Guest Shampoo

Guest Shampoo

What’s the sitch with guests using shampoo?


As an overnight guest in the home of a close friend or relative, it is usually safe to assume you can also use the shower. Hosts understand that both sleeping and washing are daily activities. Still, as a guest, it is proper etiquette to ask prior to showering, even if only to schedule bathroom-usage logistics. This verbal request is mostly a formality, and I have never had a shower disallowed. 

Recently, after asking to shower as a guest, an agreement was reached without issue, as usual. My very gracious hosts said something along the lines of, “Don’t talk about it, be about it,” which I took to mean that I may proceed with my rinse. Once underneath the steamy shower head I lathered my hair with the Suave sitting in the corner, and proceeded to scrub the rest of the filth from my body with the suds. After all, shampoo is just expensive liquid soap.

Feeling cleansed, I turned off the faucets. The live shower’s warm embrace became the dripping humiliation of moments after. Before stepping out, I caught one more look at the bottle of Suave. 

“Did I set the shampoo down exactly as I picked it up? Label facing left? So they won’t sense anything amiss?” 

That is the thought I had at that instant, during my final glance at the now slightly emptier bottle of shampoo. It is the thought of someone who didn’t ask before taking. The thought of someone who stole and is trying to get away with it.

Should I have asked to use my friend’s shampoo when I asked to use their shower? Normal folks aren’t usually possessive of shampoo. And these specific normal folks had already agreed to let me stay in their home and use their shower. But, on this shortlist of offerings, shampoo is the only item that is finite, that can run out. To offer an air mattress and a shower is to lend items already paid for, items they will continue to own and use whether a guest is in the home or not.

To offer a tablespoon of shampoo is to give up that shampoo forever. Now, one serving of shampoo doesn’t cost enough money for anyone to bat an eye. But this sitch gets contentious when we ask, “What else is it safe to assume you can use as a guest in someone’s home?” 

Fancier brands of shampoo? The kind that comes in petit, curvilinear bottles, the kind specifically formulated to make curly hair especially sproingy? Can I use that shampoo, even if I have straight hair and recently got a buzzcut at GreatClips? Can I use a heaping palmful of your Pantene Pro-V? Is it OK to use other toiletries, like Q-tips or toothpaste? What if it’s whitening toothpaste? Fancy face cream? The kind I would love to try, but have never shelled out the money for?

Can I assume all pantry snacks are fair game? One handful of delicious Triscuit crackers isn’t much more expensive than a serving of shampoo. Can I put cheese on those crackers? Without asking? Howabout if I choose not to shower, thereby saving shampoo, can I have the cheese and crackers instead? Without verbal consent? 

Clearly, this slope can get slippery. In an enterprising guest’s mind, “Make yourself at home,” becomes, “Take what you need,” becomes, “What’s mine is yours,” becomes, “I wiped my face on the towel in the bathroom,” becomes “I took a few bites of your leftover Chinese takeout,” becomes, “I lent your lawnmower to the neighbor-lady.”

Which is why I feel a twinge of guilt when stealing a squirt from a friend’s bottle. Through this act I have set a precedent. We have entered into an unspoken agreement without clear boundaries. 

In an everyday guest-host situation, using a modest portion of the cheapest shampoo in the bathroom should be, and currently is, acceptable. Hosts don’t assume each guest has brought their own travel-size, sandalwood-scented, ex-hotel shampoo. But, aside from this commonly understood communal shampoo convention, we, as guests and hosts alike, have very little guidance on which items should trigger a formal request prior to usage. 

We here at get very, very stimulated by the idea of organizing principles and overarching rules and broad generalizations. So, while we acknowledge that all of these material-sharing agreements depend completely on the guest-host relationship in question (for example, a first visit to a friend of a friend’s crowded, downtown apartment carries different assumptions than another holiday at your beloved grandparents’ house), we would still like to offer a basic list of items we feel can be safely used, without asking, while a guest in someone’s home. 

  • the cheapest-appearing shampoo in the shower area
  • toothpaste 
  • hand soap
  • toilet paper
  • up to two electric outlets (for no greater than 12 hours per day)
  • one serving of peanut butter (only if it is the kind that doesn’t require refrigeration) 
  • one serving of regular butter
  • a small serving of hot sauce (assuming absence of fancyness) 
  • soy sauce
  • ketchup (as much as you need)
  • one carrot (assuming there is greater than one left)
  • one small serving of a chip, cracker or pretzel item from an already open container
  • salt/pepper
  • oregano
  • ice cubes
  • water from sink
  • silverware (assuming dishwasher onsite)
  • one cup (see above caveat)
  • one mug for hot drinks (see above caveat) 
  • one plate (see above caveat)
  • one bowl (see above caveat)
  • paper towel
  • little bit of duct tape
  • pens, pencils, or markers already sitting out in a cup or on a counter
  • a used grocery bag (plastic and/or paper)
  • common room furniture (with both feet kept on the floor)


If you are currently a guest thinking about using something that is not listed above, especially something that cannot be reused, ask first! Remember, just because you can comfortably use a plate, knife, and some peanut butter does not mean you can also use a slice of bread without a formal request. Be aware of your limitations as a guest, lest you insult your hosts and besmirch your family name.

While the list is not necessarily comprehensive or definitive, based on our research, it is a good-ass start. And it is relatively conservative, meaning, adhering to it will keep your conscience clear and will keep you safe from suspicion. We hope this will alleviate some of the uncertainty currently surrounding our nation’s unspoken-usage-of-host-item behaviors.



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