If you thought that only rundown hotels had bed bugs, that's no longer the case. Today, even the finest hotels can't completely avoid these blood-hungry hitchhikers. That's because bed bugs have become more common and difficult to eradicate with increased travel, and the bugs themselves have adapted genetically so they're tougher to kill.
It's not just hotels where bed bugs now lurk. Summer camps, college dorms, apartment complexes, theaters, and secondhand furnishings are just a few other hideouts.
So with all this news, it's no wonder you want to know how to avoid bed bugs. The best place to start is to learn how to identify bed bugs and where to look for them.
IDs, please! Adult bed bugs look similar in size and appearance to an apple seed but are rusty red in color. Pinhead-size juvenile bed bugs are lighter in color than the adults.
When you check into your hotel, don't bring your luggage to the room until you've had time to investigate. Or, if you do carry it in, set it on the bathroom floor, on a table, or on the luggage rack pulled away from walls and furniture.
Check the bed first by pulling back the sheets and mattress cover near the headboard. Inspect the mattress and box springs, particularly near the corners and along seams, and look for blood spots or dark flecks, dead bed bugs, small white eggs or eggshells, and shed exoskeletons. Look for similar signs where baseboards and electrical outlets meet the wall, and look behind hanging artwork as well. Check inside dresser drawers, especially in corners.
If you do find signs of bed bugs, go to the front desk, alert them to the problem, and ask for another room that isn't adjacent to or above or below the infested space.
Even if you don't find bed bugs, don't put your luggage on the bed or floor. Instead, store it on the luggage rack only. Hang up your clothing and don't put it away in the dresser. Note that bed bugs are drawn to dirty clothing, so have a plastic bag on hand to store soiled items.
When you return home from your trip, immediately wash and dry all soiled clothing. Put clean clothes in the dryer on high for 20 minutes. Vacuum your luggage, inside and outside, and empty the contents in the garbage outside the house. Then seal luggage in a plastic garbage bag.
If you do find signs of these stealthy pests at your house, you might wonder how to eliminate bed bugs on your own. But the task isn't recommended for do-it-yourselfers because you can actually make the problem worse.
Most pesticides are no longer considered effective against them, and spraying bed bugs may send them scurrying to other parts of the house and actually spread the infestation. Instead, the best solution is to call a professional exterminator, who will typically use sustained high heat to kill them. That's not a job you can do either without specialized equipment and training.
In addition to taking the bed bug precautions suggested for travelers, be careful bringing home secondhand furnishings. Thoroughly look over upholstery, checking particularly along seams and under cushions. Also inspect wood pieces, because bed bugs can hide between joints and inside drawers. Once you bring the item home, keep it in the garage for several days (or longer) and inspect it now and then for signs of bed bugs.
Minimize clutter in your home so bed bugs have fewer places to hide. Vacuum regularly and immediately empty the contents in the outside garbage. Don't let dirty clothing or towels linger on the floor.
If you order a new mattress, request delivery first thing in the morning so it doesn't sit in a truck with old mattresses collected during other deliveries. As soon as the mattress arrives, encase it and the box springs in covers labeled for bed bug prevention. These covers don't prevent an infestation, but it will trap any existing bed bugs inside until they succumb. If an infestation does occur at your house in the future, you can take the covers off, throw them away, and hopefully eliminate the problem more easily. Place bed bug interceptors under the legs of a bed frame to trap bed bugs as they come and go, alerting you early on to their presence.