How to inspect your hotel room for bed bugs

I thought I would make use of my travel time to put together a new Ask An Entomologist post: a little primer on how to check your hotel room to see if there are bedbugs.

It may just be because I go to entomology conferences where there are lots of presentations about bedbugs in hotels, but I’ve developed bit of a paranoid routine that so far has worked to let me sleep happily, and not bring any uninvited guests home.

For facts about basic bedbug biology, I’ll refer you to this excellent publication from the University of Kentucky.  So–on to the searching.

Step 1:  Look online and see if bedbugs have been reported where you are going. Do this when you’re considering where to stay and before you book a room.  The Bedbug Registry is a handy place to start, but many other online reviews will have a mention of bed bugs if they are present.

Step 2: Leave your luggage by the door when you arrive. If it turns out that the room is infested, why go all the way in?  Luggage is one of the known ways that bed bugs are moved from place to place.  So try to avoid picking up any hitchhikers. Another option is to put your luggage in the bathtub, if you can’t leave it out in the hall.

Step 3: Case the Joint. Pay special attention to the bed, bed frame, and any headboard.  These are the prime spots you’ll see signs of an infestation.  Bedbugs hang out near their food source–you.

Bedbugs don’t live on people permanently like lice. They are active at night, and need a place to hide during the day.  Headboards fastened to the wall next to the bed (common in many hotels) are a great place for a flat little insect to stay.

After feeding, they poop,  creating tell-tale brown stains of your clotted blood. You typically won’t see the bugs–they are fairly tiny and can scurry quickly–but you will see these stains.

This second photo shows a severe example of what you are looking for.

Step 4: Take things apart.  Start by pulling the bed away from the wall, if possible.  A flashlight is handy for shining behind headboards and under beds.

Inspect the headboard and wall behind the bed. Any spots there?

Strip the bed, right down to the mattress and bed springs. You have to see what’s underneath the clean sheets and mattress pad to know what’s been there. 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 boxsprings.  These are spots the bugs like to hide in.

Step 5: Check everything else that could potentially harbor bedbugs. What the hey, you’re already paranoid, why not?

Start with bedstands near the bed, and then check couches, drawers and furniture, and other items that are near the bed.  Bed bugs can live in amazingly tiny cracks and crevices.

I also check the closet if it has a luggage rack like this one.

Step 6: Check the next morning. The last check is to look on your sheets when you get up the next morning. If you see little blood stains on your sheets, or tiny rusty spots….beware.

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.  Typically bed bugs leave bites in groups of three–but so do fleas, so that isn’t always definitive.

So there you go.  This isn’t a foolproof method, but it does let me sleep in peace. And so far, I’ve not seen anything that would keep me up.