How Can You Tell Where Bed Bugs Come From

US EPA

Bed Bugs

How to Find Bed Bugs

If you have a bed bug infestation, it is best to find it early, before the infestation becomes established or spreads. Treating a minor infestation, while an inconvenience, is far less costly and easier than treating the same infestation after it becomes more widespread.

However, low-level infestations are also much more challenging to find and correctly identify. Other insects, such as carpet beetles, can be easily mistaken for bed bugs. If you misidentify a bed bug infestation, it gives the bugs more time to spread to other areas of the house or hitchhike a ride to someone else’s house to start a new infestation. Learn about identifying bed bugs.

Bites on the skin are a poor indicator of a bed bug infestation. Bed bug bites can look like bites from other insects (such as mosquitoes or chiggers), rashes (such as eczema or fungal infections), or even hives. Some people do not react to bed bug bites at all.

Looking for Signs of Bed Bugs

A more accurate way to identify a possible infestation is to look for physical signs of bed bugs. When cleaning, changing bedding, or staying away from home, look for:

  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed.
  • Dark spots (about this size: •), which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would.
  • Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and pale yellow skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger.
  • Live bed bugs.

Where Bed Bugs Hide

When not feeding, bed bugs hide in a variety of places. Around the bed, they can be found near the piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, and in cracks on the bed frame and headboard.

If the room is heavily infested, you may find bed bugs:

  • In the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, in the folds of curtains.
  • In drawer joints.
  • In electrical receptacles and appliances.
  • Under loose wall paper and wall hangings.
  • At the junction where the wall and the ceiling meet.
  • Even in the head of a screw.

Bedbugs

Bedbugs are small insects that often live on furniture or bedding. Their bites can be itchy, but do not usually cause other health problems.

Check if it’s bedbugs

Jeff March / Alamy Stock Photo

Bedbugs can hide in many places, including on bed frames, mattresses, clothing, furniture, behind pictures and under loose wallpaper.

Signs of bedbugs include:

  • bites – often on areas exposed while sleeping, like the face, neck and arms
  • spots of blood on your bedding – from the bites or from squashing a bedbug
  • small brown spots on bedding or furniture (bedbug poo)

Bedbug bites can be red and itchy. They’re often in a line or cluster.

Otto Pleska / Alamy Stock Photo

Some people have a reaction to the bites. They can be very itchy and there may be painful swelling.

How you can treat bedbug bites

Bedbug bites usually clear up on their own in a week or so.

Things you can do include:

  • putting something cool, like a clean, damp cloth, on the affected area to help with the itching and any swelling
  • keeping the affected area clean
  • not scratching the bites to avoid getting an infection

You can ask a pharmacist about:

  • using a mild steroid cream like hydrocortisone cream to ease bedbug bites (children under 10 and pregnant women should get advice from a doctor before using hydrocortisone cream)
  • antihistamines – these may help if the bites are very itchy and you’re unable to sleep

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • the bites are still very painful, swollen or itchy after trying treatments from a pharmacist
  • the redness around the bites is spreading

You may have an infection and need treatment with antibiotics.

Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP

It’s still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

How to get rid of bedbugs

contact your local council or pest control service – it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get rid of bedbugs yourself because they can be resistant to some insecticides

wash affected bedding and clothing – use a hot wash (60C) or tumble dry on a hot setting for at least 30 minutes

put affected clothing and bedding in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer (-16C) for 4 days (alternative to hot washing)

clean and vacuum regularly – bedbugs are found in both clean and dirty places, but regular cleaning will help you spot them early

do not keep clutter around your bed

do not bring secondhand furniture indoors without carefully checking it first

do not take luggage or clothing indoors without checking it carefully if you have come from somewhere where you know there were bedbugs

Page last reviewed: 21 January 2019
Next review due: 21 January 2022

Department of Health

Bed Bugs – What They Are and How to Control Them

Bed bugs have been around for thousands of years. They feed on blood, but are not known to spread any diseases to humans. Some people can be allergic to their bites. Getting rid of a bed bug infestation is not easy, but there are steps you can take to control the problem. There are also steps you can take to avoid bringing bed bugs home.

