From Our 2012 Archives

Dirtiest Spot in Hotel Rooms

TV Remote, Bedside Lamp Switch Among Most Contaminated Hotel Room Surfaces

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 17, 2012 -- One of the most contaminated things you're likely to encounter in a hotel room may surprise you. It's not the bed or even the door handle. It's the TV remote control.

That, and bedside lamp switches, are among the most contaminated surfaces in hotel rooms, a new study shows. Researchers found high levels of fecal bacteria and other potentially harmful bacteria on these commonly used items.

The sponges and mops hotel housekeepers use to clean hotel rooms were also on the list. That could pose a risk for cross-contamination from room to room.

The researchers say their findings may help hotels develop more effective ways to target the items most likely to be contaminated with bacteria that could pose a health risk to their guests.

"Hoteliers have an obligation to provide their guests a safe and secure environment," researcher Katie Kirsch, an undergraduate student at the University of Houston, says in a news release.

"Currently, housekeepers clean 14-16 rooms per 8-hour shift, spending approximately 30 minutes on each room," Kirsch says. "Identifying high-risk items within a hotel room would allow housekeeping managers to strategically design cleaning practices and allocate time to efficiently reduce the potential health risks posed by microbial contamination in hotel rooms."

Where Harmful Bacteria Hide in Hotel Rooms

In the study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, researchers sampled bacteria levels of 19 common surfaces in nine different hotel rooms in Texas, South Carolina, and Indiana.

They then compared contamination levels of bacteria, such as fecal and aerobic bacteria, in each of the samples.

Overall, researchers found fecal bacteria present on 81% of the samples.

Not surprisingly, some of the most contaminated samples came from the toilet and bathroom sink.

But the study also showed high levels of contamination on several high-contact items, such as TV remotes, telephones, carpets, and bedside lamp switches.

The least contaminated surface tested was the headboard.

The study also showed several items taken from hotel housekeepers' carts, including sponges and mops, had high levels of both types of bacteria.

Although this was a small study, researchers say the results suggest current cleaning methods used to clean hotel rooms may be ineffective and possibly increase the risk of spreading disease-causing germs from room to room.

The current validation method for hotel room cleanliness is a visual assessment, which has been shown to be ineffective in measuring levels of sanitation, says Kirsch.

"The information derived from this study could aid hotels in adopting a proactive approach for reducing potential hazards from contact with surfaces within hotel rooms and provide a basis for the development of more effective and efficient housekeeping practices," Kirsch says.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

SOURCES: Kirsch, K. "A Microbial Analysis of Environmental Surfaces in Hotel Rooms," presented at the general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, June 17, 2012, Houston, Texas. News release, American Society for Microbiology.

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