The Worst Hotel Surfaces Based on Star Rating

Luxury doesn't always translate to cleanliness

Does your luxury hotel offer more than just bacteria?
J. Cortez/JCI

Regardless of how high of a star rating a hotel has, everyone who stays there faces a common problem as soon as they enter their room. This problem is an invisible fiend and is often disregarded – but when travelers do not prepare to face this foe, their vacations can go from pleasant to pestilent in a hurry.​

Those invisible fiends are the germs and bacteria that live in every hotel room, including the luxury hotels. One of the biggest misconceptions among luxury travelers is the idea that higher end properties are subject to better cleanliness standards. Because their hotels have more stars or diamonds in their ratings, they are somehow cleaner than their lower cost counterparts.

Even in five-star luxury hotels, germs and bacteria can be waiting to greet travelers on every surface they touch. The research team at set out to debunk this idea, and discover which surfaces were the dirtiest in every hotel type. To find the germs, the team sought out nine hotels at each luxury level and swabbed surfaces for a number of bacteria and germs, once and for all determining where the germs lived.  

Before you settle into your hotel, do your homework and bring your anti-bacterial wipes. Based on TravelMath's research, you may want to think twice before making contact with these common items.

Three-Star Hotels: Bathroom Counters and Remote Controls

Economy travelers are often attracted to three-star hotels for their price and convenience. No matter where we travel in the world, three-star hotels are ready to offer a solid night's rest. Germs and bacteria also like to check in and are commonly found in these hotel rooms.

According to TravelMath, the bathroom counters were the dirtiest places to be found in the three-star hotel room, testing positive for over 320,000 colony forming units (CFUs) per square inch. This was followed by the television remote control, with over 230,000 CFUs across the surface. The most common bacteria finds were Bacillus spp and yeast, both of which are linked to a number of infections.

Four-Star Hotels: Bathroom Counters and Desks

While the three-star hotels appeared to lack cleanliness, the four-star hotels were even worse. The increased price and comfort are of no concern to germs and bacteria, both of which were found in very high concentrations across the rooms.

Once again, the bathroom counter was the dirtiest surface in the hotel room, but by a significant margin more than the three-star hotel. Over 2.5 million CPUs per square inch were discovered on the bathroom counter. The desk was also a breeding ground for bacteria, with over 1.8 million CFUs discovered per square inch. The most common bacteria discovered in four-star hotels were gram-negative rods, which are often tied to respiratory infections.

Five-Star Hotels: Remote Controls and Bathroom Counters

At the pinnacle of luxury were the five star hotels surveyed by TravelMath. However, for the higher price tag, the research teams discovered that there was more than one reason the concierges wore white gloves to serve guests.

Similar to the four-star hotel room, the remote control ranked as the most germ-infested place in the hotel room, with over 2 million CFUs per square inch crawling across the surface. Behind that was the common favorite among all the hotels: the bathroom counter, with nearly 1.1 million CFUs living on the surface. Regardless of the surface, the five-star hotels tested with an incredibly high majority of one type of bacteria: gram-negative rods.

Before you settle into your hotel room, make sure you know where the hidden risks lie. By staying away from these hotel surfaces, you can make sure you leave only with what you packed – and not with an infection.