Checking out: How to avoid germs during your hotel stay

Whether you’re on vacation at a tropical resort or away on business, your hotel room is supposed to be your home-away-from-home. Unfortunately, that “home” was used by hundreds of strangers before you arrived – and they may have left more than just a pair of dirty socks behind.

A recent investigation by CBC’s Marketplace found alarming levels of bacterial contamination on “high-touch” spots in hotel rooms across the country. The tests, conducted by University of Guelph microbiologist Keith Warriner in 54 rooms at six hotel chains, found that many commonly used surfaces and items failed to meet basic sanitation standards, and in some cases contained dangerously high levels of bacteria.

And if you think you can avoid the problem by opting for a luxury suite, think again; Warriner’s test found that rooms at high-end hotels like Fairmont and Sheraton were no cleaner, on average, than rooms at budget hotels like Super 8 and EconoLodge.

So, if you’re planning a special getaway this February, follow these simple tips to keep your hotel stay as sanitary as possible.

Disinfect “high-touch” spots. The Marketplace investigation found that bathroom faucets and TV remotes were among the dirtiest items in most hotel rooms. Use an alcohol-based sanitizing wipe to clean these “high-touch” items, as well as the phone, door knobs, toilet handle and ice bucket.

Set aside the comforter. It’s the dirty secrets of most hotels – they don’t clean the comforter for every new guest. It’s no wonder it was one of the filthiest areas uncoverd by Marketplace‘s investigation.  If you’re concerned about clean bedding, call and ask your hotel how often they launder their comforters, or just bring your own blanket.

Give your glassware a quick cleaning. Most hotels require cleaning staff to wash all glasses in a dishwasher between stays – but the staff may have other ideas. Marketplace used hidden cameras to record housekeepers skirting the rules of basic cleanliness, including one cleaner at a high-end Toronto hotel who washed glasses with a touch of hand soap. To be safe, run all glassware (including your coffee pot) under hot water for at least minute before using.

Stay away from the bathroom counter. Personal hygene products and bathroom germs don’t mix. Keep your toothbrush, razor and dental floss in travel containers and off the bathroom counter, where bacteria is likely to propagate.

Don’t let the bed bugs bite. Bed bug infestations have risen sharply across North America in the past decade, according to Health Canada.

Hotels are a prime breeding ground for the tiny blood suckers, who can then travel home with you and make your life very, very uncomfortable.

To inspect for bed bugs, lift the mattress and look for reddish-brown spots on the mattress or other parts of the bed (that’s bed bug excrement). Don’t expect to see any live insects; though visible to the naked eye, bed bugs are adept at hiding in small cracks and crevasses. You should also check for bed bug poop between couch cushions and in the space between the carpet and the wall.

Bed bugs feed at night, leaving behind itchy red bumps on the skin, similar to mosquito bites. If you discover any signs of a bed bug infestation, inform the front desk immediately and request a new room.

Never leave luggage, clothes or purses on the bed or floor of your hotel room, where bed bugs can easily climb aboard. Instead, put these items in the bath tub or on the luggage rack.