When staying at hotels these days, we’re used to the idea of taking measures to protect against COVID-19 and other potential infections. But there’s another hotel room threat worth staving off: bed bugs.
“Bed bugs can be present in any hotel no matter how expensive the rooms may be. In fact, we just had a pest control company mention to us the other day that all the calls they are seeing right now are in your higher-priced properties,” said Jeff White, chief product officer at the pest control manufacturer SenSci.
“That said, bed bugs definitely tend to be a bigger issue in lower-socioeconomic settings for an assortment of reasons,” he added. “Roadside hotels and motels where you have a higher incidence of extended-stay residents anecdotally can have a higher incidence of issues compared to some of your higher-end hotels, but honestly, it can all vary dramatically from property to property.”
If you’ve ever dealt with a bed bug infestation, you know it’s not an experience you’d wish on your worst enemy. So it’s worth it to be mindful while traveling.
“Bed bugs affect people in different ways, but for the majority of people, it can cause extreme anxiety, panic and worry,” said Matt Kelley, president of Prodigy Pest Solutions. “This, in turn, can drastically interfere with a person’s regular sleep cycle. Additionally, bed bug are a very difficult pest to treat. Finding an infestation in a hotel, prior to bringing bed bugs home with you, will therefore save you money, and anxiety in the long run.”
While you may never be able to fully guarantee a bed bug-free existence, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of being exposed or bringing them back home with you. We asked Kelley, White and other experts to share the best ways to check for bed bugs in hotels and other protective measures travelers can take.
Know the signs
“There is no way to 100% prevent bringing bed bugs into a home because they are incredibly small and cryptic creatures, hiding deep in cracks and crevices which can make them incredibly difficult to detect,” said Brittany Campbell, an entomologist with the National Pest Management Association.
“However, it’s worth doing an inspection for bed bugs when traveling and staying in a new place if you know the signs to look for ― live bed bugs, fecal staining, cast skins and eggs ― to hopefully catch them early before they have time to get into your belongings and hitchhike back in your luggage, purse or backpack home with you,” she added.
Although bed bugs are very small and often hidden away during the day, they are still generally large enough to be visible to the naked eye. Kelley noted that this is true during all stages of the bed bug life cycle.
“In addition to live bugs, bed bugs leave behind distinct evidence including droppings (looks as if someone took a ballpoint pen or marker and made marks or dots), cast skins (empty shell of a bed bug), and eggs (they appear like tiny grains of white rice in clusters),” he explained.
Inspect the bed
As their name suggests, bed bugs are often found lurking in and around beds, so that’s the first place you should check.
“I typically recommend checking the obvious areas such as the edges of the mattress and box spring as well as any area you can see on the headboard without moving everything around,” White said.
In addition to the visible mattress seams and box spring, you can also inspect the pillows, sheets and comforter for telltale stains or spots.
“This type of inspection will typically identify higher-level infestations but may not detect 10 or less bed bugs,” White added. “If someone wants to inspect the room more thoroughly, which requires stripping beds and moving the mattress and box spring, you should ask for the hotel’s permission first.”
Check out the rest of the room
Once you’ve inspected the bed and surrounding area, be sure to check other cushioned furniture.
“If there are couches or chairs present, it is important to look on the undersides of them, between cushions, and along their seams,” Kelley noted.
Do a thorough inspection before unpacking. If you find anything suspect, notify the hotel as soon as possible and look into changing rooms or establishments. The key is to be proactive so that you can identify any problems early on.
Change rooms if needed
“If you discover a bed bug while inspecting, try your best to carefully capture the insect, and take pictures and video of what you’ve found,” Kelley advised. “This documentation assists you and the hotel management with choosing the next best step for your stay.”
If you decide to change rooms within the same establishment, make sure you don’t move to a room that is adjacent or directly above or below the suspected infestation.
“Bed bugs can easily hitchhike via housekeeping carts, luggage and even through wall sockets,” Campbell explained. “If an infestation is spreading, it typically does so in the rooms closest to the origin.”
Protect your suitcase
Even if your visual inspection doesn’t turn up any evidence of bed bugs, there are still steps you can take to ensure you don’t bring any unseen ones home with you. Perhaps the most effective measure is to keep your luggage protected from invaders.
“Consider placing your suitcase in a plastic trash bag or protective cover during the duration of your trip to ensure that bed bugs cannot take up residence there prior to departure,” Campbell advised.
Some travelers also put their suitcases in the bathtub or other part of the bathroom, away from carpeting or upholstery.
Inspect and clean your belongings at home
The bed bug prevention process doesn’t end when you leave the hotel. Whether or not you observed evidence of bed bugs, you can still take precautions when you return home.
“Remember: Bed bugs travel by hitching rides. After your trip, inspect your suitcases before bringing them into the house,” Campbell recommended. “Vacuum your suitcase thoroughly before storing away. Consider using a garment hand steamer to steam your luggage, which will kill any bed bugs or eggs that may have hitched a ride home.”
She also suggested drying all of the clothes from your luggage on high heat for at least 20 minutes to kill all life stages of bed bugs and any eggs that may have wound up in the bags. And if you do suspect an infestation in your home, seek professional help.
“Bed bugs are not a DIY pest, as they are the one of the most difficult pests to control,” Campbell said. “Homeowners should immediately dry bedding, linens, curtains and clothing on the hottest dryer setting, as well as vacuum the area infested. From there, homeowners should seek assistance from a licensed pest control professional who can properly inspect and treat the home.”