Either choice is considerate for different reasons.
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Guest Suite: The Bedroom
Credit: Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

There are plenty of houseguest etiquette mishaps Southerners (hopefully) know to avoid. Not leaving your things strewn about and showing up with a thoughtful gift for your hosts are no-brainers, but what about the trickier, stickier houseguest etiquette situations? What if something you think is a sign of perfectly good manners is seen as a burden by your host? That's the precise conundrum houseguests find themselves in when asking the question: Should you strip the bed or make it up at the end of your stay?

On one hand, stripping the bed seems logical. You're saving your hosts the pain of taking off pillowcases and a fussy fitted sheet so they can pop the dirty sheets right in the washing machine. "I vote strip it," said one Southern Living editor. "Otherwise, the hostess may just see a made-up bed and forget she needs to change the sheets."

On the other hand, what if your hosts don't have time that very day to wash those sheets? No one wants to stare at a pile of laundry. Maybe it's better to make it up so it looks presentable until they have a minute to strip the bed. "I always make it!" said another editor. "Since I don't know how people like to wash their sheets, I don't want to just leave a pile on the floor. Making it feels neater, and they can decide what they want to do after."

Either choice is considerate for different reasons. What's a houseguest to do? We turned to two Southern etiquette experts and the Southern Living editors to get a solid answer once and for all.

"Every host has different preferences, and it's always best to ask your host what they would prefer," said Diane Gottsman, an international etiquette expert, author, and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. "A good guest would, at the very least, make their bed and also make sure the guest room is tidy before their departure on the final day."

Several Southern Living editors agreed that simply asking is the best way to go. Amy Rainer, an etiquette teacher, writer, and speaker behind Etiquette with Amy, offered up several other polite options.

"I suggest loosely making your bed back (I say loosely so it is clear it has been slept in)," Rainer said. "Although stripping your own linens can be seen as a helpful act for your hostess, my reasoning for not stripping your sheets is that doing so forces your hostess to immediately launder them and she may not have time that day to get them laundered. They then end up being an unsightly heap until she does them."

Of course, Rainer also mentioned the safest choice: "Alternatively, guests can always ask their hostesses, 'Would you prefer that I strip the bed or make it back?'"

So, what happens when you do ask your host, depending on the answer?

"Some hosts will ask you to please strip the bed and leave the sheets and pillowcases on the floor, or perhaps drop it in the hamper in the laundry room," Gottsman says. "Others may say not to worry about it which means, leaving the guest room as good or better than when you arrived."

If your host asks you to please make the bed up before you leave, here's a helpful tip from the Southern Living team: Take a picture of the bed when you arrive so you can remember how the host had the pillows arranged. This tiny gesture will mean a lot when your host realizes you've taken the time to do it.

If focusing on such a minute detail of a weekend visit seems trivial or stuffy, I offer you the wise words of Contributing Editor Elizabeth Passarella: "Manners don't feel like rules when they are small, tangible ways of loving others."