We've seen keys being replaced by key cards, new LCD TVs, WiFi and LAN in each room but the one thing that doesn't seem to have changed is the "Do Not Disturb" tag that can be hung on the doorknob outside the room.

In the majority of hotels I stayed, this tag was also a "Please Clean the Room" sign when turned over. These two use cases are obviously diametrically opposed to each other and it is very easy to select the wrong one. You also can't be sure that some passerby just turns the tag.

The "good" ones make turning difficult, the bad ones hang on a string and can be turned by e.g. the draught of a closing door (see image below). In very rare occasions - at least here in Europe - a hotel offers two tags, one for each use case. This seems to be the best approach so far, as this eliminates the possibility of accidentally selecting the wrong use case. But it still doesn't prevent from stealing or removing the tag.

My question: How can these simple use cases be improved for the user (i.e. hotel guest) given the following restrictions:

  • solves all of the problems mentioned above (easily used wrongly, easily stolen/abused)
  • does not cost a fortune (must be possible for a hotel to easily apply to each room)
  • most importantly: doesn't require a user manual, i.e. instantly (more or less) clear to the user and
  • does not need a new convention to learn (a new convention is e.g. "All rooms are DND by default unless a sock hangs on the doorknob")

Possibly the worst type: "Please Clean" on the one, "Do Not Disturb" on the other side and attached to a easily rotatable string

  • 24
    Toilet doors do all this quite effectively already.
    – edeverett
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 9:43
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    @edeverett they don't indicate the state "Please clean". I remember some toilets that somehow denoted that state though...
    – msp
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 10:55
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    I've never seen signs with just a string: that would be likely to twist. I've always seen a hole in the card which slots over the handle.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 14:45
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    This question is basically, "How do you prevent people from stealing the sign?" because the two-sign solution solves every other problem. If security is the main issue and it is common for people to take and turn tags (which sounds ridiculous to me), you're gonna have to opt for one of the paperless options listed in the answers until some engineer finds some beautifully simple way to do this.
    – Justin
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 19:06
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    Do not disturb: just lock your door, remove the sign altogether. (also a way to see from the outside that the door is locked without actually the need to try to open it would be nice, to avoid the noise of the handle being manipulated.) Also I never understood the please clean sign. Aren't the cleaning staff supposed to check the room anyway? What do they do if there is no sign? They are neither supposed to enter the room nor leave you undisturbed.
    – njzk2
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 15:24

9 Answers 9


Various hotels I have come across (though I remember that primarily from China) had simple lamps with the respective do not disturb and please clean room signs next to the door and accordingly labeled switches on the inside of the room to activate either of the exterior lights.

  • It cannot be used by anyone other than the guest.
  • It costs somewhat more than a sign (but then, it cannot be stolen that easily, at least not any more easily than any ceiling lamp in the room), though I admit that the first installation in a building that has no provisions for that (nor any other electronic connections to the outside, such as a doorbell at the room) can be somewhat more cumbersome. (Drillinga smaller opening through the doorframe might be enough, though.)
  • Assuming that the buttons are placed in a conveniently findable location on the inside of the room, it can hardly be misunderstood.
  • And it exactly replicates the existing convention.

An additional advantage is that the sign doesn't just fall off the door handle outside after closing the door even when the door handle is very close to the frame and thus pushes the sign off the handle.

Essentially, it is the very same solution that has been in use in hospitals for decades already, where a simple switch inside the room is used to light a sign outside of the room to call for a nurse (and sometimes, a second one with a do-not-disturb meaning while the doctor is in the room, talking to a patient).

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    this seems to be a great solution, maybe you don't even need to drill if you use wifi or bluetooth. Some buttons on the inside and a small OLED screen with the room number and the disturb status on the outside shouldn't cost a fortune and is longterm even cheaper than repainting the room numbers and maintaining the missing tags. Also the "please clean" status could be monitored from the reception and there would be no waiting time for the guest.
    – user52057
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 14:16
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    @user52057: The wireless solution actually sounds great. If French supermarket chains can afford to use hundreds, if not thousands of electronic price tags (little displays showing the current price) rather than printed pieces of paper in each of their stores, this solution is probably affordable for hotels with a few dozen rooms just as well. Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 14:50
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    @user52057 you could even have a "Checked out" option activated by dropping the key card in a box in the room, and save queues at reception. Also (less seriously) with electronic room numbers you could have fun shuffling your guests' room numbers every April 1st... Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 16:33
  • @user568458: Not sure about the check-out scenario, as often, checking out is more than just handing back a single key card. Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 17:02
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    That's a great solution. Never seen it in any hotel room. It's easy to understand if the light switches are labelled in the inside. It also has the advantage to be easily recognised in the corridor by the cleaner.
    – msp
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 7:22

Door lock

I have seen indicators that are inserted into the key card slot so that keys can't be inserted until the indicator is removed. These solve the problem of being accidentally changed, since they are anchored to the door.


