Updated for 2021
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.
Bed bugs can’t fly, so they travel long distances by attaching onto human skin, clothing, and luggage when traveling, so you need to be on high alert whenever you travel to know how to identify bed bugs and ensure you do not take them back home with you.
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.
Pro Tips For Avoiding Bed Bugs
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.
EcoRaider Bed Bug Killer Review
| Updated for 2021Overall Rating: Pros Natural and safe for people and pets Causes immediate bed bug paralysis and death Residual effects Cons Some may...
Harris Bed Bug Killer Review
| Updated for 2021Overall Rating: Pros All-natural ingredients. EPA approved. Effective on bed bugs. Contact killing. Long-lasting protection....
Bed Bug Blocker – Zipped Mattress Protector
| Updated for 2021Overall Rating: ProsHypoallergenic.Comes in every mattress size.Breathable, non-vinyl fabric.Soft and...
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.
In either location, make sure you have evidence of the bed bugs. Take pictures with good lighting of whatever you have found, whether it’s a population of bed bugs or bites on your skin. You can also document any physical evidence like dried blood on the bed sheet or your clothes, or even bed bugs themselves if your host attempts to clean up before an inspection is performed. Additionally, you can visit the aforementioned bed bug reporting sites and share your evidence there so future guests can be aware.
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.
Where You Will Find Bed Bugs
The primary hiding spot for bed bugs is in and around your bed. They will hide:
- On all parts of your mattress, including inside it, on its corners, underneath it, and on top of it
- On all parts of your box spring, if you have one
- In the headboard
- On or below the bed frame
- In the crevices in the floor or wall near your bed
- In the storage spaces under your bed
A bed bug infestation may reach the point where you will need to dissemble each part of your bed to find where they are hiding when you sleep.
Despite the name, though, bed bugs aren’t restricted to your mattress. You may also find bed bugs in:
- Among clothes in your home or at retail stores
- Movie theater seats
- Near electrical outlets
- The crevices of drawers
- Inside closets and storage
These are all locations that can be found in AirBnBs and hotels across the country, as well as other locations you visit while traveling, including movie theaters and retail stores. Bed bugs need warm environments to survive, which is why they travel and lay eggs inside and within warm structures, like beds and couches.
Bed bugs may also be found on your sheets when you wake up. This may look like (according to the Environmental Protection Agency):
- A grouping of reddish-brownish stains on your sheets
- Black dots, which are bed bug excrement
- Actual bed bugs scurrying across your sheets
If there is any silver lining about finding bed bugs, it’s they do not nest up anywhere. If you see bed bugs off a human or animal body, they are looking for one. There is not a hive of them waiting out for months, waiting to strike at the right time. However, if you find multiple bed bugs in one spot, they either already found a host to thrive on or are in the process of doing it, so it’s important to eradicate them as soon as possible.
Nationally, bed bugs are most often found in the Northeast and the Southeast, per The Bed Bug Registry site, and generally in major cities and prime travel locations across the country like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami.
Symptoms of Bed Bugs
Because bed bugs are so difficult to see and the fact they strike most often when you’re sleeping, you may not know that there is an infestation of bed bugs until their symptoms reveal themselves on your body.
These symptoms include:
- Red, circular bite marks with a defined center
- Painful bumps on your skin
- Red bite marks, often in a row or zigzag down your back, arms, neck, legs, and other areas of your body
- Dried blood leftover from the bites
- Clear, thin skin shed from the bed bugs
- Burning sensation near the red marks
These symptoms all come with itchiness and some level of pain. Fortunately, bed bug are not believed to transmit disease. However, the symptoms may be caused by an allergic reaction to the bed bugs, which can be pretty severe and result in a fever, severe pain, difficulty breathing, and more. Constantly itching the bites can lead to open wounds, which always leave you susceptible to any infection that enters your system that way.
The aforementioned survey of pest experts said that if you’re experiencing symptoms of bed bugs like bites and rashes, there is a high likelihood that there is already an infestation of bed bugs present. If it comes to this, it’s important to know how to get rid of them or make sure you don’t bring the problem back to your own home.
Treatment for Bed Bug Bites
Fortunately, bed bug bites—on nearly all occasions—won’t require a trip to the hospital. However, once the problem is identified and you’re beginning treatment of the infestation, you also need treatment for yourself.
The first thing you should do when you discover bed bug bites is to clear the affected area thoroughly with soap and water, preferably with a washcloth or other scrubbing device. You may need one anyway if the bites end up on a hard-to-reach place like the middle of your back. After cleaning, place anti-itch cream or an over-the-counter cortisone rub on the bites to help stop the itching and reduce the inflammation. More severe cases may need a prescription cortisone to attack the issue.
With proper treatment, the bed bug bites should fully heal with a week or two.
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.
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.