Failing Cleanliness Grades on College Campuses

Report analyzes germiest campus surfaces and student hygiene habits

college students, college germs

Almost half (45%) of college students recently surveyed about their hygiene habits reported being hyperconscious of germs. However, the cleanliness of their college campus may not meet their expectations due to a lack of concern and cooperation among their classmates, making work harder for custodians hired to keep the campus clean.

College Rover, creators of a user-friendly college research tool for students and their parents/guardians, surveyed 1,000 college students about their hygiene habits. The survey results found:

  • Seven in 10 respondents reported washing their hands between 5 and 15 times per day
  • 31% reported changing their bedsheets once a week or more
  • One in four said they found a used condom on campus or in their dorms
  • Three in 10 admitted reporting a roommate for hygiene issues.

College Rover also conducted swab tests on surfaces at two U.S. college campuses to check for bacteria. Researchers swabbed each surface three times, averaged the colony-forming units (CFUs) of bacteria per swab for each surface type, then made their results available in a report released in October 2023.

“In the realm of higher education, it turns out that some college campuses are not just hotbeds of intellectual activity but also thriving ecosystems for germs,” said James Campigotto, a member of the Creative Team for College Rover. “Our comprehensive study delved into the microbial landscape of college life, swabbing everything from public bathrooms to library desks and computer lab keyboards. The results were both eye-opening and, quite frankly, a bit stomach-turning.”

Books, bathrooms, and bacteria

The researchers swabbed for several kinds of bacteria, including gram-negative rod bacteria, which tend to be resistant to antibiotics. Examples of gram-negative rod bacteria include salmonella, E. coli, and Legionella. They also swabbed for gram-positive bacteria, which cause infections such as colitis and diphtheria that respond to antibiotics but can be dangerous for individuals with weakened immune systems. One specific type of gram-positive rod bacteria is Bacillus. Although most strains of this bacteria are harmless to humans, Bacillus can lead to food spoilage which causes food poisoning. One strain causes anthrax.

Not surprisingly, the swab tests found restrooms contained the most germs, with an average of 47 million CFUs found in public restrooms across the campuses. Most of the bacteria found were gram-negative rods.

“To put it into perspective, these bathrooms surpassed the microbial density of a Saturday night frat party,” said Campigotto.

Campus laundry rooms were also especially germ-infested, with an average of 30.5 million CFUs found on laundry room surfaces, made up of 98% gram-negative rods and 2% Bacillus.

College library desks were the cleanest area swabbed, but still had an average of 29.2 million CFUs. Most bacteria found on library desks (96%) were gram-positive rods.

Habits that earn an F

Despite the abundance of germs found on campuses, some of the students interviewed did not go out of their way to protect themselves from harmful pathogens.

  • Almost 50% of students said they never wipe down common area surfaces (such as desks, tables, and keyboards) before or after using them.
  • Nearly 15% of college students said they only clean their living space once per month.

However, students were quick to notice their classmates’ bad habits. Among the women interviewed, most (79%) listed the failure to cover coughs or sneezes the worst hygiene habits they see on campus. Other bad hygiene habits that repulsed female students included:

  • Not cleaning up bodily fluids (77%)
  • Not washing hands after using the restroom (74%)
  • Leaving dirty dishes in the sink (65%)
  • Not cleaning up food messes (64%).

Among the men interviewed, most (60%) listed not cleaning up bodily fluids as the worst hygiene habit they see on campus. Other bad hygiene habits that bothered male students included:

  • The failure to cover coughs and sneezes (56%)
  • Not washing hands after using the restroom (53%)
  • Not flushing the toilet (45%)
  • Leaving dirty dishes in the sink (44%).

Campigotto said better hygiene habits can help prevent students from becoming ill from germs found on their college campus.

“While the battle against germs on campus might seem daunting, adopting simple practices—such as regular handwashing and surface cleaning—can go a long way in safeguarding both personal and communal health,” he said.





Patricia LaCroix

Associate Editor, CMM

Patricia LaCroix is the associate editor for CMM. She has a degree in communications with a concentration in journalism. Over the course of her four decades in publishing, Patricia has worn many hats, serving as writer, editor, and graphic designer for both print and online media. She can be reached at [email protected].

Kathleen Misovic

Managing Editor for CMM

Kathleen Misovic is managing editor for CMM. She has a degree in journalism and an extensive background in writing for print and digital media for various publications and associations. Contact her at [email protected].  

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Failing Cleanliness Grades on College Campuses
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