English for Housekeeping: 113 Essential Words and Phrases for Polished, Professional English

Do you want to work as a housekeeper in an English-speaking country or a large international city?

If so, it’s a good idea to learn some essential housekeeping terms in English to help secure a job. 

To help prepare you for your housekeeping journey, we’ve put together a list of 113 English words and phrases for working as a housekeeper.

We’ve also provided a list of useful resources you can use to practice these terms and other key vocabulary for working in hotels.

Let’s start polishing your English!

Contents

1. In the Bedroom

One of your main responsibilities as a housekeeper will be cleaning the bedroom. Below, you’ll find a list of the most common bedroom-related vocabulary in English. 

Headboard

This is a beautiful piece of wood that stands up vertically against the wall at the head of the bed for decoration. The name is pretty easy to remember, as it’s a board by your head.

Mattress

This is the soft cushion on top of a bed, on which people sleep.

Box-spring

This is a hard box that’s the same size as the mattress of a bed. It has springs inside, it’s covered in cloth and sits underneath the mattress. (Note: Beds with box-springs are most common in the United States, Canada and Australia.)

Bed skirt

Imagine a bed wearing a skirt. That’s where “bed skirt” got its name. It’s a thin sheet with short, decorative fabric that hangs down along all of the edges to cover the gap (space) between the floor and the box-spring. Here’s a quick video that shows how to put a bed skirt onto a bed, by placing it between the box-spring and the mattress.

Fitted sheet

This is the first sheet to go on a mattress, and has round, “fitted” corners. It’s made to fit the shape of the mattress. These sheets can be tricky to fold, so here’s a funny video with Martha Stewart that teaches how to fold a fitted sheet.

Flat sheet

The sheet that goes on top of the fitted sheet is called a flat sheet.

Bedspread / Comforter

The thicker blanket that goes on top of the flat sheet and covers the bed is called a bedspread or comforter. Both words are commonly used. In this Ikea catalog it’s called a bedspread, while this Target catalog uses the word comforter.

Pillows

Pillows are soft rectangles that make your head comfortable while you sleep. The fabric that covers a pillow is called a pillow case.

Night table

The small tables on either side of the bed are called night tables.

Alarm clock

This is a small digital clock that can also be used to set an alarm.

Lamp

On a night table you’ll often find a lamp, which is a small light so people can see at night. It has a light bulb inside, which needs to be replaced every now and then when it “burns out” and no longer produces light. On some lamps, the light bulb is covered by a lampshade to make it look prettier. (You can see here that the Pixar lamp has a light bulb, but it doesn’t have a lampshade.)

Outlet

The alarm clock, lamp and other electronics are plugged into electric outlets, found on the walls. The part at the end of the cord with two electric prongs is called a plug. You put the plug in the socket (on the wall) to “plug in” the device. 

Garbage bag / Liner

The plastic bag put inside empty trash/garbage cans can be called a garbage bag or liner.

Mints

Mints are small, flavored candies that make your breath smell good. They are made with spearmint or peppermint. Sometimes housekeepers in hotels leave these on the pillows after they clean.

Ice bucket

This is a small, plastic container—usually lined with a plastic bag—where guests can put ice (from the ice machine in the hallway).

Closet

In a bedroom, this is where clothes can be hung and stored. Clothes are hung on hangers.

Luggage rack

This is a small surface where guests can put their luggage (suitcases), to keep it off the floor. In hotels, luggage racks usually fold up, so they don’t take up space while not in use.

Drawers

A dresser, desk or counter might have drawers that pull out so guests can store items inside. When cleaning rooms, it will be important to open drawers to make sure guests have not forgotten any items.

Lost and found

If you do find items left behind by guests, the hotel should have a lost and found. This is an area to store items that belonged to guests and were found in the hotel. When guests lose something, they will ask if you have a lost and found.

Thermostat

The thermostat is a small device on the wall which tells you the room’s temperature. It’s also used to change the temperature in the room and make it warmer or cooler.

Smoke detector

These are circular, battery-operated devices used to warn people of fires. They are usually put on the ceilings in rooms. If smoke detectors sense (detect) smoke, a loud alarm will sound.

2. In the Bathroom

As well as cleaning the bedroom, you’ll also have to make sure the bathroom is spotless. Here are the most common bathroom-related words in English: 

Face cloth

Guests use this small, square cloth to wash their face. It can also be called a wash cloth.

Hand towel

This is a small towel that guests use to dry their hands.

Bath towel

A bath towel is a larger towel that guests use to dry themselves after taking a shower or bath.

