Bed bugs are six-legged insects that feed on the blood of humans during the night-time hours and crawl away to hide during the day. They are commonly found in large buildings such as apartments, dorms, prisons, hospitals and hotels; however, infestations can also occur in private homes as well.
Bed bugs are not known to transmit disease, but most people experience itching, pain and/or swelling of the skin where a bed bug bite occurs (such as the arms, face or back). An infestation of bed bugs could also cause some mental health issues, along with insomnia.
Experts believe the recent increase in bed bugs in the United States may be due to more travel, lack of knowledge about preventing infestations, increased resistance of bed bugs to pesticides, and ineffective pest control practices. The key to controlling bed bugs is using an integrated pest management (IPM) approach.
Below you will find more information on bed bugs and methods for getting rid of them.
Bed bugs will often hide in the cracks, crevices and recesses of furniture (especially mattresses) and walls of the home during the day. They can be found under bed frames and nightstands, behind wall-mounted headboards and moldings just above the floor, and in light switches and alarm clocks.
Bed bugs are great hitchhikers. They can move from an infested site to a new home by traveling on furniture, bedding, luggage, boxes, and clothing. While there is a mistaken belief that bed bugs are only found in dirty environments, the truth is they can be found in clean environments as well.
Although they typically feed on blood every five to ten days, bed bugs are capable of surviving several months without feeding.
Signs of an Infestation
If you have an infestation, it is best to find it early, before the infestation becomes established or spreads.
Bites on the skin are not always a good indicator of a bed bug infestation because bed bug bites can look like bites from other insects (such as mosquitoes or chiggers), rashes (such as eczema or fungal infections), or even hives. Some people do not react to bed bug bites at all.
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.
- Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and pale yellow skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger.
- Live bed bugs.
A few simple precautions can help you prevent bed bug infestation in your home:
- Check secondhand furniture, beds, and couches for any signs of bed bug infestation before bringing them home.
- Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs and eliminates many hiding spots. The light color of the encasement makes bed bugs easier to see. Be sure to purchase a high quality encasement that will resist tearing and check the encasements regularly for holes.
- Reduce clutter in your home to reduce hiding places for bed bugs. Vacuum frequently to remove any successful hitchhikers. Empty the bag after every use.
- Be vigilant when using shared laundry facilities. Transport items to be washed in plastic bags (if you have an active infestation, use a new bag for the journey home). Remove from dryer directly into bag and fold at home. (A dryer on high heat can kill bed bugs.)
- If you live in a multi-family home, try to isolate your unit by: 1) Installing door sweeps on the bottom of doors to discourage movement into hallways; 2) Sealing cracks and crevices around baseboards, light sockets, etc., to discourage movement through wall voids.
- If infested furniture cannot be salvaged, discard it responsibly. Destroy it so someone else won’t be tempted to bring it into their home. Slash or rip covers and remove stuffing from furniture items. Use spray paint to mark furniture with “Bed Bugs.” Call your trash collection agency to have it picked up as soon as possible.
Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
While there is no quick fix to getting rid of bed bugs, there are effective strategies to control bed bugs involving both non-chemical and chemical methods.
Some tips for getting rid of bed bugs:
- Heat treat clothing, bedding, and other items that can withstand a hot dryer (household dryer at high heat for 30 minutes), which will kill bed bugs and eggs. Washing alone might not do the job. Store clean items in a sealed plastic bag to ensure they remain bug free
- Physically inspect and clean furniture, baseboards, behind outlet and switch covers, etc. to remove visible bed bugs or eggs. Remove and clean drapes and the drapery hardware.
- Use sealed plastic bags to transport any items that are being moved from one area to another (e.g., clothing or other items to be heated in the dryer).
- Make your bed an island. Move the bed at least 6 inches away from the wall. Place bed-bug-proof covers (often called encasements) on your mattress and boxspring (available in home stores or online). Make sure all bedding is tucked under the mattress and is not touching the floor. Remove anything under the bed.
- Vacuum thoroughly, then remove and dispose of the vacuum bag. Seal the vacuum bag in a plastic bag and place in the trash outside.
- If needed, use pesticides carefully according to the label directions or hire a pest management professional. Look for EPA-registered pesticides with bed bugs listed on the label.
- Continue to inspect for presence of bed bugs, at least every 7 days, in case any eggs remained. Re-treat as necessary.
Hiring a pest management professional (PMP) as soon as possible rather than taking time to try to treat the problem yourself can help prevent the infestation from spreading.
Below are links to videos and publications related to bed bugs.
Bed Bugs: 10 tips to protect yourself (NPMA)
- Bed Bug Brochure (ISDH)
- Controlling Bed Bugs at Home (ISDH)
- Bed Bug Information (CDC)
- Bed Bug Information (EPA)
- Bed Bug Information Clearinghouse (EPA)
- CDC Health Advisory: Health Concerns about Misuse of Pesticides for Bed Bug Control
- Let’s Beat the Bug! (University of Minnesota)
- Bed Bugs (ISDH)
- Non-Chemical Bed Bug Management (Virginia Tech)
- Bed Bug Integrated Pest Management (Purdue University)
- Bed Bug Information (Purdue University)
- Bed Bug Information (University of Kentucky)
- All Things Bed Bugs (National Pest Management Association)
- How to Hire a Pest Control Operator for Bed Bugs (Midwest Pesticide Action Center)
- Bed Bug Comic Book (University of Missouri–St. Louis)
- Bed Bugs & Mental Health (Dr. Gibbs, Purdue Extension)
- How to Get Bed Bugs Out of Your Belongings (Cornell University)
- Bed Bug Field Guide App for iPhone/Android (Pest Control Technology/Ohio State University)
- Bed Bug Poster (Stop Pests/NE IPM Center)
Day Cares & Schools
- School Guidance on Bed Bugs (ISDH)
- Bed Bug Action Plan for Schools (Virginia Tech)
- Bed Bugs in Schools and Childcares (Midwest Pesticide Action Center)
- Guidelines for Bed Bug Response in a School Setting (Cuyhoga County Bed Bug Task Force)
Group Homes & Shelters
- Guidelines for Prevention and Management of Bed Bugs in Shelters and Group Living Facilities (Cornell University)
- Bed Bug Action Plan for Shelters (Virginia Tech)
Hotels & Motels
- Inspecting Your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs (University of Minnesota)
- Bed Bug Action Plan for Hotels (Virginia Tech)
- The Bed Bug Registry
- Bed Bug Info for Multifamily Property Owners and Managers (National Apartment Association)
- Bed Bug Action Plan for Apartments (Virginia Tech)
- Bed Bug Checklist for Rental Property Managers & Owners [En español] (Midwest Pesticide Action Center)
- Bed Bug Checklist for Tenants [En español] (Midwest Pesticide Action Center)
Prevention Tips for Home Health Care and Social Workers and Other Visitors
- Bed Bug Action Plan for Home Health Care & Social Workers (Virginia Tech)
- Prevention Tips for Visitors to Bed Bug-Infested Homes (DOH)
- Bed Bug Guidelines for Social Service Providers (University of Minnesota)
- Bed Bug Brochure [En español] (DOH)
- About Bed Bugs [Burmese] (ISDH)
- Bed Bug Facts Sheets [En español] (Virginia Tech)
- Bed Bug Prevention & Control Video Translated into Arabic, Hmong, Karen, Somali, and Spanish (University of Minnesota)