It’s amazing how much we can suffer from a tiny little bug that doesn’t do any real harm. Bed bugs are the scourge of the hotel and hostel industry, even though they don’t transmit diseases. Being infected with bed bugs is just so unsettling that the sting of your hostel being hit with bed bugs is way worse than their actual bite. How would you like to pay $200 an hour to have a bed bug detecting dog sniff around your hostel to ensure you've eradicated the pest? What about $3,000 for a heater that will kill raise the room temperature high enough to kill them?
To add insult to injury, once the bugs are gone, the stigma remains. A study from the University of Kentucky found that bed bugs lower the value of a hotel room by $23 per room per night for leisure travelers and $38 for business travelers.¹
Bed bugs are a big issue and this ultimate guide to bed bugs for hostels will help you handle bed bugs if you already have them, or hopefully prevent problems before they. start
If you’re reading this because your hostel already has bed bugs, or you or your guests suspect bed bugs, start here.
If a guest comes to you saying that they might have been bitten by bed bugs, or they think they found a bed bug, do not confirm or deny their claim. You might think, “well I’ll just jump online and Google image search for bed bug bites... Oh, your bite doesn’t look like the picture. You don’t have bed bugs.” Jeff White, host of “Bed Bug TV” says “Your doctor cannot tell you by looking at the bites that it is definitively bed bugs that are causing it. If your doctor or dermatologist does that, you need to find a new doctor.”² Even a biopsy could only tell you that an insect caused a bite, but it wouldn’t tell you if it was or was not bed bugs. The room will need to be inspected before you can determine if you have bed bugs.
The first thing you can do to address your guest's concerns is offer to move them out of the room and wash all of their belongings while the room is inspected for bed bugs. Your guest might be cool and calm, or they might be anxious and panicking. The thought of being munched on by little bugs in your sleep is a scary one. Offering to move the guest out of the room and wash their will help calm their nerves and show the guest that they are being taken seriously.
It'd be ideal if you can send someone to assist the guest with moving their things out of the room. If there's a possibility the room has bed bugs, you don't want linens being carelessly tossed around the room. You don't want a backpack being thoughtlessly dragged through the hallway. If there are bed bugs, this will potentially spread them. Instead, bag everything up carefully and proceed to wash it and dry it on high heat.
Bed bugs can make themselves flat, and so any gap that's wide enough for a business card is wide enough for a bed bug. The bugs could have made themselves at home inside your guest's laptop. Obviously items like these can't be put through the washing machine. These items must be placed in sealed bags and stored until checkout to avoid potentially spreading the bugs.
In the hotel industry it's standard to take a room out of use and move the guest to another one until a pest services company can be brought in to inspect the room. This is more challenging in the hostel industry. If one person in a sixteen-bed dorm suspects bed bugs, you might not be unable to re-accommodate them all in other rooms. Even if you could, this is obviously a much more tremendous effort and inconvenience than dealing with a single guest booking. This mass movement is more likely to cause a stir and incite panic among your other guests. What if after creating a scene, moving out twelve guests, washing a dozen packs worth of clothes, the pest control company arrives, performs an inspection, and finds no sign of bed bug activity? A major crisis all because a guest mistook his mosquito bites for bed bugs!
If you have already confirmed that the room has bed bugs, you must take the room out of use until the pest has been eradicated. Bed bugs move around at night and just because only one out of six people in a room have made a complaint, it doesn't mean that the other five guests do not have bugs now living inside their backpacks. You can't cross your fingers and hope the bugs only went after one guest or one bed!
If your hostel has a pest control company, it’s best to call them up and let the professionals handle this for you. If you read on, you’ll see that bed bug detection is difficult and eradication can be even harder. Professionals can be expensive, but so can a disruption to your business if bed bugs are handled incorrectly. Give yourself and your guests peace of mind by finding an expert. If you don’t have a pest control company you use regularly, now might be a good time to find one.