What are bed bugs?

How can bed bugs get into my home?

  • They can come from other infested areas or from used furniture. They can hitch a ride in luggage, purses, backpacks, or other items placed on soft or upholstered surfaces.
  • They can travel between rooms in multi-unit buildings, such as apartment complexes and hotels.

How can I avoid bringing bed bugs into my home?

  • When staying in a hotel, place your bag on a suitcase stand rather than on the bed or floor. Keep the rack away from walls or furniture. When returning home, wash the clothes from your trip and put them in a hot dryer.
  • Inspect new and used furniture before bringing it inside. Look in seams, tufts and under cushions.

How do I know if I have a bed bug problem?

  • You can see the bed bugs themselves, their shed skins, or their droppings in mattress seams and other items in the bedroom.
  • There may also be blood stains on sheets.

How do I control a bed bug problem in my home?

It can be done, but it usually requires what is called an "integrated pest management" (IPM) approach. This combines techniques that pose the lowest risk to your health and the environment. Try these strategies:

  • Clean and get rid of clutter, especially in your bedroom.
  • Move your bed away from walls or furniture.
  • Vacuum molding, windows and floors every day. Vacuum sides and seams of mattresses, box springs and furniture. Empty the vacuum or the bag immediately and dispose of outside in a sealed container or bag.
  • Wash sheets, pillow cases, blankets and bed skirts and put them in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes. Consider using mattress and box spring covers –the kind used for dust mite control–and put duct tape over the zippers.
  • Seal cracks and crevices and any openings where pipes or wires come into the home.

Should I also try pesticides?

Pesticides may not be effective and can be dangerous if used improperly. If you decide to use pesticides, follow these rules:

  • Only use pesticides that are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (look for the U.S. EPA Registration Number on the label) and make sure they are labeled to control bed bugs.
  • Do not apply pesticides directly to your body (there are no repellents registered to control bed bugs that can be used on the human body).
  • Do not use outdoor pesticides indoors.
  • If you decide to hire a pest control company, make sure they have experience with bed bugs. They should follow the steps of IPM, along with any pesticide application. Use a company that is registered and employs licensed applicators. The Department of Environmental Conservation has a list of registered companies.

It takes time and persistence to get rid of bed bugs, and in some cases, the cooperation of landlords, neighbors and others. It can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It can also be expensive when pest control companies are called in. Just remember – bed bugs are more of a nuisance than a health concern and, with vigilance, you can avoid or deal with infestations.

See the following for more information on bed bug biology and control measures:

Photo courtesy of Dr. Harold Harlan, Armed Forces Pest Management Board Image Library

Bed Bug Infestation

Bed bugs are flat and small in size, allowing them to hide easily from view during the day when they are not active. They hide in mattresses, bed frames, bedding, furniture, carpets, baseboards and bedroom clutter. They are most commonly found in the seams of mattresses or inside box springs. However, it is not necessary to locate a specimen to identify an infestation. Their excrement leaves brown to black stains on mattresses and linens, and bloodstains may be visible where bed bugs have been accidentally crushed.

Bed bugs are commonly transported within luggage, allowing them to spread anywhere humans settle. Infestations have become a problem in domestic households, hotels, dormitories and other places of residence. Because of their small size and propensity to hide within mattresses and furniture, controlling a bed bug infestation can prove difficult.

The presence of only one fertile female bed bug in a friendly environment such as a single or multiple family dwelling is an infestation that is waiting to happen. Since a healthy, blood-fed female bed bug can produce from 200-500 healthy eggs during her lifetime and may lay from 2-5 eggs each day, the likelihood of an infestation of bed bugs is extremely high unless bed bug control efforts by your pest management professional are employed to eliminate the infestation.


Mattress Infested With Bed Bugs

Bed Bug Control

Cimex lectularius L.

Learn what Bed Bugs look like, and how to detect if you have a Bed Bug Infestation.

