How Do Bed Bugs Infest Your Home

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

Learn About Bed Bug Infestations So You Will Be Better Equipped to Fight Yours!

A bed bug infestation is a big deal. It can disrupt your sleep/life, and you may have no idea what is happening to you or how to stop it. Bed bugs are different from most other household insect pests and are much more difficult to live with and to get rid of.

Bed bugs are keen to find a way into your house, and you have to be aware of their “migration tactics” in order to thwart them. You need to know how they move from house to house and room to room, how fast they can spread, where they are likely to hide, and what options you have for killing them.

Make no mistake. A bed bug infested home means your home has just become a war zone. You can’t let the enemy sneak by unnoticed under your radar, and knowing the facts about bed bugs is winning half the battle.

Table of Contents

Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?

Bed bugs are quite willing to enter your premises uninvited, take up permanent residence, and help themselves to a blood feast. But where do they come from to begin with?

The fact is, bed bugs live primarily in human habitations all over the world, be it in mattresses, box springs, carpeting, picture frames, cracks in floor, furniture, or a host of other locales.

Of course, bed bugs ultimately hail from the great outdoors, and you may find some still living there in tall grasses, but they are overwhelmingly an “indoor insect.”

Transferred from Person to Person

Unlike fleas and lice, bed bugs do not tend to live permanently on human beings or animals. Instead, they will generally hide is some hard to reach nook or cranny and come out at night to feed. That’s why they like to live in or near beds and other places people sleep or sit for long periods.

But, it is still possible for bed bugs to be transferred from person to person.

Here’s why:

  • They can get into your clothes, purse, laptop bag, jacket, or anything else you wear or carry about.
  • From there, they can get onto clothes of others you are in close contact with.

Their eggs can also be found on clothes sometimes, and if egg-infested clothes of yours touched someone else’s clothes, even the eggs could get transferred.

So, while it’s not very likely, it is possible for bed bugs to move from person to person.

Spread From House to House

Bed bugs, as clever as they are, do not generally walk long distances between buildings. They have other ways of getting into your house.

These stealthy home-invasion strategies include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Hitch a ride on your laundry, luggage, or other possessions that you bring back from a bed-bug-infested hotel room.
  • Your pet might pick up a bed bug while visiting another house (or even outdoors) and then bring it back to your place.
  • Bed bugs may be hiding in furniture in one house, but the owner may sell it at a garage sale or put it on the curb to dispose of it. Then, you take that old bed-bug-ridden piece of furniture into your house, thinking it’s a great find.
  • You sleep over at a friend’s house where bed bugs live. Bed bugs get into your stuff or on your person, and you unknowingly transport them home with you.
  • If you live in a multi-unit home or apartment complex, these bugs can crawl down the hall, through vents, and through cracks in the walls to get into your living quarters.

Spread from Room to Room

You may, perhaps, imagine that bed bugs can’t get around too fast. It’s true they have small legs and can’t hop or skip, but they can walk up to 100 feet in a single night. They just “keep going till they get there.”

Bed Bug Hiding Spots

And bed bugs are known to move through the inside of walls, which they will access via outlets if not through cracks. They can run inside of in-wall piping for a quicker move from room to room. It really doesn’t take more than a single night for them to migrate to a new room. And they can even get into your vacuum cleaner so that you are helping them spread quicker as you clean the carpet.

It could be a matter of days before your entire house is infested, given you have enough of a bed bug population and your bed bugs are motivated to look for food/water/blood somewhere other than where they are at the moment.

Infestation Map

I found a bed bug, you say, so where should I look for more? Can I map out the infestation so I can map out an eradication plan?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to be sure of all the nooks and crannies your unwelcome guests may be hiding in, and they may even move around from night to night. All you can do is know the likely spots and apply bed bug killer.

I Have One Bed Bug. Does It Mean an Infestation?

A single bed bug may or may not indicate you already have a true infestation.

