Bed bugs are absolutely dreadful. They are also bad for business. However, most hostel owners will have to deal with them at some point in their careers.
These pests can take up residence in every kind of accommodation or property, can live in any type of textile, and are found all over the world. In recent years, bed bugs, in particular, have become increasingly difficult to get rid of as they are more resistant to pesticides and more people are traveling than ever before.
Prevention is much easier than eradication. So it’s vital that you have a scheduled cleaning and maintenance program and follow it.
What is a bed bug?
The scientific name for bed bugs is Cimex Lectularious. They are flat, oval-shaped, non-flying insects which are about 5mm-7mm long. Reddish brown in color, they are often mistaken for ticks. As the photos depict above, you may come across either narrow or fat bugs; the fat bugs have just eaten.
Bed bugs develop and thrive during the warmer temperatures, 21-30°C (70-86°F), which is why infestations tend to coincide with the busy tourist season.
"I think my room has bed bugs!"
It is important to take this claim seriously but to stay calm and work methodically to determine if indeed there is a bed bug loose in the guest's bed, or worse, an infestation in the room.
Ask if the guest actually saw the bed bug, or if they have a bite. Adult bed bugs are easy to see, and their bite marks are relatively distinctive in that they are usually three or more in a row. However, they can be confused with mosquito bites or even allergies. A single bite on the skin that may have been exposed during the night (i.e. arms and face) is more likely a mosquito.
You might also ask if the guest smelled anything unusual. Bed bugs leave a strange hormone odor behind that is rather sweet but unpleasant. Allow the guest to describe the smell to you in full, and do not ask leading questions like, "Did you smell anything sweet?" You want the guest to do the describing. Bed Bug Odor Explained
No matter what the guest describes to you, it is important that you do take action, 1) because if there really is a bed bug, you want to get rid of it quickly before it becomes a real problem; 2) if there is not a bed bug, then going to investigate and asking questions shows that you care about the guest's wellbeing and about your hostel. Thus, there is less likely the chance the guest will leave a "dirty" review when they leave.
If you are unsure of a bed bug, take action assuming that there is one.
- Be discreet! Talk to the subject guest away from other guests if possible. Ideally, you don't want this to become a big dramatic event because it can cause a psychosomatic chain reaction throughout your hostel community.
- At the end of the conversation with the guest, you can say something like, "It's hard to know for sure if this was a bedbug, but I would like to work with you to make sure we deal with the problem if it is."
- Inspect the bed and the guest's luggage (with permission) with the guest present.
- Explain that bed bugs frequently do not leave their host and sometimes travel on luggage. Ask the guest where they stayed last. Sometimes this will envoke a story of "Oh that last hostel/hotel was terrible!"
- Offer the guest a free hot water wash and dry of all of their clothes.
- Offer to heat treat, wash or wipe down their luggage, especially around the zippers, handles, and corners.
- Check the bedding and mattress tray for bugs, fecal matter or blood. Check for dark dots on linen or walls as this is also excrement from them.
- The bug(s) may be on a different bed. Check adjacent beds and furniture as well. Different guests will have different sensitively to bedbug bites.
If you do not see evidence of bed bugs:
If you do not see anything, you can still change the bedding, which should give the guest, and yourself, some peace of mind.
If you do see evidence of bugs:
- Remove all of the bedding, including pillows and mattress cover on the affected bed. It's important to do this carefully so you don't shake any bugs loose to other areas of the room. Put the items in plastic trash bags and tie or tape them closed before bringing to the laundry. Put items that that can be washed through a hot water cycle. If your hostel only has a cold-water wash, you will definitely want to use your dryer and not hang dry the items. It is the heat that kills the bugs and the eggs hiding in the linens. Some have a small concern that bed bugs can survive the wash, get separated from the linen and crawl out of the washer. Therefore, they recommend heat treatment in the clothes dryer first, then complete wash and dry.
- Treat the mattress with a pesticide spray that's approved for use on linens, or use a steamer across all surfaces of the mattress. You may want to have a ready replacement mattress to switch out until this one is clean. Or you can offer the guest a different bed or room to make them comfortable in the meantime. However, only do this only after the guest's clothes and luggage have been treated so you don't spread the problem to another room.
