How to Know If You Have Bed BugsAlthough bed bugs have long been a common pest in homes, the numbers of bed bug infestations have increased in recent years. Since the early 2000s, infestations have become more common in the United States. The EPA attributes this rise to increased travel, lack of knowledge about preventing infestations and ineffective pest control practices. According to a study conducted by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky, 99.6 percent of pest professionals treated bed bugs in 2015, up from five, 10 and 15 years ago. According to Ron Harrison, Orkin’s Technical Service Director, the pest management company sees “more people affected by bed bugs in the United States now than ever before.” Bed bugs are considered a public health pest by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but do not transmit or spread disease. However, according to the EPA, they can cause other health problems, and infestations should be eradicated immediately upon discovery. Bed bugs can be difficult to remove because their small size makes them hard to detect—full-grown bugs are about the size of an apple seed. Additionally, many people don’t have a reaction to bed bug bites, meaning their presence can often go unnoticed. Below, we’ve put together a guide that outlines how to know if you have bed bugs—and how to get rid of them.
What do Bed Bugs Look Like?
Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug, is flat and oval, with a reddish-brown color, six legs and two antennas. A fully grown bed bug is about 7 millimeters, or a quarter-inch, long. Adult bed bugs change shape slightly when they feed: recently fed bed bugs are rounder and more elongated, whereas bed bugs who have not fed recently appear flatter, and have more of a brown than a red tint. Young bed bugs, also known as nymphs, are smaller and white-yellow in color. The proper identification of bed bugs is vital, because misidentification can lead to ineffective eradication techniques. Pay attention to their physical appearance to avoid confusing them for carpet beetles or fleas.
What Attracts Bed Bugs?Bed bugs are attracted to three things: warmth, blood and carbon monoxide. These are the main reasons bed bugs hide in places where humans sleep, such as mattresses or couches. There are several common ways to get bed bugs, including:
- Guests bring them into your home
- They travel home with you from an infested hotel
- They’re in used furniture
- They’re in used clothing
What are the Signs of Bed Bugs?
There are two ways to know if you have bed bugs: bed bug bites and the physical signs bed bugs leave behind. Bed bug bites can be a poor indicator of a bed bug infestation, because they are often improperly diagnosed as skin rashes or bites from other insects. Additionally, many people don’t have a reaction to bed bug bites—statistics vary, but some studies show that up to 80 percent don’t present a visible reaction to bed bug bites—meaning that you can have a bed bug infestation without getting bed bug bites. The physical signs of bed bugs are a more accurate indicator of a bed bug infestation. Below, you’ll learn the common symptoms of bed bug bites, as well as common physical signs of bed bugs. Use both to rule out or confirm if you have a bed bug infestation.
Bed Bugs Bites
What do bed bug bites look like?
When bed bug bites occur, they usually present as raised, red welts, similar to mosquito bites.
Do bed bug bites itch?
Bed bugs typically burn or itch, although some bed bug bites may not itch, even when they present physically.
What are the signs of bed bug bites?
Bed bug bites can occur on any area of exposed skin, which differentiates them from flea bites, which commonly occur on ankles or lower legs. Additionally, unlike mosquito bites, bed bug bites are rarely found in the folds of skin. Another sign of bed bug bites is how they present: because bed bugs can’t fly or jump, their bites typically appear in a pattern, either as a cluster of red bites or as a row or zig-zag line. Unlike the bites of mosquitos or fleas, bed bug bites are usually painless at the time of the bite. Bed bugs bites typically occur at night, so be wary of unexplained bites that appear in the morning.
How do you treat bed bug bites?
Like many insect bites, bed bug bites are an annoyance, but are generally harmless. Treatment is similar to that of mosquito bites, including the use of oral antihistamines, steroid creams and over-the-counter creams like calamine lotion.
Physical Signs of Bed Bugs
Bed bug blood - Bed bug blood presents as rusty, red stains that often show up on light-colored sheets. This is the product of a bed bug being crushed, which often occurs while it is feeding at night and has undigested blood in its system.
Bed bug feces - Bed bug feces appear as dark spots about the size of a felt marker. These stains bleed into fabric like an ink stain would.
Bed bug eggs - It’s likely that bed bugs will reproduce during the infestation, so be on the lookout for bed bug eggs. These eggs are translucent/white in color and are extremely small, about 1/16th of an inch long. They are most often found in cracks or crevices.
Bed bug skin - Bed bugs shed their skin as they mature, a process known as molting. Bed bugs molt five times before reaching maturity. If you have bed bugs, you may find small, egg-colored shells that nymphs shed as they grow, or the brown, oval exoskeletons of more mature bed bugs.
Bed bug smell - You may be able to tell that you have bed bugs from the strong, musty smell they secrete from their sweat glands, not unlike that of a wet towel. When bed bugs reproduce and numbers grow, the smell can become noticeable.
How to Check for Bed Bugs
To check for bed bugs, you first need to know where they hide. Bed bugs usually hide in warm spaces near a feeding source, including mattresses, upholstered furniture and the folds of beds, curtains and clothing. They also hide in cracks and crevices of walls, and in tights spaces like in box springs, behind headboards and inside drawers.
Step 1: Check your closet
Bed bugs are cling to clothing, so inspect your closet for signs of bed bug feces and bed bug shells. Be sure to check the walls, particularly the corners and the baseboards, with a flashlight.
