Pregnant woman talking on mobile phone and making bed at home

You might recall going to bed as a child and hearing a parent call into your bedroom, “Goodnight. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” It’s a rhyme traced through many origin theories but one gross reality.

Aptly named, bed bugs are found in warm, semi-dark areas but most commonly in mattresses and bedding. Nearly invisible to the naked eye, these pests can thrive just about anywhere there’s a frequent turnover of occupants, mainly college dormitories, hotel rooms and even in a home.

While checking for bed bugs might not be part of your nightly routine today, in 2010 there was such a resurgence of bed bugs that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a guide dedicated to protecting your home from bed bug infestations.

While this article might make your skin crawl, it’s better than your bed crawling with bugs. We’ll go over how to identify, remove and prevent bed bugs from infesting your home so you can sleep tight knowing nothing will bite.

How Do You Identify a Bed Bug?

Bed bugs can be tricky to identify. They’re small and sneaky, meaning it might make it hard to catch an infestation before it becomes an actual problem. If you do happen to get a good look at one, here’s what you should look for:

  • Size: 1/4 of an inch long (about the size of an apple seed)
  • Shape: Long, oval and flat
  • Color: Brown – reddish-brown
  • Other features: Antenna and four legs

All the above characteristics are consistent throughout most bed bugs but note that younger bed bugs or bed bug eggs, can have a smaller size and a translucent, milky-white color.

If you’re unable to get a good look at what you think might be a bed bug, you can also identify a bed bug by the trace it leaves behind. If you think your home may be host to uninvited guests, thoroughly clean your home and change your bedding while looking for signs of:

  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses (caused by bed bugs being crushed)
  • Dark spots (commonly bed bug feces)
  • Bed bug bites on a person or pet

Although a bite might not be the best way to identify an infestation (they’re often confused for mosquito bites or rashes) know that bed bug bites can raise welts and rashes in humans, as well as cause an intense itching sensation; however, their bite does not carry infection or disease.

What Are Bed Bugs Attracted to?

Now that you know how to identify a bed bug, learning its habits, attractions and ideal breeding conditions can help you stop an infestation from spreading in your home. When it really comes down to it, bed bugs are drawn to:

  • Frequent foot traffic
  • Access to warmth
  • Carbon dioxide

It might sound gross but where there are people, there’s blood, and where there’s blood, there could be a bed bug. That’s why areas like dormitories, hotels and homes are a prime location for bed bugs since so many people go in and out.

However, they’re called “bed” bugs are a reason – their favorite hiding spots are bed frames, mattresses, box springs and beddings, combining their need of warmth, carbon dioxide and access to blood (people).

Although they’re commonly found in the bedroom, they can wedge their way into any small hiding spot in your home, so if you think you might have a bed bug infestation, don’t stop at the bed. Check these other common areas:

  • Furniture with cushions (chairs, couches, ottomans)
  • Curtains
  • Drawers
  • Electrical outlets and appliances
  • Wallpaper
  • Ceiling or floor cracks

Bed bugs can live anywhere their host can live, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. They are known to bite both humans and pets and are mostly active at night. They can also live between six months to a year, so don’t wait to act if you see signs of an early infestation.

What Causes You to Get Bed Bugs?

Some sources might claim that a messy or dirty home can cause you to get bed bugs when in reality, even the cleanest home can collect a campground of bugs. The real problem comes from previously infested furniture or people.

For example, you might have heard of hotel guests who insist on switching rooms because they found bed bugs or evidence of one. This is most likely because they know bed begs can attach themselves to clothing or luggage and travel back home with you, becoming a souvenir you don’t recall buying from your last vacation.

Unfortunately for bargain shoppers or antique collectors, they can also be found in secondhand furniture. Not to mention, people can carry bed bugs in their clothing and shoes, so there’s really no limit to how bed bugs could enter your home.

So, as you can see, the real cause of bed bugs can’t be blamed on a messy home; the real cause of bed bugs is infested furniture, bedding, luggage, boxes, clothing – really, anything that provides a source of warmth and access to people.

Obviously, while you can avoid staying in hotel rooms and buying secondhand furniture that could possibly be infested with bed bugs, you really can’t avoid people (or at least, we hope you won’t after reading this article!) The most important thing is to know how to prevent and get rid of bed bugs. We’ll talk about that next.

How Do You Prevent Bed Bugs from Getting into Your Home?

Since the number one cause of bed bug infestations in your home is previously infected furniture and people, here are a few precautions you can take to prevent bed bugs from getting into your home.

Inspect Secondhand Furniture Before Buying

Buying secondhand furniture is a great way to save money when you’re looking to furnish your home on the cheap, but it can also pose a risk of bed bugs if not examined closely.

If you go thrift shopping on the regular, make it a habit of doing a quick inspection of the furniture you’re thinking of purchasing. For furniture, check along the seams of the upholstery for any sign of bed bugs or bed bug residue. As a rule of thumb, never purchase a secondhand mattress.

Even if it looks clean enough to bring home after purchase, give the furniture a good cleaning before placing it in your home. Store it in your garage or shed, vacuuming any furniture with fabric and upholstery and thoroughly cleaning with hot, soapy water if otherwise, careful to check any crevasses like drawers or storage places.

Some sources might claim that a messy or dirty home can cause you to get bed bugs when in reality, even the cleanest home can collect a campground of bugs. The real problem comes from previously infested furniture or people.

Regularly Inspect Your Bedding for Signs of Bed Bugs

This doesn’t have to be a task you do on a nightly basis, rather, whenever you wash your bedding take this time to inspect the condition of your bed for signs of bed bugs or bed bug residue.

