Dirty hotels: 6 germ hotspots to worry about

Although hotel rooms are meant to be a home away from home, they can also house unexpected guests, including bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. CBC's Marketplace has identified several areas in a hotel room that may not be as clean as you think.

CBC's Marketplace identifies cleanliness issues in hotel rooms

A CBC Marketplace investigation found that many hotels rooms are not as clean as people believe. (iStock)

Although hotel rooms are meant to be a home away from home, they can also house unexpected guests, including bacteria and viruses that can make you sick (or just gross you out).

Live Chat

Join Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson and University of Guelph microbiologist Keith Warriner for a live web chat about hotels, cleanliness and keeping safe when you’re on the road. The discussion will start at 7pm ET.

A year after Marketplace revealed widespread issues with cleanliness in its investigation The Dirt on Hotels, the show checked back in to find out if they have cleaned up their act.

This year’s test focused on hotels in the Toronto area, where Marketplace tested six of Canada’s biggest hotel chains, including Super 8, EconoLodge, Holiday Inn, Best Western, Sheraton and Fairmont.

Using microbiological testing, hidden cameras and black lights, the Marketplace investigation found that some things have changed for the better since last year’s report, while others have gotten worse. The full investigation, The Dirt on Hotels: We’re Back, airs Friday night at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. in NL) on CBC-TV.

We’ve included the highest and lowest readings from our germ meter, an adenosine triphosphate (ATP) measuring device, which helps detect potential germ hotspots. The higher the number, the more likely the object is to be contaminated with bacteria or other biological material.

For this test, anything below a 300 ATP reading gets a passing grade, and anything above 1,000 fails our cleanliness test.

Here are six hot spots to watch out for, and what you can do to stay healthy when you stay in a hotel.

1. Remote controls

While you’re looking for something good on TV, you may be exposing yourself to something less desirable on the remote. Some hotels have replaced traditional buttons -- which have lots of hard-to-clean crevices -- with remotes with smoother surfaces. But as Marketplace discovered, these remotes may be dirtier than you think.

How to avoid: Bag it! Put the remote in a plastic bag. The signal will still work, and you’re protected.

Highest reading: Sheraton, 3,258

Lowest: Super 8, 15

2. Bedding

Once again, Marketplace discovered some hotel beds with dirty sheets, reused pillowcases and decorative bed throws and cushions that rarely get cleaned.

How to avoid: Remove the decorative throw and cushions from your bed; they may not have been replaced in some time. If your sheets look like they haven’t been replaced, call the front desk.

Highest reading: Sheraton (throw/comforter), 8,760

Lowest: Super 8 (blanket), 28

3. Bathroom faucets and counter

Marketplace found that while housekeepers often work hard to clean hotel rooms, the equipment they are given can allow for significant cross contamination. The bathroom sink, faucet and counter may look clean, but they can easily be contaminated with bacteria picked up from elsewhere in the bathroom, such as the toilet.

How to avoid: Bring alcohol wipes with you and wipe down surfaces such as faucet handles where you could easily pick up germs.

Highest reading: Fairmont, 30,604

Lowest: Super 8, 42

4. Coffee makers

Coffee makers may give you a jolt to help wake you up, but some might keep you up at night if you knew how dirty they can be.

How to avoid: Skip the in-room coffee option and grab your joe to go from a nearby cafe. If you want to use the machines, run through with hot water a few times to make sure it’s clean. And if you’re using hotel mugs, it’s a good idea to wash these first as well.

Note: We were unable to get readings in this category for all of the hotels.

5. Ice buckets

While Marketplace’s tests of hotel ice machines turned up cleaner ice than last year, ice buckets were a different story. These cool receptacles can be another hotspot for contamination.

How to avoid: Many hotel chains provide plastic bags to hold ice; if yours is missing, call the front desk.

Highest reading: EconoLodge, 10,843

Lowest: Holiday Inn, 19

6. Telephones

You may be picking up more than your messages if you use the phone, especially if the guest before you had a cold and called room service for some soup. So telephones can be especially troubling if they’re not cleaned properly.

How to avoid: Alcohol wipes on the handset, buttons and mouthpiece will help sanitize a phone, or skip the landline altogether and stick to your cell phone.

Highest reading: Holiday Inn, 5,656

Lowest: Super 8, 51