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How to Check for Bed Bugs and Bed Bug Bites

Updated on June 28, 2012

Bed Bugs are Here

In the last few years, bed bugs have become an epidemic in the United States and Canada. Despite the stigma that bed bugs follow poor housekeeping, these tiny pests invade even the tidiest homes and upscale hotels; luggage and clothing make the ideal vessels for these bugs, moving them from home to home and hotel to hotel. What's worse, many people do not know how to check for bed bugs and so delay pest control efforts. This delay in identifying the pest problem contributes to an explosion in the bed bug population

So how do you know if you have bed bugs? And what do bed bugs and bed bug bites look like, anyway? I will provide you with several steps for identifying and handling the pests in your home, as well as information on identifying bed bug bites.

Bed bug nymph preparing to feed.
Bed bug nymph preparing to feed. | Source
Bed bug finishing up its snack.
Bed bug finishing up its snack. | Source

Checking for Bed Bugs

Bed bugs leave several tell-tale signs that experienced travelers and savvy homeownerslook for bed bug infestations before setting their clothing or luggage anywhere near the hotel beds. Likewise, savvy homeowners keep a vigilant watch for the pests: quick dis is key to quick, easy pest removal.

What Bed Bugs Look Like

Adult bed bugs have a reddish-brown color with a generally flat, oval-shaped body. They grow to about the size of a watermelon or apple seed. Young bed bugs, or nymphs, have a more golden or honey-toned color. While they may be a bit smaller, they can do just as much damage. Bed bug nymphs indicate the presence of bed bug adults.

How to Check for Bed Bugs

  • Check the top of your mattress and its seams, your curtain, couches, linen, and even unused clothing for live bugs, dead bug bodies, or bug parts, like skins or legs that may have been torn loose or shed.
  • Look for dark red spots about the size of poppy seeds or fecal matter, which bed bugs leave after eating.
  • Look for eggs, which look like grains of rice.
  • Examine furniture, including drawers, headboards, bed frames, and desk areas, as well as the floor area beneath the furniture. Note: because bed bugs are flat, they can crawl into tiny crevices in furniture to hide. Be rigorous!
  • Remember to check the extra linens in hotel room closets, pull-out beds, or cots, as these often move room to room and may have been in an infested room at some point.
  • Use your nose. Where there are bed bugs, there is usually a musty, sweet odor, too.

How to Prevent Bed Bugs While Traveling

  • Keep luggage and clothing off the floor and bed of a hotel rooms until you have used the tips below to confirm the lack of a bed bug infestation.
  • Keep suitcases, clothing, and all other personal items off the floor for the duration of your stay; bed bugs are mobile and may crawl in from nearby rooms. Before leaving, give your items a quick once-over to ensure sure no bed bugs have found their way into your things.
  • Wash all travel clothing, towels, and linens in the hottest water the fabrics allow whenever possible and immediately upon your return home. Likewise, dry these items on the highest heat setting possible. Shake out then vacuum your luggage and purses. Discard the vacuum bag or contents immediately. Rinse or wipe-down other personal items with a washcloth; remember to wash immediately the washcloth and your hands when finished.

How to Prevent Bed Bugs at Home

  • Clean your home regularly. While a clean home is no guarantee against this pest, it can help to expose an infestation or remove dormant bugs or eggs.
  • Seal up any cracks in the walls or flooring that might allow bed bugs to enter or hide. If you live in an apartment, ask your landlord to seal up any holes that lead to other apartments. You can only control your home, not the homes of others, who may bring the bugs and spread them to you through these small passages.
  • Offer guests the use of your washing machine and dryer for their clothing and soft luggage during their stay, just in case they picked something up along the way.
  • Keep your bed frame away from walls and your sheets tucked in. The goal is to make the mattress as inaccessible to the bugs as possible.
  • Cover your mattress and box spring with a plastic cover. The cover not only keeps pests out, but keeps pests in, too. Though bed bugs take a long time to starve to death, they do die eventually.

Bed bug bites may take hours or days to show up on the skin.
Bed bug bites may take hours or days to show up on the skin. | Source
Bed bug bites after one week.
Bed bug bites after one week. | Source

Checking for Bed Bug Bites

Bed bug bites have a few specific signs, but to an untrained eye, the bite may resemble a common mosquito or non-poisonous spider bite. Additionally, bed bug bites may take up to two weeks to appear. While everyone responds differently, most people will see the bite within a few hours.

Bed Bug Bite Signs and Symptoms

  • Bites often resemble small red bumps. At times, these red bumps may inflame into large welts. While some people feel little itchiness from the bites, others will find them much more uncomfortable than mosquito bites.
  • Bites occur in a fairly linear line of three or four. This line represents a bed bug eating and walking over the course of a few hours or the night. Several bed bugs may leave several of these small bite clusters.
  • Bites will last longer than a standard mosquito or non-poisonous spider bite.
  • Bites take hours or days to appear, corresponding with a recent vacation or signs of bed bugs in the home.

