Heating the exterior of suitcases may help keep bed bugs at bay



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It's probably the last thing you want to think about when checking in and out of your hotel room. But trust us — you don't want to discover that, after finally going on a well-earned vacation or surviving a grueling business trip, you've brought home bed bugs.

Make a little bit of time at the beginning and end of your trip so you don't end up with these unwanted, skin-crawling roommates.

The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) has a checklist to make sure you don’t bring home the little terrors from your hotel.

  • Inspect your hotel room before you unpack your clothes. That includes behind the headboard and in the furniture. Check under the sheets and mattress seems for what the NPMA calls, “pepper-like stains.”
  • Keep your luggage away from the walls. And DO NOT put suitcases on the bed. Store them instead in a plastic trash bag or protective cover.
  • If you suspect bed bugs are haunting your hotel room, notify management and ask for a room change ASAP. And do not let them put you in an adjacent room to the infested one you just left.
  • Post-trip, make sure you inspect and vacuum your suitcases before you bring them into your home. You can also use a garment hand steamer to steam your luggage.
  • Wash all of your clothes in hot water. And throw your unworn shirts, pants and skirts in there for good measure.

There's some good news, too. New research indicates that brief heat treatment really is a promising way to decrease the spread of bed bugs being transported on the outer surface of luggage.

When soft-sided suitcases with male bed bugs on the outside were exposed to an air temperature of 70-75 degrees Celcius (that's about 158-176 degrees Fahrenheit), it took only six minutes to kill all the bed bugs, even those that had concealed themselves under zipper flaps or decorative piping.

During heating, only one bed bug (out of 250 total) moved into the luggage (through a closed zipper). Also, at room temperature, only 3% of bugs placed on the outside of the suitcases had moved inside during a 24-hour period.

"Heat has attracted a lot of interest as a control method for bed bugs because it is effective and environmentally benign, but it can take a lot of time for heat to thoroughly penetrate a piece of furniture or a suitcase and increase the temperature at the location of the hidden bed bugs inside," said Dr. Catherine Loudon, author of the Pest Management Science article. "Bed bugs located on the outside of luggage are one of the few cases in which they are somewhat peripherally constrained and therefore more vulnerable to a quick exposure of heat."

A hair dryer isn't going to do the trick. You'll need a steamer. Depending on the hotel you stay at, though, you may be able to borrow one rather than have to lug one along.