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How To Avoid Getting Bed Bugs from Homeless Shelters

Kylyssa Shay was homeless for over a year in her youth; it lead her to become a homelessness activist. She thinks, feels, and has opinions.

Learn how to reduce your risk of spreading or getting bed bugs from homeless shelters.

Learn how to reduce your risk of spreading or getting bed bugs from homeless shelters.

Avoid Getting or Spreading Blood-Sucking Bed Bugs

Reports of bedbug infestations have increased in the last several years with the nasty, bloodsucking insects showing up in even the nicest hotels. Many homeless shelters have had problems with them for a very long time, but there has been a major increase in the occurrence of infestations of late.

It's hard enough to sleep in a shelter when you aren't getting bitten by bugs and homeless people get a bad enough rap already without being associated with spreading them. For people who use emergency housing it can be difficult to avoid spreading them and the last thing anyone wants is to infest their belongings, workplace, or friends' homes with biting insects that are hard to get rid of and could lead to evictions and homelessness for those who've helped them.

I'd like to share a few tips to help you avoid getting bed bugs when you use a homeless shelter. I've also included a few tips for homed volunteers or employees on how to avoid bringing unwanted insect guests home with them.

Closeup of a bedbug sucking blood

Closeup of a bedbug sucking blood

Repel the Invaders


Bed bugs are flightless insects which may be deterred by some insect repellents. While you probably don't want to keep all of your clothing saturated with chemical sprays, natural deterrents such as cedar, thyme, lavender, rosemary, and eucalyptus are reputed to be effective at repelling them although scientific data on natural aromatics are scarce.

In any case, natural repellents certainly smell good to humans and they definitely repel fleas, ticks, and possibly lice so carrying a sachet in your bag with one or more of those aromatics won't hurt.

Thyme and rosemary can often be found in dollar stores and you can make a simple sachet by pouring a generous portion of the herbs into the toe of a sock or stocking and tying it off.

Repellent Spray

A commercial repellant spray is just one precaution to take. Be sure to follow the directions on the packaging very carefully.

These Guys Know What They're Talking About

Bad Bed Bugs is a must read website detailing how to kill them, how to avoid spreading them, how to treat bites, and how to kill an infestation. This website has lots of great information and links to other very valuable websites from people who really know what they are talking about.

photo by Charlysays, Wikimedia Commons

photo by Charlysays, Wikimedia Commons

Keep Your Belongings off of Hotspots

Do not set your belongings on beds, cots, cushions, or upholstered furniture like sofas and recliners because bedbugs love to hide in fabric and in upholstery stuffing. They also hide in thick carpeting and rugs.

Do not put your clothing, bedding or belongings into drawers or closets in homeless shelters. Instead, keep your things sealed away in plastic bags. Put your dirty clothes back into sealed Ziploc bags to isolate them from your clean clothes and to seal in any critters that may have latched onto them until you can do laundry.

Seal Them Out

Sealing bedbugs out of your belongings is a very effective way to prevent them from tagging along. I recommend using large Ziploc bags to pack your clothing in inside your luggage or backpack. This will also help to keep your dirty clothes from making your clean clothes smelly.

Before entering the shelter (and before even setting your bag down next to someone else's belongings) seal your bag or backpack into it into a big plastic bag and securely tie it shut. While thick, clear bags are great because they are easy to inspect for insect hitchhikers any big plastic bag or garbage bag will do in a pinch. If it is thin and you worry about punctures use more than one of them in layers. Whenever possible, use clear or light-colored bags that dark bed bugs would stand out on as they may almost disappear on dark colored plastic.

Open the bag containing your belongings as seldom as possible.

Big Ziploc bags work well to provide sealed clothing storage. There are now zipper type bags big enough to fit even medium-sized backpacks.

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Wash Your Clothes, Your Bedding, and Your Pack

Just in case you picked up bed bugs in the homeless shelter it's a good idea to wash your clothes and as many of your belongings as possible, including backpacks and any bedding or pillows all at once. You can accomplish this by keeping your laundry day clothes in their own sealed Ziploc bag, perhaps with a sachet of cedar or aromatic herbs.

When you go to do laundry, get all the clothes and baggage started washing in the hottest water they will stand up to with plenty of detergent. Then go into the restroom with your Ziploc bag of laundry day clothes in hand. Take off the clothes you were wearing and stuff them in an empty Ziploc bag. Change into your laundry day clothes and then add the clothes you were wearing to one of your loads of laundry that is already running. Examine the empty plastic bags for bed bugs and set them aside to reuse.

Dry everything on the hottest setting it will tolerate for at least half an hour to kill off any unwanted hitchhikers.

Tips for Homeless Shelter Volunteers

If you are going to volunteer in a homeless shelter or plan to go anywhere there may be a bedbug infestation you may want to take a few precautions to avoid bringing bed bugs home with you.

Dress in comfortable clothing that can be safely washed and dried at high temperatures. Avoid pants and sleeves with rolled or folded cuffs.

Avoid carrying a purse or bag. If you must carry a purse or bag, seal it into a large Ziploc bag.

When you get home, go directly into the shower with a plastic bag to put your clothes into. Stuff your clothes into the plastic bag and shower using plenty of warm soapy water.

Wash the clothes you wore to the shelter immediately in the hottest water they will tolerate, using plenty of detergent. Then dry the clothes on hot for at least half an hour.

© 2012 Kylyssa Shay

How Do You Avoid Getting or Spreading Bedbugs?

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on July 02, 2014:

This was most informative. A friend is struggling with bed bugs in his apartment. Your prevention techniques sound very wise.

anonymous on February 25, 2013:

The repellent suggestions are very practical. is linking sales of self-sterilizing beds to donations of self-sterilizing

TonyBurnell on January 18, 2013:

Bed bugs are creepy-crawly little wingless beasts that thrive in the dark spots and tiny holes or cracks in your room. Although they may be too tiny, their visual aspect will definitely not scare you or turn you off. If seen by the bare eye, they'll appear just like tiny spots that move slowly or creeping around.

Constantimo on December 21, 2012:

I think the best tip is to avoid the homeless shelters!

Millionairemomma on May 18, 2012:

Thank you for sharing your first hand experience!

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