Bath mat

This mat is larger than a hand towel. Guests put it on the floor before taking a shower or bath to keep the floor dry when they get out.

Toilet bowl

The bowl-shaped part of a toilet, filled with water, is the toilet bowl. You can see it when you flip open the toilet lid, which covers the toilet bowl when closed.

Toilet seat

This is the horseshoe-shaped part of a toilet, where people sit.

Toilet handle

To flush a toilet, you press this handle (lever). The toilet handle is attached to the toilet tank—the large, rectangular, covered part of a toilet that sits against the wall.

Toilet paper

This is the roll of thin, soft paper used to clean oneself after going to the bathroom. After cleaning the bathroom, housekeepers will often fold the toilet paper like this to show that they have cleaned. Type “fancy toilet paper fold hotel” into a Google image search for some fun results.

Plunger

This tool has a stick handle connected to a rubber cup base, and usually sits upright on the floor next to the toilet. It’s used to fix plumbing (system of water pipes) problems in toilets.

Bathroom vanity

A vanity is a North American word for a dressing table, which usually has a mirror and drawers. A bathroom vanity is similar, but will also have a sink—like this.

Tiles

These are thin, square pieces of pottery used to cover floors or walls. They have a smooth, shiny surface (like these) which are okay to get wet. That’s why they are most common in bathrooms and kitchens.

Shower curtain

Regular curtains hang in front of windows to keep the light out and for privacy (so people cannot look in from outside). A shower curtain hangs in front of the shower to keep the water inside the shower/bath and to give people privacy.

Shower head

Water comes out of the shower head when the shower is turned on. In North America, the shower head is usually attached to the wall, at the height just above someone’s head.

Faucet

In a bathtub or sink, water comes out of the faucet.

Drain

This is where water exits the sink or shower. Showers/bathtubs have a drain on the floor, and sinks also have a drain underneath where the faucet pours water. The verb to drain means to let water out gradually (little by little). For example, after taking a bath, you drain the bathtub by letting the water leave down the drain.

Shower cap

When guests do not want to get their hair wet when taking a shower, they can use a shower cap to keep their hair dry. Many hotels provide shower caps for their guests.

Air freshener

This is used to make the air smell clean, and is usually something that you spray into the air.

3. Hotel Cleaning Equipment and Supplies

As a housekeeper, you’ll most likely have your cart full of cleaning equipment and supplies like sponges, a mop and other multi-use cleaning products.

Cart / Trolley

Most housekeepers have a cart or trolley to store their cleaning materials and basic supplies. It’s a shelf on wheels, so the cart can hold essential items and easily be pushed from room to room. Laundry carts are bins on wheels, in which you can put towels, sheets and other laundry items.

Sponge

A sponge is a small rectangle of soft material that’s used for cleaning. It can absorb (soak up) water, so you’ll use it with water and a cleaning product.

Rag

This is an old cloth used for cleaning.

Microfiber cloth

This type of cloth is very, very soft, and traps a lot more dirt than regular cloths and rags. It’s spelled microfibre in many English-speaking countries outside of the United States.

Duster

This tool has a fluffy, feather-like end for cleaning dust (and often spider webs!), usually in high places. When you dust surfaces like tables, however, you’ll likely use dusting spray and a rag/cloth instead.

Broom

A broom is used to sweep the floors in order to clean away any dust or other tiny items. It has a long handle with a brush at the end. You sweep the dust into a dust pan, which you can then pick up and empty into a trash can.

Mop

A mop is kind of like a broom, except it’s used to wash floors. Attached to the long handle will either be a large sponge or thick, loose strings that can soak up water. You usually use a bucket of water when mopping the floors.

Wringer

After you dip a mop into a bucket of water, you’ll use a wringer to wring out (squeeze/twist out) extra water from the mop before putting it on the floor.

Vacuum cleaner

This is a cleaning machine that sucks up dust and dirt from the floors. It’s usually used on carpeted floors and some rugs, and it must be plugged in to work. Some vacuum cleaners have vacuum cleaner bags that need to be replaced when they are full. Other vacuums have a section that collects the dust and dirt, and needs to be emptied when it’s full.

Steam cleaner

This is a machine that uses hot steam (water vapor) to clean various surfaces. Some steam cleaners look like vacuums and are used to clean floors. Others are handheld (are held in your hand), and used to clean a variety of surfaces, such as windows, tiles, mirrors and more.

