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Germ Count: Home vs. Hotel Dirt

Erica Johnson spoke with University of Guelph microbiologist Keith Warriner about how a dirty hotel room is different than the dirt in an average home, and he shares some tips about sanitizing your own space.

Erica Johnson: After our first report, people said if you did that test at home you'd find some high readings too. Is that a fair comparison?

Keith Warriner: Yes, certainly if we went through homes we probably would. But the reality is, it's this cross contamination effect. So when we think about ourselves at home, if we find somebody's got the flu, or a cold, do we go and say let's drink out of your cup? We don't do it; we get a separate cup, we try to isolate them.

When we go into a hotel, we're actually at the mercy of the management where they're saying, so well, you might have had a sick person in this room but, so how safe I am? And based on the evidence we have, there's nobody sanitizing so it's literally like that: you could be drinking out of somebody's cup who's just had the flu or was just getting the flu.

EJ: In a hotel, you have no idea of the history of that room.

KW: And that's the thing. At home we do, hopefully; it's our home. But certainly in hotels, we don't know who's been in there before.

EJ: What about the protocols at home? We live in a spray bottle culture now where all of our cleaning supplies tend to come out of a spray bottle. How effective are those?

KW: People like spray bottles because it's easy isn't it? You don't have to handle the chemical. You can just like pump it through. But the reality is, you don't get an even coverage. They give you droplets, so you've got a lot of empty space so you don't get enough concentration.

And the other thing to think about is the cloth. So you might be spraying on the surface but it's the cloth that could be contaminated. So the proper way to do it is actually get your sink, fill it halfway with water, get a sanitizer. It can be just diluted bleach if you wish. And just soak your cloth for about a minute and that's enough to kill any sort of microbes there. And you can take that cloth which is sanitized now and apply it to the surface and what you'll find is you get good contact, physical action, and that's exactly what they do in the food industry.

EJ: And you should use one cloth for your sink, a separate cloth for the toilet?

KW: Always. The toilet is the sort of epicentre of contamination. That's where we deposit almost all of our germs. So if you have a separate cloth for the toilet, separate cloth for the counter, and you can even have more than that; there's nothing wrong with having separate cloths.