All About Bed Bugs

table of contents

Think You Have Bed Bugs? What To Do First
What are Bed Bugs?
Bed Bug Video Overview
How Do You Kill Bed Bugs?
Do bed bugs spread disease?
How Do Bed Bugs Enter A Home or Apartment?
How Can you Identify Bed Bugs?

What to do about bed bugs: Summary

Bed bugs are hard to find and kill. They are usually found in the bedroom starting with the bed and then 10+ feet in either direction. Given this difficulty , we suggest the following:

Homeowners: Have an expert confirm that you have a bed bug infestation as soon as possible since other insects have a similar appearance. Delays can result in a rapidly growing infestation with one female producing up to 500 offspring. You can call a in a qualified local expert by dialing an exterminator referral service that pre-screens contractors such as eLocal at  1.877-233-1145 (24 hours a day) or you can use this online request form provided by Home Advisor.  Since takes up to 3 treatments to eliminate bed bugs, we always suggest using a professional. If you cannot afford it, follow the  steps below for how to eliminate bed bugs yourself.

The average cost of bed bug treatment is $1,750 (2018, Consumer Reports). Treatment for an entire home can be several thousand dollars. Exterminators should provide a written guarantee and provide multiple visits (3 is the average needed.)

Heat treatment is the most effective. Bed bug sniffing dogs can confirm that an infestation is present, however, always confirm by seeing an actual insect.

Apartments and Renters: You also need to have an expert confirm the presence of bed bugs. Notify your managing agent via a call and in a dated email or letter requesting an inspection. A professional will inspect your apartment and if an infestation is found, apartments that are next door, above and below yours.  Every State has different rules regarding who pays for treatment, so ask the managing agent before undertaking anything. 

While Waiting For Treatment:

While waiting for bed bug treatment you can reduce the size of the bed bug population by sprinkling a product like Cimexa Insecticide Dust(3) into bed frame joints, cracks and areas where a bed bug might hide. The dust clings to the insect's outer shell, causing death. You can also vacuum up any visible bed bugs (immediately throw out the vacuum bag).

Bed and box spring encasements will help to trap any insects in the bed area.

Watch this video for a good overview:


Video on all about bed bugs. Watch it to get understand how to identify and protect yourself from these insects.
Click to Call: (877) 673-2704

What Are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are insects that feed off of a human or animal host. They look like small oval and flat insects, although the appearance changes depending on their life stage. Baby bed bugs are called nymphs and are straw colored. Adult bed bugs are approximately 1/4 in length before feeding.  Bed bug babies or nymphs are smaller and lighter in color.



bed bugs lifestages

bed bug life stages Bed Bug Life Stages - From Egg to Tiny Bed Bugs to Adults

Appearance varies depending on life stage and before/after feeding. They pass through the following stages before becoming an adult:

Bed bug sizes:

  • 1st stage bed bug (also called a nymph, young or baby bed bug) (1.5 mm)
  • 2nd stage  bed bug nymph (2 mm)
  • 3rd stage bed bug nymph (2.5 mm)
  • 4th stage bed bug nymph (3 mm)
  • 5th stage bed bug nymph (4.5 mm)
  • Adult (5 to 7 mm)
bed bug on hand Bed Bug Actual Size and Size At Each Stage, From a First Stage Bed Bug to Fifth Stage

What do small bed bugs look like?

Immature bed bugs (little bed bugs) are straw colored and somewhat clear.

how little are bed bugs?

Baby bed bugs are about the size of the head of a pin with adults growing to about 3/16".

Do Bed Bugs Fly or jump?

Bed bugs do not fly or jump like fleas.  They do quickly crawl.

Bed Bugs Pictures

Side view

Bed bugs are flat in appearance.

bed bug picture - side viewMagnified Bed Bug Side View
Source: University of Florida

bed bug on hand

bed bug on hand Bed Bug On Hand. Note that Bed Bugs are Not Round, but Oval in Shape.

what is the main cause of bed bugs?

Bed bugs are caused either carrying them into your home from another location such as when traveling, or when they travel from one apartment to another. They are excellent hitchhikers.  They have nothing to do with wealth or cleanliness.  Anyone and any level of hotel can attract bed bugs.

How do bed bugs start in your home?

When a female bed bug is carried or travels into a home they can product up to 500 off spring by laying several eggs a day.

An infestation can start in about a week as the first eggs hatch.

are bed bugs hard?

