Since the early 2000s, the number of bed bug infestations in the U.S. has become an epidemic. One in five Americans has experienced an infestation, or knows someone who has had one. Hotels are some of the riskiest places, second only to apartments and homes.
Place your luggage in the bath. It’s the least likely place for bed bugs to hide. Using a flashlight, examine the bedsheets, mattress, headboard and all bedroom furniture. Look for small black dots (bed bug feces) and brown apple seed-sized bugs. Check carpets and electrical outlets.
We will look at how to recognize the signs of bed bugs, and how to check your hotel room thoroughly for bed bugs. We’ll explain what to do if you find bed bugs, including how to claim compensation, and advice and tips on what to do if you bring the bugs home with you.
Table of Contents:
How Do Bed Bugs Spread to Hotels?
If you stay in a hotel room that has bed bugs, it’s a severe problem. Not only will you most likely get bitten in the night, but there’s a strong chance you’ll bring the infestation home with you.
But how do bed bugs come home with you? It’s simple, really – they hitch a ride.
Bed bugs are tiny. The adults are around 4-7mm long, and nymphs are even tinier than that. Being attracted to the scent of humans, bed bugs will investigate the luggage and clothes that you bring to the hotel room.
They may sneak inside, entirely unbeknownst to you, and hide out in a tiny crevice where you’ll never notice them. When you return home, they will emerge, and establish itself in your home.
You only need to bring one pregnant female bed bug home with you to start an infestation. A bed bug population can increase rapidly. Each adult female can lay up to 6 eggs per day, and each baby bed bug reaches maturity in a month or so.
Which Hotels Are Most Likely to Have Bed Bugs?
Every hotel in America is susceptible to bed bugs. Whether you’re staying at the local Motel 6 or the Four Seasons, your hotel room could be playing host to unwanted insect roommates.
It’s a complete myth that dirty or cheap hotels are more at risk of an infestation. Bed bugs only need access to humans; they couldn’t care less whether the environment is filthy or spick-and-span.
So, before you go on a trip, it’s best to be prepared. This means doing some investigative work. You should check:
- Whether the area you’re staying in has a particularly bad problem
- Whether the hotel chain you’re using has had bed bug reports
- Finally, whether the specific hotel you’ve booked with has been reported for bed bugs.
Which Cities Have the Worst Bed Bug Problems?
The top 10 cities with the highest incidence of bed bugs are:
- New York City
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Detroit, Michigan
- Cincinnati, Ohio
- Chicago, Illinois
- Denver, Colorado
- Columbus, Ohio
- Dayton, Ohio
- Washington, D.C.
- Los Angeles, California
However, if you’re staying in a city at all – whether it made the top 10 list or not – you should still be wary. Bed bug incidence rates are three times higher in urban environments than rural ones.
This is because of population density, apartments, tourism and the number of people traveling in and out of the city on a daily basis.
Is There a Website to Check for Bed Bugs in Hotels?
There are many ways to check whether your hotel has received bed bug reports.
Many hotel websites allow customers to leave reviews. If a hotel guest has found bed bugs in their room, they’re likely to mention it on these sites. Before booking your room, search for the hotel on:
Some websites, like TripAdvisor, allow you to search all reviews for a specific word or phrase. This will come in handy – search for “bed bugs” and see what comes up.
There are also websites intended for reporting bed bugs in hotels. These allow the public to submit an anonymous report, and elaborate on their experiences. If you find a hotel with bed bugs reported, it might be a good idea to try somewhere else.
However, just because you haven’t found any reports, this does not guarantee that the hotel doesn’t have any bed bugs. A new infestation could start at any time. This is why you should learn to recognize the signs of bed bugs in a hotel room.
What Are the Obvious Signs of Bed Bugs in Hotels?
Before you leave on your trip, familiarize yourself with the telltale signs of an infestation.
Learning the signs will allow you to recognize a hotel’s bed bug problem quickly, reducing your chances of bringing the bugs home:
- Fecal spots. Bed bug poop (feces) is almost black in color. It soaks into mattresses and other porous materials, leaving a tiny, flat stain resembling an ink spot. Fecal spots on varnished wood or other impermeable surfaces may be slightly raised. They often appear in clusters.
- Blood stains. These are caused by a bed bug being crushed. They are most commonly seen on bedsheets and comforters. You might not find any in a hotel room, as the bedding will typically be changed before you arrive.
