Just How Clean Is Your Hotel?

Even five-star hotels aren’t free of millions of swarming germs. Hint: watch out for that TV remote.

Whether it’s 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 stubbornly out of your control: the number of germs lurking in your room. And the average hotel room appears to be dirtier than a typical home, airplane, and even a school, according to recent tests by travelmath.com

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are everywhere, but public spaces seem to be an especial haven for them. The tests assessed bacteria levels in colony-forming units (CFUs)—the number of viable bacteria cells within a sample square inch. Testers gathered samples from three-, four- and five-star hotels.

For this study, testers looked 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 an average of nine hotel room surfaces tested, the most often-touched surfaces ranked, in numbers of CFUs per square inch:

  • Bathroom counter – 1,288,817 
  • Remote control – 1,211,687
  • Desk – 604,907
  • Phone – 4,252

Testers noted that you can disinfect most of these surfaces fairly easily with antibacterial wipes or spray. Rather than disinfecting the remote control, one solution is to seal it in a clear plastic sandwich bag before using it.

Three-star hotels appear the least germ-ridden: The dirtiest surface in a three-star hotel room, the bathroom counter, contained an average of only 320,000 CFU/square inches—around eight times less than such a counter in a four-star hotel room and three times fewer than a five-star room.

In four-star hotels, the bathroom counter was the most bacteria-laden surface (and 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. Among five-star hotels tested, the remote control was the germiest surface, followed by the bathroom counter.

In three-star hotels, the remote control tended to harbor Bacillus spp., which could be associated with various infections, including respiratory and gastrointestinal. Tests also revealed yeast in the bathrooms in three-star hotels. In four-star hotels, Bacillus spp. dominated on TV remotes and telephones. In five-star hotels, most of the bacteria were gram negative, though the phone was rife with gram-positive cocci.