No matter whether you live in a home or an apartment, or what else is going on in your life, realizing that you may have a bed bug infestation is one of the worst things to deal with. These tiny, blood-sucking insects can be a real nuisance for more than one reason!
According to a recent study published in Cell Biology, bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) have been around for 100 million years, and have bitten humans for thousands of years.
DDT almost eradicated bed bugs, but they have surged back in the last twenty years. No one is sure why, but scientists think pesticide resistance and a large number of travelers from all over the world contribute to the problem.
Unfortunately, these little pests can be difficult to get rid of, and that’s why we at Planet Natural have written this complete guide to help you spot the early signs of bed bugs, and know exactly what to do next to get rid of bed bugs effectively.
What are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are insects of the genus Cimex that feed on human blood at night. Their bites can have a variety of negative health impacts, such as skin rashes, psychological stresses, and allergy symptoms.
The effects of bed bug bites on the skin might range from little redness to visible blisters. They are small, brownish, and oval in shape, and adults are about the size of an apple seed. However, their bodies tend to smell and turn reddish in color after they feed on human blood.
Life Cycle of a Bed Bug
The bed bug life cycle is like that of most true bugs. The female bed bugs lay eggs in cracks and along fabric seams near the bed or on sofas, and other furniture people congregate on. An adult female bed bug may lay 200-250 eggs in the two to four months she lives. The bed bug eggs hatch in six to ten days.
The nymph immediately feeds on blood. At first, the nymph is pale yellowish or white, but as it goes through five molts, it becomes more like the adult bed bug each molt, shedding its exoskeleton several times. Nymphs have to get a blood meal at least once before they can molt each time, although they may feed as often as once a day.
Bed bug nymphs can survive a few days up to months, depending on the stage, without a blood meal. Adult bed bugs can live up to a year without a blood meal.
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?
Adult bed bugs are about the size and shape of an apple seed. They are up to 1/4th inch long. Adult bed bugs can be seen with the naked eye. True bugs, the bed bug has long, brown, oval, flattened bodies before they feed and rounded bodies after they feed.
Nymphs (young bed bugs) are translucent white or yellowish until they feed. After they eat, the bed bug nymph is red. They are tough to see until they feed.
Bed bug eggs are almost invisible until they develop an eyespot on day five. They are the size of a pinhead and are pearl white.
How Long Does It Take to Show Signs of Bed Bugs?
It is difficult to say how many bed bugs you have to have before you notice them. However, bed bugs have three or four generations a year. Therefore, you will probably see signs of bed bugs after one to two generations since they start biting as soon as they hatch.
Six Early Signs of Bed Bug Infestations
The first signs of bed bugs are subtle. Finding just one sign does not mean you have bed bugs, but it should prompt you to investigate further. The more signs you find, the more likely it is you have bed bugs. Here are the most obvious signs to look for:
1. Unpleasant Odor
Bed bugs, especially large numbers of them, have a musty smell. Bed bugs excrete a smelly pheromone from their body.
After they have been feeding, it has a coppery tang because of the blood in the feces. Other pests also cause a musty odor, so you may not have a bed bug infestation if this is your only concern.
2. Bite Marks
The first sign most people have of a bed bug infestation is bite marks on their skin. However, many other insect bites and spider bites look the same, so this isn’t definitive.
Most people get bitten on the head and neck since these are usually not covered by bed linens. However, you can get bed bug bites anywhere on your body.
Symptoms of bed bug bites can look like an ant, mosquito, or other insect bites. They will appear as a rash of itchy welts, hives, or clusters of blisters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bed bug bites can take up to 14 days to appear.
Can You Feel a Bed Bug Bite?
You cannot feel a bed bug bite. Some people do not react to bed bug bites, while others get huge welts after the bites.
It is the itching and welts that bother people. Unfortunately, you can’t tell whether a bed bug has bitten you or a flea has. The bites look the same.
3. Dark Stains
Bed bugs defecate on the bedding before and during feeding. Bed bug excrement looks like small dark brown or black dots that tend to bleed around the edges.
You can also find these in large numbers where bed bugs congregate.
You may find bloodstains on your bedding and nightclothes. These stains represent bed bugs that you crush as you roll over them at night.
5. Bed Bug Debris
Bed bugs are not neat. You will find empty egg cases, dead bed bugs, shed skins, and fecal matter around your bed, especially around mattress seams and piping where bed bugs congregate.
6. Live Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are nocturnal, so they are not as visible during the day. Bed bug colonies hide in cracks and along seams then.
They can get into any crack that is the thickness of a credit card, where they spend most of their time. If you see live bed bugs, then you have a problem. However, many people misidentify other insects and mites as bed bugs, so make sure you have actual bed bugs before you start treating your house.
How to Catch Bed Bugs Early
Pay attention to your pillowcases and bed sheets and start looking for bed bugs if there are any changes, such as unexplained stains. The faster you find the bed bugs, the fewer problems you will have.
Do Bed Bugs Infest the Whole House?
Not initially. Bed bugs prefer to be near their food, so infest beds and other places people sleep, such as couches, soft chairs, and other upholstered furniture.