- Check the corners of the bed frame and springs or slats. In our experience, bed bugs have a hard time climbing some types of metal bed frames. However, they do like nooks and crannies where they can feel protected on their back and belly, areas where skin cells and dust tend to collect. Give these areas and the entire bed frame a good clean with a strong cleaner.
- Carefully inspect the walls and baseboard for cracks and see if you see any signs of bed bug fecal matter which may indicate a larger infestation involving more extreme measures (see below). Bed bugs will leave fecal matter outside their hiding places so they can find this area in the future based on smell.
- Vacuum the room, all around the bed, under the bed and near the baseboards.
- Check the other beds for similar signs of fecal matter.
Bedbug Cleaning Tips
When you have a suspected case of bedbugs in a room, the last thing you want to do is spread the infestation around your hostel. Here are some extra tips to keep the problem confined to one room where you can deal with it strategically.
- Before you remove linens, pillows, and duvets from the room, put them in plastic trash bags and tie them off. This will prevent you from scattering bedbugs and eggs throughout your hostel on the way to the laundry room.
- Keep bags tied off until just before you are ready to wash. When you take linens, pillows, and duvets out of the bag, be gentle so you don't fling bedbugs and eggs around the laundry room.
- Adopt a policy at your hostel of never letting bedding get switched from one room to another. When guests are switching rooms mid-stay, never let guests or staff move linens from one room to another. Likewise, when you are deep cleaning, be careful not to move linens and mattresses from room to room.
Scheduled Cleaning and Maintenance Program
As stated before, prevention is the best policy. Therefore, your hostel should have an ongoing deep cleaning procedure for bed bug prevention. Most residual insecticides have limited effectiveness of about 3 months; therefore, your ongoing deep cleaning procedure should address each room in the hostel within this amount of time.
You may want to do one room at a time, especially if your hostel is in the busy season, or do all the hostel at the same time to reduce the chance of bed bugs migrating to other rooms.
Eliminate potential refuge spots for bed bugs- Wooden bunks or furniture, cracks in walls, crevices, carpet, corners of bed frames are all places where bed bugs feel safe and comfortable. You want to seal access to these areas with caulk or spackle. For cracks in baseboard or walls be sure to seal adjacent rooms first so you don't exclude them from the treated room and force them to adjacent rooms.
Steam along baseboards - After you sealed adjacent rooms, if you have a high-pressure steamer, consider injecting steam under the baseboards of the treated room to kill bugs in areas that are unreachable.
Invest in bed bug resistant mattresses- Bedbugs like to hide in the cording found on most mattresses. If you can, have custom mattresses made with no cording. If this is not possible, buy mattress encasements that will exclude bed bugs from getting to these hiding places. If bed bugs or eggs are already on your mattresses, the encasements will prevent them from exiting the mattress.
Clean and vacuum thoroughly - Now is a good time to clean out all those dust bunnies behind the beds. Pay careful attention to the crack where the wall meets the floor.
Spray a residual insecticide - Unfortunately, if you are running a hostel (or hotel) you will very likely need to use insecticide. We have seen all sorts of hostels try and fail to use "eco-friendly" products to deal with bed bugs. Bedbugs are very robust and resilient; therefore, chemicals are needed to combat and prevent the problem long term.
If you are allowed to use an insecticide as a non-professional, be sure to follow the instructions for the insecticide very carefully. Make sure what you are using is allowed for use near bedding. The last thing you want to do is poison your guests.
If you decide to (or are required to) hire out a professional service, just note that they are expensive and they may not do a proper job either, so be sure to supervise their work. In any case, they will generally not do the prep work. Professional exterminators are there to spray chemicals, not move personal belongings, vacuum crevices, etc. Prepare the space with the above cleaning steps and move furniture so they can do their job.
Apply desiccant insecticide powder such as Cimexa inside outlets and in other inaccessible areas
Do Frequent Inspections - Train your manager (or yourself) to look for bed bugs on a regular basis. This inspection is not merely "looking around the room". To properly inspect for bed bugs you will need a flashlight and the discipline to carefully look EVERYWHERE. Under the beds, behind the beds, in the bed frames, etc. Remember, you are not so much looking for bed bugs as you are looking for the signs of bed bugs (i.e. fecal matter).
