All the Ways Your Hotel Room is Making You Sick

There’s nothing better than pulling down those crisp sheets in a hotel bed and snuggling inside with luxurious pillows and down comforters. But unless you are already a germaphobe, you might not think about all the ways your hotel room could be making you sick. If you stop to think of all the hands that have touched everything before you, you’ll probably want to bring a package of disinfecting wipes the next time you stay in a hotel. These are the 15 ways your hotel room could be making you sick.

1) The remote might be contaminated with norovirus

Television remote control
Woman using remote control | Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Some items in your hotel room get cleaned after each stay — like the toilet seat — but in most hotels, the remotes rarely get wiped down. According to a study from Travelmath, the remote has the second-highest amount of bacteria colony forming units (CFU) in any given hotel room. Bacteria aren’t all bad, but one that’s easy to pass on that can easily make you sick is norovirus. The No. 1 way people get norovirus is by touching something that is contaminated and then touching their mouth. Norovirus causes vomiting and diarrhea — ailments you do NOT want to be dealing with while away on vacation or a business trip.

Next: Where you won’t want to place your clothes.

2) The carpet might trigger an allergy attack

Housekeeper vacuuming a hotel room
Housekeeper vacuuming | AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images

It seems like the carpets in a hotel would be clean, considering you see housekeeping sweep in after each guest with their cleaning cart and a vacuum. But vacuums only pick up dirt, dust, crumbs, and other tangible particles, not those invisible ones that make you sick. When you take off your clothes and toss them on the floor or set your purse down next to the bed, they are coming in contact with the bacteria left in the carpet. One report shares that the main concern with the carpet is allergies. With all the dust, pollen, and other allergens lurking in the carpet, a hotel room is a surprisingly common place to trigger an allergy or asthma attack.

Next: You were wondering about that No. 1 place for bacteria?

3) Viruses could be lurking on the bathroom counter

Inside a hotel bathroom
Hotel bathroom | Malkovstock/iStock/Getty Images

It’s only natural to unload your toiletries on the bathroom counter when you go stay at a hotel. Where else would you put them? But according to Travelmath, the bathroom counter is the place with the most CFU (colony forming units) in your entire hotel room! Other than being grossed out by germs, what does this mean for you? Norovirus and e. Coli are two common viruses that could be found on your bathroom counter that could have you in gastrointestinal distress for days.

Next: But about that bed…

4) The bed is a hub for germs

Hotel bed
Tired woman on hotel bed | bernardbodo/iStock/Getty Images

You’d think the bed would be reasonably safe from germs because the linens get changed after every checkout. That’s not necessarily the case. While housekeeping changes sheets and pillowcases between each stay, most hotels don’t launder the comforters except for a few times a year. The gross implications of that fact aside, a real concern should be bed bugs. You should always check for bed bugs in a hotel room. The basics are to check the entire bed for pearl-sized brown or red bugs, even the frame, and seams of the mattress.

Next: There’s nothing you can do about the next way hotels make you sick.

5) The air quality is less than ideal

In-room air conditioner in a hotel
Hotel heater and air conditioner | robertomm/iStock/Getty Images

You can control the air quality in your own home by replacing the filter on your furnace, cleaning your ducts, and even buying an air purifier if you are so inclined. Not so at a hotel. The air in your hotel is recirculating with germs and bacteria from all the guests, and it could make you sick. Allergens and bacteria travel through furnaces and air ducts and can leave you feeling sick without realizing why. It’s not hard to see why hotels may have a problem managing air quality when you consider information on the topic from OSHA. You can try to protect yourself by cracking a window throughout your stay, if possible, or bringing a travel air purifier.

Next: A hotel is a breeding ground for this sickness.

6) Legionnaire’s Disease could be lurking anywhere

Indoor pool in hotel spa
Indoor hotel pool | rilueda/iStock/Getty Images

If you haven’t heard of Legionnaire’s disease, it’s somewhat like the flu or a terrible case of pneumonia. It’s characterized but high fever, headaches, chest pain, shortness of breath, a cough (even coughing up blood), and muscle pain. Hotels have plenty of places that can be breeding grounds for this disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, this disease spreads through hot tubs and swimming pools, air conditioners, decorative fountains, and water systems specifically in hotels and hospitals.

Next: Lack of this essential safety feature could make you seriously sick.

7) Carbon monoxide detectors may be missing

CO alarm
Carbon monoxide detector | leekris/iStock/Getty Images

You may take the presence of carbon monoxide detectors for granted, but the truth is many states still don’t have legislation that requires carbon monoxide detectors in all buildings. According to NCSL, some states only require carbon monoxide detectors in new builds. So if you are staying in an older hotel or an older vacation rental, there might not be a system to warn you of the presence of this toxic gas. Do your research before booking your next hotel stay.

Next: Bring a water bottle for this reason.

