How Far Can Bed Bugs Travel To Feed

What you need to know about bed bugs

‘Educating yourself can be helpful and reassuring,’ says Dr. Harold Harlan

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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.

Oak Hill Gardens

Do Bed Bugs Live Outside? Where and How Long Can They Survive Outdoors?

We can hear you wondering:“How are bed bugs a gardening issue?”

Well, they are not, with respect to being a threat to your beautiful orchids or clematis. But if you know that these blood-sucking pests can attack you while doing a bit of weeding or planting, then, the problem suddenly becomes relevant to every keen green-fingered enthusiast out there. Not to mention the youngins with sensitive skin – your kids with an avid interest in gardening or a habit of just playing outdoors at every opportunity.

So, can bed bugs live outside the house?

Yes, quite worryingly, they can.

This post will answer the question and will explore how bed bugs survive outside and where. We’ll also explain why you should stay vigilant, even if your home interior is presently free of these minute biting pests.

Last but not least, you’ll learn how to prevent them from infesting both the outside and inside of your property.

How do “indoor” bed bugs come to live out in your garden?

Bed bugs won’t settle outdoors by choice. They are either unknowingly brought or driven outside.

The insects are renowned for their hitchhiking skills, as they can easily attach themselves to bags, clothes and shoes and this way, travel any distance. On that note, you can bring bed bugs to your property by buying second-hand garden furniture, cushions, throw-overs for your outside sofa or fluffy toys.

“A pest control treatment indoors can drive away a few survivors that run for dear life but “decide” to stay close to the inhabited building – their valuable former abode.”commented Alexander Crawley, an entomology consultant at Fantastic Pest Control in Australia, “Those will sneak and hide in cracks of wooden furniture, outdoor structures, wood piles, upholstered outdoor furnishings, trampolines and more.” he adds.

How far can bed bugs travel outside?

Well, bed bugs can travel on foot, be it on grass or hard surfaces, which are not too smooth. Considering their tiny size (about 4mm), they can cover a relatively big distance of up to 20 feet per day (or night). So can bed bugs travel through grass house to house? Yes, they can.

The pests have the ability to sense the release of carbon dioxide from their potential hosts (when breathing), as well as their heat. This means that they may also drop by and visit you, after leaving a neighboring property for whatever reason, like running away from an insecticidal treatment, getting hungry in a recently abandoned house or looking for additional food sources, due to bed-bug overcrowding and competition or in other words – due to the expansion of their existing colony.

Sometimes, even the use of regular gardening tools like a lawn mower, a leaf rake or even gardening boots could help them cut the distance and infest a new area.

Why do bed bugs try everything to move inside your home?

Despite that this article has a focus on bed bugs living outdoors, it’s important to know that sooner or later, they’ll attempt to relocate indoors, to live with you.

Why? They need blood to survive.

The insects don’t feed onanything else. Moreover, it’s human blood that they are genetically programmed to thrive on and reproduce, with some exceptions. Some types of bed bugs live by feeding on bats.

Also, if starving and as a last resort, the human-insect pests may settle for an emergency feed, sourced from pets, chickens or other domesticated animals.

So, the vermin will be always attracted to inhabited properties and live, breed and grow their colony near people. Hence, their name, as well. After all, what better opportunity to feed than when their host is resting nonchalantly in bed, sound asleep.

Okay, but where do bed bugs hide outside?

Okay, then. Bed bugs will not hide in a flower patch or directly in the grass of your lawn, but they can colonize temporarily the reclaimed or repurposed wooden beams of your raised vegetable bed, for instance.

Also, it’s not unheard of to spot a family of bed bugs and their eggs in crevices of second-hand garden planters, made from wood, wicker, rattan or even plastic that imitates the structure of the last two. If you want to avoid uninvited guests, you may want to buy your gardening pieces, like planters, new.

As discussed earlier in the post, bed bugs will also happily wait outdoors for better times to come in the following:

Outdoor buildings- This includes wooden exterior and interior structural fixtures, cracks, holes and crevices in those, as well as infested items in a said outdoor building, which are made or part-made of fabric.

Patio furniture- Bed bugs will snuggle in wooden, wicker, rattan furniture, upholstered furniture, cushions, furnishing covers and blankets.

Your car, camper van- The pests may try to escape the cold by moving into any type of vehicle, parked on your property (you may also bring bed bugs to your property via your travels by car).

Garden structures and items- We could be talking, here, about pergolas, wooden trellises and frames, etc.

Firewood pile- Or the insects could be in a temporary hideout in wooden building material, stacked near your house.

General clutter- Again, be it inside an outdoor building or storage unit, or outside, somewhere you keep disused equipment under a cover, bed bugs will make use of any old electronic appliance (TVs, radios, etc.) or even old gardening equipment, like a broken lawn mower.

