Bed Bug Infestation

This page outlines the steps to help you get rid of a bed bug problem.  Follow all of the steps to deal with an infestation.  We also recommend traps and sprays that can be purchased on Amazon.

Here an outline of the topics covered:

A bed bug infestation is something no one wants. Whether at home or while traveling, vigilance is key to ensuring this unwanted pest and hitchhiker doesn’t claim a place in your life.

Bed bugs aren’t like other pests that thrive in squalor; they can easily take hold in the pristine conditions of home, hotel, or other lodging. While infesting a location, they may not be readily identified, allowing their numbers to grow over time.

How Do I Know if I Have Bed Bugs?

Most people panic when they discover that they have an infestation of what may be bed bugs. The most important thing to do is to calmly consider options.

What Do They Look Like?

bed bug small
click for more bed bug pics

Bed bugs are small, oval, flat, and wingless pests reach approximately 3/16” (4-5mm) long as an adult. The young (called nymphs) are much smaller at 1/16” (1.6mm) upon hatching and almost colorless with the exception of post-feeding.

Adult bed bugs are brown to reddish brown (after feeding) which can serve as camouflage when hiding. In addition to their challenging size, bed bugs are hearty pests. Adults are documented as surviving for over one year without feeding, and nymphs (young bed bugs) are known to survive for months.

Since the bed bug typically comes out at night, it is not common for people to observe adult bed bugs although, if bed bugs are hungry, they can be seen moving during the day if a host is available.

Are They Bed Bugs or Something Else?

There are insects which may appear to be bed bugs but are related pests which do not prefer humans. These include the swallow bug, the bat bug, the poultry bug, and others.

Bugs That Look Like Bed Bugs

Most Common Signs

Most people notice potential bed bug infestations in one of two ways.

  1. They can observe smears or deposits of partially digested blood appearing as tarry smears or
  2. They can observe welts where they have been bitten. Just observing welts is not a confirmation that bed bugs are present but it can be an indication.

It can be hard to identify an infestation since the irritation from a bed bug bite is often confused with a rash or feeding by other biting insects like fleas and mosquitoes.

Aside from bites, cast skins or shells, dead insects, and blood smears are the most common signs.

Let’s go over these in detail below.

Bites

bed bug welts
welts on leg

Bed bugs have one obvious sign that often isn’t identified until after they have a sizable presence. Most of us discover them upon awakening and seeing bites on our body.

Since bed bugs only look to be active in the dark, bites typically occur while the victim sleeps.

More info: everything you need to know about bed bug bites.

A bed bug rash consists of red welts and bumps on the skin caused by bed bug bites. Resulting in mild to serious itching, this skin condition often increases in severity with the size of the bed bug infestation.

Rashes may cover a small section of skin or large portions of the body.

When feeding at night, bed bugs attack exposed areas like arms and legs. However, bed bug rashes might also appear on the face, neck, or chest. For many people, these pinkish-red marks lead to anxiety and discomfort.

Smears

Not everyone is allergic to their saliva, so you may not get bitten.

box spring with bed bug stains
smears on boxspring (EPA)

But, another sign to look for is random blood spots on bed sheets. These smears can be on sheets, dust ruffles, walls, clothing, and even luggage.

The most common signs of infestation include these blood smears, or droppings by the bed bug which is smeared through tossing and turning if on sheets.

There may be dark spots on walls where the bed bug has deposited droppings.

Bites also leave tiny drops of blood on bedding, and sheets or mattresses are further soiled by the mascara-like streaks of the pests’ feces. These marks can also be found on nearby walls and baseboards.

Skins

Finally, the insects themselves can be seen as cast shells or “skins” when they molt.

Dead Insects

Rarely will occupants see live insects crawling about unless they are disturbed and dislodged from a hiding place.

Good at Hiding

Bed bugs are hardy insects and difficult to detect prior to feeding. Due to extremely flat bodies, they are able to hide in the cracks and crevices of mattresses (buttons and beading), box springs, hollow areas of bed frames, furniture coverings, other types of furniture, and in wall crevices and voids in heavier infestations. Simply put, bed bugs will hide anywhere they’re provided darkness, isolation, and protection.

Odor

Another indication of an infestation is a distinct odor produced from their glands. In the presence of a larger infestation, an obnoxiously sweet smell is apparent. While most homeowners may not diagnose the smell, a trained professional should be able to identify.

Where to Look

Bed bug infestations can arise anywhere people (or animals) sleep or rest. This can include homes, apartments, hotels, airplanes, subways, buses, offices, theaters, libraries, etc.

In the Home

Within the home, one should check bedrooms, couches and living rooms, laundry rooms, bathrooms, and anywhere luggage is stored. In heavy infestations, bed bugs can be found behind wall pictures, switch plates, cracks, and other hard to access areas.

Bed bugs want to reside close to where they feed. They don’t have wings, but are agile when it’s time to leave protective surroundings and seek nourishment.