Step 2: Inspect the mattress and bedding
As their name suggests, these bugs often hide in or around the bed. Using a flashlight and a straight-edged object, such as an old credit card, examine the sheets for the signs of bed bugs. Once you’ve finished inspecting the bed linens, remove them and inspect the mattress by running the credit card across the mattress and any other place bed bugs hide, including the mattress seams, buttons and straps.
Step 3: Inspect the headboard
Once you’ve inspected your mattress and bedding, move on to the bed’s headboard. To check the headboard for bed bugs, first move it away from the wall, careful to watch for any scuttling bugs. Carefully inspect the headboard, as well as underneath the bed, for signs of bed bugs. Be sure to inspect areas bugs could nestle, including inside cracks and crevices, and between wooden planks.
Step 4: Inspect curtains and walls
If you have curtains or drapes in your bedroom, be sure to check their folds for bed bugs. The bugs might also hide in the corners where the wall meets their ceiling, or in the cracks of baseboards.
Step 5: Check your bedroom furniture
Continue checking for bed bugs by carefully inspecting other parts of the bedroom where the bugs are able to hide. This includes behind dressers, in drawer joints and in the carpet. To check for bed bugs, carefully move furniture, keeping an eye out for fleeing bugs. Run the credit card along flat surfaces, like inside nightstands, to inspect for bed bug eggs or skin.
Step 6: Inspect the rest of the house
Once you’ve finished inspecting your bedroom, check the rest of the house in a similar manner. Important places to look include the couch cushions, the folds of curtains and any cracks in the walls or baseboards—even peeling wallpaper can hide bed bugs. As with the bedroom, pull all the furniture away from the walls. Additionally, look under rugs and in the edges of the carpet.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
Once you’ve determined you have bed bugs, you need to devise a plan to get rid of them. There are two primary methods of bed bug removal: non-chemical and chemical. The first step to getting rid of bed bugs, regardless of which method you use, is to prepare your house for treatment.
Preparing Your Home for Bed Bug Removal
Step 1: Reduce clutter
Reducing clutter makes it harder for bed bugs to hide. Do this by thoroughly cleaning your home and throwing away any trash or unnecessary items. Items that you’re not disposing should not be left on the floor. Step 2: Vacuum
Once you’ve rid your house of clutter, begin the process of removing bed bugs by vacuuming your house, specifically rugs and carpets, as well as along baseboards, window sills and in crevices. This will disrupt the bed bugs and remove eggs and shells from carpets, readying your home for treatment. Be sure to dispose of the vacuum contents in a sealed bag.
Step 3: Remove bed bug harborage sites
Eliminate bed bug sites and prevent another bed bug infection by repairing cracks in plaster or baseboards and gluing down any loosened wallpaper. Once you’ve prepped your house for bed bug treatment, you can decide if you want to remove the bed bugs using non-chemical methods, chemical methods or a mix of the two.
Non-Chemical Methods of Bed Bug Removal
Heat treat bed sheets, pillowcases, clothing items and any other affected linens by washing and drying them on the highest temperature possible for approximately 30 minutes. If an affected item cannot be washed, you can heat treat it with a portable heat-generating device, or by sealing it in a plastic bag for an extended period of time until the bed bugs have died, at least several months.
Freezing temperatures can also be used to kill bed bugs, but conditions must be exact. To eliminate bed bugs using this method, place affected items inside a freezer that is set below 0ºF. Bed bugs must be kept in these conditions for at least four days, but often up to several weeks, for the method to be successful.
Stream cleaning is an effective way of treating items that cannot be laundered or subjected to extreme cold. The high temperature of steam kills bed bugs and bed bug eggs. To employ this method, rent or buy a handheld steamer and run it along mattresses, box springs, rugs, carpets and pieces of furniture that cannot be laundered, including couches and chairs without removable covers.
Discard affected items that cannot be salvaged. Be sure to damage them to prevent others from taking them and spreading the bed bug to their homes.
Chemical Methods of Bed Bug Removal
In addition to the non-chemical methods of bed bug removal, you may also want to consider chemical methods, including the use of pesticides, to get rid of bed bugs. There are currently over 300 products registered by the EPA for use removing bed bugs.
If all of these methods are ineffective, contact a local pest management company to get rid of the bed bug infestation.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
Once you’ve gotten rid of the bugs in your home, you’ll want to take precautions to prevent the bed bugs from returning. The best way to avoid a bed bug infestation is to protect yourself against the most common ways to get bed bugs.
How to prevent bed bugs at home:
- Don’t buy used furniture
- Don’t buy used clothing; if this cannot be avoided, wash the clothing immediately in the hottest water possible
- Keep your home clutter-free to make the signs of a bed bug infestation more visible
- Use box spring and mattress encasements
- Use bed bug interceptors under furniture
- Vacuum frequently
- Check your hotel room for bed bugs
- Keep your luggage and clothing as far away from the bed as possible to prevent bed bugs from traveling home with you
- Keep your luggage off the floor when staying in hotels
- When you arrive home, steam your suitcase and clothing
- If the fabric will allow, wash your clothing in hot water
When not properly identified and treated, a bed bug infestation can take over your home. Follow the tips above to know if you have bed bugs, and find out how to get rid of and prevent them.
- EPA 1, 2 | Fight Bugs | Orkin | Pest Hacks | Terminix | WikiHow 1, 2 | Do My Own Pest Control | Live Science