- Shed bed bug casings. Bed bugs shed their exoskeletons five times as they grow into adults. Each time, they’ll leave behind a translucent bed bug-shaped casing. Shed skins are quite small, but they don’t move, making them easier to find than live bugs.
- Live bed bugs. Bed bugs are reddish-brown and oval-shaped. They have six legs and are quite flat when unfed. Adults are about the same size as an apple seed – 4mm to 7mm long. Nymphs are much smaller – hatchlings are as tiny as 1.5mm, and pale cream in color.
- Bed bug eggs and eggshells. Bed bug eggs are extremely hard to spot – they are only 1mm long. They are whitish in color, though slightly transparent.
Infestations may also be accompanied by a characteristic “bed bug smell.” It is described as musty and sweet, like rotting berries. However, this scent is not usually noticeable unless it’s particularly bad.
How to Check Your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs
Once you check in to your hotel, no matter which hotel it is, it’s important to be alert.
Don’t fall into the trap of flopping down on the bed as soon as you reach the room. No matter how tired you are, it’s vital that you check for bed bugs before getting comfortable.
Checking for bed bugs in hotel rooms is a relatively simple procedure, though it is time-consuming. You must not be tempted to do this half-heartedly, though. Bed bugs are tiny, and easily missed.
1) Leave Your Luggage Outside the Room
Before entering your room, leave all of your luggage and belongings outside. If there are bed bugs inside the room, you’ll discover them before they can infest your luggage.
You should leave your coat, suitcase, and any other bags in the hallway until you’re sure that the room is clean. If you’re traveling with another person, ask them to guard the luggage while you conduct the examination.
If you’re traveling alone and you don’t want to risk your belongings getting stolen, bring them into the room. However, avoid setting your things down on the bed, carpet or luggage rack. These are prime bed bug hiding spots.
Instead, place your belongings in the bathtub. The bath is the least hospitable place to bed bugs in a hotel room. Your things should be safe while you check the room.
2) Examine the Bed
The most likely hiding spot for bed bugs is, unsurprisingly, the bed. This is where you should start your check.
First, strip the bed completely. Remove the pillows, runner, comforter, sheets, and mattress protector and put them to one side. Your focus should be on the mattress.
Learning how to check for bed bugs in a mattress is simple. You’re looking for any of the five telltale signs that we mentioned earlier: fecal spots, blood spots, shed casings, live bugs, and eggs.
- Bed bugs like to hide in tight cracks and crevices. Focus on the folds and piping around the edge of the mattress, and in any creases.
- If possible, pull the bed out and check the end of the mattress that was against the wall.
- Flip the mattress over and check the underside.
- Next, inspect the headboard. Check all around, focusing on any grooves and indentations. If the headboard can come away from the wall, search behind it as well.
- Remove the mattress from the bed and search the box spring or bed frame. Again, focus on any hinges, grooves, and cracks. If you can safely take anything apart to examine it, do so.
When carrying out your search, use a flashlight. If you don’t have one, ask to borrow one from the hotel reception. They should have some on hand in case of power outages.
4) Study the Soft Furnishings
If you’re satisfied that the bed is clear, the next step is to examine all of the room’s soft furnishings. Fabric often presents an ideal spot for bed bugs: it contains furrows and wrinkles for them to hide in.
You should carefully study all of the following.
- Towels and bath mats.
- Curtains and drapes. Pay particular attention to any cracks or gaps in the curtain pole.
- Comforters and blankets. If the comforter has a cover on it, remove it and examine it separately. Turn it inside out to search inside.
- Pillows and cushions. Remove any covers and flip them inside out to inspect them.
- Carpets and rugs. If the carpet covers the entire floor, focus your attention on the edges of the room, near the walls. If it’s a high-pile carpet, pull apart the fabric to search deep inside. Flip any rugs upside down to check the underneath.
- Furniture covers. If there are any chairs or couches with removable covers, take them off and spread the cover out on the floor. Examine the inside and the outside, paying attention to creases and folds.
5) Inspect the Luggage Rack
Next on your examination list should be the luggage rack, if there is one. Whether it’s made of metal or wood, this is one of a bed bug’s favorite hiding spots.
The kind with the elastic straps across the top is a particular risk, as bed bugs like to crawl into the folds of the fabric and hide out of sight. However, any luggage rack is a potential harborage spot.
