There’s nothing like a squalid motel room to inspire insomnia and a general case of the skeeves. But even respectable digs that seem spick and span on the surface can harbor unseen contamination.
In a recent study, researchers tested a variety of surfaces in hotel rooms in Texas, Indiana and South Carolina, examining the levels of total aerobic bacteria and coliform (fecal) bacterial contamination on each of the surfaces.
While some of the most contaminated samples, like the toilet and bathroom sink, were to be expected, the researchers also found that the TV remote and the bedside lamp switch were among the most highly contaminated surfaces. Don't touch that dial!
Switches and buttons aside, Katie Kirsch from University of Houston who presented the study, and her colleagues noted that what is most concerning were the high levels of contamination in the housekeepers' tools. Cleaning items like sponges and mops which swab and dab from room to room, pose a risk for cross-contamination.
Reporting the findings at the 2012 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, Kirsch says:
Currently, housekeepers clean 14-16 rooms per 8-hour shift, spending approximately 30 minutes on each room. 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.
Surfaces with the lowest contamination included the headboard on the bed, curtain rods and the bathroom door handle.
The researchers can't say whether or not the bacteria can cause disease, however, the contamination levels are a reliable indicator of overall cleanliness - and to be sure, contact with contaminated surfaces is at the very least a possible mode of transmission of illness.
What's a traveler to do? Don't succumb to triclosan-laced anti-bacterial products! Look for green cleaning wipes or bring a travel bottle of vinegar (a great green germ-fighter) to wipe down the clicker and switches with.