Hotel Washes Every Coin They Get As Courtesy For Guests

As a favor to guests, one hotel washes every coin it receives, just like it’s done since 1938.

The practice at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco is said to have started when hotelier Dan London observed that some coins sullied a woman’s white gloves.

At the time, coins were used for everything from tips to payphones to taxicabs. Back then washing the coins were a full-time job. Now it’s only 10 hours a week, but the practice continues, passed down from one generation to the next.

The coins are first passed from the general cashier to the coin washer who dumps them into a silver burnisher.

Along with the coins, the burnisher is filled with water, buckshot to knock the dirt off, and a healthy pour of 20 Mule Team Borax soap. After three hours of swishing the coins around, Holsen uses a metal ice scoop to pour the loot into a perforated roast pan that sifts out the buckshot.

The wet coins are then spread out on a table beneath heat lamps.

This is where once-rusted copper pennies turn into shimmering bronze coins. Quarters look like sparkling silver bits.

Talk about a customer service throwback, keeping up a practice of customer service that most guests don’t know about or even care if they receive.

Coin washer keeps Westin St. Francis’ change shiny [SFGate] (Thanks to c-side!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Thassodar says:

    Well isn’t that keen.

  2. jesirose says:

    Well….I guess it’s good that these guys doing this still have a job :)

  3. hills says:

    Cool – but people use coins?

    • BuyerOfGoods3 says:

      Yes, it is money and legal tender. Try Cash, it beats the Bank every Time.

      • ExtraCelestial says:

        Except I’m not a drug dealer and don’t get paid in cash so I’d actually be MORE likely to visit the bank to use cash than if I just used plastic. Plus I’m not holding up the entire line every time a cashier needs to give me freshly cleaned changed

        • Jemish says:

          I see someone really ate up those commercials making it seem like the entire world has to stop because someone uses cash….because yanno our society is so well planned and timed that three minutes will throw off the entire day.

          General rule is to always have some sort of cash. What if a machine is down? Your card strip is burnt from use? Then, in the event that your card doesn’t work WE don’t have to stand behind you while you rustle through your wallet for another card after being declined.

          • ExtraCelestial says:

            I don’t live in the sticks. If some place doesn’t accept credit, I go elsewhere. I try to keep $5 in my car, but it’s mostly if I unexpectedly cross a toll. And wallets have credit card slots. What rustling? If cash works for you, great, but for me it’s significantly more effort, more time and a lot less secure.

            • coffeeculture says:

              same here…no credit acceptance, no business…unless the place is THAT good (hint: most places aren’t).

            • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

              i don’t live in the sticks either but during the recent snow when i needed to get gas, i found myself a little panicked when the gas pump wouldn’t read my card at the only gas station that was open for miles in the storm. fortunately it read it after i wiped it completely dry, i guess it got some snowflakes on it. but i didn’t have any cash, the tank was almost empty and i had passed 5 closed gas stations on the way home.
              even $2 in cash would have gotten me enough to get home

  4. Hi_Hello says:

    if a hotel take the time to do somethign that small, I would think they would do a lot for their customer.

  5. KillerBee says:

    Isn’t this… wait for it… money laundering?

  6. Hoss says:

    Sounds like a 4 hour process. Do they have time to clean sheets?

    • BuyerOfGoods3 says:

      Read The Article, and you’d know it was a “10 hour a week” job.

    • wagnerism says:

      What about the paper money. That is MUCH nastier than a coin that would be fine going through a dishwasher cycle. Maybe they can include the paper currency in the laundry with the sheets.


    • lilyHaze says:

      The coins are washed in a separate, dedicated machine (apparently called a burnisher). They’re not thrown in the washing machine where the linens go.

  7. ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

    As a coin collector: Buckshot? UGH!

    Of course most of those coins aren’t worth more than face value, but there are some valuable coins in general circulation.