But if you do find a bed bug, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • A single impregnated female can produce a whole population. She will lay the eggs and then breed with her own offspring.
  • The odds are in favor of your not having found the only bed bug in your house. Where there’s one, there are probably more.
  • Bed bugs can go 6 months or more without a blood meal, and many individual bugs may not feed more than once a week on average. Thus, you won’t see them all out searching for food at the same time.
  • Is the bed bug red-bodied? Then it was feeding. If they’re feeding, chances are they’re breeding.

My Bed

Once in your bedroom, bed bugs will have no trouble finding your bed. They are attracted to carbon dioxide such as warm-blooded animals exhale and to your body heat. As soon as they sense CO2 and heat at night, they will go to your bed because you, their target, are lying on it.

Bed bugs can get into your bedroom on your dirty clothes, on the clothes you are wearing, or by hiding in suitcases, hand bags, boxes, furniture, or anything else you bring into your room that offers them good cover.

Walls

Do bed bugs live in walls? The answer is: sometimes. Walls are not necessarily their number one or preferred hideout, as with cockroaches, but when no better shelter exists near their feeding zone, they’ll be quick to reside inside wall cavities.

Of course, there has to be an entry point for them to get into the wall. So if your walls have cracks or small holes in them, caulking it up, painting over it, or otherwise sealing it off may deny your bed bugs a hideout.

Wood Floors

Yes, bed bugs can live inside wood flooring. They can even crawl along inside the seams between wood planks, even when those seams are rather tight.

The pancake-flat bodies and small size of bed bugs allow the to get into and live in even the most inaccessible areas. There are few wood floors, if any, that are so tightly put together that bed bugs couldn’t get into them.

Infestation Timeline

You may be wondering what to do if you have bed bugs, and how long you have before they overrun you. You may be waking up at night, staring at the clock, and wondering, “How long do I have?”

How Long Does It Take for Bed Bugs to Infest?

Here are four facts you should know that will give you an idea as to how long it takes for a bed bug infestation to get started and to get into “full swing:”

  1. Female bed bugs can lay from one to five eggs per day and ultimately 200 or 250 eggs in a lifetime.
  2. Eggs will hatch in five to 10 days’ time, and the emergent nymphs will immediately begin looking for a blood meal.
  3. It takes around four or five weeks for a bed bug to reach maturity, going through five molts along the way.
  4. Bed bugs will live around four to 10 months, but life spans may vary quite a bit based on conditions (and on your extermination efforts!)

The Life Cycle of a Bed Bug

Conclusion: an infestation can get rolling in less than a week, become unbearable in one to two months, and reach peak population levels in six months to a year, given the right conditions and plenty of blood.

What You Should Know

You may be wondering, “Do bed bugs go away if I just leave them alone a while?” Wishful thinking may have its merits, perhaps, but no, they normally won’t just go away on their own.

My Apartment Is Infested With Bed Bugs. Now What?

If your apartment definitely has a bed bug infestation, what can you do about it? You’ll need to learn how to kill bed bugs and how to keep them from coming back.

Here are Five Key Steps you can take to eradicate your blossoming bed bug population:

  1. Clear away all the clutter from your bedroom or other infested area. In fact, clean and organize your whole house like you were getting ready for white glove at college.
  2. Wash and dry all your clothes and linens that could possibly have gotten exposed to bed bugs or their eggs. Use the high-heat setting.
  3. Spray bed bug killer along the baseboards, into cracks and crevices, onto mattresses, box springs, upholstered furniture, and anywhere else it’s safe to spray it. Also apply diatomaceous earth under and around your bed, set up CO2 bed bug traps, and use rubbing alcohol to protect your exposed skin at night.
  4. Use a one-two punch bed bug fogger bomb approach. The first bombs will kill off adults mostly. Wait two weeks so the surviving eggs can hatch, and then bomb to wipe out the hatchlings before they mature and repopulate.
  5. You can repeat the four steps above several times, but if the problem persists, call in a professional who can safely heat your home to 118 degrees Fahrenheit to kill every bed bug.