There are some hostels where management or owners are unwilling to spend money on professional help. There are also many hostels located in places where pest control services are inaccessible. Thus, if you can’t or don’t want to use a professional, here’s how to inspect for bed bugs yourself.
Remove the sheets and comforter slowly so that if there are any bugs, you don’t fling them anywhere. Take the linens, put them inside a bag, and then wash and dry them on high heat.
With the linens outs, what are we looking for? Bed bugs are the size of an apple seed. You can definitely see them with your eyes. Besides the bugs themselves, look for eggs, little blood stains, or dark spots from bed bug poop.
You’re going to want to check the bed frame, the mattress, the box spring, and behind the headboard. Look around the seams and edges of the mattress. This is a very common place to find them. Check the corners where the ribbing folds over. If there’s a label on the mattress, take it off and look underneath. Stand the mattress up against the wall and inspect the underside. Again, check the seams and edges.
If you’re using a box spring, check the edges of the box spring and then stand it up. Underneath a box spring is a favorite hiding spot for bed bugs. Check the dust cover and where its stapled to the box spring. Check the plastic caps on the corners. You might want to take these off because bed bugs can hide underneath. Take the dust cover off and look at the wood underneath.
You can look at the metal framework and the gaps, but it's unlikely you'll find any there. They most prefer the mattress and the box spring.
Besides the beds, you should also check around the room Check between the floorboards, behind picture frames, inside drawers, and in the creases of your furniture. Any space that is wide enough for a business card is wide enough for a bed bug.
So you search around the room and find no sign of bed bugs. Now what? Well, it depends on the situation. Is the guest covered head-to-toe in some sort of rash or bites that they assumed were bed bugs? It's very unlikely that a person could be getting severely menaced by bed bugs while they sleep, but you can't find a single trace of them during the day. This suggests a cause other than bed bugs. What if its only a few bites? This could be a sign of a very low-grade bed bug infestation. Again, it's good to play it safe and bring in a professional who's better trained and experienced with detecting signs of bed bug activity. Otherwise, there's a chance you overlooked a bed bug infestation that will only get worse.
Okay, so you’ve done your inspection and confirmed, your hostel has bed bugs. Now, what do you do?
First, you’ll need to get all the guests out of the room. Even if it’s an 18-bed dorm and only one bed shows signs of infection, if you want to guarantee your hostel is rid of bed bugs, you’ll need to get everyone out. This might sound really problematic, especially if your hostel is fully booked. The problem is, bed bugs walk around at night looking for a meal. Just because you only had one guest complaint or only found the bugs in one bed doesn’t mean bed bugs aren’t hiding around the room
Should your guests get their money back if your hostel has bed bugs? Difficult question. They're not entitled to any compensation. It's not your fault the hostel has bed bugs. It's only your fault if you find out there's an infestation and you don't do anything about it.
That being said, having bed bugs can be very detrimental to your hostel's reputation, and offering the guest a full refund for their bug troubles can reduce the likelihood that they'll complain online.
It's most important to be empathetic. You could even suspect the guest is the source of the infestation, but you'll need to be sympathetic in order to keep them calm and rational.
It's not fair, but the truth is, if a guest goes online and spreads an upsetting story about getting bed bugs at your place, your hostel will be the one to suffer. It's with this unfortunate reality in mind that you should set a policy that aims to minimize the disruptive effect of bed bugs on your business and try not to concern yourself with what feels "right" or "wrong" in the situation.
Again, before the guests move to another room, all of their belongings need to be bagged up and washed or at least put through the dryer on high heat. It’d be best if you offered to do this for them while they’re out for the day. It’d put a real damper on your holiday if you found out your room had bed bugs and now your hostel wants you to spend the morning in the laundry room. They definitely shouldn’t have to pay for the laundry; they didn’t ask for clean clothes, you’re doing this to keep YOUR hostel infestation-free.
If the guests have items they don’t want you washing, it'd be best to insist that they bag up the items and let you store them until they leave.
It's also smart to take the rooms adjacent to the infested room out of use. Bed Bugs can travel through cavities in the wall, or use the spaces meant for pipes or electrical wires. You don't have to treat the entire building, but treating the neighboring rooms will stop any potential spread.
