Hotels, Bedbugs and You


by Robert McGarvey

A nasty secret about hotels is that a lot have bedbugs. I am talking five star hotels and hostels, dives and ultra luxury digs. Guests bring them. And they often leave them behind. To bite the next guest, suck some blood, and very probably crawl into a suitcase and come home with you. That last is a real threat. Most of us don’t notice a bedbug bite or two, or we think we nicked ourselves with something in the hotel bathroom.

Wrong. Sleep with bedbugs in a hotel and they are coming home with you.

If you like scary reading, click here for a roundup of TripAdvisor user complaints about bedbugs in hotels. You’ll get a sense of how global the issue is, both geographically but also economically. Staying only in luxe properties is no protection.

I have lived through a bedbug infestation in my home. It sucks. It cost $600 in exterminator fees to clear up. Plus a lot of sheets and blanket cleaning and washing. Along the way, there were many bites, some of which leave horrendous marks. The bites also are itchy and you just feel disgusting knowing you are an edible blood bank for who knows how many insects.

The cause of that infestation probably was a neighbor, not a hotel, but as our knowledge of bedbugs grew in that incident so did the realization that we had in fact been bitten by bedbugs in hotels in the past.

No surprise there. Hotels are fighting against what amount to a bedbug epidemic. It is not clear who is winning.

According to the New York Times, “A 2016 survey of 100 hotels in the United States, conducted by Orkin, a pest control company, found that 82 percent of them had been treated for bedbugs in the previous year. “

Personally I’m not troubled that 82% had been treated for bedbugs in the past year. I’m more troubled by the 18% that hadn’t been.

Conde Nast Traveler shouts: Bed bugs in hotels are on the rise.

Travelpulse says, Hotels are spending big money on bed bugs.

Exactly three states have laws that explicitly obligate a hotel to remove a bedbug ridden room from occupancy. That’s Kansas, West Virginia, and Nevada.

That means the onus is on you to protect yourself from bedbugs.

Having been through a bedbug infestation once, I am determined not to bring back bugs from the hotels I stay in.

Consumer Reports outlines a self-defense program to take when entering a hotel room.

Step 1: Put your luggage in the bathroom or on a luggage rack. Probably they are free of bedbugs.

Step 2: Pull back the sheets and check the mattress and box spring for signs of bedbugs – they are visible to the naked eye. Keep your eyes peeled for “exoskeletons (casings that the bugs leave behind when they molt) and dark, rust-colored spots.” Those spots probably are dried blood, by the way.

Says CR: “If you see any telltale signs, tell hotel staff and ask for a new room, preferably in another part of the building.”

Personally, I would check out and decline to pay. But there’s no guarantee the hotel down the block doesn’t also have a bedbug problem so maybe I am spinning my own wheels.

You want a more meticulous inspection? Hotel Business content sponsored by ActiveGuard offers a multi-step program for hotel housekeeping to implement in a hunt for bedbugs. It’s detailed. And you’ll want to have a flashlight in hand. But if you want high confidence that your room is bedbug free, go with this six step program that looks at everything from the underside of the box spring to the edges of the headboard. The steps are here.

If you check out from a hotel after just one night you might not notice bug bites until you are on your way home. Often it’s an itch that first gets your attention. Then you notice the bites and you know you’ve been dinner for a bug. All’s not lost. You still can save yourself a home infestation. Put your clothes in the dryer for at least 30 minutes. Wash them if you wish but bedbugs can usually survive water. It’s the heat that kills them.

Should you complain to your hotel? Maybe, maybe not. There are many places to encounter bedbugs. Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix for instance. Also Kansas City International Airport. On airplanes too – Air India passengers have complained. They also show up in buses. And movie theaters often are said to be infested with bed bugs.

They even are said to show up on cruise ships.

If you are beginning to think they are everywhere, they are. And there are more infestations reported in summer, per the National Pest Management Association: “More than half of pest control professionals noted that they receive the most bed bug complaints during the summer, as increased travel during this time of the year may help spread bed bugs from vacation destinations to homes or even college lodgings to homes as students go on summer break.”

Inspect hotel rooms, always. Inspect your luggage when you get home. Ditto when cruising. Be wary of seating in airports, movie theaters, etc. Stay vigilant and bedbugs can be beaten.

1 thought on “Hotels, Bedbugs and You”

  1. Amen. My wife noticed a bedbug crawling into her suitcase during a business trip. She later experienced a few of the bites you mentioned. The hotel was (surprisingly, to me) extremely apologetic and upfront in acknowledging the problem and giving restitution. It goes without saying that nothing from the trip should be brought into your home unless treated. For the things that can’t go in the dryer a freezer also works. Everything else, including the suitcase, should be tossed.

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