Updated for 2019

Bed Bugs
How To Identify Them and Not Take Them Home

Bed bugs are an increasing problem in the United States, affecting millions of family homes, apartments, hotels, and motels across the country. For a stretch in the late 20th century and into the 21st century, bed bugs were all but eradicated and tamed in the U.S., according to the University of Kentucky entomology department. However, in recent decades bed bugs have come back to infest homes, schools, and other locations, which the entomology department credits to “less effective insecticides” and an overall change in how the pest industry handles preventing and getting rid of bed bugs.

According to a 2018 survey, almost every pest professional has encountered a swarm of bed bugs before, and a majority of the professionals were originally called out to treat another pest like ticks or fleas before discovering the real issue. The survey of pest professionals found that bed bugs have been seen in:

These are all locations you may travel to, whether it’s to an AirBnB, hotel, or other rented living space. According to a 2011 survey, Americans who were surveyed feared they were more likely to encounter bed bugs at a hotel rather than their own home. So while bed bugs are a problem everywhere, the survey reveals you may be more likely to encounter bed bugs when you’re staying at someone’s home or apartment (like an AirBnB) than at a hotel or motel.

How To Avoid Bed Bugs While Traveling

Encountering bed bugs when traveling is one thing, but taking the problem home with you exacerbates the issue and brings the bed bugs to places they do not need to be. When traveling to hotels or AirBnbs across the country, there are steps you can take to prevent taking bed bugs home with you.

Before you travel, we recommend visiting online registries to see which hotels have had bed bug sightings in the past. These sites, like Bed Bug Reports and The Bed Bug Registry, have thousands of reports that show where and when bed bugs have been found in hotels across the country. You can also check the user reviews on AirBnB to see if anyone who’s stayed there has encountered these pests.

Wash and dry your clothes with hot water and high heat (as long as your clothes can withstand the temperature without being damage) before leaving your location.

Before you leave, spray your luggage with permethrin. This is a non-toxic insecticide that won’t wear off while your luggage is in transit. It’s the same substance you would spray on your clothes or skin to prevent other insects from biting you.

Make sure that the room you’re staying in never gets too cluttered. It’s understandable that you may want to throw your clothes down and worry about them later while vacationing, but bed bugs enjoy warm space like piles of clothes and burrow in them. Hang clothes up or put them away.

Elevate your luggage. If your suitcase is raised off the ground, it will be difficult for large amounts of bed bugs to make it into your suitcases. You may also consider putting your luggage in the bathroom on an elevated surface. Bathrooms are well lit and less likely to have bed bugs because of the lack of hiding spaces.

Check around the room for bed bugs. Again, individually, bed bugs are tough to see, but in colonies, they’re way more identifiable. Lift up bed sheet and bed skirts, and check under pillow cases to make sure there are no populations of bed bugs present. You can also check by outlets, air vents, and along baseboards for any bed bugs.

Keep clothes and luggage off upholstered furniture like sofas and tables. Bed bugs are as likely to hide in these sort of pieces as they are beds and frames.

Thoroughly clean your luggage and clothes when you get back from vacation to make sure any bed bugs that you may have brought home are killed immediately.

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How To Report Bed Bugs

If you encounter bed bugs when traveling, let your host know immediately.

If you are staying at an AirBnB:

Let the host know and then contact customer support on the app to try and find a new place immediately. If the host offers another room in the house to stay in, respectfully tell them you’d feel more comfortable finding another place to stay. If you unpacked any clothes or encountered the bed bugs at all, make sure you fully wash your body with hot soap and water and also run your clothes through the washer and dryer on the hottest settings

If you are saying at a hotel:

Contact the front desk immediately and let them know about the bed bug issue. Make sure your clothes are washed on high heat to kill the bugs, and take a shower with hot water and soap. When getting a new room, it’s okay to stay in the same hotel or motel, but request to be moved far away from the infected room. If there are no available spaces, switch to a different hotel.