As the population multiplies, there isn’t enough room for all the bugs in these locations. Severe bed bug infestations give the bed bugs no choice but to spread through the whole house.
When Should I Be Concerned About Bed Bugs?
The earlier you catch a bed bug infestation, the better. At first, bed bugs will stay near the bed, sofa, or other places they find humans to bite.
As the infestation worsens, bed bugs will spread out until they hide all over the house. At this point, they become challenging to treat. If things get this far, you will require professional help to rid your house of the infestation.
Is It Possible to Only Have a Few Bed Bugs?
Yes, an infestation can start with one fertile female. This is especially true if a bed bug crawls on your body or backpack while you are someplace, then crawls onto your bed when you sit on it. However, it does not stay just a few bed bugs for long.
How Fast Can Bed Bugs Multiply?
Very fast. One female lays up to 250 eggs. If half of those hatch into females who also lay 250 eggs, you can see it does not take long for you to get a bed bug problem.
Health Issues Caused by Bed Bugs
Bed bugs do not transmit any known diseases. However, the bites can cause welts and itching and make you miserable. If you scratch the bites, they may cause an infection. In addition, both the bites and the fear of being bitten can disrupt your sleep.
How Do Bed Bugs Infestations Start?
Bed bugs usually hitch a ride into houses. In apartments, they can slide into a new apartment through cracks, under walls, and through electrical plugs.
Bed bugs can crawl relatively quickly and over a considerable distance for their size. Most bed bugs take one of three routes into your home.
Ride In On Used Goods and Furniture
Bed bugs can come in on anything used. With the multitude of seams, zippers, crevices, and other hiding places, furniture is often a bed bug’s ride in the house. However, used clothes, electronics, backpacks, and almost anything else can harbor bed bugs.
Ride In On Luggage
Hotels and motels have a lot of people come through. They are notorious as places to pick up a bed bug infestation. Be sure to check for bed bugs before putting your luggage anywhere but the bathtub.
Ride In On You
Bed bugs can crawl on you, a backpack, a purse, or any other belongings you have if you are somewhere they live. We don’t like to have to be on guard at a friend’s home, or someplace like the library, but any place can harbor a bed bug population.
How to Check For Bed Bugs In Your Home
Bed bug bites are not definitive since bites by other insects may be confused with them. If you think you have bed bugs, there are several ways you can confirm their presence. Remember that they can hide in any crack the edge of a credit card will fit in.
- Remove your bedsheets and examine them closely for blood spots and dark spots (fecal spotting).
- Check the seams, piping, and around the mattress and box spring tags for debris, bed bugs, and feces.
- Examine the bed frame, especially in the cracks, for the same.
- Bedside tables, electronics, and other things near the bed need to be examined for a bed bug infestation. They generally are only infested if there are a lot of bugs.
- Check furniture in the frames, cushions, and any cracks in the piece.
If you think you have found bed bugs, send a sample to the Extension office in your county so they can identify bed bugs beyond a shadow of a doubt. Getting rid of bed bugs is hard, so you don’t want to go through the process if you don’t really have a bed bug problem.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
It is far easier to prevent bed bugs than to eradicate them. Here are some suggestions for doing so from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
- Get a quality mattress encasement and place both the mattress and bedspring in it.
- Check second-hand furniture, clothes, and beds for bed bugs before taking them inside. Disassemble furniture to check every seam, crack, and crevice. Vacuum the entire piece while it is disassembled.
- Vacuum frequently and dispose of the bag in the outside trash promptly.
- Be careful at laundry facilities. Make sure you dry your clothes with the dryer on hot for at least 30 minutes to kill any hitchhikers.
- Inspect the luggage rack, bedding, mattresses, box springs, and furniture in a motel room for bed bugs. Place your luggage in the bathtub while you check in case you find a problem.
How to Get Rid Of Bed Bugs Effectively
Getting rid of bed bug infestations used to require potent pesticides that could only be used by a licensed pest control company.
While the EPA and Extension still recommend hiring a pest control company, houses can now be treated by bringing the house to a temperature of 120-130°F for several hours. Pest control companies have specialized heaters and hot air blowers to get the whole house hot at once.
We recommend hiring a good pest control company to effectively get rid of bed bugs from your home. Read on to learn the steps that will be involved in the process:
1. Preparing For Treatment
The pest control company will give you a list of things to do before they arrive. It is essential to follow these steps exactly, or you will waste your money. The same things should be done before you treat your house.
Any bed bugs that survive the treatment will reproduce, and the bed bug infestation will begin all over again.
If you are not hiring a pest control company, these things will help you get rid of the bed bugs yourself.
2. Remove Clutter
While clutter encourages any pests in your house, it is really bad when you have bed bugs.
- Remove all infected papers, magazines, newspapers, and cardboard boxes.
- Use plastic bins to store things instead of cardboard, which allows bed bugs to hide inside the voids.
- Keep clothing off the floor.
- Ensure that anything you get rid of does not spread bed bugs to another household.
3. Isolate the Bed
Keep bed bugs off the bed by isolating the bed.