    But, it’s a nice example of attention to detail.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      Lead is softer than most other metals used for coinage. You need some kind of initial abrasion mechanism for getting the scale off of the coins. Not going to harm anything other than maybe steel pennies (due to later stage introducing water and detergents, not really the buckshot).

      I had about 20 pounds of 25mm brass tokens that I gave up trying to clean up… but the described cleaning process (including rock tumbler) sure sounds like a good one.

      • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

        Yes, but a lot of coins are actually more valuable with a patina or attractive toning, or would be damaged knocking against other coins. Also, lead’s relative softness isn’t the whole story, you can put dents in metal with a wooden baseball bat.

        We’re talking about people who wouldn’t dream of using paper towels to wipe coins, since the wood fibers can scratch the surface.

        • cmdr.sass says:

          Coin collectors are not picking up coins from general circulation.

          • brownhb says:

            Not true – my boyfriend handles money for a living and exchanges out his own change for coins with more metal content in them. Old nickels and quarters, etc. He has a pretty decent collection right now with the value of silver rising so high.

          • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

            Who has two thumbs and is a coin collector and pulls stuff from general circulation all the time?

            This guy.

            (I’m pointing my thumbs at myself.)

          • Pax says:

            Absolutely, unequivocably NOT TRUE. In fact, it’s not even sharing an orbit with the truth.

          • katstermonster says:

            They’e certainly not buying those bullshit commemorative sets from infomercials…so where do you think they ARE getting coins?

    • MrEvil says:

      I think you Numismatists are safe, doesn’t look like this is something that’ll catch on.

  8. nbs2 says:

    With a week in April pricing out to an average of $289/night, it’s a little out of my price range. Still a nice touch, though, and bespeaks a level of customer service that is better than most hotels I stay at.

  9. joe643 says:

    What a waste if time, money, and energy. The germaphobes are winning!

    • failurate says:

      And RTFA’ing is losing.

    • Wombatish says:

      Since you can’t be bothered to RTFA as was suggested (it’s not even RTFA, it’s RTFSummary)

      “The practice at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco is said to have started when hotelier Dan London observed that some coins sullied a woman’s white gloves”

      YEP GERMAPHOBES. It’s been continued as tradition.

  10. danic512 says:

    Seems like it doesn’t cost that much to do, and for a time every coin serves as an advertisement for the hotel. I think it’s rather clever.

  11. joe643 says:

    What a waste of time, money, and energy. The germaphobes are winning!

  12. Platypi {Redacted} says:

    Nice to hear a story where no one is getting screwed, assaulted, or receipt-checked. Just once in a while, it is cool to connect with history and see how things were done back then…

  13. RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

    I’m gonna guess if it’s a big deal, if there’s an article about it, that the hotel makes sure the guests know about it. It’s probably worth it to the hotel, to be able to say “Here’s the lengths we go to for good service. Imagine how clean your room must be.” I think it’s a stretch to assume most guests don’t know or care.

  14. rexfromars says:

    This had been on TV… hundreds of times. I remember first seeing it on “Real People” in the early 80s… huh I wonder what Skip and Sarah are up to these days.

    • savvy9999 says:

      me too! awesome cult classic reference. I couldn’t remember the name of the show. Did it not have Peter Billingsley (Christmas Story kid) on it?

      • pinkbunnyslippers says:

        Yes!! I was just thinking of this show around Christmas and was trying to convince my mom he was on the train that stopped in city for the Real People nationwide tour. I tried to find old episodes online to no avail…

    • Red Cat Linux says:

      I think Skip is long dead. But I remember that show… I thought it was great.

  15. maruawe says:

    That could ruin a lot of antique coins for collectors, A simple bath of alcohol would clean coins without ruining the coins. blot dry for the drying part . of course, the washer would have to go as that scars the coins and further ruins the coins of anything but face value… Bad move for the hotel customers that collect coins

    • Southern says:

      If the man was smart, he probably does a quick check for “valuable coins” BEFORE he washes them.. So even if there were any in there, they’d probably get removed before the washing process. ;-)

      • A.Mercer says:

        Back when I worked fast food I learned a little trick. If you have a handful of change and one of the coins is a silver quarter, when you shake the change it sounds different. I found 3 or 4 silver quarters that way. I was with a friend one time and she got change and I heard it clank as they handed it back to her and I noticed it sounded odd. I asked her to check and sure enough there was a silver quarter in the mix.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Seriously doubt any coin collectors will be dropping off their double eagles for polishing.