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like

An important step in identifying bed bugs in your hotel or AirBnB is knowing exactly what they look like. They look similar to ticks or fleas—two other insects that you may find on your skin while you travel, especially to warm locations across the South in addition to tropical locations outside the country.

The defining characteristics of bed bugs are:
  • A reddish/brownish outer coat
  • Flat bodies
  • Fully grown adults are about 5 millimeters long, and young-adult or baby bed bugs are about 2 millimeters long
  • An oval-shaped body
  • They look like they have wings, but they cannot be used because they aren’t fully developed

Bed bugs feed off human blood and they tend to do it when you sleep, which gives them their namesake. Their need to feed off blood is similar to the bugs they look like—fleas and ticks—so bed bugs can easily be mistaken for them on the skin. However, ticks and other blood-sucking insects need constant streams of blood in order to survive and reproduce, whereas bed bugs only need to feed for a few minutes every couple of days. This allows them to reproduce more over an entire lifespan without getting caught on the skin, especially if most of the work is done while you’re resting.

Over an entire 10-month life, one female bed bug can lay several hundred eggs, which in turn can produce thousands of other bed bugs. It will take about five weeks for an egg to hatch and turn into an adult.

Throughout their entire life, bed bugs are difficult to find and identify. In their nymph stage, bed bugs are almost unrecognizable on the skin. They are white and fleshy, and they are so small it’s hard to feel them moving around on your skin. Even when they grow to their adult stage, they blend in well with the skin, which gives them an extra layer of camouflage. By the time you wake up and discover the symptoms of bed bugs, they most likely have already returned to another location to find something to feed on or lay eggs.

How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs

If you encounter bed bugs in your home that you’re renting out to guests on a regular basis or if you’re running a hotel or motel and need bed bugs gone as soon as possible, you should start treating the situation immediately. Follow these steps to try and get rid of bed bugs as quick as possible:

Remove all bed sheets and linens from the affected area and wash them with detergent in the hottest possible water. Bed bugs can’t survive in temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit or above, so make sure it’s warmer than that.

Take a vacuum to the area surrounding the affected area to clean up any shed skin or dead bed bugs in the room. Steam clean the carpet or rugs if there are any nearby. Bed bugs can hide under the threads of the carpet.

Seal any cracks they may have hidden in. This can include by power outlets, baseboards, and the floor.

Dismantle hiding spots like dressers and bed frames to make sure there aren’t any bed bugs hiding there. Remove drawers from dressers and wipe them down thoroughly.

Spray bed bug insecticide to kill any remaining bed bugs that try to enter the room or escape cracks as you begin cleaning. This is more of an immediate measure and will dry up and not prevent bed bugs from coming in long after you spray.

Spray preventative insecticide or dab bed bug powder in problem areas. This will eventually help kill those bed bugs that are hiding out in hard-to-reach areas, as long as they come to the surface.

Wipe down and clean air vents on the ground and near the ceiling. Bed bugs may hide inside or around these vents. Spray these areas with insecticide. You may want to turn on the air conditioning to help blow out any bed bugs that are currently inside. You can also remove the air vent and clean the area inside.

Make sure the room remains free of clutter.

Unfortunately, a bed bug infestation may be severe enough that you won’t be able to get rid of them on your own. In this case, contact a local pest control expert. They will come out and assess the infestation, and can often begin Treatment that day. It may take multiple rounds of treatment spread out over a few days to several weeks to make sure the problem is fully solved.

If you are a host and your living space has bed bugs, contact a pest professional immediately. You may also want to check surrounding rooms and living spaces to see if the bed bugs came from there, or if the root of the problem is where you found them. Do not let anyone stay in the room or space until the problem is fixed.

The Bottom Line

While bed bugs are becoming an increasing problem in the United States, there are preventative measures that can help keep your home pest free. Bed bugs should be taken seriously and sometimes require the work of a professional to rid your home of them. For those who want to take tackle these pests themselves, there are many ways to remove them from your home and have a bug clean environment.

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