Lint roller

Has a cat ever sat in your lap when you were wearing a black sweater? The cat probably left lots of cat hair on your sweater. A lint roller is a sticky, circular “brush” that you can roll over fabrics (like sweaters, couches, blankets, etc.) to remove hair and lint (short, tiny fibers from fabrics).

Window / Glass cleaner

This is a liquid substance used to clean surfaces like windows, glass and mirrors. It’s almost always sold in a spray bottle so that you can easily spray the cleaning product onto the surface. Windex is a brand of window/glass cleaner sold in the United States, Canada and Germany, and it’s easily recognized by its blue color.

Squeegee

When washing windows or mirrors, you might use a squeegee to smoothly scrape off any dirt and the window cleaner without leaving smudges (marks) on the windows.

Furniture polish 

This is a cleaning liquid that you spray onto furniture and then rub with a cloth. Tables, desks, beds and chairs are all furniture—basic items that make a room livable. Not all furniture polishes can be used on the same surfaces. For example, Pledge furniture polish can be used on wood, laminate, stainless steel, leather, marble, granite and plastic surfaces.

Multi-use

If a cleaning product is labeled multi-use, that means it can be used on multiple (many) surfaces (like Pledge furniture polish above), or for various uses. Be sure to read the label to know which surfaces the cleaning product is meant for.

Non-toxic

Non-toxic cleaning products are not poisonous, so they are safe to use. Be very careful with toxic cleaning products, like our next word, bleach.

Bleach

This is a chemical used to clean and disinfect (kill bacteria) certain surfaces like sinks and drains. It’s also used to make linens (cloths) whiter. You’ll want to wear a face mask when cleaning with bleach. A face mask helps protect you from breathing in dangerous chemicals. And be careful—if you get bleach on your clothes, it will turn them lighter!

Drain cleaner

This is a chemical liquid that you pour down drains to help keep them clean and unclogged (unblocked).

Toilet bowl cleaner

This liquid is used to clean the inside of toilet bowls. You’ll spread the cleaning product around and scrub with a toilet bowl brush.

Latex gloves

These are rubber gloves that you’ll wear over your hands to protect them while cleaning. 

4. Key Vocabulary on Room Assignment Sheets

To know which rooms to clean every day, you’ll probably receive a room assignment sheet. This piece of paper will list hotel rooms by room number. It will tell you exactly what needs to be done in each room.

Different hotels use different columns and terms for their room assignment sheets, but here are some words you might see on yours.

Room status

This means the current situation in the room. Will a guest check out (leave) today? Is a guest sleeping over for another night? Many of the terms below are possible room statuses.

Unoccupied

This means no one is in the room. Its opposite, occupied, means that someone is staying in the room.

Checked out

This means that the guest has settled (paid) their bill at the front desk and left the hotel. Some hotels use “checked out and gone” for this same status.

Due-out

The guest has not yet checked out, but they are expected (due) to leave by the check-out time that morning. Other schedules might use “checking out today” for this room status.

Stayover

The guest will be staying over another night and is not due to check out.

Sleep out

The guest is still staying in the room, but the bed was not slept in the night before.

Skipper

A guest has left the hotel without paying their bill and without correctly checking out.

Do not disturb (DND)

Guests might place a “do not disturb” sign on their door handles, meaning they do not want to be bothered (disturbed). Do not knock on the door to clean their room.

No service today

The room does not want service today.

Time in

The time that you enter the room to begin cleaning. If you’re working somewhere that uses the 12-hour clock, be sure to use “a.m.” if it’s in the morning and “p.m.” if it’s in the afternoon or night. For example, 1:30 p.m. is an hour and a half after noon (13:30).

Time out

The time that you leave the room when you are finished cleaning.

Remarks / Comments

This is a place for you to write any additional notes or comments about a certain room.

Maintenance issues

These are problems that need to be fixed by the hotel’s maintenance employees. Such problems might involve the lights, electrical outlets, sinks, toilets or showers, for example.

Signature

This is where you sign your name. When you sign a room assignment sheet, you’re usually agreeing that all of the information you wrote is correct.

5. Cleaning Instructions in English

As a housekeeper, you’ll also need to know the language for common cleaning instructions. These words will be very important to know for your training so that you understand directions.

Here are some common verbs (action words) with example instructions:

To flush

To press the lever on a toilet that makes clean water flow in.

Flush the toilet after cleaning the toilet bowl.

To scrub

To clean something by rubbing it hard.

Scrub the bathtub using a sponge and the cleaner in spray bottle #4.

To wipe (up)

To clean by rubbing with a cloth; to move something over a surface.