If you can safely dismantle it, take it apart and inspect every crevice. Turn it over to inspect the underneath, too.
If there is no luggage rack in the room, there will probably be a closet instead. Take the flashlight inside and inspect every corner of the closet, including any clothes hangers and shelves.
6) Scrutinize the Furniture
After the luggage rack and closets have been inspected, it’s time to scrutinize any other furniture that you might find in the room. This may include:
- Chairs and stools
- Couches or loveseats
- TV stands
- Chests of drawers
- Freestanding mirrors
As you might expect, nightstands are the most common furniture for bed bugs to infest. This is for the simple reason that they are situated next to the bed. They provide the ideal spot for bed bugs to hide during the day, while being close enough to reach humans at night.
Bed bugs can infest furniture made of any material: wood, plastic, metal or even leather. A bed bug is only about as thick as a quarter, so if you could slip a quarter into a crack, a bed bug could be in there.
Don’t forget to flip the furniture over (if it’s not too heavy) to check the underside. Pull any furniture away from the wall to check the back.
7) Check the Walls
Speaking of walls, they should be your next spot to examine. You might not think that a flat wall would have many spots for a bed bug to hide – however, you’d be wrong.
Bed bugs can climb walls, and are very good at searching out crevices to hide themselves in. Pay close attention to any dents or cracks. Focus along the bottoms of the walls, particularly around the baseboard.
If anything is hanging on the wall, such as a picture frame or mirror, remove it and check behind it. Leave no stone unturned. Don’t forget to examine the power outlets, as bed bugs are known for climbing inside them.
8) Survey the Electronics
If you haven’t found any signs of bed bugs so far, your hotel room is probably clean. However, there is one last place to look that you shouldn’t skimp on: electronics.
Most people don’t realize that bed bugs can infest electronics and appliances. Bed bugs don’t care where they live, as long as it’s near enough to a human host. Depending on which hotel you’re staying in, you might find:
- Floor, ceiling and table lamps
- Coffee makers or electric kettles
- Irons and ironing boards
Inspect any of the above, as well as any miscellaneous items in the room, such as trash cans. Take apart anything that you can safely remove, such as a lampshade. Remember, anywhere that a bed bug could fit is a potential harborage spot.
Examining the entire hotel room will take some time. However, it is worth it for the peace of mind. Once you’re happy that there are no signs of bed bugs, you can bring your luggage back into the room.
We’d still recommend storing your belongings in the bathroom, though, just in case.
What if I Find Bed Bugs in My Hotel Room?
So, you’ve completed your room check, and what you feared has come to pass: you’ve found evidence of bed bugs.
Don’t panic, but consider your next steps carefully. It’s vital that you deal with the situation in the correct way. Here’s what we recommend.
1) Gather Evidence
Gather as much evidence as you can of the infestation. Take photos of any signs of bed bugs that you found in the room, such as fecal spotting and blood stains. Don’t forget to take photos of any bite marks.
If you managed to discover a live bed bug, capture it in an empty glass or water bottle. Depending on which hotel you’re staying at, the staff may be helpful and apologetic, or they may try to deny your claim. Having as much evidence as you can help you.
2) Remove Your Belongings
If your belongings are still outside in the hallway, don’t bring them inside. If you left your luggage in the bathtub, pick it up and bring it outside straight away.
Making sure that bed bugs cannot come into contact with your belongings should be your first priority. As unpleasant as it is to stay in a hotel room with bed bugs, it’s nothing compared to dealing with an infestation at home. You want to make sure that you escape without any unwanted insect stowaways.
3) Contact a Hotel Manager
Next, it’s vital that you speak to the hotel manager about the situation. Try not to be angry or hostile – after all, the hotel staff may be unaware of the problem. Infestations can happen very quickly and are easily missed.
Ask at the hotel reception to speak to the manager on duty. Bring them to your room and show them the evidence, as well as any live bed bugs that you’ve managed to capture.
Depending on which hotel you’re staying at, you may receive a range of responses. You may be wondering: can I get a refund from the hotel for bed bugs? This is, in fact, the bare minimum that they should offer – though you may need to contact corporate head office to get it.
The staff will initially offer you a different room at the same hotel. We would advise you to refuse it. If there are bed bugs in one room, there’s a strong chance that other rooms are infested, too.
4) Bag Any Potentially Infested Items
Perhaps you’ve already unpacked your belongings before inspecting the room. Or, you may have mistakenly believed your room to be bed bug-free, only to wake up with bite marks.
