair of pants, pair of shorts you used to swim in, two T-shirts, a long-sleeved shirt, a skirt, and three pairs each of socks and undies) it would cost about $31.70 to do a single load.
Heck, in a Queens laundromat it only costs me $1.25 for the washer and another $1 or so for the dryer for a load that small.
How to avoid the high cost of having the hotel do your laundry
The solution? Two choices.
One is to seek out a local laundromat, either coin-op, or a place that does it for you—though watch out for the latter, as they usually also charge by the piece (if not quite so much). You want to find one that charges by weight. Either way, expect to pay less than €10 ($13) to wash and dry your clothes. Bonus: many laundromats now double as cybercafes. (Actually, there are some hotels—the cheaper, friendlier ones, of course—which will do your laundry for a nominal fee about equal to what a local laundromat costs.).
The truly frugal option is to do your own laundry in the bathroom sink. Get some cheap, biodegradable washing solution, such as Campsuds, and a braided clothesline (both available at camping/luggage stores and through travel catalogs), and be prepared to do a bit of washing up each night before hitting the sack.
Hang the wet clothes to dry overnight; on the balcony if you have one and it's warm, over the radiator in winter (I stuff socks and undies in the radiator cracks, then drape shirts and pants over the top).
I have yet to meet the hotelier who could satisfactorily explain exactly why they don't want you to do laundry in the bathroom sinks. One once mumbled something about lint clogging the drains, but that sounded pretty lame to me. My vote: forget the stupid sign and go ahead wash out your skivvies in the sink. Ninety seconds of scrubbing and wringing them out sure beats paying $3 just for a clean pair of underwear.
I usually do this for about two weeks at a spell before taking the lot of it to a laundromat to get a more thorough washing.
The only problem is, lots of hotels don't like you doing this (uses up hot water, plus I'm sure the lint collects to clog the drains).
Some even post nasty little signs in the bathroom scolding you against the practice.
To me, that just means I have to be sneakier about it and can't leave the stuff hanging in the room all day for the maids to find.