The easiest way to deal with a bedbug infestation? Don’t get them in the first place, says Steve Durham, president of EnviroCon Termite & Pest in Tomball, Texas.
But that may be easier said than done in a lot of cases, since all it takes is one lone bedbug to hitchhike into your home and start reproducing before you have a full-fledged issue on your hands.
Unfortunately, bedbugs are everywhere, and their small, flat bodies make it easy for them to hide and travel. (1) “There isn’t anywhere you can go where you’re isolated from them,” says Eric Braun, a board-certified entomologist and business manager for the national pest control company Rentokil, who is based in Redding, Pennsylvania. Bedbugs can be found in restaurant booths, movie theaters, libraries, and hotels, and on the upholstery in planes, cars, or secondhand furniture, among other places. (2)
Taking Precautions While Traveling Can Reduce Your Risk of Bringing Bedbugs Home
Bedbugs are a risk for everyone, but people who travel frequently (as well as those who live in apartment buildings or dorms) and are moving possessions in and out of places where there’s a considerable amount of occupant turnover are at an increased risk because the bugs most commonly get transported via luggage, clothing, beds, and other furniture and personal items. Since bedbugs don’t feed on dirt or grime, it’s possible for them to be living in even the fanciest five-star hotels.
Braun says his biggest concern when traveling isn’t getting bitten. “I’m more concerned with taking them home,” he says.
To reduce the chances of that happening, adopt these travel tips:
- Inspect the hotel room or house rental before unpacking. Make sure you look behind the bed’s headboard and in furniture, says Jerry Lazarus, owner of Braman Termite & Pest Elimination in Massachusetts. “Pull back the bed sheets and check the mattress seams for pepper-like stains that may be evidence of bedbug activity,” he says. Durham says to also check any upholstered fabric, curtains, carpeting, and the corners of the room.
- Request a new room if you believe there could be bedbugs. Make sure the new room isn’t next to or directly above or below the original one, Lazarus says. “Bedbugs can easily hitchhike via housekeeping carts, luggage, and even through wall sockets,” he says.
- Never use a luggage stand. Lazarus recommends keeping your suitcase in a large plastic garbage bag that’s off the floor and away from the bed. Braun says when he travels, he keeps his suitcase far away from where he’s sleeping, usually in the bathtub.
- Avoid putting your clothes in hotel room drawers.
- Store your return luggage in a tightly tied garbage bag. You can also place it in a car parked in the sun to warm it up to 120 degrees, thereby killing the bugs. (3)
- If you’re staying at a friend’s or family member’s home and you suspect they have bedbugs, take precautions. Don’t leave your clothes or bags lying around near their upholstered furniture, Braun says. “You just have to be cautious,” he says. Sit on a hard surface rather than a fabric one, and keep any purses or bags on a table away from sleeping areas.
After you return home from a trip where you think you may have been bitten by a bedbug, be sure to wash and dry all of the clothing from your suitcase. Lazarus suggests drying all fabric items (even those that have not been worn) in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes to ensure that any bedbugs that may have made it back with you don’t end up in your drawers or closet.
You may have heard that it’s helpful to vacuum your luggage, but that might not be effective since it can be difficult to spot bedbugs inside your suitcase, particularly if they are hiding in the lining. Unfortunately, sprays designed to prevent bedbugs aren’t effective either, so Lazarus suggests using a garment steamer (such as a handheld one) to steam luggage, which should kill any bedbugs, he says.
Being a Savvy Shopper and Practicing Smart Laundry Habits Also Lower Your Bedbug Risk
Even when you’re not traveling, there are some precautions you can take to minimize your risk of bringing bedbugs into your home.
- When you’re shopping at a secondhand store, be sure to thoroughly examine items before bringing them home. Check within the seams of the furniture for bedbug activity, and wash fabric items before placing them in your house.
- Wrap your mattress and box spring in a protective cover or mattress encasement that’s specifically designed to keep bedbugs out. That will minimize the places that bedbugs can hide. Box springs are a more likely hiding spot for bedbugs than mattresses, so don’t skip covering them, too. A high-quality cover will be made of cloth, which is less likely to rip than plastic. Check the cover periodically to make sure there aren’t any holes, and if there are, cover them with duct tape immediately. (4)
- If you frequently visit a laundry facility, dry your clothes on high heat and bring them home to fold. That way, you’ll reduce your chances of picking up a bug while on site.
- If you live in an apartment or multi-unit building, consider adding a door sweep to their front door to keep things from the outside from coming in. It’s also a good idea to seal any cracks around plumbing or electrical work to keep bedbugs from traveling over from a neighbor’s apartment. (5)
If I’ve Had Bedbugs, How Do I Prevent Them From Coming Back?
If you’ve experienced bedbugs and feel you’ve successfully dealt with the issue, you may be wondering if they’ll come back — either as a result of the treatment not actually successfully killing all the eggs or bugs, or from a secondary infestation. How quickly you’ll know often depends largely on the climate. In a temperature of 70 degrees or higher, the bedbugs would likely show up within 14 to 21 days. If it’s cooler, it can take a lot longer since bedbugs can live as long as 400 days in a cool climate without feeding. (6)
Your best defense is properly following directions from the pest control professional you’re working with, such as properly cleaning and laundering items in your home as directed, and encasing your mattress and box spring.
Keeping your home free of clutter will minimize the places bedbugs have to hide as well. Vacuuming frequently could also help. Be sure to use a suction wand to target the seams of your mattresses and box springs and along the edges of the carpet.