Microbiologist Philip Tierno, when he has to stay in hotels, travels with an impervious mattress and pillow cover. Lurking in every hotel mattress are skin cells, human hair, bodily secretions, fungi, bacteria, dust, dust mites, lint, insect parts, pollen, and cosmetics.
Tierno encourages everyone to use the impervious covers developed for allergy sufferers. And he also advises that you definitely get rid of the bedspread. The first thing he does is remove the comforter and store it in the closet. CNN reports:
"It's certainly true that bedspreads, or the quilts inside duvet covers, don't get thrown in with the sheets for a daily wash ... Germs ... tend to congregate in places touched multiple times by multiple people that may not be cleaned thoroughly, if at all".
While it is impossible to live in a germ-free environment, using toxic chemicals to achieve this is fraught with dangers and is not at all recommended. However it is best to pay attention to some well documented sources of pathogens that can easily be avoided with simple non-chemical measures.
Travel is one area that you can make some dramatic improvements.
Cleaning a hotel room is not a glamorous or high paying job, and my guess is the hardworking people laboring away at this task are at best just applying the minimum standard of care in their daily grind. Just making the beds is hard enough!
I don't expect them to wash every bedspread, nor do I expect management to pay for such an expense on a daily basis. This is made clear by microbiologist Philip Tierno, quoted in the article above:
"In hotel rooms that aren't properly disinfected, some of the germiest areas tend to be the faucet and sink areas, the flusher of the toilet, the underside of the toilet seat and the shower floor."
"Improper cleaning techniques, such as using the same rag in the bathroom and on the remote control, can spread germs around. Cleaning in a 'cavalier manner' doesn't happen only in lower-end hotels.
"[But at the same time] there's no raging problem of communicable diseases contracted in hotels. Exposure to germs in hotel rooms is generally nothing some timely and thorough hand washing can't fix, and of the 60,000 types of germs people might encounter over the course of their lives, only one percent or two percent are capable of causing disease."
So although hotel rooms may be germy, they really can't be considered dangerous. There are also some sensible precautions you can take yourself when you find yourself in a hotel room.
Sensible Precautions when Traveling
Some simple and easy sensible things to do when you find yourself in a hotel room include:
- Turn down the top comforter or duvet cover (depending on which you encounter) and pull it to the end of the bed, avoid coming into contact with it as much as you can.
- Wipe down the sink faucets, bathroom countertop, toilet handle and shower faucets with a damp towel.
- Wipe down all door handles and knobs including the entryway and bathroom, phone, TV remote, and refrigerator if applicable.
Aside from the potential infectious agents on the duvet cover, a more likely important consideration would be dust mites as large number of people have dust allergies.
According to the microbiologist quoted in the CNN article above, you could also bring your own mattress/pillow allergen covers to protect yourself from this hazard lurking deep in your hotel bedding, but this may be a bit extreme for most unless you had severe allergies.
Beware of the Glasses in Your Hotel Room
There was also a recent investigation that showed that many hotel chains do not at all clean the glasses. So it would be safe to assume that they are dirty and have merely been wiped to look clean and could easily have been used by previous guests.
You can view the video below for more information.
The Chemical Hazards of Disinfection
Unfortunately, cleansers and air fresheners are both primary sources of indoor air pollution, and arguably just as dangerous to your health as the germs lurking on that crusty looking bedspread.
Therefore, while disinfection might go a little farther in freeing your room of germs, your lungs will suffer having to breathe in all those toxic chemicals…
Besides, you're not really going to carry a bottle of household cleaner with you when you travel, are you?
So What's the Solution?
Even though the odds are greatly against you coming into contact with the one or two percent of germs that will actually cause a disease, it's still prudent to practice good hand washing hygiene when you are touching surfaces that have been touched by a lot of other people.