- The bed needs to be at least six inches from any wall or other piece of furniture.
- Place bed bug interceptors under all four legs of the bed. Check these interceptors daily until things are under control, then do so regularly for at least a year.
- Ensure all bed bugs and eggs are removed from headboards, footboards, and bed frames.
- Place the mattress and box springs in an encasement.
- Tuck the bed linens into the mattress, so they do not reach the floor.
- Do not store anything under the bed.
4. Clean Everything
Everything in the house will need to be cleaned.
- Push everything in each room against one wall.
- Wash everything that can be washed in hot water and dry on high heat in the dryer for at least 30 minutes.
- Place treated items in a sealed plastic bag, so they do not get reinfested.
- Remove and treat wall hangings and drapes.
- Clean the room’s bare side by vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, and polishing, depending on the surface.
- Take all electronics and other things that cannot be dried in the dryer and place them in sealed plastic bags. Freeze them for four days at 0 degrees F or leave them in the sun for eight hours. Check first to ensure they will not melt or be damaged by freezing.
- Disassemble all furniture and clean thoroughly.
- Once an item has been thoroughly cleaned, place it on the clean side of the room.
- Repeat until everything is on the clean side of the room.
- Clean the now empty half of the room as above.
- Work through every room in the house like this.
5. Reduce Bed Bug Living Areas
It is essential to leave no place for bed bugs to hide.
- Caulk around baseboards and fill any cracks and crevices.
- Remove plug covers and switch covers and clean up any bed bugs there.
- Tape or caulk around the edges of the plug covers and switch covers so bed bugs can’t get behind them.
- Repair holes in the drywall and any loose drywall.
- Remove or glue down loose wallpaper.
6. Use Pesticides
There are no organic pesticides that will kill bed bugs. Homeowners do not have very many choices for inorganic pesticides that will help. If you need to use pesticides, you should hire a pest control company.
If you have hired one, this will be the phase they will use certified, effective pesticides to get rid of bed bugs in your home. Making sure you follow all the steps they list out, as well as the ones we’ve mentioned above, will ensure that you get the best results possible for this round of pest control.
Post Treatment Monitoring
As mentioned, bed bugs can live up to a year with no blood meal. It is essential to monitor for bed bugs for at least that long. As more people have problems with bed bugs, it is good to continue monitoring for bed bugs forever. Follow the procedures for detecting bed bugs listed above.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bed Bugs
Below are some of the questions we get asked most frequently.
What does it mean if you find one bed bug?
It usually means you found a bed bug that has just crawled on you or your property. It is good to start looking at your bed linens and other places where bed bugs frequent to make sure that is the case. As mentioned, as populations increase, bed bugs spread out further from the beds into other parts of the room.
How do you find bed bugs during the day?
Look at the places they spend the day, such as around the seams of the mattress, pillowcases, cushions, on bed frames, and in cracks in the head and footboards. You can also look for the signs of bed bugs listed above.
Can you sleep on a bed with bed bugs?
Yes, if you are willing to risk being bitten. Bed bugs only take a drop of blood at a time, but some people break out in welts where the bites occur. This can make sleeping with bed bugs in your bed very unpleasant.
Can you have bed bugs in one room and not the other?
Yes. This situation is often the case early in the infestation. Bed bugs come into one room from the outside. It takes them a while to spread throughout the house.
How do bed bugs suddenly appear?
They do not suddenly appear. Usually, what happens is bed bugs come into the home, and no one notices them until the population builds. Then, someone starts getting bitten, or stains appear on the sheets, and the bed bugs are noticed.
How long can bed bugs go unnoticed?
Bed bugs can go unnoticed for a long time if the first person they bite does not react to the bites. The bed bugs are usually discovered after someone sensitive to the bites gets bitten and wakes up covered in welts.
What scents attract bed bugs?
The smell of humans. This is why dirty laundry and dirty sheets attract bed bugs.
Do bed bugs come from dirty sheets?
Bed bugs find dirty sheets attractive. As you carry the dirty sheets throughout the house, the bed bugs may drop off and then infest new rooms. If you suspect bed bugs, put the dirty sheets in a plastic bag to carry them to the washing machine, then seal and destroy the bag, so you don’t spread the bugs.
Can I see bed bugs with my eyes?
Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed so you can see them with the naked eye. Nymphs are smaller and may be hard to see. The eggs are much smaller than the nymphs and are harder to see with the naked eye.
Do bed bugs feed on anything besides humans?
Yes, while the common bedbug prefers humans, it will bite any mammal in a pinch. Unfortunately, that means your pets are at risk from a bad infestation.
In addition, different species of bed bugs specialize in other animals. Bats have bed bugs, for example. In fact, many scientists think bed bugs moved from bats to humans who were sharing the cave with them, then developed into the common bed bug we hate.
More Pest Guides from Planet Natural:
How to identify and get rid of bed bugs FAST!
Palmetto Bug Or Cockroach: Differences & How to Kill Them
Baby Bed Bugs: How to Identify & Get Rid of Them – Photos + FAQ
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.