Bed bugs have a hard shell formed by an exoskeleton (skeleton on outside of body). They do shed the shells as they grow leaving behind casings. Bed bugs can be crushed by stepping on them.

when do bed bugs feed?

Bed bugs prefer to feed at night, just before dawn. When not feeding they tend to hide near the host, which in the case of people is around the bed. 

where do bed bugs bite?

Bed bugs bite exposed areas of the body when sleeping.  This is why most bed bug bites appear on the legs, arms and neck. Covering up exposed skin areas will help to prevent bites as they DO NOT bite through clothing.

adult bed bugs before and after feeding Adult Bed Bugs Before and After Feeding

what are common signs of bed bugs?

Bed bug bites are only one sign that you have an infestation. Bites have a characteristic clear center where the stylet enters the skin.

It is helpful to confirm that you actually have a bed bug bite by finding other signs of an infestation such as insects that are hiding in mattress seams or along the headboard. Look for dark spots, actual insects (you can see them with the naked eye) or blood stains on the mattress.

Tip: Use a credit card edge pulled inside a mattress seam to dislodge any bed bugs possibly hiding.

bed bug mattress spots Bed Bug Mattress Spots Are Signs That You Have A Problem

The easiest way to check for bed bugs is to pull back the bed sheets to look for red/brown markings on the mattress. 

how do you know if you hae been bitten by bedbugs?

Most people show no skin reaction to a bed bug bite (actually a puncture) and would not know. Those that do show a reaction usually have round raised red areas with a clear center.  Two people sleeping in the same bed can have either no reaction, or one person reacts and the other does not.

Beyond the skin reaction, the bites itch.  Bites can look like any of the following:

  • No marks
  • Bites in a line or pattern
  • Itchy welts that look like they were from a mosquito bite
  • Hive like rash

Try not to scratch to avoid infection. Use an insect itch cream made for bed bug itch such as All Stop or buy an anti-itch cream in your drug store. Bedbug Bites should go away by themselves in 3 to 5 days. Bite skin reactions tend to be immediate, but could be deflated by several days.

bed bug bite patternPicture of Bed Bug Bites On Arm

In highly allergic people, bed bug bites can be more pronounced and take the shape of a wheal, which is a round red area approximately 2 inches in diameter.  The size of a bite reaction will vary between people and even between episodes.  In some cities many doctors do not know all about bed bugs, so they may not pick up on the signs.  Ask specifically if you have bed bug bites.

bed bug bite Bed Bug Bite Wheal Skin Reaction
large bed bug bite on arm Bed Bug Bite On Leg. This Is A More Chronic Reaction to The Bed Bug Saliva.

confirming you have bed bugs

The two best ways to confirm you have bed bugs are:

  1. Send a picture or sample to the Cornell Insect Diagnostic Lab. There is a $25 fee per insect.
  2. Ask a professional for a free in-home inspection. We suggest calling either eLocal at  (877) 233-1145  or a reputable referral service such as Home Advisor

bed bug monitors and detectors

Monitors or detectors can be helpful in alerting you to a bed bug problem.

lowest cost bed bug monitor

Climb-up Interceptors can also be helpful when identifying bedbugs in a home. These are 4 small bowls that are placed under each bed leg that trap the bed bugs before they can climb up onto the bed.  This combined with moving the bed away from the wall/furniture and by keeping blankets off the floor, can help keep bed bugs away.

climbup bed bug monitor Climbup Bed Bug Trap and Monitor On Bed Leg
Shown: ClimbUp Interceptors from Amazon

do bed bugs spread disease?

There is no evidence that bed bugs spread disease even though they leave behind saliva when puncturing the skin. The bugs actually do not actually bite, they have a stylet on the head which enters the skin looking for a blood capillary to feed on.  The only real problem is the discomfort and allergic skin reactions caused by their bites.

Should You buy a mattress cover

Mattress, box spring and pillow covers trap bed bugs inside. They do not prevent bed bugs that are not in the mattress from biting you.  Using a mattress cover could protect and keep you from having to buy a new mattress.

how do bed bugs enter a home or apartment?

Bed bugs have to be carried into a home, apartment, cruise ship, hotel room or hospital. The bugs hitch a ride on items such as used furniture or luggage. They can even be found in new furniture or a new mattress in particular if the same truck that delivers new mattresses is also used to cart away used.  

