Do bedbugs like cars?
June 11, 2012 10:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm paranoid about bedbugs, probably from reading too much Ask.Mefi. Help fill in the gaps for my one weak spot in a vacation plan.

I'm going to be traveling by car for vacation to a city that has a large bedbug problem. Many hotels are in the bedbug registry, including two entries for the one I'll be staying at, although it looks like management is very responsive and aggressive in treatment. But, should the worst happen and I pick up bedbugs, I know what to do - don't bring any of my things into the house unless it's directly into the dryer.

But what about my car? If I have picked up bedbugs, couldn't they then lurk in my car?

Although I do live in Texas and temperatures in cars here can get very high, I have read that this is not a reliable way to deal with bedbugs because there can be cool spots. So then, should I bomb the car? Or something? Am I overthinking this?
posted by Addlepated to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Am I overthinking this?


When you get to the hotel, before you unpack anything, check the seams of the mattress for bugs, and some other tight spots, like along the carpet edge of the baseboards. That should give you the comfort you're looking for.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:58 AM on June 11, 2012

Check the hotel mattress when you check into the hotel. If there's no bedbugs on the mattress, then they won't follow you to your car.

Turn on all the lights in the room, pull back the sheets and mattress cover and inspect the seam of the mattress on both sides, head/foot of bed and top and bottom of the mattress. Take a quick peek at any upholstered furniture and the curtains.
posted by floweredfish at 11:00 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, don't put your luggage on the bed to unpack.
posted by KateViolet at 11:04 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the worst happens and you pick up bedbugs, they would be transmitted in your clothing, no? You could set up some kind of quarantine system for all of your potentially exposed clothes (plastic garbage bags inside your luggage?), and keep a known-clean outfit similarly sealed up which you change into right before you leave the hotel room.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:05 AM on June 11, 2012

I'm paranoid about bedbugs, probably from reading too much Ask.Mefi.

Me too! I inspect the mattress, then look behind the headboard for blood trails. You can lift up most hotel headboards. I put my suitcase on a hard table or the folding thingy in the closet. The one time I thought I saw something I put the suitcase in the garage when I got home and transferred all the clothing straight to the dryer. I also got some dry ice and put it next to the suitcase, the CO2 is supposed to draw the little beasties out. Nothing.

So far so good.
posted by LarryC at 11:23 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

nthing the check the mattress and headboard out for anything. Also, when I travel I leave my luggage and clothes in the bathroom. Apparently the little bastards don't like to venture all that far from their nesting areas and the bathroom is usually far enough away that they'd never stumble in there for a ride home.

And it goes without saying that I never use the drawers in the room to store my clothes for the same reason.
posted by barc0001 at 11:28 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Cars rarely get infested, perhaps because bedbugs like to lurk in bags and clothes except when they are actually biting. However, if you're really worried here's what to do: Pack your stuff in several smaller, softer bags (perhaps duffles). Before you leave, buy some super-jumbo zip-lock bags at Target. (You can get bags that measure something like 2.5 feet by 3.5 feet.) When you leave the hotel, put your bags into these zip-locks before you put them into your car. Make sure the ziplocks are tightly sealed.

The other advantage to traveling with duffles is that unlike hard-sided luggage you can toss them in the dryer to heat-treat them when you get home.
posted by Frowner at 11:29 AM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Hit submit too soon... oops. To your initial query: Yes, I think you're overthinking it too much. They're just insects with predictable habits, not little legged versions of airborne Ebola. When you get to your hotel, just check the bed for any signs of potential infestation (mattress seams, headboard, etc. (requesting a room change if you find any of course) and store your clothing/luggage in the bathroom and you should be just fine, with no need to worry.
posted by barc0001 at 11:32 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had bedbugs in my home, and they CAN be beaten. Heat is your best friend. I'm adapting parts of what I did from a cure to a preventative, with nods to PercussivePaul's idea for a quarantine system and Frowner's idea of big zipper bags.

If the hotel has a guest laundry, run all your clothes that will tolerate it through a hot dryer cycle before you leave for home. If memory serves, 20 minutes at 120° kills them. A hot clothes dryer will do this. Obviously be careful if you dry unwashed clothes, to avoid setting stains.

Bring the clothes home in sealed bags (trash bags are fine, Ziploc XXL Big Bags are better). When you get home, wash and dry those clothes again, including the ones you were wearing at the hotel.

Leave your now-empty luggage in the car in the garage or in direct sunlight or in your attic for a few days. Someplace that would become hot enough you wouldn't consider EVER leaving a pet there even for a minute: that's the place for your luggage.

Yes, the hot-car thing isn't 100%. But the chance you'll have brought home bedbugs in the first place is far, far less than 100%.

Even though I have had bedbugs and know how much it sucks, I still stay in hotels and guest houses with no fear. The most I do is promptly wash and dry my clothes, and keep my luggage in the attic. Please don't let just this one tiny risk ruin your vacation!
posted by kostia at 11:36 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Leave your luggage in the bathroom - in the tub at all times save when you're showering. Bed bugs can't climb the ceramic walls of the tub and tend to stay out of the bathroom since that's the least frequented space in the room.

