The Best Western in San Dimas, east of Los Angeles, is probably one of the nicest mid-price motels I've ever stayed it, with its red tile roof and palm trees and sparkling courtyard pool.
But what really caught my attention, as a fan of motel hype, was this little TV remote control caddy trumpeting "CLEAN WORLD" and "CLEAN REMOTE." I've written before about Hampton Inns ballyhooing their clean sheets, but this seemed catering to a new, very specific concern: all those grubby fingers of former guests smearing against these plastic buttons.
I vaguely remembered where this had come from. A 2012 University of Houston study claiming that hotel remote controls are particularly filthy, along with bedside lamp switches.
They are, though only marginally more than the rest of the room. The study looked at 18 separate areas in hotel rooms, and found fecal matter on 81 percent of all surfaces.
My bias approaching this topic was that the world is a dirty place, and that, dirty as they no doubt are, hotel rooms are still probably a lot cleaner than their guests' homes, because while they get used a lot more, they also get cleaned a lot more.
Not true, according to a quick review of the literature, such as Hotel Hygiene Exposed, a report that found, "the average hotel room appears to be dirtier than a typical home, an airplane, and even a school."
In general, I administer a generous dose of trying-not-to-think-about-it to these situations, though I do make a point of opening the doors to exit public bathrooms with a paper towel or, in a pinch, my handkerchief, though it then goes back into my pocket to be clamped over my face later so what's the point? (Many people seem to view handkerchiefs themselves as disgusting, a reminder that hygiene is in the eye of the beholder, sometimes quite literally).
The world is a dirty place, and spritzing the bathroom counter in your hotel room with Lysol seems a few steps on the path to wearing a white paper mask and cotton gloves in public, the way women do in Asia.
If I seem unusually passive, resigned to mucking around in the ordure of a freshly-cleaned motel room, remember: I've read "The Secret House: 24 Hours in the Strange and Unexpected World in Which We Spend our Nights and Days" by David Bodanis (Simon & Schuster, 1986) a rollicking look at our homes on a microscopic level.
It begins with one of the better openings of any science book I've ever read: "From the alarm clock a spherical shock wave traveling at Mach 1 starts growing outward, spreading and spreading till it hits the wall. Some of the energy it carries causes the curtains over the window to heat up from the friction of the onslaught; much of the rest rebounds back, enters the ears of two sleepers, and finally rouses them awake."
Soon the sleepy residents are beginning their day, staggering across carpets filed with "mites, thousands and thousands of tiny mites: male mites and female mites and baby mites an even, crunched to the side away from the main conglomerations, the mummified corpses of long-dead old great-grandparent mites. Brethren of theirs stir in the bed too, where they have spent the night snuggling warm and cosy under our sleepers ... it sounds unpleasant, but is quite normal."
Meaning "nearly 100 per cent of our houses are host to these creatures."
Cleanliness is in large part an illusion. It helps not to look too closely.
Late in the book, a dinner guest goes to the bathroom, and what takes place after he flushes the toilet, Bodanis takes the better part of two pages to describe.
"As a toilet flushes normally most of the water and contents go swirling down the drain but because of all that swirling a certain aerated froth is momentarily created on the topmost layer of the water. It's only a few hundredths of an inch thick, but precisely because it is so thin it's not going to stay where it's created for long. This flush-induced froth separates off from the rest of the water as it does down, hovers briefly in the air and then goes soaring up."
This cloud of moisture and microscopic fecal matter hits the ceiling, and within minutes is distributed throughout the house, where the microscopic organisms contained within reside for days and weeks, very much alive. "They nestle on the floor and cabinets, on the sink, toothbrush and wall."
You get the impression. So yes, motel rooms are somewhat dirtier than everywhere else. But it's really just a question of degree. The house you're in right now is infected with bacteria, fungi, molds, viruses, amoebae, micro-creatures of all description, filth of every variety. The surfaces, the air. You know what turns out to be a prime location for bacteria to thrive? Somewhere moist, craggy and nutrient rich. Any guesses?
Your face. Frankly, I'm not sure if the specially-scrubbed TV remote is less a symbol of your host's meticulous care and more an unwelcome reminder of just how messy our lives really are. I'm generally a fan of vigorous cogitation, but here is one area where I truly believe, it's better not to think too much about it.
|Used with permission.|