NATIONAL REPORT—It is a hotel owner’s nightmare—a call from an attorney representing a guest who has been bitten by bedbugs. If accounts found all over the Internet, on blogs and from vendors are true, it happens often. In fact, the news media recently reported that a woman is suing a Catskills resort for $20 million due to the approximately 500 bedbug bites she received while staying at the property in summer 2005.
Traditionally, hotels have resorted to chemical treatments from some of the pest control industry’s leading companies to fight the problem. This medicine can be as bad as the infestation itself, however. Oftentimes, because of the toxicity of the chemicals used, a block of rooms or even an entire hotel may have to be closed for up to two weeks. Potential revenue is lost, it takes time for chemical residue to dissipate and guests may later complain or even sue if they have a reaction to the pesticides.
What most hoteliers do not know is that there are natural alternatives to pesticide treatments. One such approach is heat. There is no smoke involved—just heat.
According to Warren Barich, director thermal development for Los Osos, Calif.-based Cencal Thermal Treatment, there are many benefits to using this bedbug-elimination method. First of all, the mattress and other items such as carpet and drapes do not have to be thrown away. That alone saves hundreds of dollars per room. Also, a guestroom can be back to normal and available to sell within hours.
“No chemicals are used so it is completely safe for guests,” Barich says.
Prior to Cencal’s arrival at a hotel, the hotel operator is sent instructions that detail what to remove from a room. Bedding is the most important item and Barich says it needs to be washed at 120 degrees or higher to ensure that bedbugs are killed. Any other item that might be impacted by 130 degrees of heat also is removed. Dresser drawers are kept open and the mattress and box spring are positioned in a tent-like manner to expose as much surface as possible. A natural enzyme solution similar to vinegar is applied throughout the room prior to treatment.
Every hotelier’s fear is that a pest control company will draw too much attention to itself when in a hotel and prompt guest concern. Barich says his team does not do that. In fact, any guest who asks is told that the room is being sanitized and deodorized for indoor air quality. That is very true. Barich says the heat treatment does remove 90 percent of odors and allergens that can trigger asthma. It also removes most of a smoking room’s odor.
The room being treated is closed off with a door cover. For hotels with just a few stories, the air is heated outside of the hotel by propane heaters and then pumped into the room through the door or window. For hotels with more stories, electric heaters are used within the room. Fans keep the air moving inside the room and sensors make sure the temperature level remains consistent. After a one-hour setup time, the process is started. The temperature is held at 130 degrees for four hours. After an hour of teardown time, the room can be put back together, cleaned and sold that night.
“Dry air is crucial,” Barich says. “The dryer the air, the faster the kill. You want to remove the moisture because you get to the eggs faster. It kills dust mites and all other insects as well.”
Barich recommends treating not only the affected room but also adjoining rooms. He says his company has never had to return to a property to redo a room.
California Hotelier Likes the Heat
After a guest complained of bedbugs at one California hotel, the general manager hired Cencal Thermal Treatment to take care of the problem.
“Traditionally, we would have had to put the room out of order for two weeks and replace everything in the room,” he says. “However, with this treatment we did not have to do that. It was a same day process and we were able to sell the room that night. We have not had a bedbug problem since.”
“Heat is the safest, most effective, environmentally friendly bedbug service there is,” Barich says. “It is a fast treatment with very little productivity loss and no liabilities.”
Like Cencal Thermal Treatment, Natureplex LLC, Memphis, Tenn., offers a nontoxic bedbug killing solution. Its bio-pesticide called Natureplex Sleep Tight kills bedbugs naturally. The product is made from ingredients from organic materials including cinnamon oil and lemon grass.
“It kills bedbugs and repels them,” says Victor Santos, president of Natureplex. “It is the cinnamon oil that causes the product to work so well. It erodes the outer layer of the insect’s protective shell and exposes it to the elements, killing it.”
Santos says the product not only repels and kills the bugs, it also deodorizes the room and makes it smell fresh. In bulk gallon containers, Natureplex sells its product under the name of Cimex-EX.
No matter what system is implemented, Barich says preventive maintenance should keep any bedbug infestation in check.
“Set up a maintenance schedule to make sure you don’t have those issues,” he emphasizes.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.