How to tell if your hotel mattress has bed bugs — 7 tips and tricks (2024)

How to tell if your hotel mattress has bed bugs — 7 tips and tricks (1)

I'm a sleep writer and I'm traveling this summer, so of course I'm thinking about bed bugs. Bed bugs in hotel mattresses can not only ruin your trip with uncomfortable bites, but if they get into your luggage, a hotel mattress bed bug problem can quickly become an at-home bed bug infestation.

First things first, bed bugs are not picky. Even the best mattresses with the latest in hypoallergenic technology can fall foul of a bed bug infestation, so it's important to stay vigilant to the signs that they could be lurking in your hotel bed, too.

Thankfully, the internet has provided plenty of tried and tested tips and tricks for checking your hotel mattress for bed bugs. I've rounded up the best hotel bed bug spotting hacks here, so you can sleep peacefully on your dream vacation.

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are tiny parasitic insects that feed on blood from animals and humans. Adult bed bugs measure roughly 5mm in length and are reddish brown with oval bodies, so they can be identified by the human eye – but that doesn't mean they're always easy to spot.

Bed bugs are drawn to heat and exhaled carbon dioxide, and they're not a fan of light. That means they tend to hide in dark cracks and crevices, coming out at night to feed when the host is asleep. With one female bed bug capable of laying up to 250 eggs in its lifespan, it's important to find and deal with bed bugs before a small problem becomes a major infestation.

How to tell if your hotel mattress has bed bugs — 7 tips and tricks (2)

How to check your hotel room for bed bugs: 7 tips and tricks

The first thing many of us want to do after a long day traveling is flop down on that inviting hotel mattress. Resist that urge for just a few minutes, and follow these be bug finding hacks first.

1. Place your suitcase in the bathtub

Before you begin your bed bug search, you want to prepare for the outcome that you find bed bugs. This is where the bath tub hack comes in. Bed bugs aren't a fan of the cold, smooth surfaces of the bathroom, so instead of putting your suitcase on the floor (where it might be exposed to bugs) place it in the bathtub.

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ThePointsGuyArrivals also recommends hanging your backpack and any bags from hangers in the closet, to keep them off the floor. Doing this means if you do find bugs, you don't have to worry that they've gotten into your luggage.

2. Check the mattress seams and corners

If you're worrying about bed bugs it might be tempting to search the entire room from top to bottom. But while a thorough search offers reassurance, it doesn't give you much time to enjoy your vacation. Hack your hotel checks by starting in the place bed bugs like the most: the mattress corners.

Dark mattress seams and corners are the preferred hiding place for bed bugs, so this is where you're most likely to spot them. If you can't find anything but you're mind isn't at ease just yet, move your search onto the rest of the mattress – with the help of the hacks below.

3. Turn off the lights

Bed bugs are sensitive to light, which is one of the reasons bed bugs come out at night (the other is that this tends to be the best opportunity to feed). So is there a way you can use this to your advantage?

According to TikTok travel expert Haleewithaflair, one of the best ways to check for bed bugs is to make the room dark. Turn off the lights, close any blinds, and break out the flashlight on your phone. Then, start searching in those seams and corners, to see if you can spot any bed bugs lurking.

@haleewithaflair♬ original sound - Halee-Hotel & Travel Expert

4. Use a hot iron

This hot iron bed bug hotel hack comes from TikTok and relies on the critters being drawn toward warmth. To begin, pull back the cover of your mattress, leaving the mattress protector or bottom sheet in place. Take a hot iron and pass it over the protector until the area is warm. Finally, pull back the protector. If the mattress has bed bugs, they should have been drawn to the surface.

5. Spray alcohol on the seams and headboard

There are some benefits to using alcohol to clean your mattress – that's rubbing alcohol, not your vacation mimosa – and TikTok user Drdustinportela also recommends using rubbing alcohol to lure out bed bugs.

To use this hack, decant some rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle, lightly spritz the headboard and base of the mattress, and wait a few minutes. According to the hack, this will cause the bed bugs to come to the surface.

Does it work? There's limited evidence online suggesting alcohol can be used to find bed bugs. However, a quick spray can potentially kill any of the parasites you do find. So it might be worth carrying some rubbing alcohol on the go anyway.

@drdustinportela♬ original sound - Dr. Dustin Portela

6. Check again in the middle of the night

Bed bugs feed at night because, for the most part, that's when the food source is there (yes, you're the food source). They're drawn to the warmth and carbon dioxide we exhale as we sleep, as well as the comfortable dark conditions. Which means if you couldn't spot any bed bugs during your initial search, but you're still worried they're in the mattress, try checking again in the middle of the night.

If you're sharing a room, make sure to get your companion's permission before you start stripping the bed. Then, use the flashlight on your phone to scour the corners and seams of the mattress. If you still can't spot anything, your hotel room is probably bed bug free.

7. Spray essential oils on your suitcase

Tiny and tenacious, bed bugs are a tough problem to get rid of – so you really don't want to bring them home with you. Your dark, warm suitcase is an appealing hiding place for bed bugs, but a few drops of strongly scented essential oils can potentially keep these bugs away.

Studies show that essential oils can be used to deter bed bugs, with geranium (geraniol), clove (eugenol), and citronella (citronellic acid) oils all showing good results. Try placing a few drops of oil on a piece of fabric and tucking it between clothes in your suitcase. Be aware: essential oils won't kill bed bugs, but it might stop them from nesting in your pajamas.

What to do if you find bed bugs in a hotel mattress?

If you've spotted bed bugs in your hotel room, the first thing to do is document the evidence. Take photos and videos of the affected area, making sure the bed bugs are as clear as possible.

Next, notify the hotel staff and ask for a room change, using your evidence to prove why it's necessary. Ask for a room away from the original room. where there's less likely to be an infection. Before going to your new room, inspect your luggage and clothing to ensure you won't be taking bed bugs with you. In your new room, you need to check everything again. Hopefully, this one will be bug free.

When you get home at the end of your vacation, unpack your suitcase on a hardwood floor (if possible) to look for stowaways. Wash everything in a hot wash (at least 140 degrees F) and dry on a high heat for 30 minutes. Next, use a pesticide to spray your luggage and finish with a thorough vacuum to remove any lingering bugs.

How to tell if your hotel mattress has bed bugs — 7 tips and tricks (3)

Ruth Jones

Sleep staff Writer

Ruth Jones has recently joined the Tom's Guide team as a sleep staff writer, covering all things mattresses and sleep. Ruth previously worked as a sleep and mattress writer for our sister website TechRadar, and has a deep interest in sleep and how it affects our day to day wellbeing. Ruth is a self-confessed stomach sleeper with a penchant for medium-firm mattresses, and also loves a good eye mask for helping her to fall asleep easier at night.

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