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How to Identify Bed Bugs in New York Hotel Rooms

Updated on January 15, 2011

I have both the pleasure of calling myself a seasoned traveler and the displeasure of having experienced a bed bug infestation first hand.  Though the latter occurrence was highly disagreeable, to say the least, I learned a lot from it, and want to share my findings with you.

As you may know, there has been a major bed bug outbreak - not just in New York City, but all around the world.  As a result, it is more important than ever to know how to check for bed bugs in your hotel rooms when you travel, as well as adopt measures to lower the chances of your bringing bed bugs back home with you.  

I have a particularly strong aversion to parasitic bugs, and this aversion plus my first hand experience has made me a bit of an expert on the subject.  Allow me to share my expertise with you.  Below you will find helpful tips on checking for bed bugs before you book a hotel, entering and unpacking in your hotel room in such a manner as to avoid picking up any of the bloodsucking pests, checking your room for an infestation (or any stragglers, for that matter), and evacuating the premises should you identify anything troublesome.  Enjoy!

Even nice hotels can be infested with bed bugs
Even nice hotels can be infested with bed bugs

Before You Book

Before booking a hotel in New York City, there are several resources you can check to see whether or not bed bugs will be an issue. Many of these sites have convenient map overlays, and allow you to search by neighborhood, zipcode, or even hotel name.

These sites (which are conveniently listed to the right) are not all New York City-centric; many of them cover cities all across the United States, if not cities on major continents around the world.

Most of these resources are made possible by the contribution of normal hotel dwellers such as you and I. This is both a blessing as a curse. It is a blessing in that there is more information, and the information is more immediate. It is a curse in that not all individuals contributing to these sites are bed bug experts, and might be giving false alarms. Even worse, they might be trolls out to damage the reputation of certain hotels.

Because the bed bug issue in NYC is so widespread, it is actually hard to find a hotel whose reputation is not at least somewhat sullied by bed bugs.  This does not mean that you should overlook the hotel entirely.  Check on the most recent reviews to see if the bed bug infestation is still an issue, or if it has been more or less irradiated (at least for the time being).  If you see no recent reports of bed bugs, you should be OK

Packing Tips

When you pack for your trip, try to modularize your clothing.  Bring along a large, sealable plastic bag.  All dirty clothes should be put in this bag before they return to your suitcase.  Essentially, you want to set up a system whereby anything that could be potentially "infected" with bed bugs can be isolated, then washed and put through the drier (or dry cleaned) upon your return home.

What to Do Upon Arrival

When you arrive at your hotel, there is no particular reason to be nervous. You've done your research. There are certain things you ought to do once you arrive in your hotel room to both check for bed bugs and ensure that you do not bring any home with you. I'll lay these out in three simple rules.

Rule 1: DO NOT PUT ANYTHING ON THE BED: As it happens, bed bugs pretty much just stick to beds (at least in moderate infestations - if an infestation is particularly bad, bed bugs can expand to areas beyond the bed). The good news is that you're free to put stuff pretty much anywhere else. But the first thing a lot of people do when they arrive at a hotel is sit on the bed or put their suitcase on the bed. Bad idea. I wouldn't even recommend doing this if you've checked the room and are satisfied with what you've seen - it never hurts to be careful.

Rule 2: Put your suitcase on the stand: Almost all hotel rooms provide a little folding stand of some sort onto which you can place your open suitcase. Use this stand for your suitcase - this keeps it off the bed, and also keeps it off the floor, which is another likely place where you could potentially pick the buggers up.

Rule 3: Be organized: As I mentioned above, it pays to modularize your things and put dirty clothes in a sealed plastic bag before putting them into your suitcase. Be organized with your clothing and you'll not only reduce your likelihood of bringing home bed bugs, but also of losing clothing and other possessions, and struggling to fit everything back into your baggage.

Bed bugs and bed bug mattress stains  - yikes!
Bed bugs and bed bug mattress stains - yikes! | Source

Checking Your Room

Here comes the most disagreeable part of the process- checking your room for bed bugs. Blah. Yuck. Ew. I hate this part. But here's what to do:

1. Check the bedding - This is easy enough - have a look at the bedding, especially along nooks and crannies. Check the pillowcases and pillows. If your bedding is white, this is going to be a lot easier than if your bedding has dark coloring.

2. Check the mattress - work corner by corner - pick up the corners of the fitted sheet around the mattress and check the little crevices at each corner of of the mattress (they like to hang out in the grooves). Look for spots on the mattress that are red or brown in color. These are stains from bed bug fecal matter (bed bug turds!! YAY!) and tend to appear in clusters. Common places for these include the area around the headboard. If you want to, you can also check for eggs, but they're much harder to see, as they're white and about the size of a pin. They're typically affixed along the seams of mattresses, and they're so small that you would probably need a magnifying glass and flashlight to see them.