How long can bed bugs make it, if living outdoors?

How long bed bugs can live outside your house will depend on several factors. Weather conditions, the presence/absence of the pests’ natural predators, as well as the duration of food deprivation will play a crucial role.

On a more lighthearted note, their fate depends on how long bed bugs have remained undetected. If you spot them on your garden sofa, you’ll do something about it, right?

But let’s see what exactly kills bed bugs, outside a timely insecticidal treatment, and how long it would take for them to die outdoors.

Here is the right place to note that the vermin-insects possess superior survival skills.

The enemies of bed bugs

Bed bugs do have some natural predators, which will eat them without a blink. Masked hunters, Pharaoh ants, common cockroaches, some lizards and spiders will all gladly devour any bed bugs that cross their path.

Still, this doesn’t mean that predators are a reliable bed bug control solution, because it’s unlikely that they can eliminate an entire outdoor colony of vampire-insects.

Food deprivation

The biting insects are able to reach adulthood only if they regularly eat blood. Also, female bed bugs won’t be able to lay eggs if blood is not available.

However, bed bugs can go on without food for a very long time. We’re talking months, up to 5 months in warm weather conditions. If temperatures are low, though, an adult bed bug will self-regulate its own body temperature in sync with that outside. The result is that the insect goes into a state, where the lack of food stops being an issue, for a long while at least.

In lab conditions, it’s been determined that some bed bugs can survive for over a year without a single blood meal. Nymphs however, will die out much sooner, of course.

Heat and cold

With respect to heat, bed bugs won’t survive a professional heat treatment. They will struggle with temperatures above 120° Fahrenheit (49°C). Naturally, such heat cannot happen outside, or at least in most places across the world. So, the scorching summer sun cannot drive bed bugs to extinction, with some exceptions, maybe – in the desert.

If you’re curious as to what temperature can kill bed bugs, check out this video.

Cold weather will also pose no huge risk to bed bug survival, unless the temperature plummets under 1° – 0°F (-18°C).

As we’ve explained above, their body temperature also drops so that they can preserve their energy and survive for a significant length of time.

How do you get rid of bed bugs?

You can take measures to prevent bed bugs from hanging in and around your property. Here’s how.

It’s harder to treat contaminated outdoor surfaces against bed bugs with success unless you apply a professional pest control method in a repeated manner, at an interval of 2-4 weeks.

For instance, a heat treatment will prove reliable, if applied in storage units, outdoor buildings and vehicles.

Vacuuming garden furniture and applying an insecticidal product will also reduce the population of bed bugs.

Additionally, you can seal wooden and rattan furnishings with a strong oil-based varnish after the treatment.

Most importantly, you can learn from our tips below how to minimize the risk of getting a bed bugs problem in the first place or if your property has suffered an infestation in the past:

Keep watch and stay vigilant;

If you spot bites on your skin, consider that it could be bed bugs;

Wash clothes, bags straight away after returning from a trip;

Inspect and clean the interior of your car (motor home) on a regular basis;

Keep clutter to a minimum in outdoor buildings and storage rooms inside your home;

Inspect second-hand furniture, even when bought from a trusted thrift store, or best try to avoid purchasing used items that can be easily infested;

Maintain a high level of cleanliness in your property;

Have regular bed bugs inspections by hiring a professional;

Treat your home now and again against the biting insects as a preventative measure;

Keep good relations with your neighbors – say, the house next door has bed bugs – your neighbor should ideally warn you if their property has been recently treated against the pests.

Tip: Never throw out contaminated furniture without treating it, first. Otherwise, this could spread the problem elsewhere and drive the bed bugs to someone else’s garden.

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.

Insects and Ticks > Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are well known as annoying biting pests, and they are increasing in importance, including in hotels and other lodging establishments in the U.S. You are encouraged to learn more about the biology of bed bugs and their association with homes, apartments, hotels, and lodging establishments so that you can make more informed decisions about health risks, how to protect yourself when traveling, and whether bed bug control is warranted in a residence or lodging establishment.

Are Bed Bugs a Public Health Risk?

Bed bugs require blood in order to reproduce and complete their life cycle. The effect of bed bug bites varies among people, but they eventually produce red welts that itch. The bites themselves are not painful and typically are not felt. However, frequent feeding can disrupt people’s sleep and make them irritable, and seeing bites may cause emotional distress in some people. Heavy rates of feeding can result in significant blood loss and eventually lead to anemia, especially in malnourished children.

