Germ zapper? Best Western Hotels using ultraviolet, black lights to clean hotel rooms

NORTH CANTON, OH - A major hotel chain is taking germ-fighting to the next level, and using ultraviolet and black lights to clean rooms.

Best Western said surveys showed consumers don't expect a clean room when they book a mid-scale hotel. So, they're trying to change that attitude and assumption.

The tub, toilet, phone receiver and remote get touched a lot in a hotel room. No matter how much the maids scrub, there are germs left behind.

"People come back when it's clean. They don't come back when it's dirty," said Annette Davis, with the hotel chain.

Davis inspects every hotel room with a black light. The light detects what we can't see, like spots on a toilet seat.

When she shined it on a toilet in a room at one of the chain's Ohio locations, we saw small specks on the underside of the seat. Sometimes those dots are nothing more than lint. Davis wiped the toilet seat with a rag, and the spots disappeared. If it was something else, the maid would come back and re-clean the toilet.

After all the cleaning is done, UV light is used to sterilize the room.

"Any bio-hazardous germs or anything like the UV light destroys, "said Monica Corbin with the Best Western Plus of North Canton, Ohio. "You can actually kill 98 percent of the germs."

The technology is used to kill germs in operating rooms. But, can it really work in hotel rooms?

Kent State Environmental Health Sciences professor Christopher Woolverton, PhD, said it's a good step forward.

He said hotel rooms may have feces and germs from coughing and sneezing. UV light can kill those, but only if used properly.

"If they get the right exposure time, the germs can be killed," Woolverton said.

Woolverton set up an experiment to show us how it works.

We swabbed E. Coli onto a Petri dish. We covered half of the dish with a sheet of paper.  When we checked back 24 hours later, there was no visible E. Coli on the side exposed to the UV light. It was killed. On the side covered by the piece of paper, there was visible E. Coli growth.

But hotel room surfaces are getting just a few seconds of exposure.

"Let's consider the fact that we are at least attempting to lower the bio burden of organisms in an environment and that's a good thing," Woolverton said.

It's an attempt to make rooms cleaner and gain back customers. But, don't count on germ-free rooms just yet.

These new tools are being rolled out this year at all Best Western hotels. Already, the chain said guest satisfaction is improving.

It's possible this technology could spread to other hotels. The concern is how many germs are you really getting with such a small wand and such short exposure. Woolverton said he'd like to see more studies on that.

Also, there's a safety concern. UV lights are dangerous to our eyes and skin. So they must be used properly by trained staff. Best Western's staff is going through training.

What do you think of these new cleaning tools? Join the conversation and comment below.

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