Bed bugs are a scourge so horrible, you can barely begin to talk about them before eliciting horrified gasps from those around you. The pests are notoriously difficult to eradicate and uncomfortable to boot. You may be certain that bed bugs can't penetrate the fortress that is your apartment, but all of your stringent hygiene precautions go out the window when you're on vacation, because you never know who unpacked their things in the closet last. This is why it's important to know how to check your hotel room for bed bugs because, trust me, you don't want to bring them home with you.
Sussing out bed bugs, which feed on human blood and can live up to 18 months without feeding according to Bed Bug Central, is harder than you might imagine. While they can't jump and they don't fly, bed bugs are skilled hitchhikers that can attach themselves to clothing and luggage. This means you can bring uninvited houseguests home with you, and by the time you realize it, you could be dealing with a serious infestation.
"Bed bugs have made a comeback in the U.S. in the last decade. Being transported across the country with travelers’ belongings without being noticed has allowed these pests to make their way into all types of properties: transportation vehicles and hubs, hotels, colleges and universities, movie theaters and libraries, retail stores, and even offices," pest control company Rentokil Steritech explained on its blog. "Nowhere is safe."
While adult bed bugs can be the size and color of an apple seed, the babies (nymphs) can be invisible to the naked eye. These pests favor mattress seams and come out at night to get their meal — from your body. The good news is that bed bugs aren't known to carry diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the itching and angry red welts you'll experience after being bitten are next-level awful. That old childhood saying, "good night, don't let the bed bugs bite?" Yeah, it's not funny.
It's important to note that unlike other pests, because bed bugs only feed on blood, they can invade any dwelling no matter how dirty or clean it might be. Getting bed bugs is not a reflection on the cleanliness of your home or of a hotel. If I've just freaked you out something awful, before you vow to shun traveling altogether, there are some things you can do to stay bed-bug free when you're on the road, but it will change the way you interact with your hotel room.
"Place your luggage on non-upholstered furniture away from the bed at your hotel, such as on a desk," Dr. Nancy Troyano, entomologist and director of technical education and training for Rentokil Steritech, with regional brands, Western Exterminator, Ehrlich, and Presto-X, tells Bustle via email. "If you use a luggage rack, inspect it for bed bugs before plopping your suitcase down."
For many people, one of the best things about hotel rooms is being able to swaddle yourself in a nest of clean white sheets. However, before you flop onto the bed, you'll want to tear it apart first. "Pull back the corners of bedding on the bed and check the mattress and box spring for bed bugs or signs of bed bugs," Dr. Troyano says. "There are a few tell-tale signs to be aware of as you inspect the hotel bed. Bed bugs will molt and shed their skin before each new life stage. Often you can find these pieces of shed skin lying around areas of infestation such as in creases in the mattress," she notes. Additionally, "Bed bugs also leave fecal deposits after they consume their blood meal. You can spot these small dots, that appear as though you’ve touched a black marker to fabric, such as a mattress cover." Dr. Troyano also advises to "pay special attention to seams, where bed bugs like to hide."
If you do find signs of bed bugs, notify the front desk and ask to switch to a different room on a different floor immediately. Before you book your hotel, you can check the Bed Bug Registry to see if there have been any reports at that location. You can also use the registry to check apartment buildings before you sign a lease. Additionally, Rentokil Steritech has a detailed infographic you can refer to in order to make sure you've thoroughly checked your hotel or apartment.
Even if you've switched rooms, or you don't find any signs of bed bugs, there are some post-travel precautions you'll want to take as well. "Treat your suitcase as if you already have bed bugs. Do not to put your suitcase on your bed, couch, or other furniture to unpack. Instead, try to remove the contents from the suitcase in an area such as your laundry room, kitchen, garage, or foyer," Dr. Troyano says.
"Once unpacked, store your suitcase in a non-living space if possible, such as an attic, basement or garage. If the suitcase must be stored under a bed or in a bedroom closet, then place it in a large trash bag first and tie the bag shut." While these measures might sound extreme, they are important to follow because once you bring bed bugs into your home it can take months to get rid of them. Having a safe space — like your bed and home — invaded can cause stress, anxiety, dozens of sleepless nights, and it can strain even the strongest relationships.
If despite taking every precaution (other people can unknowingly bring them into your home) you do get bed bugs, it's much easier to isolate infestations in 2018 than it was a decade ago. Many companies employ bed-bug-sniffing dogs that can detect exactly where bed bugs are living in your home with incredible accuracy. This means that instead of washing or throwing out everything you own, you can more effectively mount a defense against the bugs.
While your pest-control company will treat your apartment or home, bed bugs tend to be resistant to a lot of common treatments. What's more, you'll want to ask your pest-control expert about the types of chemicals they're using. If you have cats you'll need to isolate them in a room that isn't being treated, like the bathroom, because pyrethroids, a common component in many pesticides, can be lethal to cats.
This is where some all-natch treatments can help get rid of, and even prevent, bed-bug infestations without harming you or your pets. Food grade diatomaceous earth, which you can order on Amazon, is an incredible pest killer. It looks like a fine powder, and the best part is that a little goes a long way. "Diatomaceous earth (DE) kills bed bugs by absorbing the oily, protective layer that covers their exoskeletons," the Diatomaceous Earth blog noted. "Without this protective coating, bed bugs will dehydrate and die within a few hours."
You can sprinkle it around your bed, along baseboards, and even dust a fine coating over your suitcase before and after traveling. While you shouldn't let fear of bed bugs keep you from doing the things you love, in this case the more you know, the less time you'll spend upending your life trying to get rid of these little devils. "It’s better safe than sorry," Dr. Troyano says. Seriously, this is one time when being cautious is your best bet.