Go beyond spare towels to make guests feel right at home

Admit it: Having houseguests can elicit a mini panic attack. So much cleaning to do and entertaining to schedule! And the fridge—when was the last time you cleaned that out?

No wonder prepping the guest bath can end up as an afterthought. But with a few easy touches, you can make guests think you rolled out the red carpet.

1. Clean.

Every comfy hotel room begins with a good cleaning. Scrubbing Bubbles with bleach is your friend. And keep the bathroom smelling and looking fresh: Water the philodendron or pick up some flowers.

2. Consider the commode.

Stephani Robson, a senior lecturer at Cornell University School of Hotel Administration—famous for its hospitality focus—suggests “a small local guidebook as, ahem, bathroom reading would be a nice touch.” And stock up on some nice toilet paper—not the scratchy, one-ply kind.

3. Let there be light.

Spot a few burned-out bulbs? Change them. Robson, often a hotel guest when she’s not lecturing on hospitality, recently enjoyed a stay in a room equipped with gorgeously flattering multicolored mood lighting. You can replicate that in your guest bathroom by swapping a plain bulb or two for cool blue or pink; your jetlagged guests will look and feel that much better.

4. Upgrade your linens.

Next comes a towel set or two, including an oversize, cushy bath sheet, hand towel and facecloth—the fluffier, the better. (Skip the fabric softener in the laundry and they’ll actually fluff up more.) Robson also likes to see a soft robe.

5. Stock up on luxe basics …

A French-milled lavender bar from L’Occitane says “Welcome to my abode!” so much better than a pump soap dispenser with a “Clearance” sticker. Shampoo and conditioner suitable for your guests’ hair type will make an impression, too. Then think of all the other grooming items that your loved ones may have forgotten as they rushed to the airport: a box of tampons (just in case), disposable razors and sample-size toothpaste. Guests can take them home when they depart.

6. … And add a few extras.

Robson recommends attractive vessels stocked with cotton balls, Q-tips and makeup- remover wipes. Also, round up all the sample-size moisturizers, mascaras, perfumes and sunscreens you’ve gotten from department store beauty counters (Clinique, we’re looking at you!). Collected in a wide-mouthed glass apothecary jar, these make for a colorful, fun display that lets visitors pick and choose whatever strikes their fancy.