How Far Can A Bed Bug Travel On Its Own
What you need to know about bed bugs
‘Educating yourself can be helpful and reassuring,’ says Dr. Harold Harlan
Jump to discuss comments below
Next story in ‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite’ Bed bugs bite back
Harold Harlan, who was a career bug expert for the military, is a prominent authority on bed bugs. Below, he answered a few frequently asked questions:
Are bed bug attacks a sign of dirty living conditions or living in older homes/building, or is anybody at risk?
Infestations of common bed bugs, Cimex lectularius L., are not directly related to sanitation levels. The cleanest living area can have a very large infestation , and improving sanitation alone will not eliminate an established bed bug population. Cluttered conditions can offer the bugs a lot of excellent harborages very near their human blood-meal hosts. Almost anyone is at risk of having an infestation if bed bugs are brought into their home.
Can you get anything serious from a bed bug bite? Are there physical/physiological effects if you are living with bed bugs?
According to scientists, naturally occurring populations (infestations) of common bed bugs have been documented to have at least 28 different kinds of human pathogens in their bodies. However, very careful and detailed studies by both entomologists and medical doctors have never shown that those bed bugs could transmit (infect) even one of those pathogens to humans or lab animals. They simply have not been shown to transmit any human disease known so far.
Bed Bugs FAQs
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and can live several months without a blood meal.
Where are bed bugs found?
Bed bugs are found across the globe from North and South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. Although the presence of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.
Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.
Do bed bugs spread disease?
Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.
What health risks do bed bugs pose?
A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.
What are the signs and symptoms of a bed bug infestation?
One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by the tell-tale bite marks on the face, neck, arms, hands, or any other body parts while sleeping. However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area. These signs include:
- the bed bugs’ exoskeletons after molting,
- bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets,
- rusty–colored blood spots due to their blood-filled fecal material that they excrete on the mattress or nearby furniture, and
- a sweet musty odor.
How do I know if I’ve been bitten by a bed bug?
It is hard to tell if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug unless you find bed bugs or signs of infestation. When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea — a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.
Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may have no reaction and will not develop bite marks or any other visible signs of being bitten. Other people may be allergic to the bed bugs and can react adversely to the bites. These allergic symptoms can include enlarged bite marks, painful swellings at the bite site, and, on rare occasions, anaphylaxis.
How did I get bed bugs?
Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their slim flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and stay there for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel.
Who is at risk for getting bed bugs?
Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.
How are bed bugs treated and prevented?
Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.
This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.
Do Bed Bugs Travel on People?
Believe it or not, bed bugs can travel via human hosts. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images )
They’re creepy, they’re crawly and they’re often quite difficult to spot. Bed bugs – blood-sucking, tiny parasites that dine on human and animal hosts – have become a concern worldwide due to their stealthy ways of getting around. Unfortunately, the little critters are more mobile than we would like to think.
Bed Bug Bites and Basics
Bed bugs – named for one of their favorite hangouts – tend to be found in linens, between cracks in mattresses and even in cracks and crevices in the floor. They leech off their human or animal hosts, with bed bug bites leaving scabby trails of rashes and marks across the skin. Because they are mostly active at night, it can take awhile for a person to notice that his home or hotel room has bed bugs.
How Bed Bugs Spread
Not everyone is aware that bed bugs can be spread via humans: if a person goes to a hotel room that has bed bugs, and the bed bugs hide out on the person or on the person’s luggage, the bed bugs can be spread to a new location. Because of this, no house is safe from a bed bug infestation. Bed bugs can spread from house to house, living in even the cleanest conditions; bed bugs are not a sign that a person’s home is dirty or unkempt.
Looking for Bed Bug Evidence
If you suspect that your home has been hit by bed bugs, look for the following telltale signs: small scabs or rashes in a line-like pattern on your skin, small fecal droppings or small blood smears on your sheets. The bed-bug bites will most likely be across your face, arms, or legs – the areas that are not covered by your pajamas as you sleep. Remember, though, that not all people will develop a rash if being bitten. You’ll also want to check for bugs in your mattress and in your luggage by closely inspecting them.
Eradicating Bed Bugs for Good
Though a variety of sprays and ointments are out there marketed as beg-bug killers, the truth is that many of these products do not work. You can attempt to rid yourself of these pests by vacuuming every inch of your apartment and by putting your linens in a dryer set on the highest setting. While it’s rare to find bed bugs on the clothes you’re wearing – they tend to fall off once you start moving – you should still wash any potentially contaminated clothing as well. A severe infestation will require the attention of a licensed exterminator; it can often take more than one visit from the exterminator to ensure that the bed bugs are really gone.
Leaf Group is a USA TODAY content partner providing general travel information. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.
ENTFACT-636: Bed Bugs | Download PDF | En Español
by Michael F. Potter, Extension Entomologist
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture
Until fairly recently, most people (and even pest control professionals) had never seen a bed bug. Bed bug infestations actually used to be very common in the United States before World War II. But with improvements in hygiene, and especially the widespread use of DDT during the 1940s and ‘50s, the bed bugs all but vanished. The pests persisted, however, in some areas of the world including parts of Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Over roughly the past decade, bed bugs have made a dramatic comeback in the U.S.― they’re appearing increasingly in homes, apartments, hotels, health care facilities, dormitories, shelters, schools and public transportation. Other places where bed bugs sometimes occur include movie theaters, laundries, rental furniture, and office buildings. Immigration and international travel have contributed to the resurgence of bed bugs in the U.S. Changes in modern pest control practice, less effective insecticides ― and a decrease in societal vigilance ― are other factors suspected for the recurrence.
Description and Habits
Bed bugs are small, brownish, flattened insects that feed solely on the blood of animals. Although the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius)prefers feeding on humans, it will also bite other warm-blooded animals, including dogs, cats, birds and rodents. It has done so since ancient times; bed bugs are mentioned in medieval European texts and classical Greek writings back to the time of Aristotle.
Adult bed bug feeding on a human.
Adult bed bugs are about 3/16” long and reddish-brown, with oval-shaped, flattened bodies. They are sometimes mistaken for ticks, cockroaches, carpet beetles or other household insects. The immature bed bugs (nymphs) resemble the adults, but are smaller and lighter in color. Bed bugs do not fly, and they don’t jump like fleas do ― but they can crawl rapidly over floors, walls, ceilings and other surfaces. Adult females lay their eggs in secluded places, depositing 1, 2 or more eggs per day, potentially hundreds during their lifetime. The eggs are tiny (about the size of a dust spec), whitish and hard to see without magnification, especially on light-colored surfaces. When first laid, the eggs are sticky, causing them to adhere to surfaces. At room temperatures, bed bug eggs hatch in about a week. Newly emerged nymphs are straw-colored and no bigger than a pinhead.
Adults, nymphs, eggs, shed skins, and fecal spots on a mattress.
As bed bugs grow they molt, shedding their skin five times before reaching maturity. A blood meal is needed between each successive molt. Adult females also must feed in order to lay eggs. Under favorable conditions (70-80°F), the bugs can mature fully in as little as a month, producing multiple generations per year. Cooler temperatures or limited access to blood prolong the development time.
Bed bugs are very resilient. Nymphs and adults can persist months without feeding which is unusual for most insects. The ability to survive without a blood meal is longer at cooler temperatures ― potentially up to a year or longer at 55°F or less. In temperature-controlled buildings, a more typical duration is about 2 to 6 months. Consequently, it is usually impractical to leave buildings unoccupied in hopes of ‘starving out’ an infestation. When infested dwellings such as apartments are vacated, bed bugs often disperse to nearby units, or reduce their activity until the unit is reoccupied.
Bed bugs are active mainly at night. During the daytime, they prefer to hide close to where people sleep. Their flattened bodies enable them to fit into tiny crevices–especially those associated with mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards. Bed bugs do not have nests like ants or bees, but do tend to congregate in habitual hiding places. Characteristically, these areas are marked by dark spotting and staining, which is the dried excrement of the bugs. Also present will be hatched and un-hatched eggs, the tannish shed skins of maturing nymphs, and the bugs themselves. Another possible sign are rusty or reddish smears on bed sheets or mattresses from crushed engorged bed bugs. Although it’s often stated that bed bugs have a telltale “buggy” odor, the smell is seldom evident except in extreme infestations and should not be relied upon for detection.
Dark spots on mattress and box spring are a telltale sign of bed bugs
Bed bugs prefer to hide close to where they feed, but if necessary will crawl several feet to obtain a meal. Initially the bugs tend to be situated around sleeping areas, i.e., beds, couches and recliners. If infestations are allowed to persist, they also may disperse to other locations within the dwelling making elimination more difficult.