Find out how Bed Bugs infiltrate your home and where they are attracted to.

Learn about Bed Bug bites. their feces and how they can impact your health.

Learn how Orkin handles Bed Bugs, homeopathic cures and the cost of Bed Bug extermination services.

Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?

It’s a common misconception that filth attracts bed bugs. In fact, bed bugs aren’t picky about their environment as long as they have a host to feed on. Their existence depends on getting fresh human (and sometimes animal) blood, so everything else falls into second place. As for clutter and filth, they only provide extra hiding grounds for the population — something to blend in with, but not a cause of bed bug problems.

Why and how do bed bugs spread?

Bed bugs need sufficient blood meals at a certain frequency to survive, grow, and breed. And unlike mosquitoes who fly, and ticks who live on their hosts, bed bugs have developed another way to spread and get to their food source. They get caught up on various objects such as suitcases, clothes, and bags, and use those to crawl to places where humans live. Once they find a host, they try to stay close to it so they establish their colony in cracks and crevices near us, hence the name bed bug.

It’s really that easy for bed bugs to spread–a single pregnant female is enough to start a colony which, if left to grow, will manage to transmit and infest other places. Bed bugs tend to spread for the following reasons:

  • If you disturb them, be it physically or if you use bed bug bombs;
  • If food is scarce and there’s no host nearby, they will travel to other rooms in the property;
  • If you move or throw away any infested items, the bugs will spread around;
  • If the colony grows too big for the current harbourage area, the bed bugs will disperse to other rooms.

How do you get bed bugs in the first place?

The sneaky little buggers will use various ways to get to you. They attach themselves to other people and even objects to travel from one location to another until they find a host. Bed bugs are in for the long run, so they will look for a safe place where they can settle in.
Let’s see how we get bed bugs:

Travel

Hotels, motels and holiday inns are high-traffic areas where masses of people come and go on a daily basis. Travelling tops the list of risky behaviour because even the best hotels can be infested with bed bugs, if someone brings them in, willingly or not. With the open economy growing and creating opportunities such as Airbnb and CouchSurfing, the risk only increases.

Below, we will give you some tips on how to avoid bed bugs in hotel rooms.

Second hand furniture, clothing, toys

Items purchased from flea markets and yard sales may seem like a bargain but they are increasingly connected to bed bug problems in UK households. The thing is, you can’t always tell that second-hand furniture is infested with bed bugs. The seller will make sure that it’s in a good and clean condition, so it can be really hard for a non-professional to spot the signs of bed bug presence. But don’t be fooled, the fact that something looks clean and preserved doesn’t mean there are no pests hiding in it.

Sleepovers, guests

Since bed bugs aren’t the fastest runners nor the best jumpers, they will crawl from place to place looking for their next host. They hide in clothes, shoes, plush toys and all sorts of personal belongings when travelling. It’s possible that your child brings back the pest after a sleepover or that you pick some of the insects from a party at your friends’ place. Although you can’t prevent such turn of events, you can still warn your hosts of the bed bug issue–the sooner they know, the faster they will be able to react.

Shared housing

If your living arrangement includes sharing spaces with other people, the chances of bed bugs creeping up increase once again, especially if your neighbours have them. When expanding their colony, bed bugs crawl through wall crevices, air vents and other openings to get to their next victim. Even if you are doing everything in your power to prevent an infestation, the insects may appear in your own apartment.

Public transportation

Busses and trains aren’t the only public places where you can get bed bugs. Any location where people work and stay for longer periods of time may inhabit the critters–schools, offices and even movie theatres can all become breeding grounds for the bug. From there, it’s a short trip to your home.

Bed bugs can get to your home in many ways, most of which you cannot control or prevent. However, there are still some things you can do to lower the chance of bed bugs establishing near you, which we’ll discuss in a moment.

What to do to prevent getting bed bugs

When travelling

When travelling, it’s best to inspect your hotel room, and bed area in particular, for any signs of the insects, as soon as you arrive. Instead of unpacking, place your luggage in the bathroom and check the areas that are most likely to be infested (bed linen, headboard, mattress, box spring) before spending the night in the room.

