These Are the Germiest Spots in Your Hotel Room, According to Science

When you travel, there’s no way to avoid germs completely. The plane and airport, for instance, are full of germ-infested surfaces. But don’t think you’re out of the woods once you land and high-tail it out of the airport, either.

As Time reports, studies of hospital cleanliness have recommended an upper limit of 5 colony-forming units of bacteria per cubic centimeter squared — which is a much lower level than what you’ll find on many surfaces in your hotel room. If you’re planning to rest your head at a hotel, you can count on being surrounded by lots of germs and bacteria. From the moment you flick on the light switch to when you kick back with the TV remote at bedtime, you’re touching some of the dirtiest surfaces in the room.

Hotels offer plenty of freebies, but maybe they should start handing out bottles of hand sanitizer! Below, check out the germiest spots in your hotel room.

14. Headboards, curtain rods, and bathroom door handles

bedroom in white color

The headboard is probably safe to touch. | iStock.com/JZhuk

How much bacteria? Not reported, but these surfaces had the lowest level of contamination. Go figure!

Time reports that researchers at Purdue University and the University of South Carolina tested hotel rooms for total aerobic bacteria. (That includes the bugs known to cause illness like streptococcus and staphylococcus, plus fecal bacteria.) While some surfaces are pretty gross (more on that in a minute), the researchers also shared some findings on the hotel room surfaces that had the lowest level of contamination, according to their tests. Those least-contaminated surfaces included headboards, curtain rods, and — surprisingly enough — bathroom door handles.

They also note that even if you do touch the most-contaminated surfaces in the room, you probably won’t get sick. That being said, bringing along some hand sanitizer — and perhaps some sanitizing wipes for particularly iffy surfaces — also won’t hurt.

13. Alarm clocks and nightstands

man hitting his alarm clock to sleep in

At least less people are touching their alarm clocks than before smartphones. | iStock.com

How much bacteria? Not reported, but surprisingly, not off the charts!

Today reports that bacteria expert and University of Arizona microbiologist Luisa Ikner tested various surfaces in hotel rooms after housekeeping had cleaned them. She used a meter that provided instant readouts of bacteria levels, and found that the alarm clocks and nightstands in the hotel rooms had low populations of bacteria. The alarm clock is probably safe to touch because everybody uses smartphones instead. As for the nightstand? We can only guess that travelers aren’t spending a lot of time touching them, perhaps only using them to set their cell phones down at night.

12. Telephone keypads

male hand holding telephone receiver

You don’t know where their hands have been. | iStock.com

How much bacteria? 20.2 colony-forming units of bacteria per cubic centimeter squared

Planning to call downstairs to order room service? You’d better keep some hand sanitizer close by! According to Time, the researchers at Purdue University and the University of South Carolina found that telephone keypads have a pretty sizable bacteria population. In fact, they had an average of 20.2 CFU of aerobic bacteria.

11. Sofas and curtains

Denim and white curtains

These are difficult to properly disinfect. | Saklakova/Getty Images

How much bacteria? Not reported, but they sport hidden stains galore!

According to Today, Ikner also used an ultraviolet light to look around the hotel rooms for stains that the human eye can’t detect. You’re probably hoping there wasn’t much to find, but the UV light actually revealed stains all over the room — predominantly on the sofas and curtains. We don’t know exactly what caused those stains. But, trust us, you probably don’t want to think too hard about it!

10. TV remote

hand reaching for the off button on a remote to turn off the TV

Lots of people touch it, and no one thinks to clean it. | iStock.com

How much bacteria? 67.6 colony-forming units of bacteria per cubic centimeter squared

According to the Time report, some of the worst offenders as far as bacteria counts were the TV remotes in the room. Researchers found 67.6 colony-forming units of bacteria per cubic centimeter squared. Apparently, you’re not the only one bingeing on cable from your hotel’s queen bed.

9. Toilet seat

focus on a toilet in the bathroom

It’s understandable why this one makes the cut. | iStock.com

How much bacteria? Not reported, but things don’t look good!

This one isn’t that unexpected. According to Reuters, the University of Houston researchers found that the toilet seat in your hotel room is most likely contaminated with bacteria. The toilet is probably one of the biggest areas of focus for the housekeeping staff, so what gives? The researchers report that housekeepers’ tools, like the ones they use to clean the toilet, not only harbor bacteria, but can cross-contaminate surfaces with bacteria even as they’re supposed to be disinfecting. Yuck!

8. Light switches

Young Girl just about to Turn Off Light Switch

Not everyone watches TV, but everyone turns on the lights. | iStock.com/Monkeybusinessimages

How much bacteria? 112.7 colony-forming units of bacteria per cubic centimeter squared

So the TV remote is pretty gross, but it turns out that the light switches in your room are even worse. Time reports that the Purdue and USC researchers found that the main light switches in the average hotel room are covered in 112.7 CFU of bacteria. Even more cringe-worthy? Those light switches also had the highest levels of fecal bacteria, with an average of 111.1 CFU.