Bites and Health Concerns
Bed bugs usually bite people at night while they are sleeping. Hungry bed bugs may also feed during the daytime, especially if this is when the occupant normally sleeps. They feed by piercing the skin with an elongated beak through which they withdraw blood. Engorgement of the bed bug takes roughly three to 10 minutes, but because the bite is painless, the person seldom realizes they are being bitten. Bed bugs normally do not reside on people like head or body lice do; instead, immediately after feeding, bed bugs crawl to a secluded location to digest their meal. Symptoms after being bitten by bed bugs vary from person to person. Many develop an itchy red welt within a day or so of the bite. Others have little or no reaction. Sometimes the reaction is delayed days or even weeks after the actual bite occurs, which can make it difficult to determine where or when bites actually occurred. Studies conducted in bed bug-infested apartments suggest about 30 percent of people do not react even when bitten repeatedly over time, and there is still higher incidence of non-reactivity among the elderly. Unlike flea bites, which occur mainly around the lower legs and ankles, bed bugs feed on any skin exposed while sleeping (face, neck, shoulders, back, arms, legs, etc.). The welts and itching are often wrongly attributed to other causes, such as mosquitoes. For these reasons, infestations may go a long time unnoticed, and can become quite large before being detected.
The likelihood of bed bugs increases if the affected individual has been traveling, or if they have acquired used beds or furnishings before symptoms started to appear. Bed bugs also are suspect if you wake up with itchy welts you did not have when you went to sleep. It’s important to recognize, however, that not all bite-like reactions are due to bed bugs. Confirmation requires finding and identifying the bed bugs, shed skins, fecal spots, etc., which often requires the help of a professional. (Other possible sources of irritation that may be mistaken for bed bugs are discussed in University of Kentucky entomology fact sheet ENT-58,Invisible Itches: Insect and Non-Insect Causes).
A common concern with bed bugs is whether or not they transmit diseases. Although bed bugs can harbor various pathogens, transmission to humans has not been proven and is considered unlikely. Their medical significance is most commonly attributed to itching and inflammation from their bites. Antihistamines and corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce allergic reactions, and antiseptic or antibiotic ointments to prevent infection. Though not known to carry diseases, bed bugs can substantially reduce quality of life by causing discomfort, sleeplessness, anxiety, and embarrassment. According to some health experts, the added stress from living with bed bugs can have a significant impact on the emotional health and well-being of certain individuals.
Conventional insect repellents, like those used to deter ticks and mosquitoes, do not appear to be as effective against bed bugs. Therefore, attempting to avoid being bitten by applying insect repellent at bedtime is not recommended. Sleeping with the lights on is also not likely to deter hungry bed bugs, as they will adjust their feeding cycle to the host’s sleeping patterns.
How Infestations Originate
It often seems that bed bugs arise from nowhere. The bugs are efficient hitchhikers and are usually transported into dwellings on luggage, clothing, beds, furniture, and other items. This is a particular risk for hotels and apartments, where turnover of occupants is constant. Bed bugs are small and agile, escaping detection after crawling into suitcases, backpacks and belongings. Acquiring secondhand beds, couches and furniture is another way that the bugs are transported into buildings. Bed bugs also can be carried in on one’s clothing, shoes or wheelchair. Once bed bugs are introduced, they can crawl from room to room or floor to floor. They can also be transported throughout buildings on people and their belongings.
Unlike cockroaches and flies that feed on filth, there is often no relationship between bed bugs and cleanliness. Since the bugs feed solely on blood, pristine dwellings can be as vulnerable to infestation as are places of squalor. That said, poverty and privation can lead to increased risk of bed bug problems, as can the inability to hire a professional exterminator.
Some bed bug species are parasites of bats or birds, and may bite people if the wild hosts are no longer available. Although similar in overall appearance, the species of bed bugs that normally feed on bats, swallows, chimney swifts, pigeons or other wild hosts can be differentiated from those that prefer humans. Entomologists and knowledgeable pest managers can make this determination. If bat bugs or bird bugs are present, roosting and nesting sites should be the primary focus, and the animals should be removed and excluded from the building.
Bed bugs are challenging to eradicate. Since they can hide in so many places, inspections must be thorough and elimination is not always a certainty. Whenever resources allow, it’s prudent to enlist the services of a professional. Experienced pest controllers know where to look for bed bugs, and have an assortment of tools at their disposal. Nonetheless, owners and occupants can assist the professional in several important ways. Affording access to all living areas is crucial, and excess clutter will need to be removed. Belongings strewn about rooms offer many places for the bugs to hide, and impede inspection and treatment. Since bed bugs can disperse throughout a building, it often will be necessary to inspect adjoining rooms and apartments as well.
Where They Hide
Bed bugs can live in almost any crevice or protected location. The most common place to find them is the bed or where people sleep. This is especially true during the early stages of a problem. As infestations grow larger, the bugs tend to move beyond beds into other locations making control more difficult.
Bed bugs most often congregate along seams and edges of
mattresses and box springs. Blackish spots are excrement.
Bed bugs often hide in seams, folds and crevices of mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards. A thorough inspection requires dismantling the bed so that upper and lower seams and surfaces can be examined. Things to look for are the bugs themselves, shed skins of the nymphs (immature bed bugs), and the blackish fecal spots. The dark spots of dried bed bug excrement are often present along mattress seams or wherever the bugs have resided. Box springs afford many places for bed bugs to hide, especially along the upper seams and underneath, where the bottom edge of the box rests on the frame. If an underlying dust cover is present, it may have to be removed to gain access for inspection and possible treatment. Successful treatment of mattresses and box springs can be difficult, however, and infested ones may need to be discarded or encased in a protective cover.
Cracks and crevices of bed frames should also be examined, especially if the frame is wood. (Bed bugs have an affinity for wood and fabric more so than metal or plastic.) Wooden support slats, if present, should be removed and examined since bed bugs often congregate where the ends rest on the frame. Screw holes, knots and other recesses are also common hiding places. Headboards secured to walls should be removed and inspected. In hotels, the area behind the headboard is often the first place that bed bugs become established. Bed bugs also frequently hide within items stored under beds.
Upholstered chairs, recliners and sofas are typically the next most likely area for bed bugs, and should be examined carefully along seams, skirts and folds of fabric. Sofas and recliners can be major bed bug hotspots, especially when used for sleeping. Like beds, they can be difficult to treat and sometimes may need to be discarded.
Bed bugs also congregate along seams of sofas and recliners. Photo at right shows
bugs hiding near a recessed screw under a night stand (note the presence of fecal spots).
Nightstands and dressers may need to be emptied and examined inside and out, and tipped over to inspect the woodwork underneath. Oftentimes the bugs will be hiding in cracks, corners, and recesses. Other common bed bug hiding places include: along and under the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially behind beds and sofas; cracks in wood molding; ceiling-wall junctures; behind wall-mounted pictures, mirrors, outlets and switch plates; under loose wallpaper; clothing and clutter within closets; and inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors.
Bed bugs often reside along baseboards. Photo at right shows eggs,
nymphs, adults and fecal spots near a carpet edge.
Bed bugs tend to congregate, but it’s also common to find a single bug or some eggs here and there. A thorough inspection and treatment may take up to several hours. Some companies use specially trained dogs to assist in finding small dispersed infestations, especially in such places as hotels, schools, libraries and office buildings. When properly trained, bed bug detection dogs can be quite effective. Relatively few companies are routinely using them, however, due to the expense of training and maintaining such animals. Reliability of some of the dogs is also being questioned as more enter the market.
Preparing for Treatment
Preparing for bed bug treatment is tedious yet important. Very comprehensive preparation is necessary when infestations are heavy and the bugs are widely dispersed. More limited prep may be adequate for light infestations since at these levels the bed bugs typically are more confined to sleeping areas (beds, sofas, and recliners). Pest control firms have their own policies, however, regarding preparation requirements which may also depend on the manner of treatment.
Some firms want beds stripped and furniture moved before they arrive, while other firms prefer to inspect first and perform these tasks themselves. Clutter and belongings on floors (especially beneath beds) must be removed since they impede treatment and afford additional places for bugs to hide. Bedding and garments normally will need to be laundered and/or hot dried (120°F minimum) since they cannot be treated with insecticides. An effective and efficient alternative to laundering is to simply place bedding, clothing, toys, shoes, backpacks, etc., in a clothes dryer set at medium-to-high heat for 10 to 20 minutes. This can be done in lieu of washing and will kill all bed bug life stages.