3. Check the headboard & other "problem areas" - Check around the headboard of your bed and in any cracks of the bedframe, especially in any tight corners, grooves, or crevices. A flashlight might help you out if the room isn't all that well lit.  You might also check electrical appliances around the bed, drawers, the top of curtains, other furniture in the room (especially if it has cushions), the edges of any carpets and in any torn bits of wallpaper, shelves, the ironing board, corners of walls, and in doors and window frames.  The farther you get from a bed, the less likely you are to encounter bed bugs, and if ANY bed bugs are in your hotel room, they'll most likely be in the bed.  Why? That's where the food is!!!

Additional Ways to Check

Sniff around the mattress: Apparently, bed bugs sometimes give off a smell somewhat like coriander. It's an alarm pheromone, and it does not always occur, but this pheromone has given rise to bed-bug sniffing dogs, who are trained to identify the smell and notify people of the bed bugs' presence.

An adult bed bug
An adult bed bug | Source

Fun Bed Bug Facts

Did you know that baby bed bugs are known as nymphs? How cute!

How to Identify a Bed Bug

If you see ANY bugs in a hotel room bed, you're going to want to ask for another room - if not another hotel entirely. That said, it doesn't hurt to know what bed bugs actually look like, so that you can know if you're up against a bed bug infestation, or something else, like fleas, scabies, or whatever else might somehow end up in your hotel room bed.

Bed bugs differ in appearance depending on where they are in their lifecycle, however most are shades of brown (a light straw color when they're wee babies, a darker brown or reddish-browh color as they become adults and have their first blood meal).  Adult bed bugs look a lot like miniature cockroaches. 

Adult bed bugs are about the size of a grain of rice. Baby bed bugs are about one sixteenth of an inch long. They have an oval shape with pointed ends, and are relatively flat.

If you see even one bed bug in your hotel room, it's time to hightail it out of there. Leave the hotel, and if that's not a possibility, at LEAST leave that room and check the next one you move into as well.

How to Avoid Bringing Bed Bugs Home

As I am more averse to bed bugs than the average person, I do everything I can to avoid bringing them home with me.  The best way to do so is to just assume that the room has bed bugs and behave accordingly:

  • Have separate clothing that you wear to bed; keep it isolated and bring it home in a sealed plastic bag.  Wash the clothing on the hottest setting you have and put it through the drier. Shower after getting out of bed and before putting on your clothes.  
  • Again, never put your things on the bed, and keep your suitcase off the floor.
  • To be extra careful, isolate and wash+dry all of your things after your return home.
Yeah, these things are a hassle, but having a bed bug infestation in your own home is even worse.  Believe me.  Imagine having to wash and dry or dry clean all of the clothing and  bedding you own, throwing out or treating your mattress, having exterminators visit several times, and still feel itchy when you go to bed at night because you have psyched yourself out.  It's much better, I think, to make a bit more of an effort on this trip to New York City and rest assured that you'll not have to deal with the hube bother later on down the road. 


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    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Hooooooboy, froch. I would so prefer cockroaches to bedbugs.

    • froch profile image


      9 years ago from Tychy

      Oh my god! There was a sad day when I rented a room with a cockroach. I was sure that nothing can shock me - but I was wrong!

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks akirchner! Yeah, cockroaches I can deal with - they don't feed on us, plus they're super clean. But bed bugs? Bleeergh!!!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Washington

      All I can say is EWWWW--I'm not a bed bug kinda gal though I grew up with cockroaches in southern CA. My daughter had this happen to her when they traveled to live for a bit in Australia.....not cool. She had to completely wash everything and she was SOOOO mad! Good information though and I love your presentation! Thumbs up!!!

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      PaulaK and anglnwu - you both make excellent points - bed bug infestations are in issue in many places throughout the world It never hurts to check wherever one is staying!

    • anglnwu profile image


      9 years ago

      This is a very timely topic even the recent outbreak of pesky parasites. I heard that Ohio has the highest rate of bed-bugs infestation. Your tips are great and hopefully, these sneaky critters won't get a chance to schlep home with us, wherever we go. Rated useful.

    • PaulaK profile image

      Paula Kirchner 

      9 years ago from Austin. Texas

      Thank you for this helpful information. Also note that other countries have the same problem and sometimes even more so. Be sure to check the room well.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      This is a rather unpleasant subject, but checking for bed bugs beforehand is a lot easier than bringing them into your home and having to deal with an infestation. I'm glad you've found the Hub to be informative.

    • cherimmhmm profile image


      9 years ago

      Just reading this made me itch. I have never encountered this, but will be keeping an eye out. Lots of good information!

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Relatively, I suppose... I don't know what counts as a lot, but I've been lucky enough to see a lot of places in the past decade or so. Most of it is fun! Even the stuff that isn't fun is good - builds character, I suppose :D

    • Girl of Dreams profile image

      Girl of Dreams 

      9 years ago from England, westbrom

      Do you travel a lot?

      Is it fun?


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