If you see signs of bed bugs, remove your bedding from your bed and place it in the washer on the highest heat and cycle setting your bedding will allow. The heat and water combined will kill any bed bugs that might be hiding in your bedding. For good measure, consider also washing any curtains, rugs, throw blankets and pillows that might have also been exposed in your bedroom.

As for your mattress and box spring, take them outside and using a scrub brush get into the seams and other affected areas of the mattress, brushing any bugs or eggs out. Then, take a vacuum and thoroughly clean the entire surface of both the mattress and box spring. After you’ve vacuumed your mattress, vacuum your bedroom, emptying the contents of the vacuum into a plastic bag and placing it in a garbage can outdoors.

Finally, enclose your mattress and box springs in a tight-fitting plastic covering, leaving both outside overnight. The plastic will keep any air from entering the mattress, suffocating any remaining bed bugs or eggs.

At the end of the day, you might feel more comfortable throwing away your affected mattress and box spring. If you’re worried about the chance of returning bed bugs, it’s worth the money to buy a new mattress set.

When Traveling, Always Check the Room for Bed Bugs

When traveling, check your hotel room for bed bugs before you unpack, focusing on the bedding, upholstered furniture and curtains. If you see signs of bed bugs, ask the front desk or host for another room, notifying them that you found bed bugs in your current room.

Don’t bring your luggage into the room until the coast is clear of bed bugs. Bed bugs can attach themselves to your luggage and can live up to a week, making it possible for them to find their way back into your home.

If you think your clothing may be infected, separate the infected clothes from the rest of your luggage in a sealed plastic bag. When you return home, place the infected clothes in your washing machine on the highest heat setting your clothing will allow.

Inspect your luggage outside before bringing it back into your home. Go the extra mile by vacuuming and hand washing the bag with hot, soapy water. Leave outside to dry and inspect one final time before bringing it in.

What Keeps Bed Bugs Away?

According to some sources, there are a few scents that are rumored to repel bed bugs. All-natural products, like essential oils, are said to have an effect on bed bugs, but may not kill them off completely. If you’re dealing with a heavy infestation, it’s a better idea to call an exterminator with professional heat and chemicals.

However, if you’re just looking for a preventative method that might repel bed bugs from your home, here are a few essential oils that may do the trick:

  • Tea tree oil
  • Lavender
  • Thyme
  • Lemongrass
  • Peppermint

Use ten drops of any of the previously listed essential oils, dilute with water and place in a spray bottle, spraying around the affected areas of your home like your bed sheets, curtains, luggage and other areas where you might suspect bed bugs.

If you’re still noticing signs of bed bugs in your home, contact your local exterminator to schedule a cleaning of your home. Based on the level of infestation in your home, you might not be able to stay in your home during or after the treatment, so make sure you make arrangements to stay at a friend or family’s home during this time.

While you might not ever be able to completely prevent bed bugs from getting into your home, knowing how to properly identify, remove or call a professional to remove the bed bugs will help keep your household safe from infestations.

Have you experienced bed bugs in your home? How did you handle the infestation? Share your story in the comments below.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. What about shoes and a flat screen TV. I am throwing everything elae out. Not taking chances. I have a few documents i need as well. Suggestions?

    1. Hi Ann:

      According to the academic literature I can find on this, you can probably wash and dry the shoes on high settings and get rid of anything that might be living in there. As for flat screen televisions, this article is on the older side, but it says that in the event the bugs were to stay in your flat screen, they could be heat treated because the flat screen can withstand temperatures up to 160 degrees. They aren’t likely to be in there because it wouldn’t be a source of food.

  2. Straight to the point my bother got them and while they spray for a few hours he needs a place to go can’t tell him no he him self is a clean person so I feel bad to just tell him go for a ride sit at a park or something …… Point being can he come to my house and not bring them with him some how

  3. My son went to camp yesterday and they didnt make it over night. While there 5 kids from the same family. Were found with bits and bugs on their persons. All the kids belongings were piled up together in the van. When i picked him up they had put his stuff in a bag. Now its on my back porch still in the bag. What do i do with his stuff. Because im not bringing it in till i know what to do with it.

    1. Hi Jillianne:

      Laundering everything you can at the highest setting the fabric can handle will help. Anything you can’t wash may have the bugs extracted if you heat or freeze it. There’s more information here from the University of Minnesota. Good luck!

    1. Hi Twila:

      Bed bugs are unlikely to stay on you when you move as this doesn’t provide them with a good hiding place. I hope this helps!

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  4. I like to ask where I live their a few apartments that been treated but still get bed bugs why do they come back?an why they don’t treat the entired building if they are bedbugs in lots of apartments

    1. That’s a great question, Rosita. It probably has to do with the other units in the building. If any bedbugs are left untreated in the vicinity, they’ll likely come back.

      And while I don’t know the specific situation, I’m guessing that they’re not spraying because of the expense. Even exterminating a two-unit home can cost over $1,000, depending on the severity of the infestation. As sad as it is, this is often the hurdle for most landlords and investors. I would recommend talking about this with your landlord. Perhaps you can come to some sort of arrangement.

  5. I live in an apartment and bedbugs are slowly making their apt by apt down the hallway. What can I do to prevent them from crawling under my door.

    1. My immediate thought is that they sell foam you can put on the bottom of the doors to go between the bottom of the door and the floor. That way, you create a physical barrier. I’m not sure if your building manager is already doing this, but you could try spraying indoor safe bug killer/repellent in the cracks and crevices to prevent them from getting in. Hope this helps!

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