According to textile experts (Drycleaning & Laundry Institute, Laurel, MD), most garments designated as ‘dry-clean only’ (e.g., cotton, wool, silk, linen, rayon, nylon) will not be harmed provided they are dry before being placed in a clothes dryer at a moderate temperature setting. Dry cleaning procedures also kill bed bugs, but there is a risk of infesting the establishment when buggy items are tagged and sorted.
Items that cannot be placed in a washer or dryer can sometimes be de-infested by wrapping them in plastic and placing them outdoors in a hot, sunny location for at least a day (for example, on pavement or in a closed vehicle parked in the sun). Packing items loosely in garbage bags and elevating objects off the ground helps the heat permeate further, and will make it harder for bugs to find a cool place to hide. Monitoring with a thermometer is prudent to ensure that a temperature of at least 120°F is achieved wherever the bugs may be.
Bed bugs will also succumb to cold temperatures below 32°F, but the freezing temperatures must be maintained for a longer period (e.g., one to two weeks). Consequently, heating tends to be a better option throughout much of the country. Efforts to rid entire dwellings of bed bugs by raising or lowering the thermostat will be unsuccessful, although pest control firms are able to achieve lethal temperatures with supplemental heaters (see the subsequent section entitled"Heat Treatments"for more details).
Discarding or Encasement
Although most furnishings need not be discarded, in some cases this may be necessary. This is especially true of heavily infested beds, sofas and recliners where bugs and eggs often reside in hard-to-reach places. Consequently, pest control firms may recommend such items be discarded, especially when in poor condition. When infested items are discarded, bagging or wrapping them prevents dislodgement of bugs en route to the trash.
In the case of beds, a more economical option is to encase both the mattress and box spring in a protective cover like those used for allergy relief. Encasements specifically designed to help protect against bed bugs are available through retail or pest control firms. Higher quality ones tend to be more durable and comfortable to sleep on. Once the encasement is installed and zipped shut, any bugs which happen to be inside are entombed and eventually will die. Encasements also help protect newly purchased beds, and make it easier to spot and destroy any bugs residing on the outer surface during subsequent examination. Encasements will not, however, keep bed bugs from crawling onto a bed and biting a sleeping person.
Encasements are an economical alternative to discarding infested beds.
Vacuuming, Steaming, Freezing
General housecleaning measures, (e.g. vacuuming floors and surfaces), seldom reach where bed bugs hide. For this reason, repetitive vacuuming by occupants may not be worth the effort, especially compared to other important preparatory activities. Targeted vacuuming of bed bugs and infested harborages, however, can help remove some of the bugs before other treatment measures are undertaken. Bed bugs and especially the eggs can be difficult to dislodge. Optimum results will be achieved by moving and scraping the end of the suction wand along infested areas such as seams and fabric folds of beds and sofas, and the perimeter edge of wall-to-wall carpet. Bed bugs can survive the high speed trip down a vacuum, so it’s important to carefully dispose of the vacuum contents in a sealed trash bag afterwards.
One trick to make this disposal easier involves using the cut-off end of a nylon stocking (or a knee-high nylon stocking) and a rubber band. Insert the stocking (toe first) into the end of the vacuum suction wand/tube, leaving the opening of the stocking protruding out of the end of the suction wand. Then fold the stocking opening back over the end of the wand and use the rubber band to secure it there. When the vacuum is turned on and the bed bugs are sucked into the tube, they will be trapped in the stocking. Afterwards, carefully remove the rubber band and retrieve the bug-filled stocking. Then secure the end of the stocking with the rubber band and dispose of it.
Some pest control firms also employ commercial steamers or spot-freezing equipment to treat areas where bed bugs are found or suspected. Used correctly, they kill bugs and eggs on contact. Neither method, however, affords residual protection against bed bugs which may have been missed. Steaming and spot-freezing equipment also have limited ability to penetrate fabric, wood, and other materials where bed bugs often reside.
Steaming (left) and spot-freezing (right) kill bugs and eggs on contact but afford no lasting protection
Some pest control firms utilize specialized heating equipment to de-infest furnishings, rooms, and entire dwellings. The procedure involves heating up the infested item or area to temperatures lethal to bed bugs. Portable heaters and fans are used to gradually heat the air to about 120 – 130°F while monitoring with strategically placed sensors. By carefully controlling the temperature, bugs and eggs are killed wherever they may be without damaging household items.
Some preparation is still required (e.g. removal of heat-sensitive items such as aerosol cans, indoor plants and medications), but it is seldom necessary to bag, launder and/or hot dry bedding and clothing since these items will be heated along with other furnishings. Another advantage of heat treatment is that infestations can often be eliminated in one day, rather than over multiple days or weeks. Conversely, heat treatment alone has no lasting (residual) effect should bed bugs be reintroduced into the dwelling. Consequently, some companies recommend concurrently applying residual insecticides. To further minimize reintroduction, occupants are advised to take as few belongings as possible with them while the heat treatment is in progress.
Heat treatments are an effective way to eliminate bed bugs quickly, but
tend to be more costly than conventional treatment methods.
Heat treatments require specialized training and equipment, and may be more costly than conventional approaches relying principally on insecticides.
While the former methods are helpful, insecticides are widely used by most pest control companies. A variety of EPA-registered materials are available formulated as liquids, dusts and aerosols. Baits used to control ants and cockroaches are ineffective in this case since bed bugs must bite and feed on blood. Professional-use insecticides such as Temprid®, Transport® and Phantom® tend to be more effective than bed bug sprays sold by retailers. Bleach, alcohol, cigarette lighters, etc. should NOT be used to control bed bugs. Besides being ineffective, such actions can result in fires and other dangerous outcomes.
Application entails treating all areas where the bugs are found or tend to hide or crawl. This takes considerable effort and follow-ups are usually needed. Companies typically treat seams, folds and crevices of bed components, chairs and sofas, but usually will not spray the entire sleeping surface or seating area. They also do not spray bed sheets, blankets or clothing, which instead should be hot washed or heated in a dryer.
Fumigation using a penetrating gas is another way to de-infest dwellings or furnishings, but the procedure is only offered by certain companies. True fumigation is not the same as setting off a total release fogger or ‘bug bomb.’ (It should be noted that bug bombs are considered ineffective in the treatment of bed bugs, and can be quite dangerous if misused.) The fumigation process is technically complex and requires vacating the building for a period of days. The building is then sealed and injected with a lethal gas, usually sulfuryl fluoride. Because the entire building must be vacated, structural fumigation is logistically more challenging with multi-unit buildings such as apartments, than for single family homes. Bed bug fumigations tend to be more common in southern and western states, where the procedure is also used to control certain types of wood-dwelling termites.
Considering how time-consuming and costly it can be to eradicate bed bugs, it’s prudent to take precautions and avoid infestations in the first place. Householders should be vigilant when acquiring used furnishings, especially beds and couches. Discarded items should be avoided, and secondhand articles should be examined closely before being brought into the home. Look carefully in the folds and seams of furniture for signs of bed bugs (see the previous section entitled "Description and Habits" for more details). There is no reason to stop shopping in consignment stores, yard sales, etc., but it would be prudent to run clothing and fabric items through the washer or dryer before storing them in the home. The risk of acquiring bed bugs from items purchased in antique stores would generally be insignificant.
Discarded beds and couches might be infested and should be left alone. Devices
such as the ClimbUp® can be placed under beds and sofas to help monitor for
bed bugs. Bugs that crawl into the plastic dishes cannot escape.
Avoiding bed bugs is most challenging in hotels, apartment buildings, and other places where there are many people, high turnover and ongoing opportunities for introduction of the pests.Periodic, preventive inspection by tenants, housekeeping/maintenance staff, or pest control firms is the best way to detect infestations in their initial stages when they are easiest to control.Visual inspections can be supplemented by using various monitoring devices to capture and reveal bed bugs that may have been overlooked by occupants.
Additional Tips for At-Risk Groups
Business and Leisure Travelers
Checking beds for bed bugs was a common practice long ago, especially while traveling. Travelers today should consider doing the same, preferably before unpacking. This would entail examining the bed sheets and seams of the mattress and perhaps box spring for signs of bed bugs, especially along the head (pillow end) of the bed. Experts also remove and check behind headboards since this is a frequent hiding place for bed bugs in hotels. Headboards are heavy and cumbersome, however, and untrained persons should not attempt removal themselves.
