How To Detect Bed Bugs In Your Hotel Room

How to Detect and Avoid Bed Bugs in Hotel Rooms

What’s one of the first things you do when you enter a hotel room after a long day of traveling? Throw your luggage on the bed and sit down? Or flop down onto the bed to rest? According to Jim Dill, Extension Educator at The University of Maine, the bed is the last thing we should be touching when we first walk into a hotel room.

You’ve probably heard of bed bugs — small, blood-sucking parasites that feed on mammals and birds. Adult bedbugs are reddish-brown in color, with flat, oval-shaped bodies that are 4-5 millimeters in length. Bedbugs are attracted to warmth, and they usually feed at night, making a hotel bed the perfect spot for them to settle in. These little creatures can be found almost anywhere, so whether you are staying at a hotel for the night, moving into an apartment, or renting a beach house for a week, your safest bet is to check the bed right away.

Bedbugs can lay one to five eggs in a day, and more than 500 eggs in a lifetime. Their hatchlings are so small that they can pass through a stitch-hole in a mattress. If you are officially grossed out at this point, here’s the good news: Jim Dill has put together a video to help us look for and detect bed bugs during our next hotel stay before we climb underneath the covers. If the possibility of these insects feeding on your blood while you sleep is enough to freak you out, you’ll want to check out the video below:

Are There Bed Bugs in My Hotel Room?

Sometimes bed bugs making an unwelcome appearance in hotel rooms, and while hotels might want to keep that information quiet, there are a number of ways you can find out about infestations before you book a stay. Then, when you check in, be sure to search your room for any signs and notify staff immediately if you find them.

How to Find Out If Your Hotel Has Bed Bugs

Research The Bed Bug Registry, a site that collects reports of bed bugs from hotel guests. The Registry allows you to look up a particular hotel—or even all hotels in a given city—and see where guests have reported encounters with bed bugs in a hotel or apartment building nearby. If your hotel is listed with bed bug sightings, don’t panic. Pay attention to the date of the last report of bed bugs. The hotel may have cleared up the problem. You can also check review websites like TripAdvisor to see if anyone has recently reported bed bugs at a hotel. If you stumble across anything that indicates the presence of bed bugs, call the hotel and inquire about the situation prior to booking.

How to Look for Bed Bugs

Once you check in, take some time to look for the telltale signs of bed bugs in the hotel room. Adult bed bugs grow to a half an inch long, and you can spot them with the naked eye. They are, however, good at hiding, so you’ll have to look closely. Common places for bed bugs to hide in hotel rooms are in the seams of the mattress (pull up the sheets to look closely), in the cracks of the bed’s headboard, in the baseboards, and in the folds of upholstered furniture. Bed bugs will appear as reddish-brown ovals in these places.

Also, keep an eye out for droppings the bed bugs might have left behind in the hotel room. They’d appear as small brown spots, possibly tinged with blood. Check the sheets and mattress for these tiny spots.

What to Do If You See a Bed Bug

If you suspect there are bed bugs in your hotel, take a picture with your cell phone to show the hotel manager. Don’t expect any bed bugs you see to stay in one place while you call down to the hotel staff; they crawl about as fast as ants and like to hide.

If you have a reasonable suspicion that bed bugs are infesting your hotel room, consider leaving, as bed bugs travel to other rooms through cracks in the ceiling, floors, and walls. Thus, switching to another room is not a safe bet. Let the hotel manager know right away about the bed bugs; the hotel needs to be able to address the problem immediately.

Even if you don’t see any signs of bed bugs in your hotel, be careful not to allow any the opportunity to hitch a ride home with you. Don’t put your clothes on the carpet or on upholstered chairs. Likewise, keep your suitcase off the floor and the bed. Use a metal suitcase rack if one is available.

How to Treat Bed Bug Bites

Bed bugs typically bite people at night, and they leave small red welts, usually clustered in one area, that eventually become inflamed and itchy. Sometimes it takes a few days for the bites to show, and some people might not show any symptoms at all. If you get bit, you can sooth the irritation the same way you would a mosquito bite—use anti-itch creams, take antihistamines, or apply ice.

How to Avoid Bed Bugs in Hotels

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  • B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University

Bed bugs were once a pest of the past, but they’ve made a remarkable comeback in recent years. Just a few hitchhiking bed bugs in your luggage can start a full-scale infestation of these bloodsucking insects in your home.

