There’s a really gross reason you should put your luggage in the hotel bathroom. We asked the experts to explain.
What’s the first thing to do when you step in a hotel room? Test out the mattress? Raid the minibar? Peep the view? Check your hotel room for intruders or other hotel safety issues? Maybe you set your brand-new luggage set on the bed and start unpacking. Or maybe you put your suitcase in the bathtub. That’s right, the bathtub! But why would you put your luggage in the hotel bathroom, you ask?
There’s actually a really gross reason. Here’s what the experts say.
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Why should you put your luggage in the bathtub?
There’s a very good (and pretty gross) reason not to toss your luggage on the hotel bed—ever—and instead put your suitcase in the bathroom, and that’s because of bed bugs. Whether you’re staying at a 5-star hotel or a budget motel, the threat of bed bugs is real. And because they are well-known for hitching rides to your next fabulous destination, putting your luggage in the bathroom before inspecting the room for bed bugs ensures those pesky insects stay far away from your clothes.
“When I worked in the hospitality industry, I learned that more hotels have bed bug problems than you might think,” says travel writer and consultant Marla Cimini. Her research-backed hack? “Upon entering your hotel room for the first time, it’s always a good idea to place your bag in the bathroom.”
Once your luggage is away from the bed, she says, check for bed bugs. “Check the bed and mattress by pulling out the sheets from the corners and sides and see if there’s any evidence of bugs. It’s also smart to check the drawers and headboard. It only takes a few minutes—and it’s always good for peace of mind,” says Cimini.
Katelyn Kesheimer, an entomologist with Auburn University, agrees. She stashes her luggage in the bathroom while she does a thorough bed bug check of the entire room. “Once I know it is clear, I bring my luggage out into the main room, but I never put it on the bed, just in case.”
Why is a bathroom a safe place for luggage?
Why put luggage in the hotel bathroom? “A bathroom is the least likely place that bed bugs will be found in a hotel room due to the short amount of time that humans (the bed bugs’ source of food) spend in the bathroom relative to the rest of the room,” says Kesheimer.
Additionally, bathrooms do not offer great hiding places for bed bugs, compared with the rest of the hotel room. “Bed bugs also prefer more natural surfaces, and tubs and tiles do not provide this. Plus, towels and bathmats are removed and cleaned between guests, so any potential hiding places are constantly in flux.”
Are hotel closets and dressers safe from bed bugs?
“Bed bugs hang out near beds or other areas where humans spend a lot of time,” says Kesheimer. They spend their time where they can hide effectively and where they can have access to their next blood meal—seriously, we told you it was gross.
They prefer dark, flat hiding places until they’re ready to come out to feed, typically between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. In the meantime, they like to hide out “behind a headboard, behind a picture on the wall, underneath the mattress and within the folds and creases of the mattress,” Kesheimer says. Beds are the main area we think of, but couches and accent chairs are other good examples. “These are the areas where we are sedentary for long periods of time that also provide a nearby hiding spot for the bed bugs.”
Your hotel room’s closets and dressers are only safe to use once you’ve thoroughly inspected the bedding and mattress and found no signs of bed bug infestation (which, by the way, is worse in these U.S. cities). And while the bed remains off-limits for luggage, there are some safe spaces to unpack, including the luggage rack.
How do I know if my luggage has bed bugs?
Because bed bugs are so great at hiding, “they can easily hitchhike a ride in your suitcase on the inside of the zipper or underneath a tag without being noticed,” says Kesheimer. Use the flashlight on your phone to inspect your luggage before you pack it up to leave the room. Pay attention to creases and folds within the luggage, along the zipper, underneath any tags and in other flat, concealed areas. Travel with large garbage bags in the event that you do encounter bed bugs on your trip. “This will allow you to enclose any potentially infested luggage or items and avoid further spread until you get home and have a chance to eradicate them,” she says.
How do I keep bed bugs out of my luggage—and home?
In addition to putting luggage in the hotel bathroom until you’ve done a thorough inspection for bed bugs, Kesheimer says to avoid setting suitcases on the couch or armchair, and to avoid keeping clothes on the bed, couches or other upholstered surfaces altogether.
Once you’re at home, unpack immediately. Bed bugs will hide in clothing until they’re ready to come out looking for a meal. They like heat and carbon dioxide, two elements that humans generate. Either or both of these, says Kesheimer, “may trigger a bed bug to come out of a suitcase looking for a blood meal.”
If clothes are not cleaned when getting home, they can infest the next location they end up, says Kesheimer—and that could be your entire closet. “High heat kills bed bugs,” she says, “so I always recommend throwing everything in the dryer for 45 minutes on high if you think your items may be infested.”
And as if you weren’t repulsed enough already, know that bed bugs are resilient little buggers that can live a very, very long time. “They can go months to over a year without a blood meal, so if left in a suitcase or on clothing, they can certainly survive and infest later on when there is access to food,” says Kesheimer. With that unnerving perspective, putting your suitcase in the hotel bathroom sounds like a pretty smart idea.
About the experts
- Marla Cimini is a U.S.-based travel writer and consultant who specializes in personalized travel and itinerary planning. She has written about travel, hotels, culinary adventures and more for well-known national and international outlets.
- Katelyn Kesheimer is an assistant professor and extension specialist in entomology and plant pathology at Auburn University.