Hotel Hygiene Exposed

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.

Hotel Hygiene Exposed Infographic

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.

Hotel Bacteria Distribution, by Star Rating

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.

Percentage of Total Bacteria per Item

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.


Given the sheer number of different people who stay in them, it makes sense that hotel rooms will never be as clean as a typical home. However, it stands to reason that bacteria levels vary not only in different hotels or rooms but also in different areas of the same room. Overall, an effective cleaning regimen should reduce bacteria count; factors such as how smooth a surface is and how recently it has been cleaned also can affect the bacteria count.

Additionally, factors such as cleaning frequency and practices vary widely. For instance, hidden-camera exposés have revealed hazardous cleaning techniques, such as hotel personnel wiping the countertop with the same towel used to clean the toilet. Though many types of bacteria don’t pose health risks, it’s always a good idea to be cautious and prepared. Hand-washing has been found to reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16%. Your best bet: During hotel stays, wash your hands frequently, disinfect surfaces before touching them, and steer clear of certain areas.


EmLab P&K performed all laboratory testing. The numbers presented are an average of all like samples taken. Samples were collected from nine different hotels. Items swabbed in each hotel were the remote, bathroom counter, desk, and phone.


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