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

Adult bed bugs are oval in shape and brown or reddish in color. Immature bed bugs tend to be lighter in color. Bed bugs usually live in groups, so where there’s one, there’s likely to be many. Other signs that bed bugs are present include tiny black spots on linens or furniture (excrement) and piles of light brown skin casings.

4 Common Myths About Bed Bugs

The mere thought of bed bugs might be enough to make your skin crawl (literally!), but it’s important you understand a few things about these pests and their habits.

  1. Bed bugs don’t transmit diseases and aren’t generally considered a threat to your health. As with any insect bite, bed bug bites can be itchy, and some people’s skin may be more sensitive than others.
  2. Bed bugs are not a product of filth. They will inhabit even the cleanest of homes. Don’t assume your house or your hotel room is too clean to host bed bugs. If there’s something for them to eat (usually you), bed bugs will be just as happy in a 5-star resort as they will in a cheap motel.
  3. Bed bugs are nocturnal. That means they’re only going to show their faces at night when it’s good and dark. Don’t expect to walk into a hotel room in broad daylight and see bed bugs crawling up the walls.
  4. Bed bugs are really small. Adult bed bugs are visible to the naked eye but you’ll need a magnifying glass to spot their eggs. Because they’re so tiny, bed bugs can hide in places you’d never think of looking.

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to minimize your chances of bringing bed bugs home from your next vacation or business trip.

What to Research Before You Go

Before you hit the road on your next vacation or business trip, do your homework. People are quick to share their travel experiences online, especially when it comes to bed bugs in hotel rooms. Websites like Tripadvisor, where customers post their own reviews of hotels and resorts, are invaluable resources to see if your hotel has a bed bug problem. You can also check out, an online database that tracks reported bed bug infestations in hotels and apartments. The bottom line – if people are saying they’ve seen bed bugs at a certain hotel or resort, don’t stay there on your trip.

How to Pack to Avoid Bed Bugs

Use sealable sandwich bags. This way even if you do end up in a room with the pests your belongings will be protected. Get yourself a good supply of large baggies (gallon sizes work great), and seal everything you can inside them. Clothing, shoes, toiletries, and even books can be zipped up tight. Make sure you seal the baggies completely, as even a tiny opening can allow a wandering bed bug to get in. When in your hotel room, keep the baggies zipped shut unless you need access to an item inside.

Use hard-sided luggage.Cloth-sided luggage offers bed bugs a million hideaways. Hard-sided luggage doesn’t have folds or seams where bed bugs can hide, and it closes completely, with no gaps so the pests can’t penetrate your bag’s interior.

If you must use soft-sided luggage for your trip, lighter-colored bags are better. Bed bugs will be virtually impossible to spot on black or dark-colored bags.

Pack clothing that is easy to launder.Avoid packing clothing that can only be laundered in cold water. Washing in hot water, then drying at high heat, does a good job of killing any bed bugs carried home on clothes, so you’ll want to choose garments that can be easily debugged when you return.

How to Inspect Your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs

When you arrive at your hotel or resort, leave your luggage in the car or with the bellhop. Should you walk in and find a room teeming with bed bugs, you don’t want your belongings sitting in the midst of the infestation. Don’t bring your bags into the room until you’ve done a proper bed bug inspection.

Bed bugs hide during daylight hours, and they’re quite small, so finding them takes a little work. It’s a good idea to carry a small flashlight when you travel since bed bugs will likely be hiding in the darkest crevices of the room. A LED key chain makes a great bed bug inspection tool.

The sulfur in an unlit match will cause the bugs to flee. Run an unlit match along the seam of the mattress to bring the bugs out of hiding.

Where to Look When Inspecting a Hotel Room for Bed Bugs

Start with the bed (they’re called bed bugs for a reason, after all). Check the linens thoroughly for any signs of bed bugs, especially around any seams, piping, or ruffles. Don’t forget to inspect the dust ruffle, a common hiding place for bed bugs that are often overlooked.

Pull back the sheets, and inspect the mattress, again looking carefully at any seams or piping. If there’s a box spring, check for bed bugs there as well. If possible, lift each corner of the mattress and box spring and inspect the bed frame, another popular hiding place for bed bugs.

