The Internet abounds with so-called miracle cures for bed bugs. But bed bugs are hard to get rid of, so anything that advertises an immediate solution is not accurate—it's snake oil. These "cures" have included (as reported by pest control operators who come in afterward to tackle bed bugs correctly) using bleach, ammonia and even DIY heat treatment, which carries fire risk.
Another solution you hear about is vacuuming. You can vacuum up a lot of insects, but eggs are harder to get, and vacuuming won't in and of itself kill bed bugs. Indeed, vacuuming can end up spreading bed bugs to other rooms—when emptying the canister, for example. Pest control operators who use vacuums take measures to prevent bed bugs from escaping when the vacuum is emptied.
Encasing mattresses is one of many good parts of a solution, but it doesn't get rid of the infestation. There are going to be other bugs away from the mattress, hiding nearby. What mattress covers are good at is entombing the sometimes large number of bed bugs that can live on a mattress. And because the covers tend to be uniform in color and don't have a lot of seams that the bugs can hide in, it's easier to see the insects.
Given that you work with bed bugs, how do you avoid bringing them home?
I have four risk factors. I work with bed bugs in a lab situation, so we have to take extreme precautions to prevent escapes there. I visit infested apartments sometimes. I travel a fair amount, so I may be exposed to bed bugs in hotels. And I've had college-age kids, who can bring bed bugs home from dorms.
In the lab we handle all the bed bugs in a specific room that we steam clean once a week, and we have double-stick tape barriers that they can't walk through (as long as the adhesive remains dust-free). And the bed bugs themselves are enclosed in containers that they can't get out of. We actually feed them inside those containers—we lay a blood reservoir against the cloth "lid" and the bed bugs have to push their mouthparts through the cloth into the reservoir to eat.
If I go to an infested apartment, then when I leave I check my shoes very carefully for bugs that may have crawled onto them. I also keep a change of clothes in my garage and put them on before entering my house. Once inside, I immediately put the clothes I wore to the infested apartment in the dryer, which is located in a room just off the garage.
When staying in a hotel, I check the bed before I bring the suitcase into the sleeping part of the room so that if I have to ask the manager for another room, then I haven't exposed my suitcase to the bugs. When settling in, I put my suitcase up on the suitcase stand or the desktop so that any bugs are less likely to crawl into it. An extreme measure would be putting the suitcase in the tub. If it's a porcelain tub, bed bugs would have a hard time crawling up it. It's also unlikely that they would randomly crawl up a tub, because it's not near the bed. But if I don't see bed bugs in the room when I inspect it, I just put my suitcase on the stand because I know the probability is really low that a bug is going to crawl up the stand and into my suitcase. I keep my clothes in the suitcase or hang them in the closet—I don't leave them on the floor because wandering bed bugs might crawl into them.
I actually haven't found bed bugs in my hotel rooms, but I've seen them in other peoples' rooms. Enough of my students and postdocs have found them that I'm surprised I haven't seen them yet in a room where I'm staying.
How should one check a hotel room for bed bugs?
Bring a little flashlight—hotel room lighting is always pretty poor and the dimmer the lighting, the harder it is to see small bed bugs or their fecal spots. I would pull back the bed covers and look all around the head of the bed. Pull back the sheets, too, and look at mattress seams and edges that are exposed. bed bugs love to hide under mattress tags. Look all around the box springs, too. If there's a dust ruffle, pull it up and look under it as much as possible. Look for moving bugs and stationary, hiding bugs.