Once the guests are out, all washable bedding, curtains, towels, etc. should be washed and dried on the hottest setting. Again, bag these items and do it carefully to avoid spreading the scourge.
With the bedding gone, it’s time to deal with the mattress and the box spring. You don’t need to go nuclear and throw them away. Bed bugs are hardy little bastards and they can take up to a year to starve to death, but eventually, they will die. Invest in bed bug encasements, which you zip the mattress inside so the bugs can’t get out. If you can’t get proper encasements, stick the mattress and box spring inside a plastic bag and take it out of service. Tape a sign to the bag, “Infested with bed bugs [insert today’s date]. Do not open until [insert today’s date + 1 year]”
You need to either encase the mattress or take it out of service. It doesn’t matter how carefully you clean the mattress, all it takes is a few survivors and the infection will start over again. If you’re not going to listen (or you’re the poor manager dealing with an uncooperative owner) then use a hard brush to get rid of all the bugs from the seams of the mattress.
Vacuum the mattress with a heavy duty vacuum. Don’t use one that has bristles. Use a vacuum that has a disposable bag, and once you’re done, replace the bag, even if it’s not full. If you don’t, they could crawl out once they’ve been sucked in.
If there’s any furniture in the room, you’ll need to check it for hiding bed bugs. Take out drawers, cushions, and check every little crevice. They can even hide inside of a television or a computer monitor so you may have to remove these items from the room.
Check the room for cracks and loose wallpaper. Seal up any cracks in the room that bed bugs could hide in. You might want to take the plates off the light switches too because they like to hide in there too.
Use a steamer to eradicate bed bugs is also effective because they can’t survive temperatures above 48 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit).⁴ You can buy steamers specifically intended for eliminating bed bugs.
It’d be great if I could tell you precisely what product to buy to kill off the bed bugs, but no one can. Be wary of anyone who says, “Buy Acme bed bug killer! Works like a charm!” The internet is FULL of people praising the powder that eradicated their infestation, or blasting the spray that did nothing. Over the decades bed bugs, like bacteria, have gotten used to our efforts to kill them and have become resistant to more and more chemicals. The EPA lists 300 different products registered to eliminate bed bugs.³ Do you know which one your bed bugs hate the most? Leave it to the professionals to decide which one is right for your situation, and to have the knowledge and experience to use it correctly. This is a place where people live and sleep. We don't want to douse it in toxic chemicals.
If you are going to pick a chemical solution to your problem, don’t use a bug bomb. Bug bombs shoot pesticides into the air and attempt to fumigate all the bugs to death. Besides being hazardous to the health of your guests, they’re ineffective against bed bugs. Bed bugs like to hide and spraying a bunch of pesticide into the air will not reach all their teeny tiny hiding places. It’ll just encourage them to move to the room next door.
So, if bed bugs can hide in places it’s impossible to detect, and you can’t just spray noxious chemicals into the air to reach them all, and not all chemicals work on all bed bugs, is there any bulletproof way to get rid of the suckers?
Yes, there is. There is one bulletproof method for ensuring that every last bed bug perishes from your hostel room, but you’re probably not going to like it. It’s a little pricey. I present to you… the room heater
Bed bugs can resist pesticides, but none can resist extreme heat. Room heaters raise the temperature of a room up to at least 48 degrees Celsius (117 Fahrenheit). When it’s that hot, no bug can survive no matter how crafty their little hiding place is. Some use gas to heat up the room, but this is dangerous. Besides the flammability issue, burning fuel in an enclosed room (you’d need to shut the doors and windows to raise the temperature obviously) will cause carbon monoxide buildup. Instead, go with an electric system. These heaters can cost thousands of dollars, so in most cases, I wouldn’t suggest looking into a room heater.⁵ However, if you had a really large hostel or a chain of hostels, and the exterminator bill was getting expensive given the number of outbreaks or suspected outbreaks, a room heating system could be the answer for you. No one has to move out of the room. Just seal it up, bring in the room heater, crank the temperature for a few hours, and then don't worry about it. Whether there were 0 bugs or 1,000 bugs, either way, there's now 0 living bed bugs in the room.
