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The secret lives of hotel pillows

By David Johnston, for CNN
August 28, 2013 -- Updated 0304 GMT (1104 HKT)
It's more than U.S. government red tape. That tag made of the world's most indestructible paper is a product of the 1800s, when less-than-scrupulous business people were stuffing their pillows and mattresses with old hospital blankets that might have carried smallpox and tuberculosis. Sleep tight. And smallpox free! It's more than U.S. government red tape. That tag made of the world's most indestructible paper is a product of the 1800s, when less-than-scrupulous business people were stuffing their pillows and mattresses with old hospital blankets that might have carried smallpox and tuberculosis. Sleep tight. And smallpox free!
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That annoying tag fought smallpox
It's younger than your one at home
Rock star abuse more than drugs
BYOP = WTF
Houskeepers treat your pillow like a hot dog
Singapore knows pillows
This isn't how to personalize a pillow
Don't think too hard about it
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Wyndham Hotel Group purchased more than a million pillows last year
  • That annoying pillow tag? It helped fight smallpox
  • Some hotel guests bring their own pillows. Housekeepers find this annoying
  • Your hotel pillow is probably younger than the one you have at home

(CNN) -- For most of us, hotel pillows are an afterthought.

It takes a night of compromised sleeping positions and desperate pillow kneading in an attempt to create matter where none exists to highlight their actual significance.

But there's much to know about these under-appreciated accoutrements of the travel biz.

As Keith Pierce, executive vice president for brand operations at Wyndham Hotel Group told us, "There's more to pillows than just pillows."

Like what?

Glad you asked.

1. That annoying pillow tag? It fought smallpox

The tags attached to pillows and comforters in the United States that list the exact percentages of fills, be they foam or down?

According to the International Association of Bedding and Furniture Law Officials, it's known as a law label.

While it might seem like government red tape, it's actually a product of the 1800s when some less-than-scrupulous business people were stuffing their pillows and mattresses with old hospital blankets that might have carried smallpox and tuberculosis.

Sleep tight. And smallpox free!

There\'s a reason that pillow looks so comfy. And it\'s not the hellish flight you just got off.
There's a reason that pillow looks so comfy. And it's not the hellish flight you just got off.

2. Your hotel pillow is probably younger than the one you have at home

According to Kris Beck at Hilton Worldwide, a synthetic pillow lasts approximately 18 to 24 months when cared for and laundered properly, while a down or feather pillow can last 24 to 36 months.

Keith Pierce from Wyndham says that pillows at Microtel locations -- the budget arm of the Wyndham Hotel Group -- last less than 24 months, with properties replacing a third of their inventory every 6 to 8 months.

For Microtel, that means a purchase of 20,000 pillows in 2012.

Wyndham as a whole purchased more than a million pillows last year alone.

3. Housekeepers and hot dog vendors have something in common

Rather than tucking a laundered pillowcase under their chin, hospitality expert Jacob Tomsky says that hotel housekeepers have a chop-and-fold method of slipping pillows into pillowcases.

"Kind of like a hot dog bun," he says.

A 10-year veteran of the hotel business, Tomsky's New York Times bestselling book "Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality" was published last year.

The hot dog bun trick could come in handy at home. Surely there's a Youtube video out there.

4. In the hotel biz, BYOP = WTF

Tomsky says that one thing that drives housekeepers bonkers is people who bring their own pillows.

"That housekeeper is going to see hundreds of thousands of hotel pillows," he explains. "Why would you need to bring your own?"

For guests allergic to down-filled pillows, Tomsky says that hotels keep a large supply of foam pillows.

While theft isn't that common, (though Tomsky notes that some people will even take the batteries from the remote control) the occasional guest will steal the pillows from the bed and pack them right into their bags.

Like the case of the pillow-abusing rocker, classic stories often have no clear ending.
Like the case of the pillow-abusing rocker, classic stories often have no clear ending.

5. Not all rock stars trash hotel rooms the same way

Tomsky tells the story of the singer of a classic rock band who wanted 15 pillows for his bed.

As requested, the pillows were piled on his bed in a huge pyramid.

The next morning?

"They were scattered all over the floor," says Tomsky. "There is no way to sleep on that."

Tell us who it is, please? Steven Tyler? Bon Jovi? The Nuge? Maybe Meatloaf or Styx warbler Dennis DeYoung?

When pressed for the name, Tomsky, a true hotelier to his discreet core, declines to provide personal information concerning one of his guests.

6. If you want a firm pillow, Singapore is the place

Many hotels are known for their "pillow menus," which give guests the choice of what they rest their head upon.

But few pillow menus are as varied as the list at Conrad Centennial Singapore, which has 16 pillows guests can choose from.

Alongside down and foam options are buckwheat, tatami and porcelain.

Porcelain pillows, as well as ones made from jade, wood and bronze, were popular in China from the 6th to early 20th centuries.

A The Beverly Hills Hotel, even pooches are treated to personalized pillows.
A The Beverly Hills Hotel, even pooches are treated to personalized pillows.

7. You can get your hotel pillow personalized

At the Beverly Hills Peninsula, VIP, suite and villa guests, and guests who have stayed five days at the property, get to sleep on pillowcases monogrammed with their initials.

The hotel has more than a 1,000 pillowcases on hand in a variety of initial combinations, though for the Isabel Isaacs and Zachary Xaviers out there, monogramming a new pillow only takes five to 10 minutes.

At the end of their stay, guests can take their pillowcases with them or opt to have them boxed for their next stay at the Peninsula.

In addition, many chains have websites such as hiltontohome.com and ritzcarltonshops.com that allow people to purchase hotel pillows for their homes.

8. Don't think too hard about your hotel pillow ... or this article

Jacob Tomsky says, like death and deli meat, people don't think much about the life of a hotel pillow.

And that's a good thing.

"When you put your head on a pillow it would blow your mind to think about how many other heads have been on that pillow," he says. "If you go to a hotel and come back a year later and stay in the same room, you're going to put your head on the same pillow and there are a lot of people who have done a lot of things on that pillow on the meantime.

"Whatever people do in their rooms, pillows are always there. They're either directly involved or very nearby."

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