Beware the Filthiest Things in Your Hotel Room (According to Science)

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“Don’t put your hands where you wouldn’t put your face.”

Words to live by. Labs, hospitals, and other facilities who care about filth measure levels of cleanliness according to CFU (colony-forming units) levels of bacteria. A “hospital clean environment” allows a maximum of just 5 CFU per square centimeter. Hotels are expected, and often promise, to maintain that same level of sanitation. But, evidence suggests that in practice, this is far from true. Here are the filthiest things and surfaces in your hotel room according to science (hint: the toilet hardly makes the list).

Housekeeping Carts

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Not surprisingly, housekeeping carts are hands-down the nastiest items in any hotel. Testing from the American Society of Microbiology reveals that mops and sponges routinely top out north of 500 CFU (including fecal bacteria). While most guests don’t plan to stick their hands or faces anywhere near these carts, the risk for cross-contamination between rooms is huge. Hidden videos have circled the web for years revealing housekeeping staff using the same sponges to, for example, clean the toilet, the sink, and the minibar glasses. Suddenly, that $16 Jack and Coke you just poured doesn’t sound so refreshing.

Light and Lamp Switches

Light and lamp switches are the two things that every single hotel guest is guaranteed to touch at least once during their stay. So, it’s no surprise they’re among the dirtiest in-room surfaces. CFU levels — including fecal bacteria — top out north of 100. Again, aside from five-star hotels, these just aren’t on the housekeepers’ list of mandatory items to clean.

Remote Controls

Most guests handle TV and other remotes at least once during their stay. Couple that with the fact that they’re never cleaned, and you have the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The study notes an average of 67.6 CFU of bacteria on the remotes they tested. Thankfully, some hotels now carry Clean Remotes which can easily be sprayed and wiped down.

Everything Else

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In this long Quora thread, hotel employees share unnerving anecdotes about what goes on behind the scenes at many hotels. Throw pillows are never washed, and most comforters and blankets are laundered just once per season (or when someone wets the bed). Drinking glasses are rarely cleaned beyond a cursory sink rinse and quick toweling off. One final tip: if you’re overnighting at any hotel in the days following Valentine’s Day, we highly recommend disinfecting everything. Or, better yet, just stay home.

While these anecdotes are hardly scientific, they’re worth keeping in mind the next time you decide to face-plant into that “nice, clean” hotel bed. If it’s any consolation, your house is probably almost as filthy.

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