I grew up with a clean-freak mom who always brought disinfecting Lysol to hotels during family vacations. I used to poke fun at her germ obsession, but now I realize that was a smart move . . . a really smart move. You know the obvious: the same hotel rooms are used by many different people. But you might not know that hotel cleaning practices are not always up to par, and there can be some seriously nasty stuff lurking in the room you're sleeping in. Of course, this is not an all-inclusive assumption — there are undoubtedly many hotel maids who do their jobs well and clean everything the way it's supposed to be cleaned. But there are exceptions, and there are hidden cameras to prove it. Just to be safe, these are five things you should always avoid when traveling and staying in a hotel room, or make sure to disinfect them or bring your own.
- The pillowcases: It's a no-brainer that sheets need to be changed between one guest and the next. Thankfully, this seems to happen most of the time. Pillowcases are another story. When the Today show completed a hotel investigation across the country in five of the nation's top hotel chains like Holiday Inn and The Crowne Plaza, their hidden cameras revealed a common bed-changing practice among maids: placing the pillows on the chair next to the bed while changing the sheets, and then giving the dirty pillows a mere fluff before putting them back. There might not be visible stains, but a surface that's touched by people's hair and faces needs to be washed. BYOP is the new BYOB.
- The TV remote: We don't usually incorporate the remotes in our homes into our daily cleaning routines, and it doesn't seem that people cleaning hotel rooms do either. A microbiologist took swabs from various items in hotel rooms and found that the remotes in each room ranked the highest on the germ meter and analyzed the results in a lab, where she found "colonies of E. Coli," among other potentially dangerous contaminates. She noted, "This indicates there was fecal contamination on the remote, so perhaps someone used the restroom and didn't wash their hands when they were done." Lesson learned: always disinfect remotes before you touch them, just in case.
- The comforter: If you've always felt weird about cozying up with the top-layer comforter on your hotel bed, you're not alone. The comforters tie the rooms together and make them look nice, but they're not cleaned in between each use . . . or barely at all. A CNN investigation found that bedspreads "might only be changed four times a year." Bringing an extra blanket if you can is always a good idea so that you can remove the comforter.
- The glasses and mugs: Proceed with caution before you drink out of a glass or mug in the room. Investigation after investigation has found that many times, maids quickly rinse out used glasses without washing them, or worse, spray them with a cleaning liquid that says "do not drink." Luckily, most hotel rooms now offer those individual cups wrapped in plastic, so always use those if you can.
- The phone: Want some room service? You'll want to clean the phone with disinfecting wipes or spray first. In nearly all the hotels part of the Today show's investigation last year, the phones were high on the list of the most germ-filled items — sometimes they were three times the limit. Like remotes, phone surfaces are often overlooked during cleaning routines, but they're some of the most-touched spots in hotels. The takeaway: you can never be too cautious when it comes to hotel germs!