Due to their small size and desire for protective, dark hiding places, bed bugs are tough to find.

The first places to look for an infestation are mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, and items stored under the bed.

A thorough inspection demands dismantling the bed and examining each component. As well, bed bugs often hide within seams, tufts, folds, beading, buttons, and any small recess of bedding and furniture upholstery.

In heavier infestations, additional time may be needed during the inspection. Bed bugs can spread away from feeding areas to loose wallpaper, within picture frames, between the glass and frame of a picture, behind the plate of a light switch, and even under carpeting. Adjacent rooms should be inspected.

Ensure the laundry room and bathrooms are thoroughly inspected. And surprising place you don’t want to neglect is the luggage and its storage room.

During or After Travel

As bed bugs are more common in “resting” areas such as hotels and dorms, to best protect oneself, a guest should check the mattress, box springs, headboard, couch cushions, and the edge of carpeting for starters. Bed bugs are encountered not only in Domestic but as well during International travel where they are more prevalent.

Being efficient hitchhikers and hard to detect, bed bugs are able to work their way into homes through suitcases, clothes, shoes, boxes, and secondhand furniture. These aren’t pests found solely within squalor. They do not feed on human food, so their presence in pristine conditions is very possible.

How Did They Get in My House?

Bed bugs all but disappeared from the United States in the 1940’s and 1950’s due perhaps to use of effective control products for household pests and bed bugs were controlled collaterally.

More recently, they made a comeback due to increased global travel, improved treatment methods specifically targeting other pests, and poor public awareness.

Bed bugs are great at hitchhiking. They stow away in luggage, clothing, and other fabric items to travel from one area to another.

Cleanliness is not a factor in the spread of these pests. Bed bugs multiply rapidly and are hard to remove once they’ve taken hold.

One way that bed bugs spread is through used or secondhand clothing and furniture. Borrowed items or a chair from the thrift store may contain these bothersome pests.

Apartments and condos are also prone to bed bugs that move in from other units in the building. Once inside the home, bed bug infestations spread quickly.

How Are Bed Bugs Spread during Travel?

Many home infestations start abroad when bed bugs find their way into belongings and are transported back to the host’s domicile.

While traveling, guests don’t have the time or ability to do a detailed inspection for bed bugs. Be sure to check the key areas around the bed and look for signs of infestation.

In addition, give your luggage and clothing a thorough, detailed check. Bed bugs are skilled hitchhikers and enjoy traveling.  Bed bugs will change location if they feel compromised, so try not to disturb their hiding place once found.

Hotel rooms, airplane or bus seats, and even rental cars have plenty of places for bed bugs to hide. The following tips can keep returning travellers free from any unwanted insect souvenirs:

  • Avoid using personal pillows – Using a pillow from home gives bed bugs an easy place to hitch a ride.
  • Take plastic luggage – The pests aren’t as attracted to plastic as they are to fabric. A light-coloured suitcase also makes bed bugs easier to spot.
  • Inspect hotel rooms – Pay special attention to closets as well as seams on furniture, mattresses, and sheets.
  • Clean items upon return – Wash clothes in hot water and check belongings carefully for hidden insects to prevent bed bugs from spreading.

Steps to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

Unfortunately, getting rid of bed bugs is not easy.

To control these pests, homeowners must use one or more methods from steam to heat to specially formulated products to vacuuming.

Just using one method might not achieve control since the nature of the bed bug is such that it hides, it moves, and typically only comes out at night.

While these habits can be frightening, bed bugs can be controlled but it usually takes multiple attempts since rarely can a traditional treatment get rid of the eggs and reach all of the bed bugs in a single visit.

Step 1: Sanitize Clothing

The simplest home remedy for bed bugs is vacuuming or steam cleaning beds, mattresses, and box springs, then double bagging bedding and putting it through the washer and dryer.

Wash & Dry

To ensure maximum effectiveness, the resident should clean any garments from infested and surrounding areas being careful not to spread the bed bugs while transporting the materials.

Clothing, shoes, toys backpacks, etc. need to be treated.

This can be done via a household dryer (20 minutes on high heat). All bed bug life stages are destroyed at 120°F or above or 32°F or below when held for several hours.

Wash or dry clean anything able to stand the process and place all non-washables in thick plastic bags. Since it takes about two to five months for bed bugs trapped in bags to starve, placing items in direct sunlight on a hot summer day or freezing them for several hours can speed up the process.

Step 2: Trapping

Mattress

Buy a bed bug-proof encasement for box springs and mattresses to trap the pests inside.

bed bug mattress cover
mattress cover example

Bed Frame

If the bed doesn’t have a frame, purchase one and put bed bug interceptors under all four feet. These special cups keep pests from climbing up to mattresses.

 

interceptor trap for bed
bed bug interceptor for bed posts

Place packets of silica gel under your mattress and around your bed frame.

Refrain from transitioning to another bed or sofa. Avoid sleeping elsewhere as the bugs might trail along and infest another spot. Instead, continue sleeping in your current space while treating your home.

