One in five Americans has encountered bed bugs themselves or knows someone who has. These pests can turn your restful sleep into a nightmare, and are notoriously difficult to get rid of. But if you’re armed with the facts and the help of a professional pest control company’s services, you’ll be sleeping soundly in no time.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about bed bugs, where they come from, and how to get rid of these nasty critters for good.
- Bed bugs are small insects that hide in your mattress and around your bedroom and feed on your blood at night.
- Bed bugs spread easily by traveling throughout hotels and apartment complexes or hitching a ride on clothing and furniture.
- Inspect your room for bed bugs by checking for live bugs, molted skins, eggs, and fecal spots along the seams in your mattress, around your bed, and in nooks and crannies around your room.
- Heat is the fastest way to kill bed bugs. It’s also a good idea to invest in professional chemical treatment.
- To prevent a future infestation, invest in bed bug receptors for the legs of your bed as well as a bed bug cover for your mattress, and perform regular inspections.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs (cimex lectularius) are small insects with relatively flat bodies that hide in cracks and folds of mattresses and bedroom furniture during the day, and emerge at night to feed on the blood of a human host.
They’re typically about one-quarter inch long (but swell after feeding) and are reddish-brown in color. This means that if you’re able to catch one during the day, it will likely resemble a small apple seed.
What is the Life Cycle of Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs can live for up to a year. They start as eggs about 1mm long, which hatch into first-stage nymphs (also known as larvae) within 6-10 days. After this, bed bugs feed approximately every 10 days and molt into a new stage–second-stage nymph, third-stage nymph, fourth-stage nymph, fifth-stage nymph, and finally, adult. Female adult bed bugs lay up to five eggs per day, totaling 200-500 eggs in her lifetime.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?
If you’ve stayed in a hotel or apartment complex recently and encountered bed bugs, it’s likely that bed bugs traveled into your room from another unit in the building.
These critters also hitch rides on used furniture, luggage, purses, backpacks, or any other soft or upholstered surface.
How Do Bed Bugs Spread?
Bed bugs spread by traveling between rooms within the same building, or by stowing away on soft or upholstered surfaces. If you’ve stayed in a room with bed bugs, unbeknownst to you, you may bring bed bugs home on your luggage or clothing.
This is why it’s important to treat almost all objects that have been in an infested room, not just furniture close to the source.
What Are the Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation?
One of the first telltale signs of bedbugs is unexplained bites or welts on your body. Small, itchy bed bug bites in clusters anywhere on your body may be your first warning.
After seeing these bite marks, you might notice other signs of an infestation like a live or dead bed bug or molted exoskeletons in the following places:
- In your mattress seams
- Along headboards and baseboards
- In crannies of your walls and ceilings
- In nearby furniture, like nightstands
- Stuck to your personal belongings
You might also notice blood spots (remnants from their last meal) or smooth, black fecal spots on your mattress, on the wood frame of your box spring, along the headboard and baseboard, at the edges of your carpeting, in electrical outlets, or even in curtain seams. You might notice tiny, translucent white eggs, or broken hatched ones.
Look for bed bug aggregations, or dark spots where bed bugs congregate after feeding. These can be in the usual spots, such as:
- Along your bed and mattress
- Behind peeling wallpaper
- Under the base of your air conditioner
- Inside curtain rods
- Inside personal belongings like books, picture frames, or stuffed animals
Where to Look for Bed Bugs?
The first place to look for bed bugs is along the seams, crevices, and piping of your mattress or box spring and in any cracks or corners of your headboard and bed frame.
Beyond your bed, bed bugs can also hide:
- In other furniture like couches or chairs (check between cushions and in seams) or in the folds of curtains
- In drawer joints, electrical receptacles and outlets, and inside appliances
- Under loose wallpaper and behind wall hangings, at the junction where the wall and ceiling or molding meet
- Inside the head of a screw in your wall or furniture
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs can be tough to kick, but it’s possible, especially with the help of a professional pest control service.
Below are some steps you can take to start your battle against bed bugs before investing in chemical treatment:
- Start by searching your room and identifying all infested areas.
- Next, contain the infestation by vacuuming thoroughly (seal and throw out the vacuum’s contents and clean it carefully) and containing all linens and clothes in sealed plastic bags.
- Keep them in bags and throw them in the washer and dryer at the highest possible heat setting (dryer only if the clothes can’t be washed; if they can’t be dried, just leave them in the bags for a few months to allow the bed bugs to die).
- If any of your furniture cannot be cleaned, throw it away (and mark it clearly so no one else tries to take it).
- Throw out any decor or clutter from the affected room that bed bugs might hide in. Remove everything from the floor and under the bed.
- Seal everything in the room–glue down loose wallpaper, caulk any holes in the walls or furniture, and tape over electrical outlets.
- Next, wash and dry all of your bedding and sheets on high heat and use a steamer on any affected linens, mattresses, and furniture.
- If possible, seal infested items in a black bag and leave them outside or in a closed car on a hot day that reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit. (In cooler temperatures, bed bugs will still die in sealed bags, but it will take 2-5 months.
You can also put affected items in a bag in your freezer at zero degrees Fahrenheit for at least four days.
The next step is chemical treatment. You can buy pesticides and insecticides like traditional pyrethrins, bug bombs, or plant-based oil products and attempt to treat the problem yourself, but it’s likely a good idea to invest in a pest control professional.
Once your problem is mostly under control, continue to inspect the affected space once a week. You can also attach bed bug interceptors to the legs of your bed to prevent the pests from crawling up, and zip a bed-bug-proof mattress cover over your mattress and box spring.
To prevent a future infestation, vacuum your room often and keep it clutter-free. Seal any cracks near your baseboards and electrical outlets. And check for bed bugs whenever you stay in a bed that’s not your own.
Questions Others Are Asking
Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about bed bugs.
Does anything kill bed bugs instantly?
Heat and hot steam kill bed bugs virtually instantly. This is why drying machines on the highest dryer setting or portable heating systems are the most effective bed bug extermination method short of chemical treatment.
Do bed bugs fly?
No, bed bugs are wingless and cannot fly or jump, but they can crawl rapidly (New York State Department of Health).
What draws bed bugs out of hiding?
To lure bed bugs out of hiding, use a steamer or hair dryer. This will mimic the heat and carbon dioxide (from breathing) that attracts them to a human host.
This is especially effective at nighttime (or at least with the lights dimmed). Once you’ve created these ideal conditions, disturb the bed bugs’ hiding spot–shake out your curtains, turn your mattress upside down, clean the rugs, take your bedding off the bed and out into the sun, etc.