How to check for bed bugs in a hotel room or Airbnb

When you're packing your bag, along with your threads, toothbrush and phone charger, toss in a flashlight. Why? To check for bed bugs, of course.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re on a tightly scheduled business trip or looking to soak up local culture on vacation — when you reach your final destination, you’ll be sleeping in a bed that’s not your own. When you’re packing your bag, along with your threads, toothbrush and phone charger, toss in a flashlight. Why? To check for bed bugs, of course.

“I scoured a slew of travel sites before booking, so I’m good”

You might think that travel review sites would give you a heads-up about unwelcome hotel guests, but they can be unreliable. This is, in part, because bed bug infestations come and go. A hotel with a clean reputation yesterday may be crawling with the little critters tomorrow. Conversely, a shiver-inducing review may no longer be relevant.

If you’ve booked a host via Airbnb based on “terrific” reviews, you might want to take a peek at this account.

“But I stay at quality joints”

It’s a mistake to assume that bed bugs only hang out at the No-Tell Motel. Luxury hotels are every bit as susceptible.

A nice room at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. And it’s full of bed bugs, according to the Daily Mail.

You can’t tell whether a place has them based solely on cleanliness — the buggers can thrive anywhere there are cracks, crevices and a revolving cast of houseguests.

If you’re thinking, “Hey, there should be some kind of bed bug registry you can check, and a way to also report bed bug sightings,” well, there is. Not surprisingly, it’s called Bed Bug Registry. You can check and report sightings at any public space — hotels, college dorms, hospitals, movie theaters, libraries. It’s worth checking out potential hotels to see if any you’re considering made the “B” list.

And take along this handy bug identification card so you’ll recognize the enemy:

“I still feel okay with my choice”

Great, but even with the best intentions, research and foresight, you should still check out the room for the little buggers before you unpack. Here’s a step-by-step:

  • Put your bags down in the center of the floor or, better yet, on the bathroom floor or in the bathtub. This sounds weird, but those spots are less likely to harbor bugs. Don’t drop your luggage on the bed before you inspect.
  • Start your inspection in the places bed bugs congregate — which is near their food source. That is, the bed’s previous occupant. Strip the covers down to the bare mattress and check each corner and seam. (A credit card is great to split seams apart.) Use your flashlight for illumination. Check the surface of the sheets.
  • You’re looking for dark spots about the size of a pinhead that are — gross alert — bed bug poop. You might also see rusty or reddish-brown stains caused by crushed bugs; tiny eggs or eggshells; or pale yellow skins left behind by molting bugs. You may even spy some brazen creepy crawlers themselves.


  • If you can pull the bed away from the wall, do it. Bed bugs flatten themselves between furniture and the wall to escape daylight. Use your flashlight to check inside night table drawers.
  • Finally, check other possible hangouts, such as upholstered chairs and couches, the luggage rack (other travelers may have imported bugs in their luggage) and closet shelves. Even the curtains if there are any.

If you’re at all suspicious, hightail it out of the room and report it to management. Hotels that are mid-range and above should have quality controls in place, such as more careful cleaning services and inspection between hotel guests. They should have a professional pest control company in their rolodex, ready to swoop in at the first sign of infestation.

Booked via Airbnb? You should do the same series of checks. If you do find any buggers? Their terms of service read as follows: “Any bookings will be made at the guest’s own risk.”