Check behind the headboard and mattress seams, as suggested above.

Leave the luggage (but not your clothes) in your car trunk for three or four days if you live in a hot area.

Ziplock your clothing, as suggested above, and then transfer them directly to the *dryer* (not washer) on high heat as soon as you return to your abode. High heat for sixty minutes will kill anything in them.

I'm not going to call you paranoid for this - I had a year-long brush with bed bugs and I've since entered every hotel room like it was filled with potential hostiles. And guess what? Once I did find bed bugs. All my efforts were suddenly worth it, as I promptly switched to a room as far away from that one was possible.
posted by artemisia at 11:39 AM on June 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all - I forgot to mention that the first thing I do when I hit a hotel room is tear off the sheets and peer at the mattress, after putting all my stuff in the tub. Putting our duffels in garbage bags (or even sheeting the trunk area with plastic area) is great! And you're right - they're just bugs and not ebola. If I can deal with waterbugs, I can deal with anything. It's just all the horror stories on here that make me fear them like the plague.
posted by Addlepated at 11:52 AM on June 11, 2012

In addition to all these precautions, you might want to step back from your worries and think about this: bed bugs are just not that bad. The worst consequences are often psychological. I have no expert knowledge about this, but I think of bed bugs as being like mosquitoes. I've stayed in bedrooms that had bed bugs, but I've never suffered anything worse than a mosquito bite. (However, that's just anecdotal — some people have worse reactions than others, and it's possible I'm one of the lucky ones.) I've heard of people dying from mosquitoes, but I don't know of anyone who's ever died from bed bugs. People are scared of them because they're relatively new and unknown — more so than countless other things we encounter everyday that are far more dangerous. That car trip is much riskier than the possibility of bed bugs in the hotel.

From a fact sheet on bed bugs by an entomologist:
A common concern with bed bugs is whether or not they transmit diseases. Although bed bugs can harbor various pathogens, transmission to humans has not been proven and is considered unlikely. Their medical significance is most commonly attributed to itching and inflammation from their bites. Antihistamines and corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce allergic reactions, and antiseptic or antibiotic ointments to prevent infection. Though not known to carry diseases, bed bugs can substantially reduce quality of life by causing discomfort, sleeplessness, anxiety, and embarrassment. According to some health experts, the added stress from living with bed bugs can have a significant impact on the emotional health and well-being of certain individuals.
posted by John Cohen at 1:21 PM on June 11, 2012

If it makes you feel better, I've stayed at a hotel in NYC that has a few entries on the bedbug registry and have never had a problem (I didn't know about the bedbug registry until prior to my last visit). However I had known about the bedbug problem in NYC in particular and I think that I got this tip from an NPR Fresh Air interview on the topic that I heard a couple of years ago:

I travel with one or two large trash bags. The rooms at the place that I stay are tiny, like 50 sq. ft. tiny so the only option to unpack is on the floor or on the bed. However there is storage space on a wooden shelf above the bed (there is also storage space below the bed). It's kind of a pain, but I keep my packed suitcase inside the trash bag on the top shelf and only take clothing out as needed. I store dirty laundry in the unused trash bag within the suitcase. I do keep my toiletries out. Granted I've never stayed there more than 2 nights in a row. The getting clothes out of a bag or suitcase with a trash bag stored on a high shelf would get old quick during longer trips.

I translate this to more standard size rooms by never putting my suitcase on the bed and storing it off the floor if possible.

Honestly, I go to NYC at least 3x per year and I've never had a problem despite the fact that I'm not always diligent in following the advice that I listed above. I don't want to mitigate how hard it is to get rid of bedbugs if you were unfortunate enough to bring them home but did take some comfort from the fact that they do not transmit any diseases.
posted by kaybdc at 2:50 PM on June 11, 2012

I live in Brooklyn. I had bedbugs. I got rid of them. They weren't so bad.

There's a horrible social stigma and irrational fear of the nasty little beasties, but they're mostly annoying and unsightly. They can't travel on your body like lice or fleas, they don't spread disease, and you won't have to torch your car to be rid of them should you pick them up. In fact, you can basically obliterate them with ~8 minutes in a dryer at max heat. I presume a closed car in the sun would also be similarly unpleasant to them.

But mostly, just relax. People get incredibly upset about bedbugs, to the point of panic attacks and suicidal despair, but unless you pick up some mutant superbug the anxiety is the worst part. I just kinda went with the... verminous flow, as it were, until the exterminator sent 'em all dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

Anecdata: I had several friends stay at my place while it was infested but before I knew about it. They neither got bites nor did they carry them home.
posted by demons in the base at 3:48 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all your calm and sane answers. I realized today when I was answering another question about brown recluse infestations (which I've been dealing with for years) that I'm looking at this has-not-happened, very-remote-possibility bedbug thing from a completely skewed perspective, and you've helped me see this.
posted by Addlepated at 9:34 PM on June 12, 2012

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