Do this yourself - Unfortunately, this is not something you can usually delegate to staff. It takes a trained eye, or at least one that is keen for detail/ vested interest in the well being of your hostel, to really look closely and give this work the attention it needs in order to be effective.
Even if you do have others help you, staff, or otherwise, you should be the one to personally inspect that it is being done properly. Preferably, you should inspect your helpers as they clean or spray, so you can catch issues right away. For example, proper attachments are being used to do a thorough job, or certain furniture is being moved in order to clean behind it.
Also, don't trust that you can simply hire a professional to make the problem go away. We have seen a lot of professionals spray and go without really caring about the process and outcome. It's your hostel so you need to be the one personally invested in this.
Dealing with a hostel bed bug Infestation
Unfortunately, a bed bug infestation will require precise and meticulous measures. Some will feel the measures listed below are drastic, but they are designed to eliminate your bedbug infestation without spreading them to other areas of your hostel.
Although it can be difficult to deal with an infestation when the hostel is busy, this work almost always needs to be done when the dorm is closed. If possible, immediately reduce allocations for this room and do not check new guests into the room and proper treatment may take days. If necessary, move guests to other dorms but, before you do this, carefully inspect their luggage and/or wash and heat treat their items.
Clean and declutter - First, you will need to prepare your space for treatment by decluttering the room. But you will need to be very conscientious about not spreading the bugs to other areas of the hostel.
Bring the black trash bags into the infested room to throw rubbish, paper and cardboard, and unused clothing/linens away. Secure tightly with duct tape before removing from the room.
Pick up all valuable clothing and linens from the floor, remove the drapes and place every item into the plastic bags. Secure tightly with duct tape before you take them to the washer and dryer. When you open the bags near your washer, put items directly into the wash gently so you won't shake bugs out. Bugs that get away may wind up in your clean linens.
Remove anything from under the bed and inspect each item for bugs or dirt (bedbug feces). Either discard or treat thoroughly. If you have cardboard or cloth storage boxes, you may need to throw out and get plastic storage instead.
Move the bed away from the wall and fully inspect the bedposts and springs for bugs. Put the bedding, pillows, mattress toppers, and linens into plastic bags and secure for the laundry. Fully inspect the mattress and boxspring. Vacuum to remove any visible bugs (especially around the cording), then place the mattress into fully zipped, bug-proof liners. * Be sure to zip completely.
Clean all items in the room: the bed frame and chairs or tables, wipe down the walls and baseboards. Remove the electric switch and outlet covers to check for hidden bugs.
All cleaned items need to be sealed plastic to prevent them from being re-contaminated.
As you empty the vacuum bags, do so into the garbage bags there in the infested room. Seal the bags with duct tape so as not to contaminate other areas.
Shrink wrap the furniture tightly before moving outside.
Exclusion - Caulking and painting the room is one of the best ways to rid yourself of bed bugs once and for all. Be sure to caulk cracks on adjacent rooms before working on the infested room. In addition, painting provides a great excuse for why you are closing the dorm. The nice thing about painting the room floor to ceiling is it will entomb any bugs and eggs you can't see. White paint will make things look clean and it will help you spot future bugs more easily. Semi-Gloss or Gloss paint seems to be harder for bed bugs to climb on but it also makes the walls more cleanable. The cleaner your wall is, the easier it will be to see bugs.
Depending on the extent of the infestation, you often may also need to remove the carpets completely. Again, be vigilant about containment of the carpet in shrink wrap prior to removing from the room. Once the room does not show evidence of bedbugs, you can install new carpet.
Apply Insecticides - Either hire a professional or apply insecticides in accordance with local laws and the required procedures and labeling. These products will vary from country to country but be sure to use professional grade products. Home pest insecticides are rarely effective.
There are two main types of insecticides. Residual sprays and dust. In almost all cases, you will need to apply follow up treatments after the initial treatment. This is rarely a "one and done" project.
Every few days, you will need to check the room for evidence of bugs. Eggs may have hatched or areas missed, so be vigilant. If you see bugs, you need to retreat the room and, if possible, use a different type of insecticide.