  • The user is almost always required to be looking directly at the tag when inserting it into the door lock, so it is unlikely to be inserted with the wrong side visible.
  • Impossible to ignore. The door lock does not function unless the tag is removed.
  • Cheap. This could probably be done with a pair of scissors and a sharpie, depending on the existing tags.
  • Intuitive, especially if there is an arrow drawn on the part of the tag that inserts into the lock. The pictured tag also has the door handle attachment in case the user doesn't understand the door lock mechanism.


  • Easily stolen
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    Con: The user needs to remove/replace the DND tag every time they enter the room, and the clean now if they return before housekeeping. Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 21:23
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    @DanNeely, But if you want DND, surely there's someone already in the room who doesn't want to be disturbed, thus no keycard swapping around is necessary?
    – Brian S
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 21:08
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    @BrianS DnD is also used when you've got something in your room that you don't want the staff to mess with; either due to paranoia about loss (eg sensitive business documents, high value electronics, etc) or that's legal but would freak the mundanes. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 21:53
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    Or even just if you've gone to breakfast and need to quickly go back to the room before heading out for the day
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 10:58
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    How would you insert the DND card if you're inside the room and DN(want to be)D? Commented Jul 27, 2014 at 14:21

There is something called Paperless Signs like below

enter image description here

While a passerby can still switch the action. Here the mode of turning the light on should be only available with the guest.

I guess punching the room card/keys. Whichever sign you'll punch your card on the light will glow.

  • I have seen this type of sign in a hotel. The LEDs were turned on by a light switch inside the room
    – kinokijuf
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 10:51

Sliders attached to the doors can do the trick. The material used will determine the options to fix them, their appearance and their longevity. This solution seems to be consistent with your two first conditions. Here are examples :

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

Original wordings can then check your two last conditions. For example :

  • on the left under half : "Everything is just fine. There is no need to clean"
  • on the sliding upper part : "MY ROOM"
  • on the right under half : "would appreciate a bit of care... Can I count on you ?"
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    The problem here is that often hotel guests won't think to change the slider from whatever it was left at from the prior occupant, so now the slider will stay whereever the previous occupant left it -- leading it to indicate something that the occupant guest didn't intend. That sound like it'd be annoying for the current occupant, and I bet it would frequently lead to signals that don't match the intent of the current occupant. Hotels probably won't want the default to be "whatever the previous occupant said"; a better default is "clean the room".
    – D.W.
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 22:51
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    I disagree on this as room maids necessarily come before a new occupant arrives. The maids may simply reset the slider by sliding it to whatever default seems appropriate ("room is clean" before the occupant's arrival for instance), leaving it to the occupant to decide to slide it to "please clean !" whenever they want.
    – Pierre
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 0:34
  • What if the slider switches with the same key you open/close the door? Instead of just switching between "Open" and "Closed", you key would go between "Open", "DND" and "Please clean". Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 3:33
  • The only problem is doesn't solve is that anyone can change it. If you were to alter the design so that there was a faceplate that could be locked/unlocked somehow or that the slider could only be altered from within the room, then it would be perfect.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jul 27, 2014 at 4:25
  • This appears to lack a neutral state (equivalent to "no tag on the door handle" in the current system). Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 7:32

A solution that seems to meet the requirements, but still doesn't seem great: a stiff piece of plastic with a profile like this:


Top down it looks like this:

[ Clean           | Do not disturb   ]

You slide it under the door, with the appropriate bit sticking out. The vertical tab in the middle stays inside the room, and prevents it being removed.

I think it works, but it seems like overkill. Does anyone really steal DND signs?