To help guard against bed bugs while traveling, take a moment to inspect
beds. A small flashlight is useful for dimly-lit areas.
Vigilant travelers may also want to elevate suitcases off the floor on a stand, tabletop or other hard surface rather than storing them on the floor or another bed. Hyper-vigilant travelers may further opt to keep belongings in sealed plastic pouches and their suitcase in a zippered tote — however each traveler must decide how cautious they wish to be.
While encountering bed bugs in hotels is possible, typically only a small number of rooms have problems. If bed bugs are discovered, guests can request another room, preferably in another area of the building, since problems often extend to nearby units. Should you experience itchy welts suggestive of bed bug bites during your stay, it would be prudent upon returning home to place all clothing directly into the washer and/or dryer. Inspecting or vacuuming luggage upon arrival home is less useful since it’s hard to spot bed bugs inside a suitcase. The suitcase itself can either be treated or discarded.
Social Service and Emergency Workers
Caregivers, firefighters, and other service providers are sometimes required to enter and work in bed bug-infested dwellings. In doing so, there is the potential to transport some bugs home or to the workplace. It should be noted that bed bugs do not fly, nor jump onto people/pets as fleas do. During the day, bed bugs usually remain hidden and immobile, becoming more active at night when seeking a host. Consequently, the chance of picking up bed bugs by merely walking into an infested dwelling during the day is unlikely. The risk may increase while providing care but can be lessened by taking some precautions.
Bring in only what is needed, and avoid sitting or placing coats and other items on beds, floors and sofas where the bugs commonly reside. Essential items can be placed on a tabletop or other hard surface, preferably away from bedrooms and sleeping areas. Better to sit on a hard (non-upholstered) chair than on sofas and recliners. Also try to avoid leaning or brushing against beds and upholstered furniture. If such items are carried out of infested dwellings (e.g., by sanitation workers or firefighters), it’s best to wrap them in plastic or at least not hold them against your body during transport. Emergency Medical (EMS) personnel may need to take additional precautions, such as removing a patient’s bed bug-infested shoes or clothing, or installing plastic sheeting before transporting them in the emergency vehicle.
As mentioned earlier, applying insect repellent at bedtime will probably not deter bed bugs from biting. When working in severely infested dwellings, there may be some benefit to spraying tops and bottoms of shoes with DEET-based repellents. Those working in bed bug-infested environments may also want to hot wash or run clothing, etc. through a dryer upon returning home or to the office.
Schools and Daycares
Bed bugs are a growing problem in schools and daycares. Typically they are introduced by students or staff living with an infestation at home. Pinpointing where the bugs exist can be challenging in such environments since there are no beds or sleeping areas for the insects to congregate. (Similar challenges occur when bed bugs are found in offices, libraries and retail stores.) Usually only small numbers of bed bugs are spotted, often on a student’s clothing, backpack, chair or desk. While this does not necessarily confirm that the child’s residence also has bed bugs, the parents should be notified that the home should be inspected, preferably by a professional. Teachers, nurses, and staff should be educated about the bugs and what they look like. Bed bugs should also be considered if a student frequently has reddened itchy welts –but keep in mind such reactions can be for reasons other than bed bugs.
Bed bug incidents in schools are best handled by knowledgeable pest control firms. Widespread insecticide treatment of classrooms, hallways, buses, etc. is unnecessary, ineffective and imprudent. Effort instead should be spent checking chairs, desks, lockers, coat rooms, etc. in the vicinity of where the bugs were found, and treatment should be focused on those specific areas. Canine inspections can also be useful in finding small numbers of bed bugs in schools and other establishments where there are no beds.
Those Who Cannot Afford a Professional
Bed bug eradication is challenging and it’s prudent to hire a professional when resources allow. However treatment can be expensive, often costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. Those who cannot afford this often must cope with the problem themselves. A useful step that anyone can take to combat bed bugs is to install bed encasements. Covering the mattress and box spring can help eliminate a substantial portion of the bed bug population — especially if discovered early while most of the bugs are still confined to the bed area. Extra care should be taken when installing budget encasements since these can tear easily, especially on metal bed frames. Ideally both the mattress and box spring should be encased. If only one encasement is possible it’s often best to cover the box spring which is harder to subsequently inspect.
A torn encasement may no longer be effective.
With practice and a flashlight, nonprofessionals can become proficient in finding and destroying bed bugs. The process is made easier by reducing clutter, especially in bedrooms and sleeping areas. Bugs that are spotted can be removed with a vacuum (see previous discussion), or killed with over-the-counter insecticides labeled for such use. Most bed bug sprays intended for householders have little remaining effect after the spray has dried. Therefore it’s important to initially contact as many of the insects as possible with the spray droplets. Insecticide labels should be read carefully as some bed bug products should not be used on mattresses and seating areas. Some insecticides applied as powders or dusts (e.g., diatomaceous earth) will kill bed bugs although boric acid powder will not. However powders can be messy and difficult to apply, especially by nonprofessionals. Total release foggers (otherwise known as ‘bug bombs’) are ineffective against bed bugs and potentially dangerous when used incorrectly (see University of Kentucky entomology fact sheet Limitations of Home Insect Foggers).
Insecticide dusts should never be applied this heavy. A light deposit is all
that’s needed and is best accomplished with a professionally-designed duster.
Monitoring devices such as the previously mentioned ClimbUp® are useful for confirming the presence of bed bugs when a visual inspection cannot. When installed under bed legs, they also provide a barrier between floor and bed which can potentially reduce bites, especially when beds are pulled slightly away walls and encased.
The incidence of bed bugs in the United States and in many countries of the world has increased to the point where vigilance is a prudent practice. Some common sense tactics and taking modest precautions can go a long way towards helping avoid infestation.
Portuguese Translation:Prepared by Artur Weber & Adelina Domingos
CAUTION!Pesticide recommendations in this publication are registered for use in Kentucky, USA ONLY! The use of some products may not be legal in your state or country. Please check with your local county agent or regulatory official before using any pesticide mentioned in this publication.
Of course,ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL DIRECTIONS FOR SAFE USE OF ANY PESTICIDE!
Bed Bug FAQs
Some fast bed bug facts…
A little more…
A bed bug has 6 legs. Its antennae point forward and are about half as long as the body—not longer. Its head is broadly attached to its body and it has no wings. Eight legs indicate a tick or mite. Six legs and long antennae with two spikes coming off the back (cerci) might be a roach nymph. Carpet beetle larvae have hairs all over their bodies. Carpet beetle adults have two hard wings.
A “drop of blood with legs” is probably a recently fed bed bug. It will be red, plump, and oval. After it digests its meal, it’ll be mahogany-colored, round, and flat. Unfed nymphs are tan. Eggs are oval, white, and stick to whatever they’re laid on.
You can see the adults—they’re about 1/4” long. The trick is finding their hiding spots. They can wedge themselves into any crack or crevice. If the edge of a credit card can fit, so can a bed bug. Eggs and just-hatched nymphs are tiny: 1/16” (1mm) long—the size of the “R” in “LIBERTY” on a penny. They’ll plump up after feeding—just like a mosquito.
Bed bugs crawl—scurrying into dark, tight spaces to hide—they move as fast as an ant. They can’t jump or fly and you’ll never find them burrowing into your skin. If the insect you have came out on its own accord at night when the lights were out near the bed or a couch, it was probably a bed bug looking for a meal. Bed bugs aren’t social insects like ants, so they don’t need a colony. But while they group together in good hiding spots, loners could be hiding elsewhere.
More on bed bug biology (and yes, it matters): they have an odd way of making babies. It’s called traumatic insemination. Males simply stab females in the side with their reproductive organ and inject their sperm, which makes its way to her eggs. Females recover from one mating, but several matings increase the chance of infection and death. Females may try to get away from groups of males and go off and hide alone to avoid being stabbed to death. If you don’t find those females, they’ll keep laying eggs and could restart an infestation: a good reason to get a pest management professional (PMP) involved. Good PMPs know how to find them and how to target every hiding place without harming people.
If the bugs you think are bed bugs come in the spring but go away during the summer they might be bat bugs. Bats in attics hibernate elsewhere during the winter. Bat bugs that are left behind and chill out for the winter, literally, but if warm weather comes before the bats return, they may seek another host to tide them over. In this scenario, inspect the attic and external wall voids for bat guano and bugs in cracks and crevices. Have a professional treat these roosts as well as the rooms bed bugs were found in. To prevent bat re-entry, repair all holes 1/4” or larger that lead to the outside.