Wipe the counters with a clean cloth.

To change

To replace something with another.

Change the sheets on the bed. (Put new sheets on the bed.)

Change the toilet paper when you clean the bathroom. (Replace the used toilet paper roll with a new one.)

To rinse

To wash with plain water and no soap.

After you scrub the shower, rinse it with water to completely remove the cleaning product.

To polish

To clean by rubbing in order to make something smooth and shiny.

Use a cloth and furniture polish to polish the table and desk.

To wash

To clean with water and soap.

Bring the dirty linens to the laundry room where we will wash them.

To spray

To release (squirt out) very small droplets of a liquid.

Spray the mirrors and windows with window cleaner, then wipe them with a clean cloth.

To fold

To bend.

Fold the clean towels neatly and set them on the shelf in the bathroom.

To vacuum

To clean a floor with a vacuum cleaner.

Vacuum the carpet and rugs in every room.

To mop

To wash a floor with a mop.

After you sweep the floors, mop them using hot water, floor cleaner and a mop.

To disinfect

To kill germs and bacteria.

Disinfect (sanitize) the counters with this disinfecting spray.

To dust

To clean by removing dust.

Remove the newspapers and magazines, and then dust the coffee table.

To empty

To remove something; the opposite of “fill.”

Empty (take out) the trash once you’ve finished cleaning.

To check

To look carefully.

Open the desk drawers and check for forgotten items.

To throw out

To put in the trash/garbage.

Throw out any trash you find on the counters.

To tidy up

To make something clean and organized.

Tidy up (straighten up) the bookcase when you clean the master suite.

To refill

To replace; to fill again.

Refill the mini-fridge with soda and water.

To turn off

To stop something by pressing an “off” button or turning a switch.

Don’t forget to turn off the lights when you leave the room.

To unplug

To remove a plug from an electrical outlet.

Make sure to unplug the iron after using it.

6. Vocabulary Related to Common Problems and Complaints

In addition to requests, unfortunately, some guests will always have problems or complaints. Here are some phrases you might hear, with an example complaint for each.

~ is wet

The floor is wet in the bathroom.

~ is dirty / ~ isn’t clean

The sink is dirty.

~ is broken / ~ doesn’t work

The hair dryer is broken.

~ is empty / full

The garbage is full! It looks like it hasn’t been emptied in days!

There’s hair on / in ~

There’s hair on the bed pillow. Are these really clean sheets?

There’s a bad / weird odor (smell)

There’s a really bad smell out on the patio.

The water is too hot / cold

The water in the shower is too hot.

The toilet is clogged (does not flush)

The toilet is clogged in room 204. We need a plumber ASAP (as soon as possible)!

~ is overflowing (flowing over the edge/top of something)

The plumber never came, and now the toilet is now overflowing! Help—there’s water spilling onto the floor!

~ is dripping

The faucet is dripping in the kitchen sink.

~ is stained

The carpet in our room is stained; it looks really dirty.

I spilled ~

I’m so sorry, I just spilled red wine on the carpet. Do you have any carpet cleaner I can use to get the stain out?

There’s no electricity / The power went out

The power went out in our room—what’s going on?

Out of order

(Note: this is sometimes abbreviated as “ooo” in housekeeping forms/guides)

The vending machine in the lobby is out of order. Is there another nearby?

7. Safety and Emergency Vocabulary

It’s very important to stay safe while working and to know what to do in case of an emergency. Your hotel should provide safety and emergency training.

At your safety training when you start working at a hotel, make sure you understand everything clearly. Knowing safety guidelines and emergency procedures will not just help keep you safe, but also thr guests.

Here are some words and phrases you might see in safety/emergency training:

Emergency action plan

This is a guide that tells what action to take in case of an emergency, such as a fire, crime or health problems.

Fire alarm

This is the loud sound that will go off when there is a fire. The loud alarm and blinking lights will alert people of the fire.

Fire exit door

These are doors that should be used when there’s a fire to get people out faster. They are clearly marked as a “fire exit.”

To evacuate

To evacuate means to leave quickly and go to a safer place. During a fire, for example, everyone should evacuate the hotel.

First aid kit

This is a set of items used to treat physical injuries. Items in a first-aid kit often include band-aids (adhesive bandages), medical gloves, gauze, bandages, cloth tape and aspirin.

Hazard

Hazards are dangers or risks. For a safe workplace, you should pay attention and eliminate any hazards you see. Possible hazards in hotels include harmful cleaning chemicals, cleaning carts blocking a hallway, wet floors (someone could slip and fall), electrical cords that someone could trip over, etc.

