How Unsanitary Is Your Hotel Room
by Robert McGarvey
If you are reading this in a hotel room, my advice is to click to any other page. You are not in the right place to hear the news about how abundantly -wildly – unsanitary most hotel rooms are.
That’s the headline finding in a study conducted by the folks at travel app Travelmath. Called “Hotel Hygiene Exposed,” that is exactly what it does.
Note: I have been in independent, low budget hotels in tertiary cities where filth was obvious, from stained upholstery to cigarette burns in the rugs and rings in the toilet. But those are not the hotels Travelmath has in its sights. It takes aim at properties ranked 3 star and higher and what it found out nonetheless is disgusting.
Shockingly, in many categories, four and five star hotels are filthier than three stars, according to Travelmath.
First, this poor showing does not surprise me. My impression was that in the hotel recession of six or so years ago many hotels cut deeply into their housekeeping budgets. Housekeepers seemed fewer. They also showed up at ever odder hours (6 pm, for instance, when most of us are getting ready to go out for dinner). And they forgot to do stuff. How often have you found a cleaning rag left in a room, or a dirty towel?
Personally I felt compassion for the overworked – and underpaid – housekeepers. What I did not compute was how unsanitary hotel rooms have become. This is not just a matter of neatness. Health and hygiene are at stake.
Don’t blame the housekeepers, Blame their bosses.
In its study, Travelmath sent out investigators with swabs to collect what’s called colony forming units, that is, bacteria that multiply.
Here are CFU counts found across nine hotels:
- Bathroom counter – 1,288,817 CFU/sq. in.
- Remote control – 1,211,687 CFU/sq. in.
- Desk – 604,907 CFU/sq. in.
- Phone – 4,252 CFU/sq. in.
You would be right if you decide to never, again, touch a TV remote in a hotel room. I won’t. They are avoidable and they are disgusting.
I assume the phone count is comparatively low because who actually picks up an inroom phone anymore?
Travelmath then investigated whether a hotel’s star rating translates into a more sanitary room.
Hare are the CFU counts they found in a three star hotel:
Bathroom counter – 320,007 CFUs
Remote – 232,733 CFUs
Phone – 11.403 CFUs
Desk – 4687 CFUs
In a four star they found this:
Bathroom counter – 2,534,773 CFUs
Desk – 1,800,003 CFUs
Remote – 1,400,027
Phone – 137 CFUs
In a five star they found this:
Remote – 2,002,300 CFUs
Bathroom counter – 1,011, 670 CFUs
Desk – 40,030 CFUs
Phone – 1217 CFUs
The takeaways: avoid remotes everywhere and, the pricier the hotel, the safer the phone (probably the high-end guests do all calling on their mobiles).
Otherwise there is no obvious correlation between star ranking and cleanliness.
How bad are these results? Travelmath said: “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.”
Travelmath added: “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.”
Travelmath advised: “Your best bet: During hotel stays, wash your hands frequently, disinfect surfaces before touching them, and steer clear of certain areas.”
If you must use the remote, my advice is bring a sanitary wipe and clean the thing first. A fast wipe of the bathroom counter with a wipe is smart. Ditto for the desktop.
Do I travel with wipes? I have not. But that will change. Hotel room cleaning is obviously something we need to take into our own hands and a few sanitary minutes ought to be plenty to sanitize a room that otherwise might be dangerous to our health.