Step 3: Cleaning

Vaccuum

After pest-proofing beds, homeowners must systematically treat the room and everything in it. Vacuuming is an essential home remedy for bed bugs.

Removal of adult bed bugs and visible nymphs can be accomplished by vacuuming; however, early instar nymphs are very small and difficult to see.

Eggs are nearly impossible for untrained individuals to find and remove. An additional complication with bed bug eggs is that they are cemented by the female when deposited so that the eggs are protected and do not move.

This is why you will need sprays as explained below.

Clean Floors

Also, try washing wood floors, moulding, and walls with hot, soapy water and cleaning toys or plastic items with rubbing alcohol.

Step 4: Spraying

Bed bugs are some of the most troublesome pests that can infest a home, and proper control tactics are essential to eradicating the blood-feeding insects.

Using bed bug sprays are an important part of home bed bug control. When used properly and in conjunction with thorough cleaning of infested areas, sprays can possibly eliminate an infestation.

Dust Sprays

Considered the most effective at-home control method individuals can buy, insecticidal dust clings to bed bugs and kills them by desiccation, or drying them out.

Dusts may be sprayed on cracks and crevices where bed bugs hide, and the pests will pick it up when they walk through it.

Diatomaceous earth, or D.E., is an effective bed bug dust that is entirely natural. Made from fossilized algae, diatomaceous earth can be sprayed into cracks and openings with a duster or scooped and sprinkled on open areas.

Although it doesn’t work instantly, diatomaceous earth does kill bed bugs. The powder absorbs oils and moisture from the pests’ bodies. Over time, bed bugs exposed to diatomaceous earth become fatally dehydrated.

Diatomaceous earth must stay dry to be effective and usually requires several applications.

Other insecticidal dusts incorporate synthetic compounds, like cyfluthrin, which attack the bed bug’s nervous system.

Liquid Sprays

Liquid sprays come in indoor and outdoor applications. Homeowners should make sure to read labels carefully and apply products to appropriate areas.

For example, some liquid sprays may be applied to mattresses and fabrics, while others are meant for cracks and baseboards.

Under no circumstances should outdoor bed bug sprays be used indoors.

Non- and low-toxicity sprays are often used indoors and kill bed bugs on contact. These sprays may include:

  • isopropyl alcohol
  • phenethyl propionate
  • rosemary oil
  • peppermint oil

More potent sprays usually contain bifenthrin or lambda-cyhalothrin as the active ingredient and leave behind residues that kill bed bugs. These lethal residues are only effective if bed bugs remain in contact with treated areas for several days.

Post Treatment Inspections

After you have performed the steps above it is important to perform routine follow up inspections.

Each inspection should last around 30 minutes to perform a search correctly.

The best way to perform a bed bug search is by using a flashlight and a magnifying glass that magnifies at least 10 times and tracing the seams of mattresses, pillows, and folds in frequently used blankets.

Bed bugs regularly congregate in the seams and folds of mattresses during the day away from direct light.

Shake out all blankets and note if anything falls out onto the floor or suspect mattress. The same should be done with pillows and pillowcases. Check the folds and seams of pillows and pillowcases.

Be sure to check each and every seam inch by inch. Manually lift up or remove mattresses to check the areas underneath as well as the seams and linings of the box-spring, if applicable.

What To Look For

When searching for bed bugs, homeowners might come across the actual bug itself but will more often find signs of the insect in traces of molted nymphal shells or fecal matter.

Investigators might also find blood smears on bed linens or mattresses resulting from crushed bed bugs. Disposed nymphal shells will look like smaller versions of adult bed bugs, usually brown or yellowish-brown in color.

The shells may not appear whole due to damage incurred through human movement during sleep or when changing out sheets. Nymphal shells are regularly found amidst feces.

Bed bug fecal matter is brown or blackish in color and looks like tiny dots to the human eye. Thorough inspection of beds or other commonly used pieces of furniture may even yield eggs. Early detection of bed bugs may help limit the spread of infestation.

Professional Help (If Needed)

The professional has many tools available to help with detection. Some are electronic monitoring devices and some are physical traps which help determine whether an infestation exists and to what extent.

Bed Bug Dogs

Specially trained dogs can also detect bed bugs provided that the bed bugs are alive or that there are viable eggs. The dogs (bed bug detecting canines), are used to zero in on infestation points and are not used in a typical inspection for most companies. They are typically an option for an additional fee if the company offers the use of canines.

When to Fumigate

Bed bugs become increasingly problematic when their populations are left unchecked. The blood-feeding insects infest mattresses, bedding, and draperies.

Though they are typically slow to reproduce, their small size means populations often grow unnoticed for some time. Homeowners need to fumigate once infestations become too difficult to handle with simple cleaning techniques, steaming, and store-bought insecticides.

Fumigation is usually considered a last resort due to its cost and labor-intensive nature.