To make sure you're actually removing the germs when you wash your hands, follow this three-step hand-washing technique:
- Use warm water
- Work up a good lather all the way up to your wrists for at least 10 or 15 seconds
- Remember to get all surfaces including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and an area often overlooked -- your fingernails
The Germiest Places You'll Ever Visit
According to "Queen of Clean" Linda Cobb's website, the other "germiest places" you are likely to encounter on your daily travels, which you may not think of as germ havens, include:
✓ Airplane bathrooms
✓ Your handbag or a playground
✓ A load of wet, dirty laundry
✓ Mats and machines at your gym or health club
✓ Public drinking fountains
✓ Your office phone
✓ Shopping cart handles and ATM buttons
✓ Hotel room remotes
So according to the Queen of Clean, the germiest thing in your hotel room may actually be the TV remote!
You can also read my previous article discussing the eight germiest places in your home, and what to do about them.
Restaurant Lemon Wedges and Other Bacterial Hazards
Admit it, you've done it -- squeezing the lemon wedge into your water and then dropping it right into your glass. It certainly isn't something you would think of as particularly harmful, but is it? According to this previous article, that lemon wedge has been touched by numerous members of a restaurant's staff, who may or may not have cleaned their hands properly after using the bathroom.
Should you now boycott all restaurant lemon wedges, because sooner or later you will get one that will make you sick?
Well, if you have a compromised immune system, are elderly, or are a small child, then the answer is perhaps. These are the people who are most likely to become sick from rogue bacteria.
But considering that over 65 percent of colds, 50 percent of all cases of diarrhea and 50 percent to 80 percent of food-borne illnesses are caught not in restaurants but in your own home, maybe instead you should think twice about keeping your own kitchen clean.
Because while the idea of strange fecal bacteria coating your restaurant lemon wedge is disgusting, and certainly not hygienic, your own kitchen is probably harboring some rogue bacteria as well. Studies have actually shown that there could be up to 200 times more fecal bacteria on your kitchen cutting board than on your toilet seat.
The sponge that you use to wash your dishes is another one that is commonly loaded with disease-causing bacteria (for a quick tip on how to really clean your sponges, click here), as are computer keyboards, desks, phone receivers and shopping cart handles.
And did I mention that one of the "riskiest" ways to get an infection is by simply shaking hands with someone? It's true.
The Bacterial Hazards of Shopping
You probably don't think twice about putting your hands on the plastic handle of a shopping cart, or about the germs that accumulate on reusable shopping bags. But according to the above article from Fox News, you should.
Is it really any surprise that surfaces touched by many people become germy? The truth is bacteria accumulates quickly and spread rapidly on many surfaces, including your hands. Improper hand washing by just one patron at a supermarket can contaminate a shopping card for days at a time, as bacteria survives on plastic longer than on most other surfaces.
But even more shocking is the amount of contamination found by Fox News. 72 percent of the shopping carts tested, well over half, showed traces of fecal matter. And half of that fecal matter was contaminated with E. coli, which can lead to:
- Severe stomach cramps and stomach tenderness.
- Diarrhea, watery at first, but often becoming very bloody.
- Nausea and vomiting.
So you want to protect yourself from bacterial infection while shopping by wiping down any shopping cart handles you come in contact with. My advice is to use an antibacterial gel or antibacterial wipe, which are widely available at supermarkets, and some supermarkets even provide you with them at the point of entry. You also want to wash those reusable shopping bags regularly, as they can accumulate bacteria after every use.
For the Best Protection, Keep Your Immune System Healthy
Hand washing is an excellent preventive tool against the germs lurking in a hotel room or on public surfaces in general, but a strong immune system is your best defense against any pathogenic bacteria you come across anywhere, and will serve you well if you nourish it with the proper tools.
Also worth mentioning is the rise of antibiotic resistant germs, or supergerms, which you may come across in your hotel room as well, and particularly in a hospital setting which is the most common place to encounter a supergerm.
These nasty pathogens are best avoided entirely, but when you do come across one of them, the stronger your immune system is the better your body will be able to naturally fend them off.
You can support your immune system by:
When you follow these steps you can have peace of mind that any germs that do enter your body will be no match for your well nourished and highly capable immune system, which will always be your best line of defense against disease of any kind.