Safe and Pest Free

Over the past several years, there have been many changes to pest management practices in the lodging industry. The days of spraying entire rooms with pesticides are gone, and the pest control populace has transitioned to more sustainable, non-chemical practices and products that are safer for hotel guests and employees.

“This has been my career for 30 years and the changes are unbelievable,” says Robert Corrigan, president of RCM Pest Management Consulting. “The direction and the whole philosophy of pest control have taken this major shift toward green—this major shift toward safety and not hurting anything or anyone besides the target organism.”

Although pesticides are still used extensively in many situations, the focus has now turned to Integrated Pest Management (IPM)—a combination of approaches and methods, using several techniques and materials, to get the job done and achieve long-term management.

“There are plenty of non-chemical techniques out there,” says John Barcay, senior scientist, pest elimination, for Ecolab. “When we’re talking about sustainable solutions, pesticides should be the last consideration.”


Hotels that practice prevention techniques, correctly identify the problem, and spend time researching and implementing a variety of methods prior to using chemical treatments are at the forefront of creating safe, pest-free environments for their guests.

Although it may seem like a simple solution, taking proper precautions to prevent pests from entering the property is the first step in a sustainable pest-control program.

“The best way to resolve and minimize pest problems is through ongoing vigilance and preventive inspection to try to catch these problems at the very earliest stages,” says Michael Potter, professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky, who specializes in bed bugs. “If you catch these problems early, they tend to be confined, they tend to be relatively small in numbers, and are much easier to eliminate.”

Detail cleaning, especially in the kitchen and areas where food is prepared, served, and stored, is one of the most important tasks when it comes to deterring pests. Fruit flies, cockroaches, ants, and mice are all attracted to food.
Another preventive measure is to have the proper pest-proofing material installed around hotel doors, windows, and walls. Weatherstripping is not sufficient at deterring pests from entering a building. Proper caulking and sealing are required to keep pests out.

Employee training also acts as a vital component for hotels’ pest management programs. The housekeeping and maintenance staff should be educated about different types of pests and how to check and monitor for them. Inspections to check for bed bugs in hotel rooms should be performed on a regular basis, and kitchen areas should be constantly monitored for insects and rodents. If employees know what they are looking for and are vigilant in checking for pest problems, a property is more likely to catch a problem in its early stages.

As part of the prevention process, hotels should set up a system for monitoring for pests. The system can include a log of pest sightings with the time, date, location, and quantity of pests as seen by employees, hotel management, or guests. This can help a hotel catch a possible infestation before it gets out of hand.

Setting up monitoring traps throughout the hotel is another way to identify a possible pest infestation.

“Monitoring traps are meant to serve as an early warning,” says Corrigan. “For any well-run hotel, these should be set up in kitchens or anywhere where food is staged. These traps catch the stray cockroach, fly, or mouse, and can alert a hotel to a potential problem.”

Once a hotel identifies that it has a pest problem, there are several options for non-toxic treatments.
Trapping systems are non-chemical and effective tools in catching mice and flying insects. And advances in technology have made these products more humane and more efficient.

Corrigan cites repeating mousetraps, which contain no poisons or baits, as effective tools for catching rodents. Mice are attracted to shadows near the box, enter into the trap, and cannot get back out. There is no glue to torture the rodent. Instead, mice usually perish from losing their body heat.

Insect Light Traps (or ILTs) are another type of trap that can help hotels get rid of pesky flying insects. “ILT technology in the past five years has gone off the charts with new science, new innovations, and new trap designs,” says Corrigan.
Light traps usually contain special light bulbs that stimulate insects and attract them to a specific wavelength. Once the insect enters the light trap, it is stunned with a magnetic electroshock and captured in a reservoir. These traps are often designed to look like decorative lighting in dining rooms or guest areas at hotels. In kitchens and back-of-the-house areas, the traps can be more industrial in design.

Baits are also a common sustainable and effective management option for pests because they provide targeted results with little human exposure.

“Baits are materials that are designed to be eaten by insects and rodents,” says Barcay. “They use much less pesticides than you would if you were spraying. They are also very low in toxicity and can be placed and then removed after the pest elimination is done.”

Barcay also suggests the use of biologicals before considering chemical pesticide treatments. Biologicals are pathogens that are deadly to insects but are basically non-toxic to non-targets. Biologicals can include active ingredients derived from microorganisms and those activated by specific enzymes in insects. Parasites and natural predators are also considered biological defenses.

Although not guaranteed to be 100 percent effective, baits and biologicals can provide substantial pest control, especially if the infestation is caught in its early stages.

One of the most effective, non-chemical ways to get rid of pests, especially bed bugs, is to use heat treatment.
This type of treatment is becoming more popular in the hotel industry because it allows for the quick turnover of an infected area. “Heat treatment is a pretty sophisticated deal,” says Potter. “You work with a pest control company with electric or propane fire heaters. The idea is to get the temperature in the room to about 120 to 130 degrees.”

Potter explains that heat treatments are highly reliable and usually take approximately six hours to complete, meaning that hotels may only need to shut down rooms for one day. He also warns that the cost of heat treatments is still relatively high and there are no residual effects. Once complete, if precautions aren’t taken, the pest problem has the potential to return.

Even though advancements have been made in sustainable, non-chemical solutions for pest control, experts and pest management professionals warn the hotel industry to beware of quick-fix products and “green” marketing gimmicks.
“The hospitality industry is really vulnerable to seeing a lot of these so-called solutions—these chemical-free solutions, these do-it-yourself solutions,” says Potter. “A very high percentage of them either don’t work or are only marginally effective.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not allow for any “green” labeling to be used on pesticide products that go through the agency’s rigorous testing process. However, some companies are using food-based or plant-based ingredients, which exempt them from EPA data. This makes them quick and easy to get to market. These products are often touted as “non-toxic” and “all-natural,” but hoteliers should be wary of unsubstantiated claims.

Essential oils, especially those in the mint family, are being used in many products that claim to get rid of pest problems. These products are often sold at an affordable cost, making them enticing to hoteliers, who think they can save money with a DIY solution. Corrigan warns that while these products may kill one or two insects on contact, they don’t provide a long-term solution.

“There’s really no strong science behind these products,” he says. “If you spray a direct hit to a fly or a cockroach with any of these products, it may kill that one roach or fly. But…if you hit that same roach or fly with hairspray or a little bit of Lysol, it will kill it as well.”

Hotels seeking effective pest management solutions should always work with reputable pest management companies and avoid attempting to treat an infestation themselves. “The last thing a hotel wants to be perceived as, if things go south on them, is showing that they’re trying to do things on the cheap,” says Potter. “When it comes to treatments, it’s a prudent practice to leave that to professionals.”

“Your guest satisfaction and your brand is extremely important,” adds Barcay. “If it’s online and it seems too good to be true, it probably is. There is no do-it-yourself solution.”

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