Bed bugs are also known as: Cimex lectularius, chinches de camas, chintzes or chinches, mahogany flats, red coats, crimson ramblers, wall lice, the bug that nobody knows, lentils on legs, animated blood drops.
To translate this page, see the link on the left below the list of pests.
Got a question that you think should be here? E-mail us and we’ll get it posted ASAP. If it’s urgent, try bedbugger.com.
If you ever heard that nursery rhyme "Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” you know these critters bite in the night. But most of us never heard of them in real life until now.
What Bed Bugs Are And What They Do
How to Find Bed Bugs
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
How to Deal With Bed Bugs
1. What can bed bugs do to me?
The serious negative effects of bed bugs are more mental than physical, but the itchy bites can’t be ignored either.
The mental effects are stress and lack of sleep. (And then there’s delusory parasitosis—meaning the bugs really are gone, but you can’t shake the feeling that they’re still there.) Even if the thought of sleeping with bed bugs doesn’t keep you up at night, the time and money it takes to get rid of them can stress you out.
Bed bugs can be a public relations nightmare. You’d hope customers would respect a proactive hotel, motel, or landlord who tried to educate them before a problem came in, but that’s rarely the case. Simply the mention of bed bugs can deter customers.
And householders worry what friends, family, and neighbors will say if their problem becomes known. Bed bugs aren’t associated with filth or social status, but many people think they are.
Bed bugs aren’t known to transmit disease. And some people don’t even get marks when bit. But scratching bites can lead to a secondary infection. Resist the urge to scratch. People with health problems and children are more at risk for infection because their immune systems are compromised or they can’t stop scratching.
2. What does a bed bug bite look like?
You can’t describe the bites as looking only one way. Some look and feel like mosquito or flea bites. Some people don’t react at all. On the opposite extreme, others get big itchy welts that take two or more weeks to heal. There’s a myth that bed bug bites occur in threes (“breakfast, lunch, and dinner”), but it’s not true. Bites can occur singly, in clumps, or in a line. Bites can show up within hours—or two weeks later. Confirming an infestation on bites alone is impossible. You need evidence: a bed bug.
Bed bugs usually feed while people sleep, about an hour before dawn. But if they’re hungry and given the opportunity, they feed anytime. Feeding itself is painless—the bed bug’s saliva numbs the skin and makes the blood easier to drink. But later, many people react to the saliva, getting itchy bumps or rashes. After feeding for about five minutes, drawing only a drop or two of blood, bugs return to their hiding places. Although bed bugs can live for over a year without feeding, they typically seek blood every five to ten days.
The only way to know for sure what bit you is to find a bug and get it identified.
Bed bugs live off only blood—like mosquitoes do. They probably prefer to feed on people. But if people move out, bed bugs can survive by feeding on rats or mice—so control these pests, too. They’re attracted by warmth and the presence of carbon dioxide—what we animals breathe out. They usually feed about an hour before dawn, but given the opportunity, they may feed at other times of day or night.
Remember—not everyone reacts to bed bug bites. (Not everyone reacts to poison ivy, either.) You could get an itchy rash while your home companion gets—nothing.
If you think bed bugs bit you, have a PMP do a thorough inspection to determine whether an arthropod is in your living space, or send samples to a diagnostic lab.
3. Where did bed bugs come from?
Bed bugs may have evolved when a close relative, the bat bug, switched to feeding off cave-dwelling humans. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans wrote about them. They were part of many peoples’ lives in the U.S. and around the world before World War II.
Then DDT came along. DDT seemed wonderful at the time. Unlike most of the insecticides sold in stores today, DDT had a lasting effect—a long residual effect. Insects died when they crawled where DDT was used, even if it had been there for weeks. Though most homeowners used DDT for large pests like cockroaches, it did the bed bugs in too. When the bed bugs came out to feed, there was something there to kill them.
Modern furnishings and appliances helped too. Bed bugs don’t care if a home is clean or messy. They just like good hiding spots—and food. When modern furniture came into style they had fewer hiding spots. Home appliances such as washing machines and vacuums helped keep them at bay. Bed bugs were a rarity in the US from the early 1950’s through the late 1990’s. A whole generation of people grew up who’d never seen one.
By the mid 1970’s insecticides like DDT, which were blamed for environmental problems, were on the outs. The pest control industry began to use the environmentally friendly approaches common today. Using noninsecticide traps and monitors, blocking entry into homes, and using pest-specific, least-toxic insecticides became the staples of an integrated pest management approach.
Bed bugs had been off the radar for so long they were almost forgotten. By the time anyone noticed, they were back in a big way. Right now there are no traps or monitors proven to detect a population when it’s still small. And since bed bugs travel on things such as luggage, souvenirs, and furniture we bring into our homes, it’s hard to block their entry.
Fortunately, some modern insecticides work well. Because these insecticides break down quickly—making them safer for humans—they may not be around to kill the bed bugs that hatch from eggs laid before the insecticide was applied. Two or more carefully targeted applications are the best way to eliminate bed bugs. Leave insecticides to the professionals—even the right ones, used incorrectly, can scatter bed bugs to other rooms. It would take an extremely capable and dedicated person to learn and do everything necessary to get rid of bed bugs on their own.
How to Find Bed Bugs
4. Where do bed bugs live?
Any place with a high turnover of people spending the night—hostels, hotels near airports, and resorts—are most at risk. But the list continues… apartments, barracks, buses, cabins, churches, community centers, cruise ships, dormitories, dressing rooms, health clubs, homes, hospitals, jets, laundromats, motels, motor homes, moving vans, nursing homes, office buildings, resorts, restaurants, schools, subways, theaters, trains, used furniture outlets…. Bed bugs don’t prefer locations based on sanitation or people’s hygiene. If there’s blood, they’re happy.
Bed bugs and their relatives occur nearly worldwide. They became relatively scarce during the latter part of the 20th century, but their populations have resurged in recent years, particularly throughout parts of North America, Europe, and Australia.
What about in your home? Most stay near where people sleep, hiding near the bed, a couch or armchair (if that’s where you snooze)—even cribs and playpens. Their flat bodies allow them to hide in cracks and crevices around the room and in furniture joints. Hiding sites include mattress seams, bed frames, nearby furniture, or baseboards. Clutter offers more places to hide and makes it harder to get rid of them. Bed bugs can be found alone but more often congregate in groups. They’re not social insects, though, and don’t build nests.
How infestations spread through a home or within an apartment building differs from case to case. Inspect all adjacent rooms. Bed bugs travel easily along pipes and wires and the insides of walls can harbor them.
Before treating, you need to confirm that you have bed bugs. The only way to do that is to find a bug and get it identified.
Look in the most likely places first. We tell you how. If you find one, freeze it for identification or put it in a sealed jar with a 1 tsp. of rubbing alcohol. Then stop looking—you don’t want to disrupt the bugs—and call a professional.
5. How do I find out if I have bed bugs?
Have these on hand during the inspection:
- magnifier or hand lens
- a vial, pill bottle, or ziplock bag to hold specimens for identification
- tweezers or sticky tape to help grab the bugs
- gloves (vinyl, latex, etc.—or even a plastic bag over your hand)
- knife, index card, or credit card for swiping bed bugs out of cracks
- trash bags and tape for bagging infested items
- vacuum cleaner (just in case you find a large group): keep a few for identification and suck up the rest. Since the vacuum bag will have live bugs in it, take out the bag right away. Seal it in a plastic bag and throw it away.
Look for bed bugs in all their life stages: eggs, nymphs and adults. Also look for cast skins and blood spots. But note: blood spots, hatched eggs, and cast skins may be from an infestation that’s been dealt with already. Live bed bugs are the only confirming evidence. Use a flashlight—even if the area is well lit—and work systematically. A magnifying glass will help you zoom in on hard to see spots. Start with one corner of the mattress and work around the piping, down the sides, and underneath. Do the same with the box spring. If you own the bed, slowly remove the dust cover (ticking) on the bottom of the box spring and seal in a trash bag. Next, inspect the bed frame. If you can take it apart, do so. Bed bugs could be hiding in the joints.
No bed bugs yet? Work out from the bed in a systematic way (clockwise or counter-clockwise) to the walls of the room. Look in the pleats of curtains, beneath loose pieces of wallpaper near the bed, the corners and drawers of desks and dressers, within spaces of wicker furniture, behind door, window, and baseboard trim, and in laundry or other items on the floor or around the room such as cardboard boxes. Inspect everything. Any crack, crevice, or joint a credit card edge could fit in could hide adult bed bugs. This routine gives you a systematic approach and increases the chance you’ll find evidence early on.