Bed bugs can also live in wood. Continue your inspection by examining any furniture or other items near the bed. The majority of bed bugs live within close proximity to the bed. If you are able, inspect behind the headboard, which is often mounted on the wall in hotel rooms. Also, look behind picture frames and mirrors. Pull out any drawers, using your flashlight to look inside the dresser and nightstand.

What to Do If You Find Bed Bugs in Your Hotel Room?

Go immediately to the front desk and ask for a different room. Tell the management what bed bug evidence you found, and specify that you want a room with no history of bed bug problems. Don’t let them give you a room adjacent to the room where you found bed bugs (including the rooms above or below it), as bed bugs can easily travel through ductwork or wall cracks into adjoining rooms. Be sure to repeat your bed bug inspection in the new room, too.

While You’re Staying at the Hotel

Just because you didn’t find any bed bugs, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It’s quite possible your room could still have pests, so take a few extra precautions. Never place your luggage or your clothing on the floor or bed. Store your bags on the luggage rack or on top of a dresser, off the floor. Keep any items, not in use sealed in baggies.

How to Unpack From Your Trip and Kill Any Stowaway Bed Bugs

After you check out of the hotel, you can take steps to keep any undetected bed bugs from following you home. Before you put your luggage in the car to head home, place it in a large plastic garbage bag and knot it tightly closed. Once you get home, unpack carefully.

All clothing and other machine washable items should be laundered immediately in the hottest water allowable.Clothes should then dried on high heat for at least 30 minutes. This should kill any bed bugs that managed to stow away.

Freeze things that can’t be washed or heated.Items that cannot be exposed to water or heat can be frozen instead, although this takes longer to destroy the bed bug eggs. Keep these belongings sealed in baggies, and place them in a freezer for a minimum of 5 days.

Electronics and other items that cannot survive such temperature extremes should be inspected thoroughly, preferably outdoors or in a garage or other area of the house with limited carpeting or furniture.

Inspect your luggage, especiallysoft-sidedpieces. Check the zippers, lining, pockets, and any piping or seams carefully for signs of bed bugs. Ideally, you should steam clean your soft-sided luggage. Wipe down hard-sided luggage and check any fabric inner lining thoroughly.

How to Search Your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs


How to Search Your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs

You’re packed for your trip, your boarding passes are downloaded. and then that little moment of terror hits. What if the hotel you’re going to stay in has bed bugs? It’s a real concern, but by being vigilant, you can reduce your chances of bringing home some unexpected souvenirs.

I don’t put a lot of trust in online hotel bed bug ratings or reports; infestation status can change from day to day, and there is no reliable way to verify that reviews are not fake.

Here’s howIsearch for bed bugs when I arrive at a new hotel. I can’t promise this is foolproof, but knowing how one slightly-paranoid entomologist deals with the threat of bed bugs might be useful to some readers.

Tools you will need:A flashlight, or the flashlight feature of your phone. Use your phone to take photos of anything suspicious.

What you are looking for:Bedbugs hang out near their food source–you. After feeding, bed bugs poop, creating tell-tale brown stains of your clotted blood. You typically won’t see bugs – they are fairly tiny and can scurry quickly – but you will see these stains. You can find many itch-inducing photos here to help you know what to look for.

1. Put your luggage in the bathtub when you arrive.Luggage is a major way that bed bugs are moved from place to place. The bathroom has the fewest places for bed bugs to hide, and is the most vigorously cleaned part of a hotel room. If you actually find something suspicious in your search, you can grab your bags out of the tub and run away without risking contamination.

2. Tear the place up.Pull the bed away from the wall, if possible. Headboards fastened to the wall next to the bed are a great place for a flat little insect to stay. Shine your flashlight behind headboards and under beds. Strip the bed, right down to the mattress and bed springs to see what’s underneath the sheets and mattress pad. Lift the mattress and box springs up and look underneath. If it’s a platform bed, inspect carefully under the springs and around the base. Pay special attention to the seams of mattresses and the box springs. These are spots the bugs like to hide in.

3. Check your sheets the next morning.When you get up the next morning, look for little blood stains or tiny rusty spots on your sheets. Reactions to bed bug bites vary widely, from no reaction at all to lots of swelling and redness. You may be one of the people that doesn’t react with itching to the bed bug bites, so the presence of bites isn’t always a reliable check. Bed bugs sometimes bite in groups of three – but so do fleas, so that isn’t always definitive. Don’t use luggage racks, closet shelves, or drawers during your stay unless you feel confident that they are bed bug free.

