Bedbugs spread primarily through human contact. If you’re finding bedbugs on your mattress or other furniture, chances are they came home on your clothes, purse, or luggage.
What are Bedbugs?
Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are tiny, flat, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of humans and animals while they sleep. They can measure anywhere between 1 mm and 7 mm and are reddish-brown in color. They are wingless and can go up to a month without feeding.
Bedbugs are usually associated with developing countries but they are found across the globe, including the U.S. and Canada. And despite what you may think, their presence has little to do with the cleanliness of the places in which they inhabit. Infestations are usually centered around where people sleep and they have been found in private homes, five-star hotels, cruise ships, apartments, buses, trains, dorm rooms and boarding houses.
Because they feed at night, you won’t likely see them during the day. They hide in mattresses, bed frames, box springs, dresser tables, wallpaper and so on — anywhere dark but still near sleeping areas.
How Fast do Bedbugs Spread?
Bedbug populations don’t erupt overnight — if you’ve accidentally introduced one egg-laying female bedbug to your home, it could take months before you notice. Females lay about five eggs a day, daily in hidden areas like inside mattresses and spaces under baseboards.
Eggs take about 4 to 12 days to hatch and begin their life cycle, which includes five nymphal stages before reaching maturity. Each stage requires a blood meal to molt and continue to the next stage. Adults can live 6 to 12 months and can go without feeding when necessary.
Because bedbugs are such good hiders and they lay their eggs in difficult to see places, you may not notice you have an infestation until their populations have skyrocketed.
Are Bedbugs Dangerous?
Bedbugs are more of a nuisance than they are dangerous. They aren’t known to spread disease, but they can cause some physical problems and deprive people of sleep — which is never a good thing.
While bedbug bites themselves are not dangerous, they can cause skin irritation and itchiness. And scratching can cause a secondary infection by introducing bacteria to the wound. Some people also have allergic reactions to bites, which might require a trip to the doctor.
Nighttime bedbug activity can keep people awake at night, which can take a toll over time. The sensation of insects crawling over their body can also cause feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and stress in some people. It isn’t a pleasant experience and can affect some people more than others.
How to Know if you have Bedbugs
Despite being great hiders, there are other signs that may indicate their presence, including the following:
Blood stains. Bedbugs will leave little rust-colored spots, which is actually blood-filled excrement, on surfaces like you mattress.
Musty smell. Bedbugs have a sweet, musty odor that you might notice.
Shed skin. You may notice the molted exoskeletons of bedbugs as they progress through their nymphal stages.
Bedbugs. You might be able to spot them if you lift up the folds of your sheets or mattresses.
Bite marks. Bite marks can take as long as 14 days to develop in some people and is not the most reliable sign of an infestation.
Fun Fact: Bedbugs inject both an anesthetic and anticoagulant when they bite, keeping people from feeling the bite and realizing the bedbug is there.
If you suspect that your bed is infested with bedbugs, remove all your bedding and inspect your mattress and bed frame more closely. Sometimes, bedbug excrement stains or skins are concentrated near the seams, so pay close attention to those areas. Also, don’t forget to check the bedding you’ve removed.
Since bedbugs can also crawl, it’s good practice to inspect the furnishings near your bed. Observe your rug or carpet for any crawling bedbug. Also, inspect your bedside tables, small appliances, and electrical outlet. Look for signs inside your closet, too, as bedbugs also like crawling into clothes.
If you’re having a hard time finding evidence of a bedbug infestation but still suspect having one, call pest control professionals to help you.
How to Get Rid of Bedbugs
Bedbugs take time and patience to get rid of entirely — it can take weeks or months to accomplish. And you can choose to do it yourself or hire pest control.
Doing it Yourself
If you do it yourself, you need to know a few things: how many bedbugs you have; how much clutter is availble for bedbugs to hide in; whether you neighbors have bedbugs; and whether everyone in the house or building will be participating. If you live in an apartment, you need to inform your landlord, so they can take appropriate steps as well.