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    Nice low-tech low-cost idea, but there are practical issues: so you slide it under the closed door while in the room, and then you open the door to leave - how does it stay under the door when you close it from the outside? Fine if the occupants don't want to be disturbed because they're staying in bed, but problematic otherwise. And how do you then ensure it can't jam the door by acting like a door wedge? Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 9:11
  • Good points.... Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 23:18
  • Hang it from the top of the door. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 11:14
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    A little magnet could do the trick. As long as there isn't an uneven seem where the carpet in the hallway meets the carpet of the room.
    – MicronXD
    Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 4:08

You could have a long U-shaped plastic tab that fits over the latch portion of the door, with one side of it labeled 'Do Not Disturb' and the other side as 'Please Clean The Room'. The occupant puts this over the door latch before closing & then locking the door.

This should meet all of your requirements:

  • hard to misuse - the side of the plastic outside the door indicates the action, and cannot be flipped without a room or master key
  • hard to steal or abuse - hard plastic material makes it difficult to tear or cut the tab, and as above it can't be moved easily
  • reasonable cost - getting a bunch of plastic tabs for all rooms should be quite affordable
  • intuitive - each side clearly specifies the action, though there might need to be some graphic to indicate how to place it over the door latch.

I remember actually using such a scheme during a family vacation somewhere, though it was a long time back so I don't remember specifics about the implementation.

  • Best answer, because it does not use wires or electricity or require drilling in to anything. We need to stop leaping toward using Bluetooth for every possible thing under the sun.
    – user67695
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 14:45

The usual solution these days is not to have a "clean" sign at all. If "do not disturb" is not displayed, the maid may knock and ask if the room should be cleaned.

Some hotels, as an "ecological" (and cost-saving) option, will let guests preregister as not wanting full room service, or use various conventions for indicating this. They still use the "clean unless told no" policy, but restrict themselves to things like emptying trash cans unless a signal is left for them that additional service is required (towels on bathroom floor indicate replacement towels are desired, for example) or a call is made to the desk requesting a full-service pass.

Either way, I honestly don't see a need to improve the tags. The small ones are cheap enough to be considered disposable, and when presence/absence is all that matters their design is almost irrelevant as long as they can be displayed and removed easily.

(When traveling alone, I often mark my room "do not disturb" almost continuously since I don't feel any great need for fresh towels or linens. In the US, where cleaning staff relies on tips as part of their income, I'll tip upon departure for all the days, since not cleaning the room is exactly what I asked them to do and they did it well.)

  • 1
    If you're taking a nap, you'd normally put out the DND tag. That's what it's for -- so you don't have to answer the inquiry.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 20:19
  • I've been to hotels where locking the room wasn't an option (no locks, but the auto-lock that just prevents access from persons without a card). So the DND tag was the only solution, but always facing the problems described above - and also the need to open the door early in the morning if you decide to sleep in, which is far from good.
    – msp
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 15:53
  • I'm not following, @msparer. The cleaning staff have pass cards. If you're sleeping late and don't want to be disturbed, you put out the DND tag. Otherwise, they let themselves in; no need to "open the door". The only reason they knock is to make sure you have not forgotten to put out the tag.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 19:32
  • the need to open the door arises if you decide to sleep in after waking up in the morning; I've been to hotels where the cleaning staff came per default at 8:30 and there wasn't a way to lock the door. That's what I tried to describe in my previous comment, that wasn't referring to your comment (if that might caused the confusion)
    – msp
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 7:03
  • Double-locking the door isn't an issue if you put out the do-not-disturb tag; that's the whole point of having it. If you fail to do so, or if the cleaning staff doesn't honor it, that's a different question than the one posed here.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 13:35

How about a 'fridge' magnet?

Have the available options stuck to the inside of the door, or on a wall near the door. Let the user stick the appropriate one to the outside of the door.

For non-metal doors, a metal panel would need to be installed.

  • I think lots of people would want to steal these and use them at home. Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 11:41
  • @DavidWallace Same could be said for fancy 'Do not disturb' signs. Most decent people won't steal anything, but hotels are used to replaceable items going missing.
    – rybo111
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 13:45

There is an alternative side to the discussion which doesn't seem to have been addressed as-of-yet. Theres an old saying among the hotel industry that goes "Dirty rooms, dirty minds". It's the same principles as Wilson and Kelling's Broken Windows theory, in that a dirty room is likely to encourage poor guest behaviour. Substantially.

So essentially, the less user-friendly this sign is, and the more prone it is to abuse, the better the User Experience will be for the customer as a whole. Perhaps not on an individual basis, but certainly as a whole :)

  • 2
    "It's a feature, not a bug" - make bad behavior difficult and unrewarding? Interesting way to look at it.
    – user67695
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 14:39

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