TikTok trick instantly shows if your hotel mattress has bed bugs — how to use it

 Someone checking a mattress for bed bugs with a flashlight.
Someone checking a mattress for bed bugs with a flashlight.

Bed bugs are the stuff of hotel nightmares. They often take up residence in hotel mattresses, can hitchhike on your luggage (and make their way back home with you), as well as make a home in other pieces of furniture in your hotel room.

Roughly 14% of US travellers reported a bed bug encounter in the past year, and we all know what happened in Paris. Bed bugs spread like wildfire and even the best mattresses designed with naturally hypoallergenic materials aren't immune. So it's important to know how to spot them in a hotel mattress so that you and your belongings aren't exposed to them.

Thanks to TikTok, there's a simple trick you can use to instantly tell whether your hotel mattress has bed bugs or not. The content creator performing the now-viral trick found a raft of bed bugs in just one corner of her mattress. Here's how to use it yourself...

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are small critters that feed on the blood of humans and animals. They’re around 4-5mm in size and while you can see them with the naked eye, you're more likely to see them when they’re in large groups. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, oval-shaped and flat. Female bed bugs can lay up to 250 eggs during their life cycle.

Bed bugs are notorious for infesting mattresses and bed frames because bed bugs are attracted to their food source (blood) through exhaled carbon dioxide, body heat and body odor. They also love to hide in cracks and crevices during the day, preferring to feast on us at night, so when checking for your hotel mattress for bed bugs you should also check any seams and tufts.

How to tell if your hotel mattress has bed bugs

When you arrive in your hotel room after a long journey, it can be tempting to just get straight on with enjoying your trip (or pass out in bed). But before you unpack and start to relax, check that your hotel mattress doesn’t have bed bugs.

Here’s how to check if your mattress has bed bugs quickly and easily, according to a simple trick that's super-popular on TikTok.

We also have to point out that ironing sheets on a hotel mattress must be done carefully. If you damage either the sheets or the mattress, you could be liable for damages.

Step 1. Place your luggage in the bathtub

One big mistake people make when they arrive in their hotel room is to pop their luggage on the bed, which can make it easy for bed bugs to hop on and latch onto your bags.

Instead, take your luggage straight in to the bathroom and leave it in the bathtub or shower, an area where bed bugs can't dwell. Bed bugs don’t like slippery surfaces and there are no soft furnishings for them to hide in there either.

This little trick will give you time to inspect your mattress and the room, and it also ensures that you don’t take any bed bugs back home with you. Just take your luggage out of the bath or shower before you use them.

Step 2. Find the hotel iron

For this handy mattress cleaning hack, you’re going to need an iron. Plug it in somewhere where the cable will comfortably be able to reach the area you're going to iron.

If you have any children with you, make sure they stay out of the area to avoid being burnt. And take care not to burn any of the hotel bedding. Once you’ve done your safety checks, set your iron to a high setting and wait for it to reach full heat.

Step 3. Pull back the comforter

Once your iron has reached its optimum temperature, pull back the comforter exposing the corner of the bed. You don’t need to remove the bottom sheet at this point. Remember that bed bugs like to hide, so they tend to gravitate to corners and seams on the bed. That’s why this tip focuses on the corner of the mattress.

Step 4. Rub the iron over the bottom sheet

Run the hot iron over the exposed bottom sheet. Go over the area for around a minute and keep the iron moving so that you don’t burn the area or leave any marks. Make sure to also rub the iron over the corners as this is where the bed bugs are likely to be hiding out.

A close up of bed bugs in the crease of a hotel mattress
A close up of bed bugs in the crease of a hotel mattress

You need to make sure the iron is hot, because heat will bring any bed bugs to the surface and the constant movement of the iron will trick them in to thinking it's a person on top.

Step 5. Pull back the bottom sheet

Set your iron down in a safe space, then pull back the bottom sheet and mattress protector. If bed bugs have infested the mattress, you’ll see them instantly rise to the top.

These bed bugs are likely to be dead as they don’t react to extreme heat, so they won’t be running around. However that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the problem –there will be more lurking.

Other signs your hotel mattress has bed bugs

You don’t have to see bed bugs to know that they are there. There are several key signs of bed bugs in your mattress, and some you can smell. Here are the main things to look out for...

1. Blood stains

If you see rust-colored spots on your sheets, mattress or pillowcases, it's a sign that  bed bugs could be present. These stains come from two things: the first is leaking after feeding...

When bed bugs latch onto your skin to feed, they inject an anticoagulant to keep the blood flowing freely for them. But once they are full and detach, you'll continue to bleed a little, leaving small dots of blood on your sheets or nightclothes.

Secondly, if you roll over you may squash a bed bug whilst it’s feeding. A full bed bug that’s recently ingested blood will leak out when crushed, leaving behind a red stain.

2. Bed bug fecal matter

If you notice small dark or black spots on your hotel mattress or pillowcases, they're likely signs that bed bugs have been feeding. These small marks are the fecal matter left behind.

Fresh droppings are reddish-brown in color due to the presence of fresh blood, but as they dry out they'll turn a darker brown or black. You’re more likely to see these dots on mattresses as bed bugs like to feed at night, so check seams and tufts.

3. A musty odor

If you can’t see any evidence of a bed bug infection then you may be able to smell it. Because bed bugs feed on blood their waste contains a lot of iron. When this iron oxidizes in the air, it gives off a musty odor.

You may also smell a scent that makes you think of dirty sweaty shoes, that’s another sign bed bugs could be present within your mattress. It is worth noting, that if you are smelling an odor, but not seeing any signs of bedbugs, then brush up on how to spot mattress mold.

Image shows red and itchy bed bug bites on a man's ankles
Image shows red and itchy bed bug bites on a man's ankles

4. You have itchy red bite marks

One of the first signs you’re likely to notice when it comes to bed bugs is bites on your skin. These bites often appear in a line or a cluster and are red, raised and itchy. These bites may not appear for a few days after you’ve been bitten but they can be extremely uncomfortable.

They can also cause some people to have allergic reactions and even though bed bugs don’t spread disease, you need to be careful that if you scratch your bite and break the skin that it doesn’t become infected.

What to do if your hotel mattress has bed bugs

If you find evidence of bed bugs in your hotel room, take pictures of the evidence and speak to hotel concierge / reception. Ask for another room and request that you don’t want to be placed near or on the same floor as your original room, as chances are the bed bugs have already spread.

You also don’t want to risk moving your luggage into a clean room and potentially taking an infestation with you. Bed bugs are brilliant hitchhikers, so it’s important to launder all your clothes immediately. Washing clothes in hot water (at least 140°F or 60°C) is an effective way to kill bed bugs and their eggs. Dry them on high heat for at least 30 minutes afterwards for good measure.

You also need to clean your luggage, then vacuum it (including zips, seams and pockets). Even if you don’t see bed bugs in your luggage, following these steps will give you peace of mind and potentially stop you taking any home with you.