One last way to inspect—about an hour before dawn, lift the sheets and turn on a flashlight. It might lead to a discovery, but this method can also be unsettling.
If you don’t find bed bugs but bites continue or you find blood spots on bedding, contact a professional with bed bug experience and have them inspect.
Professional inspection may be done by a person or by a bed bug-sniffing dog and its handler. Dogs have a powerful sense of smell and can be trained to find bed bugs (which do give off an odor). They’re best used to find infestations. If used to tell whether bed bugs are gone, they may find old evidence rather than fresh. If you hire a handler and dog, be sure they’re accredited.
If you find bed bugs at home, it’s best to keep sleeping in the bed—or try to find someone who will sleep there. Packing up to spend time elsewhere could bring bugs to an uninfested area. And the bugs could move to neighboring rooms in search of a meal.
6. How do I have specimens identified?
Put specimens in small, break-resistant containers such as a plastic pill bottle or a zipper-lock bag with 1 tsp of rubbing alcohol in it. Or tape them to a sheet of white paper with clear tape.
First, look at pictures on university websites. If you think it’s a bed bug, package it carefully to prevent damage and send to an expert for positive identification. Bed bugs have close relatives: poultry bugs, barn swallow bugs, bat bugs, and tropical bed bugs— to name a few. They too can feed on humans and act like bed bugs do. For accurate identification, send a sample—preferably several adults—to a Cooperative Extension diagnostic lab.
If the critter is, for example, a bat bug, call a professional wildlife control operator to find and remove bats, then prevent their re-entry.
7. How did I get bed bugs in the first place?
Bed bugs come in as stowaways in luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes, and more when these are moved between dwellings. Moving out won’t solve the problem, since bed bugs will just come with you. In fact, while dealing with bed bugs it’s best not to sleep away from home. Used furniture, particularly bed frames and mattresses, are most likely to harbor bed bugs. Watch out for items found on the curb! Because they survive for many months without food, bed bugs could already be present in clean, vacant apartments.
In a few cases, bats or birds could introduce and maintain bed bugs and their close relatives—usually bat bugs and bird bugs.
The source of the infestation determines where your inspection should start. Look through these scenarios and see which fits:
- Only one bedroom: inspect that room first.
- People watch TV or snooze on a couch: check it after inspecting the bedroom.
- A traveler returned home: insects can hide in luggage and then crawl out when it’s dark and peaceful—begin where luggage was placed upon returning home.
- A used bed or piece of furniture (bought or from the curb) was brought into the house: inspect it first.
- The problem began after a visitor stayed overnight: inspect the beds that they slept in and where their luggage was placed. Next, inspect the nearest place where people sleep.
- An infestation persists after several treatments by a professional: bed bugs may come through the wall from a neighboring apartment. Inspect rooms that share a wall with a neighbor. (This scenario happens in large apartment complexes and hotels where management didn’t get adjacent rooms treated.)
- If the building has a laundry room, inspect it too.
- Home health aides come in frequently: bed bugs may have hitched a ride on their bags.
- Backpacks go to and from school: could have bed bugs. Inspect the bed or couch nearest the spot where backpacks are kept.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
8. Can I prevent bed bugs with insecticides?
Insecticidal dusts will remain effective if not covered by other dust. As part of the IPM approach, routine spraying of insecticides is strongly discouraged. Bed bugs do not spread disease, but insecticides do pose risks. Only use them when the pest insect is confirmed and the least-toxic steps have been tried. As a preventative measure alternative to insecticides, inspect and clean regularly, keeping bed bug-hiding spots in mind.
9. How can I avoid bed bugs when traveling?
Every traveler should learn about bed bugs. Always inspect before settling into any room. Pack a flashlight (even the keychain LED variety) and gloves to aid in your inspection. The inspection should focus around the bed. Start with the headboard, which is usually held on the wall with brackets—lift up 1 – 2 inches, then lean the top away from the wall to gain access to the back. If you’re traveling alone, someone on staff should help. After checking the headboard, check sheets and pillows for blood spots. Next, pull back the sheets. Check the piping of the mattress and box spring. Finally, look in and under the drawer of the bedside table. If all these places are clear, enjoy the night. The next morning, look for blood spots on the sheets—bed bugs poop soon after they feed.
If you find evidence, but no live bed bugs, the evidence may be old and doesn’t mean that the hotel is dirty. Tell the front desk discreetly what you found and ask for another room—one that doesn’t share a wall with the room you just vacated. Bed bugs are a PR nightmare for the hospitality industry. If you run to a competitor (who’s just as likely to have bed bugs) it makes it less likely that the industry will become more open about this issue. Communication is key. Ideally hotels and motels would pride themselves on their bed bug programs and show customers how to inspect to keep all parties bed bug free.
If you can avoid it, don’t unpack into drawers and keep luggage closed on a luggage rack pulled away from the wall. Never set luggage on the bed.
Download and print a copy of NYS IPM’s travelers’ cards.
10. What can I do if I just got back from a place where there might have been bed bugs?
Launder your clothes before or as soon as these items are brought back into the home. If you found bed bugs after moving into a hotel room, you could ask the hotel to pay for laundering—and for steam-cleaning your luggage. The hotel may refuse, but it’s worth asking. Regardless, once home you should unpack on a floor that will allow you to see bed bugs—stay off carpets! Unpack directly into plastic bags for taking clothes to the laundry. Suitcases should be carefully inspected and vacuumed—freeze if possible.
11. Will bed bugs actually travel on me?
It’s unlikely that a bed bug would travel on you or the clothes you are wearing. You move too much to be a good hiding place. Bed bugs are more likely to be spread via luggage, backpacks, briefcases, mattresses, and used furniture.
12. What should everyone know about bed bugs
YOU CAN STOP THEIR SPREAD
Adults are ¼”, reddish-brown and flat. You can see them without magnification.
They like to hide in cracks and crevices.
Inspect sleeping areas—if you find a bed bug, STOP looking and contact a professional.
Do-it-yourself pest control could make bed bugs to spread. Launder and freeze when possible.
Live bugs or eggs may drop off while moving things from one place to another—items with bed bugs should be sealed in a bag before moving them.
Avoid used furniture and items left on the curb—they might have bed bugs!
Tell your friends! Not warning others robs them of the chance to avoid bringing bed bugs into their homes and businesses.
How to Deal With Bed Bugs
13. I have bed bugs. What do I do?
Step back a minute. Because several different kinds of insects resemble bed bugs, specimens should be carefully compared with good reference images and sent to a professional entomologist.
Next: make a plan. We’ll tell you how. You want to get rid of bed bugs, limit your exposure to insecticides, and minimize costs. Don’t get rid of stuff and don’t treat unless you have a plan. A big part of your plan: hire an experienced professional. Trust us, it’ll save you time and money in the long run. You’ll still have a lot to do—just leave the insecticides to the pros. Working as a team with a professional is the quickest way to get bed bugs out of your life.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the way to go for pest control. It’s cost-effective, it works, and it lessens reliance on insecticides. Note: IPM doesn’t mean no insecticides. You should call a professional dedicated to IPM so the least amount of insecticides can be used and still work.
Here are the basics of bed bug IPM:
Inspection: ALWAYS inspect. Proper identification helps you know what to do and where to target your efforts. Along with looking, you should write down what you do and see. Use this reporting form to track what you’ve done. Having a history will help if more people become involved.
Educate yourself: find out about bed bug biology and behavior to become even more effective.
Cultural and Mechanical Control: This makes your home unwelcoming to bed bugs, blocks them from feeding, or at least makes finding them easier. Don’t skip these steps and go straight to insecticides. Examples:
- Choose furniture of plain design. A metal chair offers fewer places for a bed bug to hide than a wicker one.
- Don’t buy or pick up used furniture.
- Choose light-colored bedding—easier to see insects and blood spots.
- Don’t store things under beds. In fact, get rid of clutter anywhere near the bed.
- Use tightly fitting, zippered, bed-bug proof mattress and box spring encasements. Putting them in place ahead of time (proactively) makes bed bugs easier to see since encasements have no piping or tags and they’re light-colored. Putting them on during an infestation means no need to throw away the mattress and box spring. But … check periodically to be sure they haven’t torn.
- Vacuum regularly. Use an attachment to get in cracks and crevices.
- Maintain a gap between the walls and your bedroom and living room furniture.