      • Coelacanth says:

        You mean, you *don’t* carry around a 1933 Double Eagle in your pocket around for good luck?


      • maruawe says:

        I have a 1938 P coin that I received in change at the Tetco down the street and have found multiple valued coins in change from numerous stores over the last ten years, including a 1909 double eagle that I received from a store .(value between $5000 and $8000 dollars) IF you are not finding anything then you are not looking……

  16. tr41nwr3ck says:

    You don’t want to know where the dirty coins have been.

  17. Storie says:

    It’s a marketing thing. Like the Peabody Hotel and the ducks.

    • Julia789 says:

      Exactly. It’s a little trick to make the hotel well known.

      People chat about it. Chatting about their hotel is a good thing. When you travel to their city, the hotel will be on your mind.

  18. Wasabe says:

    Waste of water.

  19. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    As someone who has found the joy of using an ultrasonic cleaner, I would suggest this method to them. It might also eliminate the the heat lamp process, as when the cavitation bubbles collapse, they produce temperatures approaching the temp of the sun! They also make models that heat the water, to help to remove grease and the such!

  20. RandomHookup says:

    Considering that most of their guests are traveling, I can understand why there has been a huge dropoff over the years. The last thing I want when I’m on the road is a pocketful of coins.

  21. MauriceCallidice says:

    “This is where once-rusted copper pennies turn into shimmering bronze coins.”

    Apparently they have alchemists working there.

    • perruptor says:

      Beat me to that one. Iron rusts; copper doesn’t. Also, bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. While the current penny is copper plated onto a zinc core, it is not bronze.

      • shepd says:

        Copper does oxidize, though, which is what people commonly associate with the word “rust” (even though “rust” applies specifically to iron oxide and not verdigris). I seriously doubt more than 5% of Americans know what verdigris is, and I’m betting that word hasn’t been verbed yet, so rust it is!

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      Or bronze could be referring to color.

  22. tuxclam says:

    I wonder about lead exposure…

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      I was wondering about the RoHS consequences.

    • Chaosium says:

      If you’re sticking coins in your mouth without washing your hands, you’ve got bigger and more tangible health risks than just lead.

      • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

        If you handle the cleaned coins and then eat a sandwich, you’re ingesting lead. Due to your remark, I suspect you’ve already done this, multiple times.

  23. failurate says:

    There is a bar here that gives change with 50cent pieces and dollar coins. It’s one of those things that keeps the place somewhere in your brain.
    I figure super shiny coins serve the same purpose for this hotel.

  24. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    There’s something really beautiful about this.

  25. KyBash says:

    It’s just the cynic in me, but I wonder if the worker(s) put a catcher in the P-trap. The amount of silver ‘scrubbed’ off each coin would be miniscule, but over the course of time it could build up to respectable amounts.

  26. Pax says:

    … and coin collectors the world over, emit groans of horror and dismay.

    (Cleaning a coin by the means described, actually lowers it’s value as a collectible.)

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      Then stop spending their coin collections like regular coins!

      • Pax says:

        Um. Numismatists don’t restrict themselves to coins which were made especially to BE collected. They also collect coins they find among those in general circulation. In fact, I feel confident in saying that most collected coins, come from collectors looking carefully at the change they’re handed.

        • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

          EXACTLY! I wish people would stop folding over the corners of the dollar bills I find laying on the sidewalk, it’s frakken annoying. If anyone thought the coin they were about to clean was a rare coin, they’d probably not throw it in with the rest. The washing makes rare coins of good quality even more rare… and for that, the numismatists should thank them. ;^)

          • Pax says:

            No, for most numismatists, it’s not about “my coin is worth more than yours”, either.