8) Your drinking glasses could poison you

Bathroom sink in a hotel
Glass on a hotel bathroom sink | ilkercekic/iStock/Getty Images

Most hotels provide glasses for you to rinse your mouth after you brush your teeth or make a drink in. You would assume hotel staff washes the glasses in a dishwasher between each stay. But several investigations showed housekeeping staff merely rinse the glasses, or even worse, spray them with cleaner not meant for consumption. Sicknesses like norovirus can remain on a cup after a mere rinse. And although it usually takes high concentrations of glass cleaner to make you sick, some possible symptoms of poisoning by cleaners include loss of vision, pain in the throat, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and more.

Next: International travelers need to be especially aware of this health hazard.

9) The hidden dangers of smoking rooms

Smoking hotel room
Smoking hotel room | Ryan McVay/iStock/Getty Images

The air quality could be poor in a hotel for a variety of reasons, which could cause an influx in allergy and asthma symptoms. But if you are traveling internationally, you may have another irritant to deal with — cigarette smoke. Most hotels in the U.S. are non-smoking zones, or at the very least you can request a non-smoking room. Internationally, they may not have the same considerations. Everyday Health recommends resisting the urge to blast the AC if your room smells like smoke. Old filters and inadequate HVAC systems could only perpetuate the problem. It’s best to open a window or avoid being in your room, especially if smoke aggravates your lungs.

Next: This well-intentioned cleaning method could be harmful to your health.

10) Toxic cleaning products can cause rashes and allergic reactions

Housekeeper cleaning a hotel room
Housekeeper cleaning a hotel room | kadmy/iStock/Getty Images

At home, more and more consumers are opting for eco-friendly cleaners made with natural ingredients. That’s probably not the case with hotels. Products that are full of artificial fragrances can trigger allergies and asthma. In addition, cleaners with harsh chemical can cause reactions for people with sensitivities. The last thing you want when you’re on vacation is to break out in a rash from artificial fragrances in a cleaning product, but it could happen. Make sure you turn the fan on if the hotel bathroom has one and try rinsing the shower area before you get in to rinse away any potential cleaner residue.

Next: We would never have thought about this cancer-causing item!

11) Cabinets and shelving could cause cancer

Room in older hotel
Old hotel room | carlosegg/iStock/Getty Images

Recent studies reported by Science Daily have shown some sealants used on cabinetry and shelving can break down and emit toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) which is carcinogenic. Even though the U.S. banned PCBs in the late ’70s, older hotels could still have furniture and shelving made with these toxic sealants. Book your stay at a newer facility to avoid any potential run-ins with these carcinogenic materials.

Next: Stay away from this thing you commonly use if you want to stay healthy.

12) Setting your toothbrush on the sink is asking for trouble

Woman brushing her teeth
Woman brushing her teeth | RobertoDavid/iStock/Getty Images

Of course, you use the sink every time you wash your hands, your face, brush your teeth, and for plenty of other grooming practices. Hopefully, the sink in your hotel room is cleaned between each guest. But sinks are difficult to clean because they have so many nooks and crannies around the faucet, the handles, and the drain. The places that stay damp are a breeding ground for bacteria. Bacteria and viruses only get you sick if they enter your body, but since people often set their toothbrush on the sink and then later put it in their mouth, it’s easy to see how the sink becomes a prime way for bacteria to enter the body and get you sick.

Next: This next item that can get you sick is no surprise.

13) Skip the ice to help stay healthy

Ice bucket and glasses in hotel room
Hotel ice bucket | FerrizFrame/iStock/Getty Images

You may want to think twice about using the ice bucket.  There is no telling if there was anything in there other than ice before your stay — think vomit from a previous guest. Since hotels are notorious for partying and partying sometimes leads to vomiting, UK news outlets suggest you always use a bag for ice if you want to use the ice bucket. And while vomit from an ice bucket is more likely alcohol-induced rather than sickness-induced, other people’s flora doesn’t always play nicely with your own. 

Next: Doing this gives you at least three extra chances a day to get sick.

14) Your room service may give you food poisoning

Room service tray
Hotel room service | ruidoblanco/iStock/Getty Images

Just like any restaurant or even your own kitchen, room service and hotel restaurants bring about the opportunity to contract food poisoning. Whether it’s from food sitting out too long in a breakfast buffet or contaminated ingredients at even the finest restaurant, this unfortunate digestive distress can happen at any time. When you’re traveling, you are much more likely to eat out for every meal, providing more opportunities for food poisoning to strike.

Next: Trouble sleeping? Your lack of beauty sleep could contribute to getting sick.

15) Not getting enough sleep is weakening your immune system

Woman asleep on hotel bed
Woman asleep on hotel bed | AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images

For many people, staying in a hotel means a gamble on whether or not they get a good night’s sleep. An unfamiliar pillow and bed and noises from other guests are just a few reasons why you might have a hard time getting some shut-eye in a hotel. How does this relate to your health? When you’re tired, your body isn’t as capable of fighting off bacteria and viruses that enter your body, leaving you more prone to getting sick. NBC News reports exhaustion (compounded by jetlag if you’re traveling overseas) can even lead to nausea and vomiting.