When you hear the words "bed bugs," you probably cringe. Sure, we've all heard of the creatures (the childhood rhyme, "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite" might sound familiar to you), but they often seem like a pest that other people deal with.
In reality, according to PestWorld.org, 20% of Americans have a bed bug infestation or know someone who has encountered bed bugs. In other words, bed bug outbreaks are incredibly common — but they're also incredibly annoying and stress-inducing. Like anything else, though, having all your facts in order is important to properly deal with a bed bug outbreak.
We asked experts to differentiate fact from fiction, and found out everything you never knew about bed bugs, including when bed bugs come out, how to find bed bugs during the day, and what to do if you realize you have an infestation of bed bugs in your home.
Knowing what a bed bug (and a bed bug bite) looks like, how to treat a bed bug outbreak, and what not to do if you suspect you have bed bugs are the keys to dealing with the problem quickly and effectively. It might feel like the end of the world, but it's a highly solvable problem with a little patience and quick work.
If you think you're facing a bed bug problem, step one is simple: Do not panic. It's important to call a specialist exterminator right away, especially since, as the CDC explains, bed bugs can lay a lot of eggs very quickly, which will only exacerbate the problem.
The following facts about bed bugs will, hopefully, help you feel better prepared in case you ever encounter the pests. It really is impossible to sleep tight if the bed bugs are biting, so if you want to be ready for what's an inevitability in many major cities, read on to learn everything you need to know about bed bugs.
Why are they called bed bugs?
The Latin name for bedbugs is Cimex lectularius, which means "bug of the bed." But don't let that fool you — the pesky creatures can be found anywhere. "Bed bugs want to feed on you at night while you're still, so they're commonly found in your bed," John Furman, president of New York City–based pest management company Boot-A-Pest, tells Woman's Day. "But I always say the bed is 70 percent of the infestation and the rest of the room is the other 30 percent. They can be all over your apartment — in the sofa, behind picture frames or in the crevices of baseboards."
Who can get bed bugs?
"There's an unnecessary stigma associated with bed bugs," Susan Jones, PhD, associate professor of entomology at Ohio State University, tells Woman's Day. "Anyone can get bed bugs, as the CDC explains on its website. They're not associated with poor housekeeping or a certain poverty level or anything like that."
So if you have them — or know someone who does — remember that it has nothing to do with personal hygiene habits. "Every woman whose home I treat tells me how often they shower, how clean they are, that they get manicures — none of that matters," Jeff Eisenberg, founder of Pest Away Exterminating, tells Woman's Day.
Are bed bugs dangerous?
Unlike with many other pests and insects, research has not yet proven that bed bugs do anything more harmful than give you the heebie-jeebies. But that doesn't mean people should brush them off as no big deal. And Jones believes the research is "incomplete and inconclusive." And Eisenberg insists they are a mental health risk. "People can become so obsessed with bed bugs they don't sleep for weeks," Jones explains. "They miss work, they spend hours Googling the topic. I call it bed bug paranoia."
Bed bugs have also been shown to aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms in people who already suffer from them.
What does a bed bug bite look like?
It's difficult to notice a suspicious bite and not immediately consult Dr. Google for an immediate diagnosis. But just because a website tells you bed bug bites look a certain way doesn't mean your bites will follow that pattern. According to Jones, bites often appear in a grouping of three or a "1-2-3 — breakfast, lunch, dinner" pattern, but many people — around 30 percent, according to Furman — don't react to bites at all. And others may have singular scattered bites.
When do bed bugs come out?
Though these pests like to come out before dawn, don't think you can wait up all night to outsmart them. "A bed bug is an opportunist, and while their peak feeding time is between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., if you work nights they will come out and feed on you during the day," Furman says. And Jones explains that they're attracted to a human's body temperature and, even more so, the carbon dioxide we exhale.
Can you always see bed bugs?
While itchy bites may indicate you have a bed bug problem, a thorough inspection is necessary to prove it.
"If you have a low-level infestation, most people will miss the signs. You really need to call a professional who will spend the time to find the evidence," Furman says, who takes at least an hour inspecting rooms for signs of bed bugs.
How to find bed bugs during the day
Things you should look for include "peppering," which are black fecal spots that are usually imbedded in the mattress seams or on the box spring, as well as insect skins (immature bed bugs shed their skin five times before becoming an adult). You may also see actual bedbugs, which, depending on their age, will be clear or rust-colored. You can never be too careful, but don't panic.
"I've had people email me photographs of Hostess cupcake crumbs, lint, fingernails, you name it," Furman explains.
Can dogs smell bed bugs?
Well-trained and properly handled canines can track down bed bugs because, like bomb-sniffing and drug-sniffing dogs, they are taught to home in on the scent. But according to Furman, "a dog is a tool to bring a handler to a defined search area. You've still got to find the bugs in the area they alerted you to."
What do you do if you have bed bugs?