            I have a few pieces of currency I like, not because they’re valuable … but because they are interesting.

            Like a paper bill, with a denomination of 500,000 … Austrian Reichsmarks. Probably not worth terribly much, but darned neat to have.

            Or the very battered, nearly-illegible, dented, and horribly worn-down copper coin, about an inch in diameter … with a date of “1_96” (the second digit is absolutely unreadable; the entire date is merely a COLOR difference in the metal, no longer being raised at all) … but on the obverse? “GEORGIUS III REX.” – I can only assume that unreadable digit is a “7”, making the coin all of ten years younger than the Constitution.

            Clean that coin up, though? And it’d probably be little more than a blank slug of old copper. Not only would what little value it possesses disappear, so would the “interesting”.

            • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

              You’re not seeing the irony.

              • Pax says:

                You’re presupposing irony where none exists.

                The people spendin these coins, and the people tossing them in the wash, aren’t coin collectors. They don’t have the first clue – nor any care – what coins might be best put aside, rather than washed. Some collectible coins are being destroyed, as far as collecting them goes, by this process.

                Doesn’t make it wrong,mind you. Just makes it painful for a collector to read or hear about.

                And the presumed increase in rarity, and therefor value, of the remaining coins? Is not a “plus” at all.

            • NeverLetMeDown says:

              I can trump that. I have a lovely 20 BILLION Reichsmark note from October 1923 on my wall…

  27. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    If you’ve ever spent any significant time using the nickel slots, you’d know why your white gloves are sullied. My hands were black from all the nickel and so were my eyes, where I kept rubbing them. I had a mild case of nickel poisoning… but thankfully, what happens in Reno stays in Reno.

  28. GrandizerGo says:

    Hmmm I remember seeing a tv show or movie, or actually more then one where they had women ironing the paper money after it was washed.

    I doubt this hotel does that as well???

  29. Coelacanth says:

    As a coin collector, this makes me cringe….

  30. A.Mercer says:

    I remember seeing this on Ripley’s Believe It or Not back in the 80’s. Or was it That’s Incredible? On some show like that.

  31. HoJu says:

    The world doesn’t stop when someone uses cash. It stops when they use a check.

  32. Plasmafox says:

    Having thought of this when I was a little kid doing a lemonade stand, I grew up amazed that more businesses don’t cleanse their bacteria-ridden disks of suck.

  33. Klay says:

    Hotel Utah did that for generations. Everything that’s old is new again.

  34. fuceefacee says:

    Laugh if you must at coin washing but there are good reasons for this practice.

  35. gman863 says:

    Nice touch, but I’d be even happier to see paper money washed.

    Not to sound like Monk, but I’ve heard stories about what paper money is sometimes used for in third-world countries. If you’re clueless, lets just say every piece of legal tender subjected to this becomes a #2 dollar bill.


  36. Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

    I made my daughter wash my coins once to keep her busy (under my supervision, of course). Filled a bowl with warm soapy water, put it over a towel, and dumped a handful of change into it. I don’t recommend it.

  37. stuny says:

    Has anyone coined (sorry, unintentional pun) a word for Consumerist Nerds/Wonks/Geeks yet?

    Debates over verdigris, numismatic devaluation, the environmental impact of a load of wash, and the persnickety alchemical distinction between color and copper content. This is a very unique audience.*

    * I used unique with an adverbial modifier to incite more conversation.

  38. stevied says:

    I once visited a casino that did the same with their high value ($100) slot machine slugs.

    The rest of us unwashed masses had to handle dirty coins/slugs.

  39. db says:

    finally a fun way to clean my ass pennies!

  40. buzz86us says:

    literal money laundering.

  41. Mclick says:

    Maybe I am confused her but isn’t this “Money Laundry” and isn’t that a criminal offense.

  42. stlbud says:

    Does the Peabody in Memphis still wash their coins?