Three Steps to be Bed-Bug-Free

Can They Come Back After Treatment?

Bed bugs can return the same way they got into your home to begin with, even after you totally eradicate them.

Thus, you need to think about how they may have gotten in. Stop bringing in garage sale or curbside furniture, routinely sprinkle diatomaceous earth along your door’s bottom if you live in an apartment complex, or change whatever else it takes to keep them out!

Learn how bed bugs spread into and throughout houses and how their population explodes. Take measures accordingly without delay to kill them and prevent a return. Knowing the facts about your bed bug infestation will help you end it!

You can find further details of Bed Bugs Control here.

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How to Keep Bed Bugs Out of Your House

As experts predict increases in bed bug infestations this summer, here are some of the public places bed bugs may be lurking — and ways to prevent bed bugs from coming home with you.

The summer of 2011 could be the worst one for bed bugs yet, according to Jeffrey White, a research entomologist at BedBug Central, an online resource for bed bug information. While isolated reports of bed bugs started more than 10 years ago, he says they didn’t become a widespread problem until 2006 — and infestations have steadily increased with each passing summer.

Bed bugs reproduce at a rapid rate, travel from place to place on almost any thing or person, and may require multiple pest control visits to be eliminated. Not only do bed bugs leave itchy bites and have a “creep” factor that can trigger anxiety, stress, and even depression, they may also not be as harmless as previously thought. Recent research from the U.S. Center for Disease Control’sEmerging Infectious Diseasesfound that bed bugs may even spread the dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

We talked to experts to find out where bed bugs are most commonly found — and to get tips to keep them from coming home with you.

The Big Picture: Bed Bugs Mapped

After a traumatic experience in a San Francisco hotel, writer and computer programmer Maciej Ceglowski started BedBugRegistry.com when he discovered there wasn’t a national forum to report bed bug incidences. The site, which maps bed bug sightings in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, contains more than 20,000 reports of bed bugs in more than 12,000 locations. If you’re planning to travel, you can look up the city or town — or even a particular hotel — to see if there have been bed bug reports. You can find additional resources about bed bug outbreaks and identifying, preventing, and eliminating bed bugs on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site or from your local health department. The New York City Health Department, for example, has illustrations and advice for spotting bed bugs and their markings, droppings, eggs, or bites.

Bed Bug Express: Dogs, Cats, and Birds

Although they prefer humans, bed bugs can hitch rides on small animals like cats, dogs, birds, rats, or guinea pigs. If you suspect your dog or cat has bed bugs, check their skin for small red bites close together (they appear the same as on humans). Wash and dry your pet’s bedding with heat and throw away any toys that have holes. “You might not see bed bugs on an animal, but you might find them harboring on their beds,” warns Lou Sorkin, an entomologist and bed bug expert at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. If you see a bed bug feeding on your pet or among his bed or toys, search for an infestation in your home and call a pest control company or canine detection service” — one that uses dogs to sniff out bed bug infestations.

World-Traveling Bed Bugs: Hotels and Luggage

Bed bugs can cling to and find hiding places in your suitcases and bags and travel with you from a vacation hotel or convention center very efficiently. When you stay in a hotel, bring a small flashlight to inspect the mattress, behind the headboard, under couch cushions, and in furniture drawers. Immediately report sightings of bed bugs, as well as other less-obvious evidence such as streaks or droplets of blood, bug droppings, or eggs. Since bed bugs can cling to carpet, keep your suitcase off the floor and on a luggage rack (or leave it in the bathroom).

On its bed bug advisory site, the New York City Health Department says you can protect your clothes by packing them in large plastic bags or washable mesh bags before putting them in your suitcase. When you return from a trip, put all of your clothes in the dryer immediately to kill bed bugs and their eggs. Spray your luggage with alcohol, which also destroys bed bugs, or vacuum it and throw away the vacuum bag promptly. If you travel frequently, you may want to consider investing in a thermal container that can heat your luggage when you return home. For example, the PackTite thermal container ($320) is large enough to hold a suitcase and promises to kill bed bugs.

