Practicing Bedbug Awareness
August 9, 2006 11:02 AM   Subscribe

What are some practical measures for minimizing bedbug exposure during domestic (US) hotel stays?

Having read all the posts here about what a problem bedbugs are becoming, I would like to do what I can to keep from bringing them home after staying in a hotel.

Things I can think of to do are:

-rip sheets and blankets off of bed and inspect mattress and headboards for rust stains and other signs of a bed bug presence. only introduce luggage into room if this search comes up negative

-keep luggage and all clothes in the bathtub, a place that bedbugs might eschew in favor of locations closer to the bed

-sleep naked

-instead of using luggage, use plastic or paper bags which can be disposed of before coming back home, and then wash all clothes with hot water and bleach

I realize I am being a little apocalyptic here but from what I've heard these things are the very devil to get rid of, once installed in a residence.

Does anyone have any other suggestions?
posted by macinchik to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
you'll want to check the mattress lining, the little crevices where the creepy crawlies hide. and while they may not like bathtubs, they often hide in wood -- picture frames, cracks in headboards, drawers. they like books, too.

plastic bags are a good idea.

the bleach, if i remember correctly, is unnecessary.

remember that bedbugs don't just hang out in beds. you'll find them on any sort of furniture, window hangings, wall hangings. if you're in a place with bedbugs, you're going to meet the nasties no matter how naked you get in bed. and you may not know it until it's too late.

but just in case: the tell-tale warning is their bite. they leave little chains of bites, often in lines, often around the waist and legs. if you can nip it in the bud while you're still at the hotel -- and trust me, the concierge/management will be more than happy to help rid you and your belongings of any possible yuckies -- you'll be much better off than if you take even one bedbug home with you.
posted by brina at 11:13 AM on August 9, 2006

I'm wondering if an impermeable barrier is available -- something like a hostel sleep-sack one could pack in their travel kit. A similar pillow-condom would also be neccessary. Would this work? Or are the little devils so adept they'd find a way inside, anyway?
posted by Rash at 11:28 AM on August 9, 2006

Where the heck are you people staying? Several members of my family travel on a continuous basis, and have never had an issue with bedbugs. We're talking 2-3 stays in 2-3 hotels per night each week for the past ten years!
posted by SpecialK at 11:43 AM on August 9, 2006

Sometimes you get stuck and have to choose a my finace and I had to last weekend. We were low on gas in Adirondack Park in NY state, and couldn't go any further. We pulled in to the closest hotel at 1AM and at 6AM I was awakened by her screaming. Seems one of the Japanese Beetles we'd seen around the room had crawled into her ear. It took a trip to the emergency room to get it out.

So, short of the story: bring a hemostat and an otoscope. :)
posted by Spoonman at 11:53 AM on August 9, 2006

Is it really a problem. I travel extensively in the US and Europe and to the best of my knowledge have noit experienced a problem, or if I have I did not know it. Also, given the nature o
rmhsincf bed bug inffestation I wonder if there is any thing one can realistically do.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:53 AM on August 9, 2006

I have no idea what happened in the last post but the last sentence should have read: Also, given the nature of bed bug inffestations I wonder if there is any thing one can realistically do.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:55 AM on August 9, 2006

Best answer: I have read, rash, that a hypoallergenic mattress cover that envelops the entire mattress can guard against (and eventually kill by starvation--takes over a year) bed bugs. But that assumes that the mattress is the only place they're hiding. In my one bed bug encounter, I never saw a bug in the bed and saw very few of the tell-tale dark-colored stains. They must have been hiding in the cracks in the paint and hardwood floors and other nooks and crannies.

Just the hot water should kill any that are in your clothes. And like I said a few minutes ago, vacuuming the luggage helps, too. Your main goal is to not allow a single live bug or egg into your home. Unfortunately, sometimes they just go ahead and crawl there on their own.

The bathtub thing is an interesting idea. I've also read that they have a hard time crawling on smooth surfaces--they prefer fabric or wood. So it does seem less likely for them to crawl into a suitcase that's in the bathroom than one that's sitting on the rug.

