Bed bugs are perhaps nature's worst house guests. Not only do they, y'know, feed on your blood while you sleep, but the critters also mysteriously sneak their way into our abodes without warning, only to turn around and invite all their friends over for a slumber party. Since they won't be dissuaded by an empty fridge or an expired HBO subscription, what steps can one take to ensure their home stays free of these dreaded visitors?
For starters, do your laundry while traveling, according to a new study spotted by Gizmodo. Published in the journal Scientific Reports, its authors found that bed bugs are twice as likely to convene on and inside tote bags with dirty clothes as those containing clean clothes. They discovered this after creating a mock bedroom with cotton laundry bags—one filled with "dirty" worn clothing, the other with clean items—and observing which of the two a cageful of unleashed bed bugs preferred.
Researchers know that bed bug populations have surged around the world thanks in part to the rise of cheap air travel. They also have theorized that they're attracted to human scent, which can linger on clothing for at least a few days. Still, they didn't quite know how, exactly, the critters make the jump from the outside world and into our abodes—especially since these insects are relatively sedentary and rarely leave their feeding places. These new findings suggest that the bugs could be stowing away in attractive-smelling suitcases—which after traveling through hotels, airports, and taxis, end up right back in our bedrooms.
Since some bugs, like mosquitos, are attracted to carbon dioxide (it indicates the exhalation of a nearby animal or human—a.k.a. a food source), researchers checked to see if increases of the gas made bed bugs more or less likely to congregate on the dirty laundry bags. This ended up prompting foraging behavior, but the insects weren't any more prone to hanging out on the soiled clothing heap than they were before.
Keeping your luggage free of bed bugs while traveling can be relatively simple, study author William Hentley, an entomologist at the UK's University of Sheffield, told Science. Since not everyone has ready access to a washer and dryer on vacation, avoid the bugs in the first place by placing your suitcase atop the metal luggage racks commonly found in hotel rooms, even if you've already given the room a precautionary sweep. (Bed bugs can't climb up smooth surfaces.) If your room is sans rack, seal your dirty clothes inside an airtight bag to keep the insects from getting a good whiff, or wrap up your entire suitcase if it's frequently been home to unwashed garments in the past.
That said, not all is lost if you arrive home from a long vacation with a bag full of well-worn outfits. Take your clothes immediately to a washer/dryer and run them through a hot cycle. That should be enough to kill invading bed bugs before they've even had the chance to learn how comfortable your couch is.