A common misconception about bed bugs is that if you have them, you have to trash your mattress and send all your clothing to the dry cleaner's. Not true! According to Furman, heat is the number-one killer of bedbugs. Exterminators treat rooms and furniture with a combination of dry steam cleaning, deep heat and chemical treatments.
If your clothes have been in an infested room, throw them in a hot dryer (at least 120 degrees) for 30 minutes to kill any bugs.
How should you treat bed bugs at home?
Whatever you do, don't attempt to fumigate your house for bed bugs yourself. "Don't use a bug bomb or fogger, even if it claims it's meant for bed bugs," Jones warnes. "All it will do is scatter them throughout your home, and if you have an apartment, it will give them to your neighbors."
Jones says that boric acid and other grocery store sprays won't work, either. Calling a professional is essential — and it's best to call one early. "You have to deal with this right away," Jones explains. "One single female bed bug can lay 500 eggs in her lifetime, so it can get out of control quickly."
How long do bed bugs live?
According to Jones, bed bugs started making a comeback in the late 1990s for a variety of reasons. A spike in international travel combined with a change in the pesticides and insecticides we use as well as lifestyle changes all played a role in their resurgence. "Bed bugs reproduce very quickly and live for a long time, so it was just a matter of time until their populations exploded," she says. So what now? Though the situation is manageable, "there's absolutely no end in sight. This is a pest we'll likely be living with for the rest of our lives."
Olivia Muenter is a freelance writer and former fashion and beauty editor who writes about fashion, beauty, lifestyle, relationships, travel, home decor, and more for Woman's Day and beyond. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Refinery 29, Glamour, Byrdie, Apartment Therapy, Philadelphia Magazine, and more. When she's not reading (or talking about reading on Bad on Paper, the bookish podcast she co-hosts), you can find Olivia working on her first novel, curating the perfect playlist, or shopping online.
What is the best way to find bed bugs? ›
When cleaning, changing bedding, or staying away from home, look for: Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed. Dark spots (about this size: •), which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would.How do I find out if I have bed bugs? ›
Signs of Infestation
Blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases. Dark or rusty spots of bedbug excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls. Bedbug fecal spots, egg shells, or shed skins in areas where bedbugs hide. An offensive, musty odor from the bugs' scent glands.
Technically, yes — bed bugs can enter your ears and other parts of your body. However, it is very uncommon and unlikely. Bed bugs feed on warm blood, which they extract directly from skin. They do not need to travel inside the body when their food source is accessible from the outside.Do bed bugs bite every night? ›
Bed Bug Feeding
The bugs can bite several times in a night to become full but only feed about once every one or two weeks. People that have only small numbers of the bugs in their homes may not experience new bites every night.
Bed bugs do not like to climb or stay on smooth plastic materials. Placing small items in plastic containers or in sealed heavy-duty plastic bags will prevent bed bugs from infesting the items. In an infested home, placing clutter in plastic containers will make bed bug elimination efforts easier.What kills bed bugs instantly baking soda? ›
Myth. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that baking soda is a successful home remedy for bed bugs. Baking soda actually breaks down when it comes into contact with water, so the idea that it can absorb the thick fluids found on a bed bug shell is quite questionable.Can you see bed bugs with the naked eye? ›
Adult bedbugs are indeed visible to the human eye — although some of us may need to put on our prescription glasses. Bedbugs are usually about the size of an apple seed, which is about 5 to 7 millimeters long, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.Where do bed bugs bite the most? ›
Bites are commonly found on the parts of the body that are more likely to be exposed to bed bugs during sleep - the hands, neck, face, shoulders, legs and arms. While not always the case, bed bug bites are often grouped together in a small area and at times may occur in a line or a zigzag pattern.Do bed bugs lay eggs in human skin? ›
Are bed bugs able to burrow and lay eggs under human skin? Thankfully, bed bugs are not able to burrow under human skin to lay their eggs. Instead, they lay eggs in dark, dry areas like the seams along your mattress and inside pieces of furniture. Remember, bed bugs bite you on your skin.Can bed bugs live in your pillow? ›
Mattresses and pillows make potential habitats for bed bugs. Pillows may also be host to bed bug eggs, making them a potential point of bed bug infestations. A possible sign that bed bugs have infested pillows may be the appearance of bites.
Can you find bed bugs easily? ›
Detecting bed bugs can be difficult, as they are small in size and able to hide in tiny cracks and crevices. However, evidence of a bed bug infestation may be found in bedding and on mattresses. Live bed bugs leave clusters of dark brown or black spots of dried excrement on infested surfaces.What attracts bed bugs in the first place? ›
Reality: Bed bugs are not attracted to dirt and grime; they are attracted to warmth, blood and carbon dioxide.Do bed bugs stay in mattress or bed? ›
Bed Bugs will try to live as close to their food source as possible. They can often be found directly on the mattress in the tufts and folds, along the seam, and even inside the mattress. They can also be found in the box-spring, bed frame, headboard and furniture near the bed.Do bed bugs always bite in threes? ›
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.