Eczema, Detergents, and Travel

How to protect detergent-sensitive kids from trip-spoiling itching and eczema outbreaks while traveling?

There are no easy answers.  We struggle with traveling at all.  I hear reports from friends who travel more; most ultimately decide to scale back.  Until the world is safer for these kids, travel will just be hard.

Here are some tips that might help:

Get the host or hotel to reduce detergents where you will be staying.  Send soaps and non-detergent products in advance of your stay for them to use or even switch to.

1)  Stay with someone you know who will minimize detergents for you

Naturally, the best stay is with a sympathetic family member or friend who is willing to switch cleaning products at least a month in advance.  I wish I could say I’ve done this myself, but I haven’t.  We have gone as far as sending all the soaps, but had to cancel the trip for other reasons.  I do have friends who have done this, though.

How fastidious hosts will be at removing detergents from their own homes varies.  I’ve heard of disasters such as a concerned grandparent having the carpets cleaned (with detergent of course) before the grandchild arrived.  And occasionally even very sympathetic family may sneak their favorite personal care products, such as detergent shampoos and facial cleansers.  As described on my site, it can be very difficult to fully appreciate the consequences and what must be done to prevent the eczema unless you go through it yourself.

2) Stay at a hotel chain that will wash your room in advance with products you send or with something benign like baking soda, and vacuum with a HEPA vac.

We have had some success with Marriott Hotels.  If arranged in advance, they will do what is called a “green room”  through their “ADA desk.”

One nice thing about Marriott Hotels is that all North American facilities are smoke free — one less asthma hazard.  They will also, on request, do a deep HEPA vacuum and wash the linens, towels, and all surfaces with baking soda (or other specified cleaners) to remove detergents, scents, and other chemicals for sensitive patrons.

There is no charge for this, but you do have to request it, and they may say no if there is no compelling need.  The ADA desk representative told me that nine out of ten of the people who request this don’t really need it — but I don’t know how this translates into approved or denied requests.

Also, we have found that using the terms “HEPA vacuum” means almost nothing to most people, and unless you speak with head of housekeeping and are very diligent in ensuring they use a HEPA filtered vacuum, you may end up with a deep vac with a poorly filtered appliance — worse than nothing.

3)  Take your own bedding, towels, and soap.  This of course makes travel by plane a scary proposition, as lost bags could spell disaster — unlike other travelers, you can’t just go out and buy new things and wash them at a laundromat.  Travel by car is still difficult, as bedding and towels can quickly take up extra cargo space.  Moving from place to place on a long trip can mean figuring out what to do with wet, dirty towels.

Our Experience

We have done green rooms at Marriott twice — with mixed results.  I say “mixed” because one experience was great and the other worse than doing nothing.

The great experience was at the Marriott Residence Inn in Anaheim near Disneyland.  We still had to bring sheets and towels for our son, but having our bedding washed in baking soda at least lessened the problems for him just from being around regular detergent-washed bedding, so we didn’t have to bring bedding for us, too.  (When he was younger we had to bring towels and bedding for us, too, he was just too sensitive.)

We strung a sign near the door to be sure no one accidentally pulled off his bedding during the week — we didn’t even want vacuuming once we were there — but we had no problems.  The staff was really conscientious.

Unfortunately, the one problem we came across was that with no one cleaning the room during the week (our choice), we had no way to leave a tip for the staff that actually did all that extra work up front.  At the end of the week, the desk manager told me to leave a check — in her name — and she would be sure the right people got it.  All I could do was trust her — who knows whether the staff that did the room preparation received it.

If staying for several days, the “green room” prep can be a huge help.  When I made our reservation, I made the request and the Marriott “ADA desk” called me back.  I described the problem, gave them my web site, and within a relatively short time, they approved my request.

What didn’t work so well was a stay near San Diego.  Something went wrong with the reservation, which was supposed to be for the two nights after we left Anaheim.  When we arrived late that night, with sleeping kid in tow, our “guaranteed” green room wasn’t there — they didn’t have a room for us at all.  We ended up redirected to another (not-so-close) Marriott location, where they said they could do the proper preparation if we waited.

Long story short, we did not get a “green” room — based on the state of the room, it seemed they had us wait while they did standard prep on a room that had been dirty (including illicit smokers) before we arrived, not “green” cleaning of an already clean room.  The vacuuming was with a standard vac that sent so much perfume into the air, all of us had trouble breathing and sleeping, even with the sliding door wide open and a filter going all night.  We got no sleep even in the few hours we were there.  We would have been far better off just going to the nearest hotel to the one that didn’t have our reservation and taking an available room.

So I have mixed feelings — incredible gratitude for the ability to have a trouble-free family reunion near Anaheim, followed by one of the worst hotel stays we’ve had in the US.

I’d still recommend trying it with the following caveats:

1)  Be sure to make the reservation and plans with plenty of time to make arrangements and speak with the housekeeping manager  about your exact needs. (Marriott isn’t charging extra for this but it’s a lot of extra work for the staff.  Be sure to ask the housekeeping manager how to leave a tip for the staff that does the prep work!)

2)  Follow up several times after making the reservation, especially just before the stay.  Follow up both with the front desk and the housekeeping manager.

3)  Take along some painter’s tape and handmade signs to make absolutely certain that any staff entering your room know not to do a standard cleaning or accidentally clear any personal soap-washed bedding or towels from home.

4)  Be patient and realize many locations may never have done this at all, even though the chain offers it.  Leave time to educate.  And keep following up until right before the stay.

The last two times we stayed at a Marriott, we didn’t make any special arrangements, but we only stayed for one or two nights.  We brought bedding for our son, but not for us.

Hotel bedding

There’s no way of getting around the fact that hotel mattresses will be full of all kinds of detergents and dust.  We used to bring an aerobed mattress topper as an impermeable lower barrier, but it was a bulky thing to haul around.  We now use a soap-washed Neat Sheet as the bottom barrier, and cover that with a flannel sheet tucked all the way around the mattress.  On top of that goes our soap-washed sleeping bag and sleeping bag sheet.  We have only done this three times now, but it seems to work fairly well.

I’m afraid I can’t recommend what to do for an infant, since I don’t know what amenities are available for infants these days and how to ensure they will work.