Severe weather

When weather can be dangerous, it’s called severe weather. Depending on where you work, this could include floods (lots of rain), tornados, thunderstorms, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards (strong winter storm) or extreme heat.

Resources for Learning English Vocabulary for Housekeeping

Now that you’ve seen the most essential English words and phrases for housekeeping, it’s time to start practicing and incorporating the language into your English vocabulary!  

Here are some resources to help you practice and learn more English for housekeeping: 

Hotel product websites

Hotels need to buy all of the items inside and replace them when needed. This means there are many companies that produce (make) items just for hotels. Their websites are a perfect place to practice and learn vocabulary for housekeeping because each product (item) comes with a picture.

  • National Hospitality: On this American company’s site, you’ll want to check out categories like “Bath,” “Bedding,” “In-Room” and “Housekeeping” first.
  • American Hotel: This is a great website to learn the names of cleaning products and tools. If you’ll be working in the United States, these are the same brands and terms that you’ll likely see at your hotel.
  • Hotel Supplies: This is a UK website, so start here if you want to work in the UK or Europe.

Flashcard apps to practice vocabulary

A good way to learn the new vocabulary you’ll see here today is with flashcard apps. These apps are often more convenient to use than making flashcards yourself.

Here are a few of my favorite options: 

  • Quizlet: This app makes flashcards easy to make and share. You can also browse decks created by other learners. You’re able to add audio and images to flashcards, as well.
  • FluentU: This app lets you draw vocabulary from English videos, to help you learn in context.

    FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

    You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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  • Anki: Anki is a powerful app that lets you create completely personalized flashcards with text, images, audio and video (if you want). You can also find decks made by other users. Click here to see our review of Anki. 

Housekeeping training videos

Some hotels have put their training videos online. These are really useful because you can see what actions the people are doing while they are talking about that specific cleaning task.

  • This training video from Resort Realty Outer Banks teaches housekeepers how to clean a bedroom.
  • This 10-minute training video from Fairfield Inn & Suites begins with a description of a housekeeper’s cart and then teaches how to clean various rooms.

Hotel housekeeping training manuals

  • Housekeeping learner’s manual: You can use this housekeeping learner’s manual to learn hotel vocabulary, and so much more. Here are a few of our recommendations:

Page 35 – A helpful chart of types of cleaning solutions

Page 54 – An image of a housekeeping cart, and a list of items usually found on the cart

Page 60 – Steps for changing/making a bed

Page 71 – A room inspection (check) report

Sample room assignment sheets

These two sample room assignment sheets are useful to begin understanding the columns and terms.

  • Room Attendant Sheet: This sample comes from a company called Set Up My Hotel. Notice the “Codes” section at the bottom of the sheet. This tells you to write short codes (abbreviations) in the chart, like “S/O” for “Sleep Out” and “DND” for “Do Not Disturb.”
  • Room Assignment Sheet: Go to pages 20-23 of this PDF to see some sample room assignment sheets. The final column, “Initial,” wants you to write the initials of your name instead of a signature. This means the first letter of your first name and the first letter of your last name. For example, Mickey Mouse would write “MM” for his initials, and Edgar Allan Poe would write “EAP.”

Resources to practice and learn cleaning instructions

When working in housekeeping, you’ll often be given specific cleaning instructions, such as how to clean unoccupied vs. occupied rooms. These resources will help you identify different housekeeping responsibilities and cleaning instructions.

  • Guest Room Attendant Rubric: This is actually a rubric for a competition, but many statements on these three pages are useful. Start at the “Safety and Sanitation” section of page 1 and then work your way through the rest of the document.
  • Room Attendant Job Description: On this job description, look at the “duties and responsibilities” section. Can you do each of the tasks? Do you know what all of the words mean?

Knowing where things are: practicing prepositions in English

Whether you’re receiving instructions from your manager or talking to a guest, as a housekeeper you must be able to describe locations of items. 

To talk about a specific location, you must know your English prepositions. These words are used to describe the position (location), direction and certain times.

Here are some common prepositions: at, on, in, under, above, next to, beside, by, between, across, from.

 

Now you’ve seen the most essential vocabulary in English for housekeeping, it’s time to start polishing your English!

Seek out opportunities to practice so you can grow your confidence and get more comfortable using these new words and phrases. 

With a bit of practice, you’ll be handling the English language with ease and excelling in the workplace! 

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:

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If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.

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FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:

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FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

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FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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