Sept. 26, 2003 -- Hotels can be a place to unwind. They're like our home away from home. And whether we go there for romance, relaxation or business, there are certain things we come to expect when we check in — the most important of which is cleanliness.
But with thousands of people having possibly slept in the same bed before you, how do you know what's really under those covers?
Primetime decided to find out. Equipped with test tubes, special ultraviolet lights and rubber gloves, our producers swabbed their way through 20 well-known and respected hotels in four different cities around the country.
The results of what we uncovered are shocking, but — thankfully — do not pose any hazard to guests' health.
Behind Closed Doors
With the help of the UV light, we were able to see things not visible to the naked eye, viewing possible urine and semen stains, which were then swabbed and sent to a certified lab for analysis.
Hotel guests may be surprised at what we found. Urine or semen stains were confirmed in every room we examined — including on the bedspreads, the blankets, the walls, carpet, a desk top, a table and on upholstered chairs. One astounding discovery was in a hotel in Los Angeles, where we found a urine stain on the Bible.
"There's a lot going on behind those closed doors. But the reality is that the hotels are not going to be wiping down the walls and those surfaces," said Dr. Mark Callahan, a public health expert from New York-Presbyterian Hospital who evaluated our findings. (In fact, hotels do wipe down walls and surfaces, managers told Primetime, in the periodic thorough cleanings that are standard in the industry.)
Although the results may be unpleasant and disturbing, Callahan said they are not dangerous.
"It's not harmful because those are dried and sterile," he said, "They're not going to have viruses or bacteria growing in them."
At a four-star resort in Miami our lights revealed urine not only on the walls, but on the bedspread, a chair, a bathroom vanity stool and on the carpet by the bed.
At another property in Miami we found urine on the shower wall as well as several semen stains on the blanket.
In fact, we found urine or semen in every room we sampled regardless of price — from a one-star property where rooms go for $55 a night to a $400-a-night room at a five-star hotel.
Fighting to Keep Clean
Primetime also tested bathroom fixtures, television remote controls, telephones and doorknobs for the presence of bacteria. What we found showed that the levels on most surfaces were quite low and not harmful.
And the findings support what many managers told Primetime: that sanitation is a top priority.
Hotel managers Primetime spoke to said rooms are dusted, vacuumed and disinfected at least once daily — and sometimes twice.
They said that deep cleaning of some items and surfaces is done less frequently — on average every four months, unless stains are clearly visible.
And, after seeing the stains that were uncovered by the UV light, the managers at some of the hotels Primetime visited said they were considering training housekeepers to start using black lights to spot those hidden stains.
But whatever hotels do to make sure their rooms are clean, some guests believe you can never be too careful.
New Yorker Michele Vilanni always cleans her hotel room when traveling with her 3-year-old daughter. Packing a bottle of disinfectant and bleach wipes, she carefully cleans the bathroom and sprays the bed sheets to make sure they are clean — whether she needs to or not.
"I don't think it's overboard because I would rather make sure my family is OK," she told Primetime.