But brina's right. If you didn't get bitten, you're probably safe.
posted by lampoil at 11:57 AM on August 9, 2006

SpecialK--but for the first eight or so of those past ten years, bed bugs were all but unheard of in the US. It's only in the past few years, and mostly in large cities, that they've made a comeback (and with a hell of a vengance in NYC--all it takes is one management company of a medium-sized apartment complex to say "bed bugs? that's your problem" for it to affect thousands of people).

I don't think it's so uncommon to travel often and NOT encounter them. It's just that they're becoming increasingly common, they can be present in the biggest dive or the nicest hotel, and once one bug gets in your house it becomes a living nightmare. I think it's easy to mistake one bite for a mosquito bite, take them home with you, and not realize until a few weeks later that you're screwed. Better to think ahead.
posted by lampoil at 12:05 PM on August 9, 2006

SpecialK: see Google News for even just the recent articles. They were almost totally absent in the US and Canada until a couple of years ago, but now are very widespread, even in very fancy hotels. I know several people (clean people) in NYC who have had bedbug infestations in their apartments and it is a nightmare. Washing every stitch of clothes and linens you own, several times over; getting the apartment fumigated several times over; eventually throwing out your mattress and upholstered furniture and moving.

Thanks for asking this question, macinchik -- I have been wondering the same thing after seeing secondhand how bad it can be.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:26 PM on August 9, 2006

Best answer: Get a barrier sheet like one of these if you're worried. They're like a mosquito net for your mattress. If you have worries about them being in your laundry, then stick it in the tumbler dryer - 20 minutes heat will kill them. You can also get insect repellents which you can spray on yourself and your clothing to avoid bites/repel them. Searching for them is tricky - they are masters of hiding and you're meant to flush them out of hiding with an insecticide but after you've done that, do you really want to sleep in that bed and inhale the fumes all night?

I learned this the hard way because it actually happened to me once, from a business trip to New York State and Canada where I stayed in good hotels throughout, yet returned home with mysterious itchy red lumps that continued to appear. I only realised what had followed me home when I eventually saw one and caught it. I completely freaked out. I read all the fumigation/emptying the house/washing every stitch of clothing, horror stories - as happened to Lobstermitten's pals, but this turned out not to be needed. Pulling the bed apart, killing any I saw in the seams, and and spraying with protector C (both spray and aerosol from this kit) killed the lot with one application - no recurrence.

I did spray everything very enthusiastically (possibly the result of Dutch courage taken beforehand from a bottle of fine ruby port) and discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to move out for a few days in case I poisoned myself from my efforts- but it certainly worked. So do not abandon all hope, even if precautions should fail.
posted by Flitcraft at 4:27 PM on August 9, 2006 [5 favorites]

Humbert Humbert had much the same problem, as I recall.
posted by oxford blue at 5:45 PM on August 9, 2006

Don't put your luggage or shoes on the floor - use a luggage stand (if the room has one) or dresser.
posted by candyland at 8:31 PM on August 9, 2006

I'm watching this thread with interest, and I hope it gets a lot of input. I dealt with a bedbug infestation last year in the late summer of 2005. I still don't know precisely where they came from. I stayed in the Omni Hotel in Chicago in late February 2005 for a hospital's sleep study; I don't remember coming home having been bitten that night. It's possible I got it from a fellow tenant's apartment, perhaps; thank God I'm out of that building.


My thoughts about what's already been said:

sleep naked

If bedbugs are in the room, they will bite exposed skin. Sleeping naked increases the possibility of a higher frequency of bites, creating greater pain for you.

instead of using luggage, use plastic or paper bags which can be disposed of before coming back home, and then wash all clothes with hot water and bleach

Plastic bags strike me as a good idea. As for post-return washing, hot water alone will kill bedbugs. Keep in mind that the dry cycle should be on the hotter of the settings, however, despite whatever is normally recommended for what you're washing. Bleach isn't at all necessary.

I've also read that they have a hard time crawling on smooth surfaces--they prefer fabric or wood.

Seconded. This increases the goodness of the bathtub idea, and also the smooth metal legs of a luggage-holder.

they can be present in the biggest dive or the nicest hotel

Seconded. Bedbugs are not attracted by filth, like cockroaches are, and so how filthy (or unfilthy) a place is not a good metric of whether it is suffering from a bedbug infestation. They are attracted to exhaled carbon dioxide.

Don't put your luggage or shoes on the floor - use a luggage stand (if the room has one) or dresser.