7. The phone itself

Mature couple sitting on bed

Think about disinfecting the receiver before touching it to your face. | iStock.com/FlairImages

How much bacteria? Two or three times the acceptable limit

In Ikner’s testing, according to the Today report, a meter reading of bacteria anywhere over 100 is an “unacceptable” level of bacteria. It turns out the phones — not just the keypads — were “teeming” with bacteria. They gave a reading of double or triple the acceptable limit of 100. Ikner explained, “People touch them a lot, and they’re not surfaces that are cleaned by the maids.”

6. The TV remote — again!

Woman using remote control

A second time for emphasis. | iStock.com/Zero Creatives

How much bacteria? Almost five times the acceptable limit

Sure, we already talked about this one. But the TV remote is really, really gross! Did you think we were going to drop it that fast? Ikner found that the single dirtiest item in the hotel rooms was the remote, which delivered bacteria readings as high as 498. (Almost five times the acceptable limit of 100.) Lab testing revealed not only your run-of-the-mill bacteria, but also colonies of E. coli (which indicates fecal contamination), and MRSA bacteria, which is highly contagious (and dangerous given its resistance to antibiotics).

5. Bathroom sink

Bathroom sink

This is one of the most difficult areas to clean. | iStock.com

How much bacteria? Not reported, but it’s safe to say that this surface gets pretty gross

The bathroom sink is another surface that the University of Houston study called out as pretty germ-infested. Everybody washes their hands, brushes their teeth, and washes their face over that sink. They may even hand-wash some clothes if they’re looking to avoid the hotel fees for laundry. But even though the sink gets lots of use, they don’t always look dirty. If you’re asking us, that might explain why they don’t get a more thoroughly germ-killing cleaning each time a guest checks out.

4. Housekeeping tools

Assortment of cleaning supplies

They touched everyone else’s toilet too. | iStock.com/Jevtic

How much bacteria? Not reported, but things don’t look good!

Though they didn’t share the exact numbers, Time reports that the researchers found high levels of bacteria on items in housekeepers’ carts (that includes sponges, mops, and other tools they use to clean your room). The researchers also noted that those items pose a high risk of cross-contamination. Those tools can spread germs and bacteria not only within a room but also across many rooms. One of the researchers explained, “If you clean the toilet with the sponge and then go to the counter where you put your toothbrush, that bacteria can be transferred.”

3. Desk

Modern desk

It may look clean, but beware. | iStock.com

How much bacteria? 604,907 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch

The desk in your room seems like a good place to get some work done. However, you should probably clean it with some sanitizing wipes before you spread out your things. Travelmath sent scientists to nine different hotels to gather samples and determine which surfaces in a hotel room are really the most germ-infested. They assessed the bacteria population in colony-forming units, also called CFUs, which refers to the number of viable bacteria cells within a sample, and found that the desk has an average of 604,907 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch.

You might not think that it would be that dirty, but you never know exactly how other guests have used the desk. And it’s also not clear how often this surface gets thoroughly cleaned because housekeepers have plenty of other areas of the room to prioritize.

2. Bedside lamp switches

Bedside table with lamp

Those light switches are very germ-y. | iStock.com/Martin Barraud

How much bacteria? Not reported, but one of the highest levels of contamination recorded

Reuters reports that according to researchers from the University of Houston, the switch for the lamp beside the bed may be one of the germiest surfaces in your entire hotel room. That may not really be so surprising, though. Everybody who stays in the room probably touches that switch — but housekeeping probably doesn’t think of it as a target for deep cleaning.

1. Bathroom counter

bathroom landscape

Those counters are filthy. | iStock.com

How much bacteria? 1,288,817 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch

The Travelmath scientists found that the bathroom counter was one of the worst offenders when it comes to the size of the bacteria population. The bathroom counter has 1,288,817 colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch. It’s touched often by guests, but it gets worse. Travelmath reports, “Hidden-camera exposés have revealed hazardous cleaning techniques, such as hotel personnel wiping the countertop with the same towel used to clean the toilet.” Yikes!

How to keep your bacteria exposure to a minimum

Person washing their hands

Washing your hands regularly is the best way to avoid germs. | iStock.com

Now you know which surfaces in your hotel room are the germiest, but you can’t exactly steer clear of them all. So what’s a germ-averse traveler to do? Just come prepared. Pack sanitizing wipes to disinfect surfaces as soon as you enter the room. Also, pack hand sanitizer, and actually use it. (It can’t protect you if it’s just sitting in your bag.) Finally, wash your hands frequently when you spend time in your room.

Read More: 15 Gross and Disturbing Things Hotels Do to Save Money