"People most likely see toiletries as part of their room rate and don't really consider it theft the same way as if they stole, say, a television or DVD player," Brown said.
It's possible that people who believe they've paid too much for their room or that they received less-than-stellar service may be more inclined to take something than someone who is totally satisfied with their hotel experience, she hypothesized.
"A better course of action though is to air your grievances to the hotel manager to see if they can make it up to you somehow," Brown said. "Most hotels want to make you a repeat guest, so they're likely to work with you."
One big mystery: why guests steal TV remotes that are typically worthless outside the hotel's system. Bowen, the hospital school dean, suggested people might mistakenly think the remotes will work at home.
So is it alright to take your shampoo or sewing kit? Bowen said no hotel is going to stop you for taking that half-used bottle or even that extra one left in your room. But there is a cost and it gets built into your room rate.
"It does cost the hotel money over the long term," Bowen said. "People do build up the inventory with the intention of taking it."
Each bottle of shampoo or bar of soap costs hotels about 20 cents. When you add in pens, paper and pads, the tab is about $3 per room, Bowen estimated. While hotels generally recoup costs of bigger-ticket items simply by charging a guest's credit card, it still costs them money to have housekeeping keep a detailed inventory of a room's items.
Even the warnings not to steal aren't immune from theft.
Humor columnist Dave Barry once told the story about a Hyatt bathroom sign that read: "Our towels are 100 percent cotton. Should you wish to purchase a set, they are available in the gift store. Should you prefer the set in your bathroom, a $75 charge will automatically be added to your bill."
Barry didn't take the towels. He stole the sign, took it home and kept it in his guest bathroom.