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Sanitizing the Hotel Room

This photo shows a hotel housekeeping staff member with a cleaning cart and fresh towels, symbolizing clean and sanitary conditions.

Use alcohol wipes to clean light switches and the TV remote.

If you want to avoid getting sick when staying in hotels, here are expert tips on sanitizing the room.

Hotels are dirty by nature. Sorry, but they just are. Anything with high public turnover is. That includes things like public transportation, airplane seats, food trays, movie theaters, waiting rooms, any form of money, and the pen at the pharmacy.

What makes the hotel different, is the amount of pathogens, or germs that can cause disease. That’s because people do very personal things in hotels, like sweat, shower, poo, sleep, eat and have honeymoons, without having to clean up after themselves.

To maximize profits, many hotel owners rely on minimum wage, overworked, immigrant employees, with little training. That may sound harsh but it’s almost always true. 

In 2012, CBC MarketPlace, Canada’s consumer watchdog, did a two part TV series called, “The Dirt on Hotels.” What they found, even in 5 star hotels costing $300 a night, was an unacceptable level of nasty pathogens. They were, “Surprised at how many bacteria were present and with the lack of hotel sanitation.”

The MythBusters did something similar to MarketPlace in show 135, Hidden Nasties. It wasn’t as scientific, but their findings confirmed a staggering amount of harmful bacteria lingering on everyday household items.


I’m writing about this, because I got sick in the middle of my first ever road trip. It wasn’t so bad that it ended the trip, but driving while I had flu-like symptoms, and spending three days in bed instead of exploring, wasn’t any fun at all. Since that first time, I’ve never been sick again.

I’ve heard other people say it too. That staying in hotels made them sick. But when I asked them if the sterilized the room, the answer is always no.

What I’m about to tell you will seem like pain in the donkey, but it will protect you from getting sick. You must take 10 minutes before you unpack anything, or touch anything, to sterilize the room.

If you sanitize every room you rent, it quickly becomes a habit. Its like a well timed dance, where you and the spouse go into cleaning mode, immediately and automatically, as if it were second nature.

In fact, we have a routine, we don’t even need to speak a word. We go into immediate action. But since you probably don’t have a routine yet, I’ll go down every item on our list.

First off, I repeat, do not unpack anything. If you didn’t leave the luggage in your car, put it in the closet, up on the luggage rack if they provide one. Now open your tote bag and take out all the cleaning supplies.

Open the curtains, open the windows and turn on all the light switches. You can’t clean what you can’t see.

Fold the bedspread and bed throws, and place them under a side table, on the bottom shelf, or in some out of the way place, where they won’t be disturbed. These bed covers, or throws, are not usually washed between guests. You might even want to use hand sanitizer after touching them.


Fill up the sink with hot water, adding bleach and dish soap. Fill a spray bottle filled with a few drops of bleach and water. Now put on cleaning gloves and grab a disposable J-cloth. The object is to wipe down all the hard surfaces in the room.

Start with the tables and any areas that will be used for eating. Wipe the inside of the bar fridge. Do the desk, night stands and all counter tops including the one in the bathroom. Keep returning to the sink to rinse the cloth after each piece.

Wipe the inside and outside door handles to the room. Include the safety lock and dead bolt on the inside. Be sure to do the wooden hangers in the closet, if you didn’t pack and bring your own.

Next is the bathroom. Wipe down the shower door handle, faucets in the bathtub, shower and sink. Wash the around the toilet handle, the toilet paper roll holder and the top of the toilet seat.

Spray, but don’t wipe off, some of the bleach solution on the floor of the shower stall, or pour boiling water on it from your tea kettle. Also spray the toilet base and all the floor area within two feet of it.

Clean every hard surface that you, or anything that you own will touch, before you let anything touch it. There’s no need to rinse the bleach and soap off, except for eating surfaces. The trick is to use a weak bleach and soap solution, that kills harmful bugs, but not use so much of it, that it leaves a residue.

According to the MarketPlace and MythBusters shows, the surfaces with the most microbes are light switches, computer keyboard in the room and the remote controls. For these items I get out the heavy duty antibacterial cleaners.

My weapon of choice is Wet Ones Antibacterial Wipes. I leave these in the car at all times and always take them traveling. I carry both the big pack of 10 and the single packs.


These little paper cloths are more effective at killing bacteria and viruses than hand sanitizer. So even though I wipe down everything with mild bleach, the electronics and light switches get the antibacterial wipe down.

Be sure to use these bug killers on the clock radio, telephones, TV remote, computer keyboard, hair dryer, air conditioner keypad, coffee maker and all light switches in the room. And don’t forget the pull strings on the lights beside the bed.

Now that the room is clean and the counter tops sanitary, you can start to unpack. But before you completely relax, I have a few words of warning.

See that drinking glass in the bathroom? Hold it up to the light. See all the fingerprints and stains on it? Yea, I wouldn’t drink from it either.

You may be shocked to find that the ice buckets are rarely cleaned. And the last person to use it, washed their socks in it. Yes, it happens all the time.

Never use the ice maker in the hotel hallway. It’s a breeding ground for disease. Buying cold soda from the machine is ok, but avoid public “scoops” of any kind.

Never use the drinking glasses, wine glasses, ice bucket, coffee maker, or anything else provided without cleaning it first. Everything else may cause germs on the outside of your body, but things like glassware and ice buckets hold fluids that will end up going inside your body.

Finally, put the DND (Do Not Disturb) sign on the outside of the door. This “invisible force field” prevents housekeeping from coming in to your room for the remainder of your stay.

You can reuse your towels and make your own bed, just like you do at home. The last thing you want, is housekeeping coming in and “cleaning” the place while you’re gone. If anything, they’ll be loading it up with pathogens again, wiping your toilet and eating surfaces with the same rags they used on every other room on the floor.

The same thing goes for you and the family. Every time you come back from exploring, kick off your outside shoes and slide on your flip flops. Then use hand sanitizer before you touch anything in the room. (Leave a bottle right beside the door, so you won’t forget to use it.)

Hey, I’m not trying to scare you into being phobic about staying in hotels. What I am trying to do, is ensure that you have a safe and healthy road trip.

You might as well face it. The germs in a hotel room come from thousands of strangers. You don’t know their history, or if they had a cold, flu, or some other disease during their stay.

The last thing you want on vacation is to get sick. Get into the habit of sterilizing any room that you stay in. It only takes 10 minutes, or less if you team up on the chore. 

Then you can truly relax in the room, knowing that it is “your” clean. You can feel confident, safe and happy, in a clean and healthy environment.


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