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Bedbugs: Tips for preventing

How to check for bedbugs

Although bedbugs don't usually require serious medical attention, they can cause a great deal of anxiety and restless nights. To find bedbugs before they find you (and your belongings), dermatologists recommend looking for the following signs near places where you sleep.

You can reduce your chance of bringing bedbugs home by following these dermatologists' tips when traveling and shopping for furniture.

How to prevent picking up bedbugs while traveling

Most people get bedbugs while traveling. Bedbugs are tiny insects that feed on human blood. They can crawl into a suitcase or onto clothing unnoticed.

Here's how you can find bedbugs before they find you and your belongings.

When checking into a hotel, cabin aboard a cruise ship, or elsewhere, you want to check your room before unpacking.

Here's what you want to do:

  1. When you walk into the room or cabin, take a deep breath. Do you notice a sweet or musty odor? If there is a heavy infestation, you may notice this smell. Bedbugs produce chemicals to help them communicate.

  2. Next, check the bed. Look carefully at the blankets, sheets, pillows, and mattress pad. Then, check the mattress and box spring. Do you see:

    • Blackish specks, which could be bedbug excrement
    • Specks of blood anywhere, especially near seams
    • Shell-like remains on the bed, bedding, or furniture? Bedbugs have an outer shell that they shed and leave behind as they grow.

  3. You'll also want to check all upholstered furniture. While checking, you may see bedbugs or their eggs. A bedbug is about the size of an apple seed.

If you find signs of bedbugs, you should immediately request another room or cabin. The other room should not be near the current room.

When you enter your room or cabin for the first time, place your suitcase on the luggage rack. If the room has bedbugs, they can crawl unnoticed from the bed or floor to your suitcase.

Gentleman with suitcase checking into hotel room

How to prevent bringing bedbugs into your home after traveling

If you are concerned that you may have picked up bedbugs, you should inspect everything that you bring home (luggage, purse, and other belongings) for signs of bedbugs. You want to look for blackish specks, drops of blood, and shell-like remains.

If possible, inspect everything before you bring it inside your home.

If you see signs of bedbugs or strongly suspect that you might have brought bedbugs home, you should immediately:

  • Wash all the clothing that you brought home in a washing machine. Even clothes that you didn't wear must be washed in hot water. If you cannot wash something in a washing machine, you can either place it in a hot dryer or seal the items in a plastic garbage bag. If you seal items in a garbage bag, leave the bag securely closed in an extremely cold or hot place for a few months.

  • Dry your clothes after washing them in a clothes dryer, using the hot setting.

  • Use a hand steamer to clean your luggage. According to the National Pest Management Association, a garment steamer will kill bedbugs and their eggs.

How to prevent bedbugs when buying secondhand beds and other furniture

Bedbugs can be hard to find in secondhand beds and other furniture. If the bedbugs have not eaten for some time, you may not see signs of them. Bedbugs can live for about a year without eating.

You can prevent picking up bedbugs from secondhand furniture by not bringing secondhand furniture into your home.

More resources

National Pest Management Association
This association provides information to help you avoid and get rid of bedbugs.

Getty Images

National Pest Management Association, “Bed Bug Prevention.” Last accessed June 2012.

Steen CJ, Carbonaro PA, Schwartz RA. “Arthropods in dermatology.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2004; 50:819-42.