Second hand stuff

Before bringing in any kind of borrowed, rented or second-hand furniture, make sure to check all fabric folds, cracks and crevices, even if the item is made of solid materials such as wood or plastic. Also, do avoid picking up items from the street, no matter how well-maintained they look. You never know what can hide inside.

When you live in a rental

To prevent bed bugs from entering your own apartment, seal cracks and crevices that may be used as entryways. Additionally, consider buying protective mattress covers, box spring encasements and special pillow covers to prevent wandering bed bugs from taking residence in your bedroom.

However, bear in mind that if your next-door neighbour has bed bugs, the above mentioned will not save you from an infestation, so make sure to check if they have dealt with the insect.

Don’t throw away stuff

Do a favour to your fellow citizens, and be careful when throwing away infested possessions. Cover them with plastic first and then put a label or a sign that states the items are infested with bed bugs. Of course, you should avoid donating or giving away such belonging.

What are some indicators of bed bug problems

Blood spots

Since bed bugs feed on blood, their excrements resemble blood spots. The marks can be easily spotted on the bedding and mattress but you can see them in any location bed bugs have been on.

You can find bed bug eggs and eggshells in various locations where the insects tend to hide during the day. The eggs themselves are whitish in colour. You can find them in the crevices and joints of your mattress, box spring and furniture.

Shed skins

Bed bugs’ life cycle goes through several stages and each time they moult, they shed their skins. Those cast skins are light brown in colour and unlike the blood spots can be found only in harbourage areas.

Musky odour

A very distinctive sign of severe infestation is the heavy odour present in the room. Some people describe it as a sweet, sickening smell of almost rotting raspberries. This bed bug alarm scent is released by male bugs to keep other males from mating with them.

Spotting an actual bug, be it a nymph or a full-grown bed bug, is the surest sign of an infestation. Nymphs are smaller and lighter, almost clear in colour but will turn red once they are fed. Adults, on the other hand, are brown to red in colour, the size of an apple seed. It’s a bit difficult to detect living specimen as bed bugs are nocturnal and notoriously good at hiding during the day.

How do people spread bed bug infestations

Getting bed bugs is a problem on its own. However, most people tend to act in ways which can worsen the situation, making extermination time-consuming and costly. Luckily, as experts, we can give you some tips on how to avoid just that.

  1. Relocating to another room -Nobody is delighted by the thought of being bitten at night. Some people decide that it’ll be a good idea to sleep on the couch in the living room instead. What they don’t know is that bed bugs can trace the carbon dioxide emitted by you and will eventually end up on the couch as well. So in the end, your temporary escape will help them spread further throughout the house.
  2. Moving infested furniture -Similarly, hiding infested furniture in the garage or basement will not gain you much freedom from the bloodsucking insects. You may think you’ve isolated them in a place where they’ll die off quietly but once again, they’ll find their way back to their food — you
  3. Vacuuming bed bugs the wrong way -Vacuuming is an effective way of lowering the bed bug population because it removes adults and nymphs but not eggs. Yet, you can do more harm than good if you don’t vacuum with a dedicated vacuum cleaner. After you’ve vacuumed the bug clusters, make sure to double-bag the bag before disposing of it outside.
  4. Letting the infestation grow -Although bed bugs love to stick around your bed, if the infestation grows, they will migrate to other areas in the room. This is why it’s so important that you recognise the problem as soon as possible. It’s way easier and less expensive to deal with a contained infestation.
  5. Disturbing the colony -The reason why bed bugs are mainly active at night is that they can feed uninterrupted and unnoticed. Disturbing the bed bug colony, be it physically or with DIY control methods (that usually don’t work), may cause them to disperse and look for hideouts around the house. This is why inspecting for bed bugs should happen alongside professional control procedures.

What to do about bed bugs

Have you found any of the little buggers around your home? If yes, here’s how to proceed:

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