This video is an excellent walkthrough of what should be your standard drill when you travel. Bookmark it. At the end, there are also some good tips for how to negotiate with your hotel if you actually find bed bugs.

Bed Bugs: There’s an App for that.

It’d be handy if you could have all of this info on your phone so you don’t miss any steps, and had photos of bed bugs and bed bug poop spots to compare to. Several different apps are on the market at prices ranging from free to $10 bucks. Every app I looked at was put out by a commercial entity, with the purpose of selling you something.

Most also had epically bad user interface (UI) design and graphics; it seemed like pest control companies just ported their vintage 1996 websites into a phone app. I’m afraid I must also report there was some use of Comic Sans Fonts.

The problem with a commercially-created phone app is privacy. You hand over a lot of personal information when you install an app. I honestly didn’t see much in terms of value added that would make it worth downloading any of these apps. I found "joke" apps pretending to be bed bug detectors for the purposes of freaking your friends out, and some highly bogus "ultrasonic repelling" apps that suggest they turn your phone into a sonic threat to bugs of all kinds. There is no evidence that bed bugs or mosquitoes are repelled by ultrasound. Don’t waste your money.

A screenshot showing the comparison tool of the Proof app.

Only one app stood out asslightlyuseful: Bed Bug Proof. (Important caveat:every few screens they try to sell you their product, a neem spray called Proof™.) The inspection walk-through is a good overview, and if you give the app access to the photos on your phone, you can access a photo comparison tool. The user interface is clear and easy to use.

Happy Hotel Hunting.

Additional Bed Bug Resources:

How to Check for Bed Bugs in a Hotel Room

Savvy travelers need to know how to check for bed bugs in a hotel room, no matter if they’re staying a night in a rural motel or a week in a five-star resort. After all, the presence of bed bugs is "not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found," according to the Centers for Disease Control. Here, five tips for how to check for (and deal with) bed bugs in a hotel room.

1. Do your homework before making a hotel reservation.

If you’re worried about bed bugs before you even check in, look up your hotel on this bed bug registry to find out if a hotel has—or has had—bed bugs. You can read more about the risks of bed bug bites here . While we’re all for coming home with souvenirs , bed bugs aren’t ones we’d recommend.

2. Check every inch of your bed.

The first place you should check for bed bugs is the most obvious: your hotel bed . Look along the mattress seams and zippers, under the mattress, and at each joint of the bed frame. We don’t mean just lifting up one corner to look—that won’t cut it. Make sure to lift up each corner of the mattress and thoroughly check for signs. Wondering what bed bugs look like? Measuring only four to five millimeters, they’re the size of a standard pearl. They have flat, oval-shaped red or brown bodies, complete with tiny legs and antenna. Since bed bugs typically come out at night, keep a lookout for other tell-tale traces of their presence such as blood (ew, we know) and/or tiny white bed bug eggs about the size of a mustard seed or grain of sand.

3. Don’t stop at the bed—check the carpet and furniture as well.

According to the CDC, bed bugs generally live within eight feet of where you sleep. So check for the same bed bug signs along zippers and covers of the in-room sofa and chairs next. Bed bugs’ relatively flat bodies allow them to fit into tight crevices, so look under buttons and at the seams of the furniture. Scan the area where the carpet meets the baseboards and, before you unpack and hang up your clothes, be sure to check the joints of the closets and drawer seals. For extra back-up, use your phone’s flashlight to help you see the small signs of bed bugs in hard-to-reach corners. Last but not least, check around your bedside table. Do you find any signs of bed bugs around picture frames, the joints of your nightstand’s drawers, or around the lamps?

4. Keep your suitcase on a luggage rack far from the bed.

A word to the wise: Don’t throw your suitcase on the bed or the floor while you’re in the process of searching for bed bugs. If bed bugs are present, tossing the suitcase on the floor is an open invitation for them to climb aboard. While you’re making sure the coast is clear, use the luggage rack or place your suitcase on a hard surface, like a table, to minimize your risk of attracting bed bugs.

5. Request to change rooms.

If you suspect bed bugs after any of these steps, tell the hotel front desk immediately and ask to be moved to a different room —specifically, one that isn’t directly above, below, or next to the room you’re currently in, Rentokil suggests.

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