Study: TV Remotes Among Germiest Surfaces In Hotel Rooms

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Yes, yes, there are germs everywhere. You and I have more bacterial cells than we have human ones. Still, hotel room bedspreads give me the willies. It's always a dilemma: Do I sleep under just the sheet and freeze, or pull up the bedspread with its untold quantities of previous people's sloughings?

New research suggest that maybe I should worry about the TV remote and light switches rather than the spread. Presented at the current general meeting of the American Society of Microbiology, the study also includes a finding that housekeeping carts can spread germs from one room to the next, on sponges and mops. Sigh. There goes the lazy pleasure of coming back to a sparkling room.

From the press release:

"An experiment of surfaces in hotel rooms finds television remotes to be among the most heavily contaminated with bacteria and items on housekeeping carts carry the potential to cross-contaminate rooms. Researchers from the University of Houston report the findings today at the 2012 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology."

[module align="right" width="half" type="pull-quote"]Surfaces with the lowest contamination included the headboard on the bed, curtain rods and the bathroom door handle.[/module]

University of Houston undergrad Katie Kirsch, who presented the study:

"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," says Kirsch.


Kirsch and her colleagues at the University of Houston, along with researchers from Purdue University and the University of South Carolina sampled a variety of surfaces from hotel rooms in Texas, Indiana and South Carolina. They tested the levels of total aerobic bacteria and coliform (fecal) bacterial contamination on each of the surfaces.

While some of the most contaminated samples, including the toilet and the bathroom sink, were to be expected, they also found high levels of bacterial contamination on the TV remote and the bedside lamp switch. Most concerning, some of highest levels of contamination were found in items from the housekeepers' carts, including sponges and mops which pose a risk for cross-contamination of rooms. Surfaces with the lowest contamination included the headboard on the bed, curtain rods and the bathroom door handle. The researchers cannot say whether or not the bacteria detected can cause disease, however, the contamination levels are a reliable indicator of overall cleanliness.

Kirsch warns that this study is preliminary and is limited by the sample size, which included only 3 rooms in each state and 19 surfaces within each hotel room, but hopes that it is just the beginning of a body of research that could offer a scientific basis to hotel housekeeping.

This program aired on June 18, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.




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