Housekeeping secrets of Ireland’s top hotels
Raking the carpet, deep cleaning the curtains, and being handy with the iron – how top hotels keep their rooms in five-star order
A bedroom at Ballyfin Demesne, voted number one hotel in the world, where staff devote an hour to cleaning each room
Pamela Kemp, housekeeping manager at Harveys Point Hotel in Donegal
Stephen Molloy, accommodation manager, inspects a bed at the Conrad Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Last week three Irish hotels were voted among the top 10 best hotels in the world by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler. Ballyfin Demesne in Co Laois was number one, Waterford Castle on an island in the Suir was number seven and the Lodge at Ashford appeared at nine. Ireland was the only country to have three hotels in the top 10.
Presenting their best face to customers, how do hotels manage the upkeep and sparkle factor? Adele Walsh is the accommodation manager at Ballyfin and has a house full of antiques, ornaments, paintings, lavish soft furnishing and 20 luxurious rooms and suites to care for.
“Our rooms all have high ceilings, four poster beds, lots of ornaments, books, furniture, cushions, candlesticks, and bedspreads, for the accommodation assistants to work around,” she said. They work in pairs and every room takes a full hour to clean.
Rooms get a deep clean every two months when a more intense cleaning and polishing is done, mattresses are turned, curtains and canopies are vacuumed and furniture bees waxed. All the staff is adept with brown paper and an iron for spots of candle grease as candles are an important feature at Ballyfin.
January and February are the busiest time of the year for Adele, when the hotel closes for four weeks and the major upkeep happens. Every painting is taken down, chandeliers are dismantled, the long ladders are out and a whole crew of people are enlisted to make every item sparkle and gleam.
“Having such a quirky property as Waterford Castle needs all kinds of labours to keep it in excellent condition, said Helen Courtney, the hotel’s general manager. “The Great Hall, with delicate tapestries, ornate ceiling, and a massive stone fireplace, going 365 days a year, takes a lot of care,” she said. “The castle installed seven Waterford Crystal chandeliers this year and they too will need careful cleaning.”
Like at Ballyfin, January is the busiest month of the year for Waterford Castle’s cleaning team. Major cleaning and maintenance takes place and already plans are being made to book the various trades that help. Dusting of the 10ft high doors and hard to reach corners of the Great Hall ceiling is scheduled weeks in advance. Waterford Castlestaff polish the ornate mahogany furniture regularly and spritz the rooms with a floral scent such as lavender to create a clean feel.
In the Park Hotel in Kenmare, Co Kerry, preparations for guests are extremely thorough. “We rake the carpet backwards out the door with the carpet rake, so when you go to your lovely room it will be like you are the first person walking on it,” said Francis Brennan.
Another tip from Brennan is to turn your mattress every three months and also swing it around from head to toe.
The hotel prides itself on having specially woven bed linens. The sheets are made in Rivolta in Italy, from 55 per cent linen and 45 per cent Egyptian cotton, woven with the hotel’s logo. The bed linens and all laundry are done in the hotel, using Francis’s special concoction for keeping everything white and bright. He would not reveal his secret recipe, but said it does not contain bleach.
For anyone wondering about Brennan’s new range of bed linens for Dunnes Stores, the fitted sheets have a larger than normal drop – so you do not have to fight the bed to get them on, and are made of 400 thread count percale cotton.
When it opened 25 years ago, the Conrad Hilton was the most modern hotel in Dublin, and this month it unveiled the results of a €13 million refurbishment.
The renovation was a strategic operation, starting on the seventh floor and working downwards, while staying open for business. Accommodation manager Stephen Molloy had his hands full keeping the hotel in tip top condition during the renovation. “I think the jack-hammering rattled the dust of years out of every corner,” he said.
The new rooms have fresh clean lines and are decorated in soothing pale green and grey tones. Flooring is a mixture of oiled parquet and herringbone carpeting.
Each week at the accommodation team meeting, staff members suggest a focus for the week to concentrate on in the rooms. It may be taking down the net curtains to wash them, or giving extra attention to the grouting in the bathrooms. Every three months, each room is deep-cleaned, all the furniture taken out, the curtains taken down and the carpet shampooed.
“We have an in-house laundry and it makes a huge difference. We can control the starch and fabric softener, and guests really notice that,” said Molloy. The Conrad uses 300-thread count sheets and duvet covers and 400-thread count pillowcases.
At Harvey’s Point Hotel in Donegal, awarded hotel of the year by Tripadvisor users, staff also use a rake on the carpet pile, said housekeeping manager Pamela Kemp. One thing the room assistants find extremely useful, Kemp says, is an old toothbrush for those hard to get at places in the bathroom.
In the Sheraton Athlone Hotel, they have gone back to the old fashioned remedies, using lemons to remove stains and smells and bicarbonate of soda and vinegar for limescale.
Powerscourt Hotel in Co Wicklow is also relying on these more traditional cleaners and you will find white vinegar on the house-keeping trolley, diluted one part vinegar to three parts water.
A tip from the hotel’s housekeeper is one that the website of Good Housekeeping also suggests: “Let the cleaning products do the hard work. Spray the cleaner on shower walls, toilets, and leave for several minutes – you’ll notice that you need to use much less elbow grease to create a shine on your surfaces.”
In Cork, Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa staff add a drop of bleach to cut flowers to make them last longer. Chewing gum on carpets is removed by using ice, and hairspray is useful for getting biro marks off wood tables.
In Kerry, the Gleneagle Group executive accommodation manager Noreen O’Gorman said the three house-keeping staples there are bread soda, lemon juice and vinegar. They remove stains on carpets with a paste of bread soda and vinegar, leave to dry and vacuum off. A chlorine tablet diluted with water in a spray bottle is what they use to clean and whiten grout in the bathrooms.
When the bedroom is clean, take a tip from the Cliff House house-keeping team. Close the curtains, lower the lights, turn back the bed, and have a relaxing lavender bath with Lyric FM playing in the background. That is how they prepare your room for bedtime.