Easing the Itching

Several treatments for the itching of bed bug bites, or the bites themselves, are on the market.

  • Hydrocortisone Cream (rinse hands well after application and do not touch eyes)
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Betamethasone Valerate
  • Benadryl
  • Please Consult with a Physician for Additional Assistance

What to Do If You Find Bed Bugs in Your Home

If you find signs of bed bugs, or the bugs themselves, do not waste any time getting to work. The longer you wait, the worse the infestation becomes. You have two options: call a professional, or do it yourself.

Getting Rid of Bed Bugs Naturally

I recognize that not everyone has the financial wherewithal to hire a professional to take care of the pest control, so I've included steps to a natural, earth and budget-friendly approach. However, managing even a small infestation of bed bugs is very difficult without the tools and knowledge of professionals. Prepare yourself for several cleaning attempts or the eventual cost of a pest control service.

  1. Wash everything, from linens to curtains, in the hottest water possible, then dry everything on the hottest setting possible.

  2. Vacuum everything, being careful to remove the vacuum bag from the home. If the vacuum has a container and not a bag, be sure to rinse it with scalding-hot water after bagging and dumping its contents away from your home and the homes of others.
  3. Take a washcloth dipped in a water and rubbing alcohol solution and wipe down as many surfaces as will take the solution safely and without damage. Immediately wash the rag in hot water.
  4. Consider purchasing a plastic mattress bag to starve mattress infestations.
  5. Leave no stone uncovered or drawer unopened. Clean everything: no amount of cleaning is too much.
  6. Use Diatomaceous Earth. This substance is natural, cheap, chemical-free, and 100% safe for pets and children. You can find it at natural food, garden, and farm supply stores. The DE sticks to bed bugs and many other pests and dehydrates them. Sprinkle it into drawers, seams, or on the surfaces of infested areas. Sprinkle it along baseboards, on closet shelves, under the headboard and on the bed frame, under the mattress, or in any crevice where a bug or its eggs may be hiding.
  7. Seal all exits to and from the infected region of the home. Use thick lines of DE across doorways to keep the bed bugs from crawling room-to-room.
  8. Use a solution of 1 part water to 1 part dish soap to spray any bed bugs you see.
  9. Wait, and be vigilant!

Getting Some Professional Help

Due to the explosion in bed bug populations, most regions will have professional services to assist in pest control management. These services generally rely on the vulnerability of bed bugs to heat, cold, and poison. As a result, you have a few methods from which to choose for professional pest management.

  • Insecticide
  • Steam
  • Heat
  • Cold
  • Combination

Insecticide and Bed Bugs

The trouble with insecticide is that pests, including bed bugs, eventually build up an immunity to the stuff. Additionally, insecticide poses health risks for family members and often adversely affects the environment. However, insecticide is still an effective means of treatment for bed bugs, though it may be wise to save it for a last resort or for use in combination with one of the safer methods below.

Steam and Bed Bugs

Because bed bugs are sensitive to heat, focused steam will instantly kill them and their eggs. This method has a fatal flaw, however, in that it relies on proximity to work. A pest control professional waving a steam wand who misses an area of about six inches on a mattress will often cause reinfestation. However, this method poses no health risk and only moderate risk to most of your household goods.

Heat and Bed Bugs

The heat method also relies on the vulnerability of bed bugs to heat by converting the infected area of the home into a large oven. With temperatures up to 120°F, the bed bugs cook to death. However, though this method seems simple, it has some drawbacks. For one, certain items including the mattress may not heat evenly to the required temperature. Additionally, the heat poses risks to some household goods, which means that several unsafe items, like hairspray or paint cans, will require separate cleaning and removal from the infected region of the home.

Cold and Bed Bugs

Much gentler than the heat method, the cold method poses less risk to household goods. It also requires much less energy to use and, like the heat methods, has no risk of building up immunities in its targeted pests. Unfortunately, this method has the same weakness as the steam method: it can target bugs themselves, or regions of infestations, but the chances of killing off the entire infestation with it is much less likely than with some insecticides.

Combination Treatments and Bed Bugs

Despite the risk of eventual immunities, many professionals like to combine hot or cold treatments with insecticide. The hope is that by using the safer, more environmentally-friendly option first, the infestation will require less insecticide later. Though this method has its obvious downsides, it's hard to argue with its rate of effectiveness. For those with a tough infestation, this may be the best way to limit chemicals in the home while still using the muscle needed to kill off the last dregs of an infestation.


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    • profile image

      topsite 12 months ago

      nice article, i extremely agree with you


    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      I appreciate this de-mystification of the scourge of the bed bug. Excellent, thorough article!