At least 27 agents of human disease have been found in bed bugs, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and parasitic worms. None of these agents reproduce or multiply within bed bugs, and very few survive for any length of time inside a bed bug. There is no evidence that bed bugs are involved in the transmission (via bite or infected feces) of any disease agent, including hepatitis B virus and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Bed bugs belong to the family Cimicidae of the insect order Hemiptera, the group of insects known as "true bugs." In addition to the three species that are associated with humans, there are at least 88 species of Cimicidae in the world that live with and feed on bats or birds. Approximately 10-12 species of these bugs occur in the continental U.S., including four species in Indiana. Two species are known as "bat bugs," one is known as a "swallow bug," and one is known as a "purple martin bug." Bat bugs and swallow bugs typically feed on their bat or bird hosts, but will feed on humans if their normal sources of blood are not available. The effects of their bites are similar to those associated with the bites of bed bugs. There is no evidence that bat bugs and swallow bugs transmit disease agents to humans.

There are two additional groups of Hemiptera that bite humans, the so-called "kissing bugs" and "assassin bugs," both of which belong to the family Reduviidae. Kissing bugs feed on the blood of mammals and birds, and transmit a protozoan parasite that causes a disease of humans known as "Chagas Disease." Chagas Disease is widespread in Central and South America, and an occasional case occurs in Texas. Assassin bugs, instead of being blood feeders, are predators on other insects, including crop pests. They are beneficial insects, but they will bite humans if mishandled, and the bites are very painful.

How Many Types of Bed Bugs Are There?

There is only one species of bed bug in Indiana,Cimex lectularius. This species is a pest of humans worldwide, including the entire U.S., and has over 50 common names, among them "mahogany flat," "redcoat," "wall louse," and "bed louse." A second species of bed bug,Cimex hemipterus, is limited to tropical regions of the world. A third species of bed bug,Leptocimex boueti, lives with and feeds on both humans and bats in West Africa.

How Can I Recognize a Bed Bug?

Adult bed bugs are about ¼ inch long, oval, reddish-brown, and wingless. Their body is very flat, and they possess long, slender legs and antennae. They have a long, segmented proboscis (beak) that extends forward when the bug takes a blood meal. At rest, the proboscis lies beneath the body and projects backwards between the legs. Immature bed bugs are known either as "larvae" or "nymphs." They closely resemble adults, but are smaller and less deeply pigmented.

What Is the Life Cycle of Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs develop from egg to adult via a process called "gradual metamorphosis." This means the last larval stage develops directly into an adult without passing through a non-feeding pupal stage. There are five larval stages, and each one requires a blood meal before molting into the next life cycle stage. Both adult male and female bed bugs feed on blood and take repeated blood meals during their lives. Females require blood for the development of eggs.

The five larval stages are completed in about a month under suitable conditions of temperature, humidity, and availability of hosts for blood meals. Larvae can survive inside dwellings for several months without a blood meal, but they do not molt into the next life cycle stage until they engorge on blood. Adults can survive even longer under the same conditions, but, again, do not develop eggs unless they feed on blood.

Where Are Bed Bugs Found Inside Dwellings?

Bed bugs typically are active at night and hide during the daytime. Being very flat, they are able to find a wide variety of places in which to hide. Typical hiding places include beneath loose flooring, behind loose wallpaper, inside box springs, in mattresses, and in upholstered furniture. One common hiding place in hotel rooms is behind bed headboards that are fastened to the wall and another is behind moldings just above the floor. Bed bugs also hide behind electric switch plates and inside appliances. However, sites that have surfaces consisting of plaster, stone, and metal typically do not harbor bed bugs.

How Do Humans Influence Bed Bug Development and Dispersal?

Human dwellings provide bed bugs with a place to live and access to a source of blood meals. Bed bugs commonly infest larger buildings such as apartments, dorms, prisons, and theaters, but they also can occur in individual hotel rooms and in private homes. There is a common misconception that bed bug infestations occur only in poorly constructed and poorly maintained buildings with unsanitary conditions. However, this is not the case, as explained below. Modern construction has aided the spread of infestations by enabling bed bugs to move from room to room via central heating ducts.

Humans can aid the dispersal of bed bugs from one structure to another via the movement of infested bedding, furniture, and packing materials. Even more widespread dispersal is associated with the movement of travelers via infested clothing, luggage, and lap top computers. International travelers from countries that have heavy bed bug infestations can be a source of bed bug infestations in hotel rooms, and there has been an increasing incidence of bed bugs in lodging establishments around the world, including in the U.S. Bed bugs do not require unsanitary conditions, and bed bugs do not discriminate between economy or luxury hotel rooms. Bed bugs only need a source of blood provided by humans, and they can exist in the cleanest hotels, motels, apartments, and homes.

How Far Do Bed Bugs Travel to Feed and Lay Eggs?

