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Do I Really Have to Check My Hotel Room for Bed Bugs?

By Chris Williams on July 14, 2014.

I’ve read the articles about how you are supposed to check for bed bugs when you get into your hotel room. Some of the stuff is really involved and time-consuming. We’re getting ready to go on vacation. Do we really have to do all that stuff every night?—R.P., Salem, NH

A “Quick and Dirty” Inspection Will Usually Suffice

What do bed bugs look like?

Photo: CDC

In most cases, no, you don’t have to do such an intensive inspection for bed bugs. When traveling, entomologists and pest control professionals don’t usually do all of that, but then we know what we’re looking for and have experience in where to find bed bugs. But, because we know what we know, we wouldn’t feel comfortable skipping the inspection altogether.

Probably the most important thing is your gut feeling. You have an idea by looking at the hotel (or motel) and the condition of the room, whether bed bugs could be happy living there. If the place looks a little iffy, and maybe a little less than clean, you’ll spend more time checking for bed bugs (or you’ll move to another hotel!).

Here’s what my basic bed bug hotel inspection involves:

  • Don’t unpack anything, or even open your suitcase, until you do a quick check of the bed area. At the head of the bed, pull back the bed cover, top sheet, bottom sheet, and any mattress cover. Yeah, it means you’ll have to remake part of your bed and that’s why I limit this to one end of the bed unless I see something suspicious.
  • If you have a small penlight flashlight (or a smart phone flashlight tool), use it to check the mattress, especially the rolled seams, for bed bugs, eggs, or fecal staining. Also lift up the top corner of the mattress so that you can also check the top seams of the box spring below.
  • While you’re in position with your flashlight, look at any parts of the bed frame that you can reach, including the track where the box spring sits on the frame, and the bed legs, and headboard attachments. That’s about all I normally do for the bed, but we’re not quite done.
  • Since bed bugs hide primarily in the bed and in furniture or cracks and crevices close to the bed, I also use the flashlight to look between the headboard and the wall, and behind any pictures on the wall above or next to the bed. I also pull open the drawers of any bedside tables or night stands and check the tracks of the drawers, another good hiding place for bed bugs.

You can check all of these potential bed bug spots in less than 5 minutes, while only moving a couple of feet, and without too much disruption. If you don’t know what a bed bug looks like (remember they come in different sizes), or what eggs or fecal blood stains look like, check some photos on the Internet first.

For more detail on avoiding bed bugs when you travel, including what to do with your belongings once you get home, see:

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