If this is the case, gather all of your belongings and ask the hotel reception for some large garbage bags. Place all of your clothes and luggage inside, and seal the bags tightly. This way, when you bring your belongings home, you won’t end up infesting your house.
If you need to purchase a new outfit or suitcase for the remainder of your trip, keep your new items away from your potentially infested belongings.
Keep hold of the store receipts. Then, you can ask the hotel to reimburse you the cost of the items later, if you wish.
5) Change Hotels
Never stay in an infested hotel. Even if you’re offered a different room on the other side of the building, it’s too risky. Bed bugs can travel to other rooms. They may hitch a ride in the chambermaids’ laundry basket, for example.
Ask the hotel staff to book a room for you at another hotel. This is certainly within their power, and they should be happy to do this for you. If they refuse, ask to use the telephone and do it yourself.
Even if the hotel refuses to refund your room at this point, don’t stay there. It’s not worth the risk of carrying the bugs home with you. You’ll have the ability to claim compensation at a later date.
6) Wash and Dry Your Belongings
If you’ve managed to escape without unpacking your belongings, you can skip this step. But if there’s any chance that your luggage has become infested, you’ll need to treat it.
The best way to kill bed bugs is to wash and dry all of your clothes at high heat. If your new hotel has laundry facilities, take advantage of them. If not, seek out a laundromat, or wait until you get home.
Carefully open the sealed garbage bags and place items directly inside the washing machine. When the bag is empty, tie it off and throw it into an outdoor trash can.
According to the scientific journal Insects, the minimum temperature required to kill bed bug eggs is 130.6 degrees Fahrenheit. To be on the safe side, wash your clothes at a minimum temperature of 140 degrees for at least half an hour. Then, dry them on the highest heat setting possible.
Any items that cannot be washed should be taken to the dry cleaner or thrown out. If you have to purchase new items, or get anything dry-cleaned, keep all receipts. This way, you can claim compensation from the hotel.
How to Report Bed Bugs at a Hotel
If you’ve found bed bugs in a hotel room, you’re probably wondering whether you should officially report it. We would always recommend that you do, for three main reasons:
- The hotel’s corporate department will want to know that there are bed bugs in one of their locations. This will give them the opportunity to have the hotel professionally treated, and retrain staff if necessary.
- Reporting the issue straight away, along with providing evidence, will help your case if you claim compensation. If you don’t report it straight away, it will be harder to prove that you contracted bed bugs at the hotel.
- Leaving a public bed bug report will help out future guests who are thinking of staying there. Most people will want to know in advance if the hotel they’re staying at has had bed bugs.
So, here’s how to go about reporting bed bugs at a hotel.
Speak to the Manager
You will probably have spoken to the hotel manager already about the bed bug situation. However, it’s essential to follow up when you get home, so that they take you seriously.
Telephone the hotel and ask for a manager. Give details of when you stayed, what your room number was and what evidence you found. You should also give the name of any staff that you spoke to at the time.
Next, ask the manager if they are planning to schedule a professional inspection. If so, request that they send you the details of the report, preferably via mail or e-mail.
You’ll be able to find a telephone number or e-mail address online for the hotel’s corporate headquarters. If you can’t, telephone the hotel and ask for the details.
If you can get hold of an e-mail address, opt for this method of communication. It will be helpful to have a written record of everything that’s been discussed.
Include the name of the hotel, the date of your check-in and your room number. Describe your experience in full, including the responses of any staff members. Attach photographs if you took them.
If you haven’t received a refund for your stay by this point, this would be the time to ask for one. Use this opportunity to ask for compensation for other expenses, such as:
- Cleaning costs for your clothes and luggage
- New outfits and luggage you’ve had to purchase
- Any ointments or medical treatment you’ve received for bites
- Any bed bug treatments you’ve had to purchase for your home, if applicable.
Depending on the hotel, they may offer you compensation for all of the above without you having to take it to court. Include photographs of receipts for everything so that you can prove how much you’ve spent.
Contact the Health Department
If the hotel has acted professionally and you’re satisfied with their response, there’s no need to take your report any further.
However, this may not be the case. If you don’t feel that the hotel is taking you seriously, you should contact your local health department.
The website healthfinder.gov has a list of websites for every state health department. Find your state, and follow the link. There should be a “contact us” button on the website with telephone numbers and email addresses. Again, opt for email if you can.