Bed bugs typically do not travel far to feed and lay eggs once they become established in a building. Females lay eggs more or less continuously as long as they have access to blood meals. A well-fed female is capable of laying about 500 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs are laid singly in the same sites that harbor larvae and adults. These sites often are marked by masses of bed bug feces, which appear as yellowish to reddish-black specks and contain the remnants of digested blood. Large concentrations of bed bugs may be accompanied by a characteristic sweetish odor caused in part by secretions from scent glands.

What Should I Know About the Feeding Habits of Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs feed on warm-blooded animals. They have a normal host with which they live and on which they feed, but they will feed on other species. For example, bed bug larvae and adults feed readily on humans, bats, and chickens, and they do so when the host is at rest. Thus bed bugs living with humans typically feed at night while a person sleeps, but they also will feed during the day in dark structures such as infested theaters with upholstered seats. Male and female adults usually feed every 3-4 days and become engorged with blood in about 10-15 minutes.

Bed bugs detect carbon dioxide emitted from warm-blooded animals and respond to warmth and moisture as they approach the potential host. On humans, they tend to feed on exposed surfaces such as the face, neck, arms, and hands. Again, the bites are painless, and the host typically is not disturbed while bed bugs feed.

How Can I Avoid Being Bitten by Bed Bugs?

Preventing bed bug infestations is the best approach. This involves thoroughly searching for bed bugs or signs of infestation in any suitable hiding place, such as bedding, upholstered furniture, or packing materials that might be introduced into your home or apartment. You should search for feces, eggs, and shed "skins" of larval bed bugs, as well as for active bed bugs.

When staying in a hotel room, it is good practice to inspect the room for bed bug infestation. Upon arrival in a guest room, check the mattress, box springs, and behind the headboard before using the bed. It is very important to report suspected bed bug infestations to the hotel management immediately so that steps to control the infestation and prevent subsequent spread can be implemented as quickly as possible.

Hotel guests should place luggage and clothing on dressers or on luggage racks. Avoid placing bags and personal items on beds or upholstered furnishings because these types of fixtures may harbor bed bugs. Guests also should be vigilant and keep suitcases, brief cases, and computers and their cases closed when not in use. It is a good idea to search these items prior to vacating the room and again prior to bringing the items inside your home.

What Should I Do About a Bed Bug Infestation in My Residence?

Control of an infestation of bed bugs is very difficult and is best left to professional pest control companies that have both the approved insecticides and the application equipment to effectively treat the various places where bed bugs hide. The representative of the pest control company should examine the residence and describe any pre-treatment responsibilities of the homeowner. For example, eliminating or at least reducing clutter in rooms to be treated is a necessity, and infested bedding may have to be discarded before the infestation is treated.

What Should Hotel Managers Do About Bed Bugs?

Training housekeeping and maintenance staff to check for bed bugs is strongly recommended in order to identify an infestation. A professional pest control company should be contacted immediately if an infestation is found.

Hotel staff should examine guest rooms closely, including sheets and bedding. In infested rooms, sheets and pillowcases used by guests who are bitten by bed bugs may have small bloodstains, which appear as small reddish brown spots. Mattress seams should be examined for brown spots that could be bed bug feces, for shed skins, and for active bed bugs. Cracks and crevices should be examined using a flashlight. Sites to be searched include behind bed headboards, furniture seams, draperies, floor moldings, areas where wallpaper is loose, and behind picture frames and baseboards, especially those located near the beds. If a centralized forced-air heating system exists, the heating ducts in guest rooms should be checked for signs of bed bugs.

Where Can I Find More Information on Bed Bugs?

The following Web site contains accurate and detailed information about bed bug biology and bed bug control.

A recent symposium devoted to bed bugs took place at a meeting of the Entomological Society of America. The symposium was published in the journalAmerican Entomologist, Volume 52, number 2, Summer 2006.

We greatly appreciate the information pertaining to bed bugs provided by Dr. Sheryl kline, Department of hospitality & Tourism Management, Purdue University.

An excellent reference book devoted to the biology of bed bugs and their relatives is:

Usinger, R.L. 1966,Monograph of the Cimicidae (Hemiptera: Heteroptera).Thomas Say Foundation, Vol. 7, Entomological Society of America, College Park, MD.

If you have trouble accessing this page because of a disability, please contact the Webmaster.

Website developed by the Entomology Department at Purdue University
An equal access/equal opportunity university

Bed Bug FAQs

Some fast bed bug facts…

A little more…

Anatomy:

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.

Color:

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.

Behavior:

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:

  • flashlight
  • 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?

Customer Preparation

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.

Treatment

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.

Follow-Up Treatments

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.

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