Bed Bug ‘Yachts’: Cruise Ships

Like hotels, cruise ships also have to deal with bed bug infestations. “With thousands of pieces of baggage and tons of supplies brought on each year, a ship is vulnerable to occasional pests,” says Linda Sietz, a customer service representative for Royal Caribbean cruise line. “However, we maintain pest management products on board, and every effort is made to prevent insects from entering the ship.” Before you book, ask the cruise line about what precautions they take to avoid bed bugs, such as conducting regular pest inspections and keeping extermination supplies on hand. Just as you would in a hotel, inspect the mattress and the rest of your stateroom, and use the same precautions with your luggage.

What Causes Bed Bugs in Your Home ?

If you wake up in the middle of the nigh scratching itchy arms and legs, you may have a bed bug infestation. These small, reddish-brown bloodsucking pests can cause a number of health issues if they are not eliminated quickly.

A single bug is no larger than an apple seed. This is why you may not be able to detect them till it is too late. They can remain hidden between cracks, crevices, box springs, the headboard, and any furniture that is near your bed.

Table of Contents

How Do Bed Bugs Get In Your Home?

These pests don’t materialize out of thin air and land on your bed. Bed bugs are notorious hitch hikers – they can get on you and you won’t even realize they are there till they multiply on your bed. Here are some common places where these bloodsuckers can come from:

  • Office buildings.
  • Daycare centers
  • Schools
  • Libraries
  • Nursing homes
  • Police station
  • The theatre
  • Bus depots (from seats)

In fact, bed bugs can also transfer from one person to the next so you aren’t safe even if you avoid the aforementioned locations.

1. Doesn’t Matter If You Are Clean

What causes bed bugs to come? Let’s get one thing straight – no matter how clean you are, you are still susceptible to an infestation from these pesky insects. Their main diet is human and animal blood and they can live almost any place that has a ready supply of either of these. So no matter how pristine your home is and even if you don’t have pets, you may have these bugs.

Even though bed bugs prefer to remain hidden, they venture out when they sense a suitable source of food nearby. These are quite caution though which is why they come out in the middle of the night. Plus, there is a reason why you don’t feel them biting you when you are asleep. When they bite, they inject a weak anesthetic into their host so that they can eat their fill without being noticed.

2. They Are Master Hitchhikers

As mentioned before, for bed bugs to get in your home, they have to hitch a ride on you or anything you are carrying. Normally, they don’t remain on a host after they have fed their fill but they may crawl onto them and ride to a new location.

Needless to say travelers are the ones who are the most susceptible to this. If you stay in a hotel that has a bed bug problem, you will probably take some home with you on your luggage, purse, backpack and coat.

3. They Prefer High-Activity Areas

Since bed bugs travel from one feeding ground to the next by hitching a ride on unsuspecting people, they are usually found in populated areas. This includes shelters, dorms, hotels, apartments, etc.

In other words, if you have a lot of guests coming over for dinner or a party, chances are at least one of them are hiding pesky uninvited guests so to speak. People who live in single family residences are at a lower risk.

4. They Love Clutter

Once bed bugs get in your home, they immediately start searching for hiding places. This can be anything from baseboards and wallpaper to your sheets, under switch plates and especially clutter. This spells bad news for hoarders – the more things you have lying around your home, the harder it will be for you to get rid of them.

Once they find a decent hidey hole, they spare no time multiplying and they do this quite fast. In fact, a single female can lay over hundreds of eggs at a time. With a ready food source and isolation, it can produce eggs as many times as it needs.

5. They Can Be Found In Second Hand Furniture

If you prefer to buy furniture second hand, chances are you will get more than you bargained for. If it comes from a home that is infested with bed bugs, it will definitely have a few that can infest your home as well. This also includes rented furniture which is not deep cleaned and inspected for pests after it is returned.