Stop the spread. Remove infested items and place them in sealable plastic bags for treatment. Items that can’t be treated should be left in a sealed bag for 1 year to ensure any bedbugs die.
Vacuum infested areas and immediately empty into the trash outside and ask your garbage service to pick up the trash as soon as possible. You’ll also need to dispose of furniture that can’t be treated — tear up the upholstery and write “bedbugs” in spray paint to discourage other people from taking it.
Prepare for treatment. You’ll need to remove clutter that could be used as a hiding place. Throw away old magazines and other garbage. Keep clothing up off the floor and keep furniture away from your bed.
You should also move your bed at least 6 inches away from the wall and keep all bedding tucked in and off the floor. Remove everything from under the bed. You’ll also want to install a bed interceptor, which you’ll use for a year to monitor insect activity.
Everything in the infested area will need to be thoroughly cleaned or discarded, including furniture, clothing, drapes, carpets, bedding, and memorabilia. And cracks and holes in walls and floorboards will need to be sealed and caulked to prevent bedbug activity.
Treat. Treatments include chemical and nonchemical methods. If you’re using pesticides, make sure you read and follow all directions and safety recommendations. Also be sure to check what kinds of chemical treatments are legal — not everything out there is.
If you don’t want to use chemical treatments, you can also use heat, cold, and steam cleaners to kill bedbugs. You can use a clothes dryer on high heat for clothes, bedding and removable fabric covers. You can also seal items in plastic bags and place them out in the sun to “bake.” Heat treatments are not always effective, but you can purchase a portable heat chamber that usually works well.
You can use your freezer set to 0 degrees F. Place items in sealed plastic bags and leave them in the freezer for four days to make sure all the bedbugs are dead.
Steam cleaners can help with baseboards, bed frames, carpets, and furniture. The temperature has to be at least 130 degrees F, and you need to use a diffuser to prevent scattering.
Hiring a Pro
Hiring a professional may be the best option available to you. Professionals will have access to products and equipment that you might not, and will also have the experience necessary to properly treat the infestation. You will still have to go through many of the preparation steps listed above, but your pest control company will advise you on what they need you to do before they can treat.
How to Avoid Getting Bedbugs
Be Cautious about Secondhand Furniture
Secondhand furniture can be host to bedbugs and you might not even know it, since they can go without feeding for long periods of time, which means no tell-tale blood spots. It’s also possible the person who had it before you didn’t realize they had bedbugs at the time they got rid of it.
If you do decide to buy secondhand furniture (we all love a good bargain on a vintage score), make sure you clean and inspect it thoroughly before bringing it into your home. Use a steam cleaner at a temperature of at least 130 degrees F and keep an eye out for any bugs scattering. Also look for molted skin and bedbug carcasses.
Inspect Hotel Rooms when Traveling
The most common way bedbugs spread is through travel. And since even clean areas can host bedbugs, staying in a nice or upscale hotel is not always a guarantee that you won’t encounter bedbugs. Before you climb into bed, inspect the crevices, folds and underside of the mattress and bedding. Look for the signs of bedbugs listed above: blood spots, molted skin, bedbugs, or a sweet, musty smell.
If you see signs of bedbugs, call the front desk right away and request either a different room (which you should also inspect) or a refund on your stay so you can go elsewhere. And have everything you’ve carried with you cleaned. Hotels often have a laundry service.
Cover Your Mattress
Bedbug infestations are centered around where people sleep, like you mattress. You can help prevent bedbug infestations by using covers specifically made to repel and prevent bedbugs from settling inside your mattress.
Bedbug Traps and Monitors
You might also consider using bedbug blockers and traps to both monitor possible infections and keep them at bay.
Portable Heating Chambers
For frequent travelers and anyone with items that already have bedbugs a heating chamber can be effective.
They may be tiny, but bedbugs can prove to be one of the most annoying pests to have in the house. Since they’re small and hide during the day, they’re not always easy to spot until you have a serious problem.
While an infestation takes time and patience to combat, using our tips above can help you rid your house of bedbugs and keep them out. And if you don’t feel up to the task, a good pest control expert can help too.