If the infestation is severe, you may need to purchase new furnishings.
This video provides excellent detailed instructions for dealing with bed bug infestations. If nothing else, it illustrates how meticulous you will need to be when dealing with a bed bug infestation.
10 tips for preventing bedbug infestations in hostels
1 - Seal and caulk all cracks and places where bedbugs might hide. The idea is to leave them no place of refuge where you can't see and inspect.
2 - Use a residual insecticide spray and dust along baseboards and in areas that you can't see and inspect.
3 - Consider painting walls and ceilings white and keep them clean. This won't prevent bed bugs but will help you spot bedbugs much more easily to spot an infestation earlier.
4 - Train managers to thoroughly inspect and look for bedbugs and their markings on at least a weekly basis. Consider making faux markings on the wall with a pencil to help train managers to look carefully.
5 - Keep walls clean. This won't prevent bedbugs, but it will help managers more easily spot bedbugs.
6 - Place faux marking rewards on the wall to confirm your manager is inspecting thoroughly. It's much easier to tackle an infestation when it's small so thorough weekly are a must.
7 - Use mattress encasements to prevent bedbugs from getting in the mattress. This vendor sells custom sized mattress encasements.
8 - Deep clean dust in mattress trays and behind beds. This will make insecticides more effective and may prevent dust mites which may also bite guests.
9 - If a guest is arriving from another hostel or hotel in your own city, ask why. Usually travelers don't hostel hop within the same city. If they state the other hotel/hostel had bedbugs, give them a free service wash and heat treat their luggage.
10 - Take all reports of possible bedbugs seriously. Not everyone reacts to a bedbug bite so if you have a guest who complains, thoroughly inspect the room.
Other inspection techniques and services
Bed Bug Detecting Dogs - A trend that seems to be growing in the States is the use of specially trained dogs to sniff out the bed bugs. I mentioned earlier about the sticky sweet smell bed bugs tend to give off, well sometimes we humans cannot smell it.
Of course, dogs can smell anything better than we humans can, so why not use them to help us out?
How this works is the handler will leave the dog outside the room while he goes into the room to be searched. He will have a "salt shaker" type of jar that contains bed bugs and will hide it in some out of the way place.
When called into the room, the handler will lead the dog around to sniff all corners of the room, the beds, the wall outlets, the baseboards, and the carpets.
If the dog signals he has found something, for example, the dog may be trained to sit when he smells a bed bug, the handler will search the area the dog indicated. If something is found the dog is rewarded. If nothing is found the dog will need to continue searching.
By the end of the sniff-search, the dog will be taken to the bed bug shaker. When he signals the handler of bed bugs, the dog will be rewarded.
Passive Bed Bug Detector/Traps - These traps attract bed bugs with a pheromone scent and have sticky glue that traps them. These traps can be placed in dorms and monitored from time to time to see if there is an infestation. However, they will not catch the introduction of new bugs, especially if there are people sleeping in the room.
Active Bed Bug Detectors - These are more elaborate traps that use both pheromone scent and CO2 to attract bed bugs and trap them. This is not a method of elimination but it's good for testing if you have bed bugs in a room. However, like the passive traps, they don't work well unless there is no "competition" in the room. In other words, if people are sleeping in the room, bed bugs will travel to the closest opportunity for a meal. However, these monitors are good for confirming the room is clear before putting guests back in the room.
Electronic Bed Bug Detectors -. We have this device at our hostel. It works but in all honesty, you have to be so close the bed bugs to detect them, I would say visual inspection works better. However, it does give guest comfort that an "objective" test was done after you have already visually inspected the area.
Heat Treatment - This is a controversial eco-friendly technique to eliminate bed bugs from a room. However, it requires a LOT of preparation to remove and wash linens and furnishings. Then you need special heaters that can burn your hostel down if you are not careful. You also need to insulate windows and fire sprinklers (to prevent accidental discharge). You also need to have multiple wireless thermometers throughout the room to ensure the kill temperature has been reached for the specified period in all areas of the room. Personally, I think cleaning, caulking and painting the room is more effective.