Unfortunately, isolating an infested piece of furniture may not resolve the problem. Bed bugs can survive for months without feeding after all.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes bed bugs and how to get rid of them?

To summarize, bed bugs are caused by clutter, infested furniture and travel. Here are some ways that you can prevent an infestation and/or get rid of them:

  • Be diligent when you are traveling. When you are staying at a hotel, place your bag on your suitcase, not on the floor or the bed. Plus, keep it away from the furniture and the walls.
  • Before purchasing new or used furniture, examine it for bed bugs by lifting the seams, cushions and tufts.
  • Vacuum your home frequently
  • Cover all power outlets. Bed bugs hide in the holes during extermination and come out when the coast is clear.
  • Store clothing in vacuum sealed bags while traveling. This will prevent these pests from hitching a ride on you all the way back to your home.

How do I know that my home has bed bugs?

  • You see small, red bumps on your skin that itch when you get up in the morning.
  • You see blood stains on the sheets.
  • You see black droppings on furniture, in crevices, in your bed and in cracks.
  • You notice a musty odor in your home
  • You see dark spots on the walls.
  • You see bed bug shells (white, husk-like specks) on your mattress.
  • You see small, white spots in the furniture.

I have a bed bug problem. How do I control it?

  • Get rid of clutter and clean up your home.
  • Move the bed well away from the furniture before treating it.
  • Wash infested sheets, pillows, blankets etc and dry it in a hot dryer for at least half an hour. This should kill the eggs as well. After that, consider using spring and box spring covers to prevent re-infestation.
  • Seal all openings such as cracks and crevices especially where the pipes and wires are located.
  • Remove all the drawers from a dresser to search for the bugs and pull it away from the wall to block escape routes.
  • To dislodge eggs, scrub infested areas with a stiff brush and then vacuum the room extensively. A vacuum hose attachment will be effective especially in cracks and small holes. Since bed bugs latch on tightly, use the nozzle of the vacuum to scrape them lose and then suck them up.

How do I use pesticide to eliminate bed bugs?

Only use pesticides if the infestation is too large to manage. Plus, make sure to use a product that is made specifically for eliminating it such as Temprid FX. Follow the directions that are mentioned on it carefully. Use only the amount that is prescribed and place it in a spray bottle.

Spray the pesticide in areas where bed bugs are usually found such as in corners, around thresholds, and window frames, under the furniture, the bed and furniture legs, the edge of carpets and baseboards, etc. Whatever you do, do not spray an entire carpet or floor and allow it to dry on areas that you do spray before removing dead bugs.

What health risks do bed bugs carry?

Bed bugs affect each person differently. Some people may not even see any red spots or signs of an infestation on their body while others may either get small, red and engorged marks on their body or a full-on allergic reaction which may require medical aid. The worst case scenario may be burning and an anaphylactic reaction. Some people may also suffer from insomnia if they know that their bed has bugs in it for fear of being bitten.

How do I prevent bed bugs from returning after cleaning them out?

Even if you evacuate your home, some bugs may return and feed off other pests such as rats and mice. In other words, make sure that you get rid of them as well as the bugs at the same time.

How do I prevent an infestation after returning home from a vacation?

  • When you get home from a vacation, take your luggage into the garage or any area that is not near your home and shake out everything in it.
  • Place all of the clothes in your luggage in a plastic bag and wash them separately in the washing machine even items that you never wore during your trip. Use hot water for this.
  • Vacuum your empty suitcase from the inside out thoroughly and dump the contents outside. Take extra precautions by rubbing the suitcases with rubbing alcohol. Apply it to a cotton ball and rub it around the crevices and cracks.
  • Items that should not be washed can still be treated. For example, you can leave the shoes you used in your travels out in the sun for a couple of days to drive out any bed bugs in it.

If you see a single bed bug, chances are there are more behind it hiding in your home. Take the threat seriously by taking the mentioned preventative/elimination measures and you will be free of the pesky critters in no time.

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.

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