Why Do Hotels Give You Free Tiny Soaps, But No Tiny Toothpastes?

Airline security regulations mean that traveling with a big tube of toothpaste in your carry-on is a distant memory. Yet, in their selection of mini toiletries, hotels give us bottles of lotion and bubble bath, but not one thing that just about everyone uses: toothpaste. Why is that? No one expects them to give us toothpaste because they don’t…because no one expects them to.

Yes, that’s circular reasoning, but it is the actual reason. Slate’s Daniel Engber went on a tourism vision quest to find the answer, conducting an historical investigation into the question. He found that the reason why hotels don’t give you toothpaste is that hotels have never given you toothpaste. Yes, you can get toothpaste and a brush if you call down to the desk at a hotel nice enough to help out with forgotten toiletries, but they aren’t offered by default.

The default selection goes far back into the 20th century. At a trade conference for hotel executives in 1952, potential innovators showed off their mini toiletries to potential customers. There were jars of cold cream, headache powder, toothpaste, shaving cream, and the ubiquitous tiny soaps. (Headache powder, if you’re wondering, is powdered aspirin and caffeine. Sort of a quick-delivery Excedrin.) Some of these items caught on, but obviously the toothpaste didn’t.

Except at Hyatt. An executive pointed out to Engber that they do give guests mini toothpaste tubes by default. Toothpaste is also a default offering in Asia, and has been for decades. Why? For the same reason why it isn’t part of the normal toiletry selection in the United States: because it just is.

Executives admit that if customers begin demanding free toothpastes, they will start offering them. If it’s important to you, ask.

The Mystery of the Missing Hotel Toothpaste [Slate]