Have you been reading this whole guide even though your hostel doesn't have a bed bug problem yet? Well, kudos. Now's the part with some practical information that will help you never have to deal with any of this mess in the first place.
First, let's cover ways that you can make your hostel inhospitable to bed bugs. Bed bugs love rough surface because they're easier to climb. Wooden bunks look great but they're very friendly to bed bugs. Metal bunks are far less bed bug friendly. If you’re going to use wood for your bunks, ensure that it’s properly sealed. The less porous and grainy, the better. Painting the crevices white will also make detection easier. It's also smart to create a gap between the beds and any of the walls. A little space will make it harder for bed bugs to get around.
Besides beds, consider the furniture and the other elements of your hostel’s design. That cool wicker chair might get lots of Instagram likes, but it’ll also get lots of bed bug bites should you suffer an infestation. Keeping the clutter in your rooms to a minimum reduces the number of hiding places for potential bed bug occupants.
Consider investing in some prevention methods. With all the hysteria that bed bugs create, there are a million products available for staving off bed bugs (Bed bug fecal matter testing kits, anyone?). Using mattress, pillow, and box spring encasements is essential because they make it much easier to detect a bed bug infestation and get the bugs off once they're spotted. It's much easier to use these encasements preventatively than using them to entrap bed bugs once they've already infested your mattresses.
Besides encasements, there's one product that seems simple, easy, and inexpensive enough to be worth highlighting. They’re called either interceptors, monitors, or traps, depending on whom you buy it from. They’re dead simple. It’s a little plastic puck that you put under each foot of the bed. Besides protecting your floors, they’ll protect your guests. If a bed bug makes its way out of a backpack and starts heading up the leg of the bed towards a midnight feast, there’s a little valley inside the puck. The slippery plastic is too difficult for a bed bug to climb, leaving them trapped inside the ditch. Train your staff to peek inside for bugs while they’re cleaning the room. These widgets can cost less than $5 a piece, offering good ROI if they keep a single guest from getting bed bugs in your hostel. There are heaps of gadgets meant to stop bed bugs so if you want to buy internet-connected bed bug traps so you can ask Alexa if your hostel has bed bugs, go for it!
We train our staff to be on the lookout for troublemakers when checking guests in. The same should apply to troublemakers of the insect variety. Here are a few policies you can enact to stave off an infection.
If a guest is arriving from another accommodation in the same city, ask them why they’re switching. This is generally a smart policy to ensure they haven’t been evicted from another hostel but there’s also a small chance there might have been an outbreak at a neighboring hostel. If your guest tells you that’s the case, all the guest’s belongings should be properly washed and dried on high heat before they bring them into your hostel.
Your hostel should not allow guests to use their own sleeping bags or sleep sacks. If you’re a bed bug, a sleeping bag is like a rail pass; it’ll make it really easy for you to travel from hostel to hostel. Ask your guest if they’re carrying these items and if they are, insist that they leave them in storage until they check out. Guests might tell you they won’t open the bags, but first, you can’t trust them, and second, even if they don’t use them for sleeping, bugs in an infected sleeping bag can still crawl out and infect the room at night. With that in mind, store checked sleeping bags/sacks in plastic bags.
There are some travelers who get very distraught about the thought of bed bugs. It's common in the hotel industry to use a code word among staff when talking about bed bugs. For example, "Room 206 is reserved for the Jones family," or "room 108 needs to be inspected for water damage." This is an easy method of avoiding unnecessary disturbance among your guests.
Byron has worked with hostels big and small, city and rural. His first job was as a receptionist in San Francisco and his favorite was leading the events for a 500-bed hostel in Sydney. Besides all things hostel related, he enjoys motorcycle riding, especially because it's the perfect way to get from hostel to hostel!
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