A luggage stand is a good option because of the smooth metal legs; it makes it less likely (but not impossible) for a bedbug to infest that luggage. However, if a room is infested, its dresser is almost certainly infested, making the latter half of candyland's advice an extraordinarily bad idea. (No offense, candyland.) Bedbugs are happy to nest in any furniture's crevice, not just those belonging to a bed. Placing your clothes in the room's dresser is not only not a protection against bedbugs, it may actually expose them to bedbugs.


Under the theory of "prevention is the best medicine," see if you can determine if the place you're staying at has been criticized for being bedbug-infested. That's not always 100% possible or accurate, but some preliminary research I did earlier on this yielded these links: You can also check out The Bedbug Blog, a blog run by Caitlin Heller, a woman with whom I spoke with and commiserated when I experienced my own bedbug infestation and blogged about it. She provides bedbug commentary and links, such as this useful Google Maps mashup of NYC reports.
posted by WCityMike at 8:54 AM on August 11, 2006

I doubt anyone is checking this thread any longer, but I've bookmarked it for my future reference, so I'll plop the text of these two Salon letters into this thread for my use and the use of anyone else checking this in the future:
Bedbug Precautions for Travelling

Strip your hotel bed when you first arrive and look for bedbug signs along the mattress and in the box spring. Also check the headboard.

There are also precautions you can take to avoid bringing bedbugs home. Old fashioned, hard metal suitcases are better than cloth ones, because bedbugs can't grip on to metal. Always keep your luggage closed and on a luggage rack, away from the bed, or in the bathtub. You can also keep your clothes in plastic bags and then throw them in a hot wash and dry before putting them away or even bringing them into your home.

Bedbug bites are often first mistaken for mosquito bites, but they linger for weeks. They can also blow up into welts and cause asthma. They can take up to nine days to appear because the poison from their saliva has to work it's way through your system.

Perhaps global warming is another cause of the increase in bedbugs?

— lily

Get Some Freshwater Diatomaceous Earth

I had a problem with silverfish which colonized my summer home during the winter. I discovered diatomaceous earth, since I couldn't call an exterminator due to my pet birds.

Diatomaceous earth (not the kind used in swimming pools, but the insecticide form) should be applied with a duster. You can buy a duster and the diatomaceous earth online. It takes about a day to figure out how to load and use the duster, but it is crucial because it delivers a fine "spray" of DE which clings to surfaces, but is very light. I won't go into exact details about how I used the DE in my home (remove all light switch and electrical outlet covers and spray void spaces, remove pictures and spray all along the edges, spray along windowsills, spray curtains, bookcases, books, furniture, etc.)

But I will tell you that I spray DE with a duster inside my luggage (before packing) and on the outside of my luggage to prevent bringing home any potential hitchhiker bedbugs. So far, so good. The DE is not as thick as dust (unless you want to make it thick like dust, which I did initially in areas where I had seen silverfish). I reapply a fine layer of DE on my luggage -- just in case -- each time I travel. It sounds like a tremendous amout of work, but once you get the hang of using the duster, it's no biggie.

Oh, and if you want to use DE to eliminate bedbugs, first you need to vacuum. Make a little pile of loose DE. Spray with an insecticide. Vacuum up into your vacuum bag. Now use a crevice tool and a furniture brush to vacuum up any live bugs and as many eggs as you can. The insecticide dust inside your vac should kill any bugs you vacuum up. I took some HotShot oil-based insecticide in a pump sprayer and sprayed the cracks between the wall and the floor (except in the room where I keep my birds). Then I sprayed DE along the wall/floor area I had just sprayed with the oil-based insecticide. The next day, I applied a fine layer of DE again in those areas. In the room where I keep my birds, I used DE only.

It worked. I still occasionally grab the duster and use it, particularly if I see a silverfish, which is now a rare occurence. DE worked very well on some houseplants recently when they became infested with spider mites. Some people use DE outside, particularly for slugs, but I don't because I garden and DE kills bumble bees and honey bees and I don't want that. They are my champion pollinators.

Anyway, you may want to try the DE for luggage if you travel a lot. Or even if you only travel occasionally. Diatomaceous earth is all-natural.. it consists of microscopic dead bodies of prehistoric shellfish.

posted by WCityMike at 8:28 PM on November 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

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