Whether for a family vacation or a business trip, chances are a hotel stay is in your future. Although you can tailor certain aspects of your accommodations, one factor remains out of your control: the number of germs lurking in your room. Just how bacteria-laden are hotel rooms? To find out, we sent a team to nine different hotels to gather 36 samples.
Overall, according to the surfaces we tested, the average hotel room appears to be dirtier than a typical home, an airplane, and even a school. What can you do to minimize the risk of illness? Wash your hands frequently, for starters. You also may want to pack a small bottle of disinfectant spray and a carton of alcohol wipes to disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as the phone, the bathroom counter, and the desk.
The full results of our study are below. Read on to get the dirt on which types of hotels harbor specific bacteria and which surfaces you should avoid or disinfect.
Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are everywhere, but public spaces especially can be a haven for them. We assessed bacteria levels in colony-forming units (CFUs) – the number of viable bacteria cells within a sample. In our average of all nine hotel room surfaces tested, these often-touched surfaces ranked as follows:
1. Bathroom counter – 1,288,817 CFU/sq. in.
2. Remote control – 1,211,687 CFU/sq. in.
3. Desk – 604,907 CFU/sq. in.
4. Phone – 4,252 CFU/sq. in.
The good news: You can disinfect most of these surfaces fairly easily with antibacterial wipes or spray. And rather than disinfecting the remote control, one solution is to seal it in a clear plastic sandwich bag before using it.
Though no universal hotel rating system exists, U.S. hotels often are ranked by stars. To increase diversity in our study, we gathered samples from three-, four-, and five-star hotels.
A cut above the basic one- and two-star accommodations, three-star hotels tend to offer well-appointed rooms, with limited service offerings. Interestingly, for our study, the three-star hotels appear the least germ-ridden. For instance, the dirtiest surface in a three-star hotel room, the bathroom counter contained an average of only 320,000 CFU/sq. in. – around eight times less than a four-star hotel room and three times fewer than a five-star hotel room.
Higher-end four-star hotels are luxurious, with special touches such as pillow-top mattresses and extra seating. In our four-star hotels, the bathroom counter was the most bacteria-laden surface (in fact, it was the single dirtiest surface among all spaces), followed by the desk. In the three-star hotels, the bathroom counter was the dirtiest, followed by the remote.
At the top of the rankings, five-star hotels take luxury to a new level, often with an array of personalized services and amenities such as fresh flowers. Among our five-star hotels, the remote control was the germiest surface, followed by the bathroom counter.
All germs are not created equal. For this study, we tested for the presence of various types of bacteria (including bacilli and cocci), yeast, and gram-positive rods (bacteria that cause various ailments, such as skin infections and pneumonia) and gram-negative rods (bacteria that cause respiratory and other infections).
In three-star hotels, the remote control tended to harbor Bacillus spp, which could be associated with various infections, including respiratory and gastrointestinal. Additionally, tests revealed yeast present in the bathrooms in three-star hotels. In four-star hotels, Bacillus spp dominated on the remote and telephone. In five-star hotels, the brunt of bacteria were gram negative, though the phone was rife with gram-positive cocci.