Next time you enter a new hotel room, you might think twice before touching the light switch or reaching for the remote.
Those are two of the top surfaces most likely to be contaminated with potentially sickening bacteria, according to a small new study aimed at boosting cleaning practices at the nation's hotels and motels.
Katie Kirsch, a University of Houston researcher, led a team that measured germs on everything from curtain rods to bathroom sinks in nine hotel rooms in three states.
Kirsch came away thinking that the current industry standard of visual assessment -- if it looks clean, it is clean -- isn't good enough.
"A visual assessment can't tell you about bacteria and viruses," she told msnbc.com. "It can tell you what's on the surface, but not if it's been disinfected."
Kirsch, a recent graduate who has also studied subjects like the pathogens that linger on restaurant menus and the cleanliness of public bathrooms, enlisted colleagues at Purdue University and the University of South Carolina. They're presenting their work Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
The researchers went looking for aerobic bacteria, which include germs known to cause illness, including streptococcus and staphylococcus. They also tested for coliform -- or fecal -- bugs. They swabbed the surfaces, put the samples on ice and then flew them to the University of Houston microbiology lab for analysis.
Top hot spots for aerobic bacteria in hotels turned out to be the bathroom sinks and floors, the main light switches and the TV remotes. The remotes, for instance, racked up a mean of 67.6 colony-forming units of bacteria, or CFU, per cubic centimeter squared.
For comparison, one study of environmental cleanliness in hospitals recommended a top limit of 5 CFU per cubic centimeter squared. Even using Kirsch's relaxed proposal of 10 CFU, the TV remotes racked up way too many bugs.