- Seal cracks in wooden floors.
- Repair peeling wallpaper.
- Keep bedding and dust ruffles from touching the floor. Better yet, remove the ruffles.
- When returning from a trip, unpack on a light-colored, bare-wood or vinyl floor keeping an eye out for bed bugs. Put everything that traveled in a warm dryer for an hour or a hot dryer for 60 minutes. Put things that can’t be heated in a freezer for two weeks. Everything else … inspect carefully!
- When you travel, inspect rooms, keep luggage closed and use luggage racks away from the wall—don’t leave things on the bed! Take along a traveler’s card to guide your inspection.
- See non-insecticidal control for more ideas.
Biological Control:No known biological control agents target bed bugs well enough to keep them at bay.
Chemical Control:Insecticides supplement but don’t replace your work. Get a pest management professional (PMP) involved. Licensed PMPs know what products, in what formulations, should be used—and where. PMPs know how to be selective and effective—fewer insecticides used and best results. Any insecticide used should be labeled for the pest and location where it is being used. Many products are not labeled for mattresses.
Hire only professional pest control companies with licensed PMPs who are affiliated with a state or national association. This helps ensure that the company stays up-to-date on the current practices and only uses legal insecticides. PMPs are trained for sensitive situations: people who are ill, children, pregnant women, pets, and more. They know how to properly apply insecticides. They also know best how to find bed bugs. PMPs will not use illegal insecticides. If you use insecticides but they don’t work and then you still have to call in a professional, overall insecticide use will be higher. Plus, what you used could drive bed bugs into new areas—making removal a longer and pricier process.
Monitoring:This involves inspecting regularly to be sure:
- Control is working.
- Bed bugs haven’t been brought back in.
- Encasements haven’t torn.
- There isn’t any way you could improve your cultural or mechanical control.
- Use the reporting form every time you inspect.
14. What are the legal repercussions of bed bugs?
The question, “Who’s responsible for a bed bug infestation?” has no clear answer. It’s hard even to identify who’s technically at fault because bed bugs can enter a space in so many ways. Landlords and property owners do have legal obligations to provide safe and habitable accommodations for tenants. Bed bugs may be an unacceptable condition. Tenants have an obligation to cooperate with owners and landlords. This includes preparing the apartment so the pest management professional can easily inspect rooms and treat if necessary.
You are legally liable if you misapply an insecticide or apply it without a license to the property of others—including common spaces in apartment buildings. In most cases, landlords, owners and building managers cannot legally apply insecticides unless they are licensed to do so.
Laws are changing and every situation is different. Local health departments and law offices have the best answers to legal questions. The only thing that’s for sure is that bed bug problems won’t just work themselves out. Left untreated, they will spread. The best way to cover all bases is to inform all who are potentially involved early on—managers, neighbors, friends…
And take steps to solve the problem:
- Call the local health department to find out what regulations apply.
- Call a professional pest control company.
- Document everything.
Landlords and tenants should make sure bed bug work is specified in their lease. For example, an agreement that requires tenants to do thorough preparation for bed bug treatment and to leave the living space while a pest management professional (PMP) works can go a long way if bed bugs arrive. The PMP should visit all rooms or units that share a wall (including directly above and below). Everyone needs to cooperate. Having a plan ready can save time, frustration, and money.
If you are a landlord, inspection should be done often with the permission of the tenant. Some tenants will not view bed bugs as a problem. It can get ugly if their infestation spreads to other units and unhappy tenants report that they have bed bugs. Inspect often to find infestations before they spread.
Safety is always the #1 priority. Bed bugs aren’t known to spread disease. Don’t put yourself or PMPs in danger on account of bed bugs. Anyone who inspects apartments must be cautious of sharp objects or weapons under mattresses or in furniture. Always look with a flashlight before touching.
Document ALL prevention and control in a unit. This helps prove you took precautions and helps PMPs evaluate the situation.
15. What shouldn’t I do when trying to eliminate bed bugs?
Don’t panic. Although bed bugs can be annoying, you can get rid of them if you adopt a well-considered strategy.
Don’t put the legs of the bed frame in kerosene or coat them with petroleum jelly. Bed bugs have been known to climb on the ceiling and drop down onto the bed. Plus kerosene is a fire hazard.
Don’t depend on thyme oil. Thyme oil may discourage bed bugs, but it won’t kill them. Chances are it’ll spread, not fix, the problem.
Don’t leave the home unoccupied through a winter as a control measure. Bed bugs have adapted to the unpredictable habits of humans. If given time to go dormant—for example, in a vacation cabin that slowly gets cooler, then cold over fall and winter—bed bugs can survive, living without a meal for many months while waiting for humans to return. The quick penetration of killing cold (or heat) is the key to any temperature treatment.
Don’t turn up the heat. Exposing bed bugs to 120 ºF or more an hour will kill all life stages—and whole-structure or “container heat treatments” do work. But the caution is similar to using cold. High heat must be maintained at every point in the building: the outer walls, deep in the sofa, etc. for the full hour. Professionals enclose the structure, using tools to guarantee that it reaches the right temperature. If you go with a full-structure heat treatment, consider if the heat could damage furniture, appliances, and belongings.
Don’t sleep with a light on. Bed bugs feed when hosts are inactive. Usually that’s when it’s dark—but they’ll feed under lights if they’re hungry.
Don’t sleep in a different room. Bed bugs will move to a neighboring room if they can’t find food. And they can live months between meals. Sleeping in a different room, staying at a hotel, or moving in with friends won’t solve the problem. And the chances of carrying the bugs to a new place are good. Keep sleeping in your bed. If you have awful reactions to the bites, try to get someone to sleep in the bed.
Don’t throw a bed bug-infested mattress away and buy a new mattress. Buying a new mattress won’t solve the problem. Bed bugs hide in more than just mattresses. New mattresses might be transported in the same trucks that pick up used and possibly contaminated ones. If you need a new mattress, wait until the infestation is eliminated before buying a new one. (Remember: A bed bug-proof mattress and box-spring encasement kept in place for 1 ½ years will starve them to death. Inspect often for torn spots in the encasement (and evidence of bed bugs).
Don’t dispose of good furniture. Infested furniture can be cleaned and treated. Placing infested furniture (particularly mattresses) into common areas or on the street could spread bed bugs to other peoples’ homes. If you’re getting rid of infested furniture, deface it: make it less attractive to other people. Paint a picture of a bug on it and write “bed bugs” or “chinches.” Building managers should make sure disposed furniture is in a dumpster or taken to a landfill or waste facility right away.
Don’t wrap items in black plastic and leave them in the sun: it needs to get hotter than that to kill bed bugs, and heat needs to evenly penetrate the entire item.
Don’t move infested items out of the room without wrapping them in plastic. Bed bugs or eggs could be knocked off into an uninfested area.
Don’t apply insecticides unless you fully understand what you are applying and the risks involved. You are legally liable if you misapply an insecticide or apply it without a license to the property of others—including common spaces in apartment buildings. In most cases, landlords, owners and building managers cannot legally apply insecticides unless they are licensed to do so.
16. What do I do with my pets if I have bed bugs?
Pest management professionals (PMPs) have seen bed bugs feeding on pets, but no one knows if they prefer pets. The bugs might get caught in a pet’s hair, but they won’t live on pets the way fleas do. Still, a pet could carry a bed bug from one room to another.
Since bed bugs rarely feed for more than 10 minutes and their feet don’t grip onto hair, Twenty minutes of grooming outside lets you rest at ease. All bedding and cage items should be inspected and washed and dried (60 minutes on hot) or frozen (for 2 weeks). Inspect furniture, floors, and walls near the pets’ areas.
17. How long does it take to get rid of bed bugs?
It will take at least three weeks to be rid of bed bugs. Here’s why:
- Preparation usually takes about a week
- Two weeks in a freezer kills the crawling bed bugs
- Insecticides don’t kill the eggs, which take about two weeks to hatch—the pest management professional (PMP) should reinspect and apply more insecticides if needed two full weeks after the first treatment.
- The fastest IPM fix relies on the team effort of a PMP and the owner. The owner must do the necessary preparation and do the cultural and mechanical control work while the PMP handles the insecticides.
- Fumigation and full-structure heat treatments work after one treatment, but are very costly. Fumigation is not the same thing as fogging.
18. What should a pest control company do for me—and vice versa?
Pest Management Professionals (PMPs) should be knowledgeable about bed bugs, educating you so you understand why time-consuming and thorough preparation is so important. If the company doesn’t require you to do prep work, call the next company on your list.
