How to avoid bringing bed bugs home when you travel, kill bed bugs in luggage

by nobugsonme on August 5, 2007 · 6 comments

in bed bug prevention, bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs and travel, bed bugs in hotels, bed bugs on public transportation, clothing, thermal treatment, tools and weapons

If you think you have been exposed to bed bugs, don’t panic.

What you do after discovering you and your luggage may have been exposed can make a big difference as to whether you take the bugs home. It’s worth proceeding carefully and cautiously since avoiding an infestation can save you thousands of dollars and months of trouble and discomfort.

First, learn a little bit about the enemy. Read the Bed Bugs 101 FAQs on this site, and use the links to bed bug photos to learn what bed bugs look like at different life stages.

It’s important not to assume that suspected bed bug bites which appear after you get home mean you have been bitten at home.  Keep in mind that bed bug bites discovered in the days after you come home may have occurred elsewhere.  While many people seem to react allergically to bed bug bites within hours or a day or two of being bitten, others do not react for longer.  We have heard that having bed bug bite reactions appear a week or two after exposure is possible in some cases.  (Of course, many people do not react at all.)

Read this comprehensive article by entomologists Steven Kells and Jeff Hahn of the University of Minnesota, which describes the steps you should take if you’ve been exposed to bed bugs.  More tips on decon for exposed items in this other Bedbugger Travel FAQ.

Remember you have the most chance of avoiding bringing bed bugs home if you take the necessary steps before getting in your car or going to your home or anyone else’s home. It is possible to spread bed bugs to your car as well as to other locations. Following the steps in the Kells/Hahn article and the other Travel FAQs carefully as soon as you are aware of the exposure to bedbugs should help you avoid spreading them.

If you already are home before you realize the problem, do follow the same steps listed in these resources above regarding inspecting luggage (do it over the bathtub so you can see the bugs and kill them easily) and cleaning luggage, clothing, and other items.  Make sure you seal any suspect items (luggage, laundry, or other items from the trip) in plastic bags before moving them around, or you may be spreading bed bugs around the home.

If you are home before you realize the problem, and you have already exposed your home (including the clothing you’re wearing as well as any luggage), then you should quickly do some careful cleaning where the luggage has been brought in and where you sleep (sealing sheets/blankets in plastic bags and washing/drying the items on hot — see this FAQ, vacuuming, steaming, etc).  Seal the luggage in an airtight plastic bag if you think it may contain bed bugs.

If you brought home a bed bug or two, it is sometimes possible to get rid of them before they take root. Even if you don’t find any bed bugs, and you’ve done all the cleaning and followed all the other steps in the Kells/Hahn link, you might consider taking some time to declutter, so that if you do have any bedbugs, the signs will be more visible.

You might also want to employ some bed bug monitors to determine if you brought bed bugs home. The BBAlert Passive can be installed on all beds, and checked for fecal stains once a month; they are designed to be an attractive harborage for the pests, so that if bed bugs are present, you can see signs early, and take prompt action. You can read about BBAlert Passive Monitors here. And you can read about other detection methods here.

Most items which have been exposed to bedbugs (or which may have been exposed) can be treated with heat using a Packtite (more on them here). You can seal items in plastic bags (in an airtight manner) or in XL Ziplocs until you can use the Packtite.  Don’t put electronics in a Packtite, however!

but Packtite Closet at Bed Bug Supply

Once home, if you do find bed bugs or signs of bed bugs in your luggage, clothing or in any rooms, call a pest management professional right away (we have a FAQ on choosing a good one who knows bed bugs). Save any samples to show them.

Finally, if you know you were exposed to bedbugs in a hotel, hostel, or other accommodations, consider leaving a review on, or a post on the Bed Bug Registry to warn others of your experience.

See these FAQs for more tips on how to get bed bugs out of your stuff and how to kill bed bugs using washers and dryers.

Note: Please read the site’s disclosure policy. Purchasing through the links above to Bed Bug Supply supports the running of this site, at no additional cost to you.

Last updated 1/2019 to fix broken links.

1 Betty Raatgever April 23, 2008 at 2:22 pm

I was on the island Aruba for 9 days and when I came home I discovered I had 50 bedbugbites!! The big, red spots were ugly to see, specially on my legs. It took 14 days for them to disappear and now after 4 weeks I got a really bad small red spots on my body, legs and hands, itching!
The doctot gave me tablets/pills against allergy and it seems to work.
I got 14 pills, ach day one. I hope it helps.

2 Jenna May 11, 2009 at 9:06 pm

How long does it take before you know if you brought bedbugs home after experiencing them in on a vacation? It has been a month and a half now.

3 Ms. C May 13, 2009 at 10:29 am

How do I know if I brought bed bugs home? I stayed at the Double Tree Suites in Burlington VT on 5/10/09 we came home and the next evening my daughter noticed what appeared to be bug bites on her arm, leg, stomach and hip. The next day the bites were swollen welts. Our family Dr. confirmed that they bites were bed bug bites and that she was having an allergic reaction. The room was a suite set up, my daughter slept on a pull out couch, my husband and I slept in a bed in another area of the suite we have no sign of bites.
Since I was not aware that we were exposed to the bed bugs until 2 days after our stay we took no immediate precautions with our luggage.
When and how will I know if I brought them home?
Is the hotel liable?

4 nobugsonme May 13, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Hi Jenna and Mrs. C,

It can be difficult to detect whether you brought bed bugs home.

In Jenna’s case– I wonder if you or anyone currently staying in your home react to bed bugs on the trip? If so, they would probably also react to bed bugs once you came home. Each bed bug needs to feed about once a week.

On the other hand, if you did not react to bed bug bites on the vacation, you may also not be reacting to them now.

In the case of Mrs. C, it can take time for bed bug bites to appear. In this case, your daughter could have reacted immediately or she could have reacted a day or a few days later. (The literature says people can react — if they react — up to nine days later, though faster reactions are quite common.)

Mrs. C, also keep in mind that you and your husband may also have been bitten by bed bugs. You may simply not react. Or your daughter could have been the only one exposed.

Please see our FAQs, especially this section on detecting bed bugs, and then come to the forums for additional suggestions on what to do next.

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