Include all relevant information in your report. This will allow the health department to investigate the issue properly.
Leave Online Reviews
The final step is to leave reviews online for other potential hotel guests to find.
Whether or not you choose to do this is up to you. You may choose to base your decision on how the hotel has reacted to the bed bug situation. If they were extremely professional and dealt with the problem immediately, you may not think it necessary.
If you do wish to leave reviews online, choose sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google and Facebook. The more places that you leave reviews, the higher the chances that you’ll help someone out. You can also report the hotel to bed bug registry sites if you wish.
What if I Bring the Bed Bugs Home?
Despite all of your efforts, you may end up inadvertently bringing the bed bugs home with you. This could lead to an infestation in your property.
According to research by Virginia Tech, a bed bug population can double in size every 16 days. What begins as one or two sole bugs can quickly become a real problem.
If you find evidence of bed bugs in your home, the first thing that you should do is to contact a professional exterminator. Search the web to find one in your area, and make sure they’re experienced with bed bugs.
The initial examination will reveal how extensive your problem is. The exterminator will then offer you a quote for treatment. They’ll probably recommend whole-house heat treatment; this is the only sure-fire way to kill bed bugs and eggs.
Heat treatment involves heating your entire home to a minimum of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You won’t be able to remain at home while this is carried out.
If you do receive professional treatment, make sure to document everything. Keep all receipts, including hotel receipts if you’ve had to stay in a hotel for the duration of the treatment. If you later decide to claim compensation, this will help your lawyer out.
Do Bed Bug Killers Work?
Professional heat treatment is very effective, but it is also quite costly. If you can’t afford to hire a professional, you may be wondering: is there some way I can get rid of the bed bugs myself? What about store-bought bed bug killers?
Insecticides – products that kill insects – are of limited efficacy at getting rid of bed bugs. However, there are many different types you can try.
- Chemical insecticides such as pyrethroids and nicotinoids. For decades, these were the preferred bed bug killing method. They worked well – until bed bugs started to become resistant. There’s guaranteed way to know whether your particular strain of bed bugs will respond to the treatment or not.
- Desiccants such as diatomaceous earth. These work by drying out the bed bug, causing them to die of dehydration. They work well, but are rarely enough alone to get rid of a whole infestation.
- Natural remedies such as essential oils and cleaning vinegar. These are safer to use around pets and children, but there is not much evidence that they work.
- Handheld steamers. Rather than paying a professional for heat treatment, some people have success with handheld steamers. However, some steam cleaners don’t reach high enough temperatures to kill eggs successfully. You must make sure that you steam everything in your home for this to be effective.
If you do choose to purchase or make insecticides, remember that they are contact killers: they’re only effective when directly applied to the bugs. If any bugs manage to sneak away and hide somewhere that you haven’t applied the product, the infestation will return.
That’s why we recommend hiring a professional exterminator. You may be entitled to claim the cost back as compensation from the hotel.
Can I Claim Compensation for Bed Bugs?
Encountering bed bugs can be a very stressful and traumatic experience. As well as the visible painful and itchy bite marks, bed bugs can cause insomnia and paranoia. Not to mention, they can be expensive to deal with.
Providing you’ve got receipts for every expense associated with bed bugs, most reputable hotels will be happy to offer you compensation of some sort.
However, some hotels may be unwilling, and may even deny that there were bed bugs at all. Alternatively, you may be unhappy with the amount of compensation you’ve received. If this is the case, you’re going to need to contact an attorney to find out if you’ve got a case.
What Compensation Am I Entitled To?
To sue a hotel for bed bugs, your attorney is going to have to prove that you have suffered real personal injury.
This is as simple as proving that you experienced an allergic reaction to bed bug bites, and detailing any of the psychological consequences that came with it. You may also be able to claim for expenses that you accrued from dealing with bed bugs.
You’ll need to provide your lawyer with evidence of everything. This may include photos of the hotel room, pictures of bite marks and receipts for everything you’ve had to purchase. This will allow them to decide how much you’re entitled to.
Your lawyer will likely send the hotel a letter first, asking for compensation. Most hotels will gladly do this if they are threatened with legal action. They’d much rather pay you than have to pay your lawyer his or her fees as well.
If this doesn’t work, your lawyer will talk you through the next stages and advise you on whether or not your case will win in court.