PMPs may ask you to launder all clothing, bedding, and draperies; buy resealable bags for all possessions in drawers, closets, etc.; clean rooms thoroughly; and vacate rooms on all treatment days. One thing that differs by pest control company is whether callers should do anything to the bed ahead of time. There’s no right way. Still, the company should be able to explain the why behind their methods.
The time and money it takes to battle bed bugs will be easier to grasp if you understand:
Clutter makes it harder for PMPs to find and treat all likely hiding spots of loner females that could restart an infestation.
Bed bugs aren’t found just in beds. Any space a credit card edge could slide in is a possible hiding spot. PMPs need to treat baseboards, picture frames, bed frames, dressers, drawers, and tables. Because preparation will disturb the bugs, you should choose a pest control company and learn their operating procedure before doing much to the room.
Remember: Insecticides don’t penetrate the eggs, which take up to two weeks to hatch. The follow-up treatment is usually scheduled two or three weeks after the first treatment to get those newly hatched nymphs. You want to get them before they become adults and lay more eggs. Prepare the same as for the first treatment. You can save time and money by unpacking only a few essentials until the follow-up is done.
Bed bug jobs take time and expertise. The service is justifiably costly. Prices vary by region and the type of contract. Call around to get an idea of prices in your region. $500 or more for the first visit and treatment and $250 for the follow-up aren’t unreasonable. It might even be cheap for an area. If you shop around and find a company that offers service at a much lower price, chances are they’re less thorough.
Technicians who inspect and treat should be able to answer questions about bed bug biology and behavior as well as explain their plans. Even if someone has already come to inspect and quote the job (some companies will quote over the phone, others inspect first and quote at that visit), technicians should always inspect before treating. At the very least, they should use a flashlight when inspecting. Proper inspection takes time and shouldn’t be rushed.
And what’s their plan for treatment? If it’s to treat least-infested areas first, working toward most-infested areas, the plan is good. PMPs should use a range of formulations and methods, both liquids and dusts. The PMP should target cracks, crevices, and behind electrical sockets. Not every company uses a vacuum or steamer—that might be your job. Vacuuming just before the PMP arrives will get dirt out of cracks so the insecticide can get in. The PMP must take care not to spread the problem. Anything that needs to be removed from the treatment area should be covered with plastic. Once an area has been treated, only treated items should be moved back in.
If people or pets are present, they should be in a different room. Don’t enter a room that has been treated with an insecticide for at least 4 hours—or whatever the insecticide label states, whichever is longer. Children’s and sick people’s mattresses shouldn’t be treated.
Count on at least one follow up treatment. Bed bugs should be gone after 2 – 3 visits. Unless the structure is fumigated (this is different from bombing!), one visit won’t get rid of bed bugs. Follow up treatments should still include a full inspection, followed by insecticide if bed bugs are found.
Because complete elimination is hard to achieve for any pest, most bed bug contracts don’t guarantee it. Bed bugs can be reintroduced. Companies with a good business sense can’t guarantee bed bug work for a long period of time. This doesn’t mean the company won’t go to great lengths to help you. And yes, it is possible to eliminate bed bugs from a home.
19. How do I kill bed bugs without insecticides?
Cleaning: Thoroughly clean infested rooms as well as others in the residence. Scrub infested surfaces with a stiff brush to dislodge eggs and use a powerful vacuum to remove bed bugs from cracks and crevices. This won’t ensure that you’ve got all the eggs since they can be cemented deep in cracks. But it will help. Dismantle bed frames to expose additional hiding sites. Remove drawers from desks and dressers and turn furniture over, if possible, to inspect and clean all hiding spots.
Vacuuming: A vacuum is not a stand-alone solution. But it will suck up some bed bugs and, used frequently, help keep their numbers down. The narrowest attachment should be used along seams, cracks, and crevices. There’s no guarantee it’ll suck all bed bugs out of hiding. Immediately after, the bag or canister should be removed. Bed bugs in that bag will still be alive! Put the bag or canister contents into a plastic bag, freeze for two weeks, then dispose of properly. Wash the canister—be sure it’s unplugged! Inspect the vacuum to be sure no bugs remain inside.
Steam: Research is underway on how well steamers work. A good steamer will kill eggs, nymphs, and adults on contact. But we’re not sure how deeply killing heat penetrates wood and fabrics. And it offers no defense against reintroducing bed bugs. When using a steamer, move extremely slowly (1 foot in 15 seconds) and methodically. Don’t use a small nozzle that blows bed bugs away from the treatment area—they will survive. The heat needed to kill bed bugs will burn skin. Manufacturer’s instructions take priority over anything that anyone tells you. Afterward, let things dry completely. This prevents moisture or mold damage. Steam can carry electricity. Stay away from switch plates, electrical outlets, and plugged in appliances.
Heat: Extreme heat will kill bed bugs. 60 minutes on the hottest setting in a dryer kills eggs and insects. If taking belongings to a laundromat sort at home and put loads in a bag—dispose of the bag once empty. Don’t use the same bag to bring clothes back. Dry cleaning kills bed bugs, but tell them that the item might be contaminated. If the clothes won’t be damaged by heat and stains won’t set, put them in a dryer before going to the dry cleaner. Blankets, pillows, some shoes, children’s plush toys, curtains, rugs, seat cushions, and fabric bags—if the item can survive heat and tumbling and it won’t damage the dryer, it can go in a dryer. Check the lint filter for bed bugs afterwards. It’s another way to confirm their presence.
Freezing: More research is needed on how well freezing works. Quickly expose items to 32 ºF or below and leave them there for at least two weeks. All crawling life stages will die. To kill the eggs, 30 days is needed.
Mattress Encasements: Mattresses and box springs can be permanently encased within bed bug proof zippered mattress encasements. They must stay on for a full year and a half. Inspect them often to be sure they don’t have rips. If you find holes or tears, seal these completely with permanent tape or buy a new bag. Any bugs trapped within these sealed bags will eventually die.
20. How do I kill bed bugs with insecticides?
Unless you have a pesticide applicator’s license, you shouldn’t apply insecticides to treat bed bugs. Why? If you try to get rid of the bed bugs on your own and it doesn’t work, then you call a pest control company and … Even more insecticides get used.
The bed bugs will be in new hiding spots, making it harder for pest management professionals (PMPs) to target them.
If, despite our warning, you try over-the-counter products, READ THE LABEL of any product you use. If it isn’t labeled for indoor use, don’t use it. If it isn’t labeled for use on a mattress, don’t use it on a mattress. Keep records of everything you do—the date, location, and insecticide or tool used.
You have the right to know what’s being applied in your home and at what concentration. The EPA registration number (EPA Reg. No.) is on the label. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are available online for the active ingredient for all products. (Your pest control company might have them too). If you’re worried about children, the elderly, pregnancy, ill people, or pets, a doctor or veterinarian can use the EPA Reg. No. and MSDS to tell them what precautions to take. If the label doesn’t have an EPA Reg. No., don’t buy it! For more info on pesticides, call the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 800-858-7378, or go online at npic.orst.edu. Ask your pest control company about their standard operating procedures for sensitive cases. Generally, it is best to leave your things in your home or apartment when it’s treated. All food, plates, silverware, etc. should be protected from insecticides.
Insecticides used to treat bed bug infestations consist mainly of:
- Insecticidal dusts, such as finely ground silica powder, which abrade an insect’s waxy coat and cause it to dry out and die quickly. Some dusts are mixed with other dry insecticides. These dusts are applied in or behind permanent fixtures—walls, light switches, and the like. Piles of dust won’t work. If you can see the dust, it’s not being used right. Read the label!
- Contact insecticides kill the bugs shortly after they come into direct contact with the product or its residue. These products tend to knock down bugs that wander over or otherwise contact the insecticide. BUT some repel bed bugs. Use the wrong product, and bed bugs could survive the pesticide and spread to other rooms.
- Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) affect the development and reproduction of insects. Although they can work well, they don’t kill bugs quickly. PMPs often use these products to supplement other insecticides.
21. How do I kill bed bug eggs?
Eggs keep unborn bed bugs safe from insecticides. Sixty minutes in a hot dryer heat will kill bed bug eggs, and freezing (below 32°F) for 30 days will too. Fumigation (not the same as foggers or “bombs”) also kills eggs. Steam is another option as long as the nozzle is moved slowly and the steamed item is given time to dry. Bed bug eggs hatch in about two weeks. A follow up inspection after two weeks is necessary to confirm that they’re gone.