There is a 20% chance that bed bugs will spread from one adjoining apartment to another. This includes apartments that are above, below and next door to yours.

bed bug eggs on back pack Bed Bug Eggs Cling to Surfaces Using a Sticky Substance Making Them Tricky To Remove. A Strong Tape Such As Duct Tape Will Pick Them Up.

Bed bugs have nothing to do with the cleanliness of an apartment or room. People that do not know all about bed bugs often think you can only find them in poor communities or cheap hotels.  This is not true.  Bed bugs can reside anywhere. They are just as likely to inhabit a 5 star hotel as an apartment complex. 

However, if people are more likely to live in a building where a bed bug infestation has spread, then they are also more likely to spread the insects to other locations such as hospitals and schools. Even when discovered, it is very difficult to point to a specific person as the cause or carrier of the bedbugs.

what are other insects that look like bed bugs?

Bed bugs are often confused with many insect species including bat bugs, ticks and small cockroaches.

baby bat bugs vs. bed bugs Bed Bugs Are Often Confused With Bat Bugs, Particularly Baby Bat Bugs. Both Bat Bugs and Bed Bugs Are Hard To Distinguish With The Naked Eye. Removing Bat Bugs Requires Finding and Eliminating Bats.

Other insects that are confused with bed bugs are baby cockroaches, ticks, or carpet beetles.

Top Row: Bed Bugs From Little/Young/Baby to Adult
Middle Row: Cockroaches
Bottom Row: Carpet Beetles

how do you kill bed bugs?

We strongly recommend that if you are a home owner you call in a professional for an inspection. Be sure to only work with companies that have experience and therefore know all about bed bugs and therefore have the know how to fight a bed bug infestation. Importantly, firms that know all about bed bugs have specialized equipment and insecticides that is too expensive or unavailable to home owners.  

To start, you can use our free service to get a list of qualified experts here.  You can also call a well  firm that pre-screens exterminators such as Home Advisor or call a service such as eLocal at Call (877) 673-2704

Treatment can be expensive, so be sure to speak to more than one firm and ask them all about bed bugs, their expertise and if they guarantee that the problem will be taken care of.

Many firms that know all about bed bugs, know that it is very helpful to use bed bug sniffing dogs  to identify areas where bed bugs are hiding. This can be a very accurate approach, although there is usually a fee associated with the use of a bedbug sniffing dog.  Be sure to be present during the inspection to visually confirm the presence of bed bugs.

If you decide to do it yourself,  you can save money with a kit which contains all of the products needed (mattress safe spray, crack/crevice spray, dust, mattress/box spring covers etc.).

Good choices are the options that are available from Bed Bug Supply.  The kits will make sure that you know all about bed bugs before taking the time to remove them.

bed bug spray and powder kit A Bed Bug Kit Is An Economical Way to Treat One to Two Rooms With The Products Needed To Be Successful.
Shown: Powder and Spray Kit From Bed Bug Supply

Killing bed bugs at home

There are many types of products available that will help you kill or remove bed bugs including mechanical methods such as vacuuming, heat, cold and insecticides.  Here are few popular methods:

Insecticides

Bed bug insecticides come in spray and liquid form. The difference between products includes mattress safety, insecticide based products and those which use organic ingredients. 

Organic bed bug spray

 These products use natural plant based extracts such as extract of chrysanthemum flowers. Popular products include Bed Bug Patrol. Organic products are mattress safe and will kill bed bugs on contact.  The draw back is that the products not have a strong residual or lasting effect, as bed bugs may avoid areas that were sprayed. The science behind these products is sometimes not as strong as an insecticide. Organic sprays should be used in conjunction with an organic dust product (see below).

insecticde sprays

Bed bug sprays contain different base ingredients including pyrethroids.  If you choose to go this route, we suggest purchase two different sprays:

  1. Mattress Safe such as Sterifab
  2. Crack and crevice spray such as Bedlam or Phantom.   

    Phantom in particular contains the ingredient chlorfenapyr, which has been shown to have a long residual effect and it will not repel bed bugs that enter areas that have been sprayed. 

    For this reason, we highly recommend the combination of Phantom and Sterifab.

Insect Growth Regulators

These products do not necessarily kill bed bugs on contact, but stop their ability to reproduce.  Over an extended 10 day period, these products can be very effective.  A popular option in this category is Gentrol.

Bed Bug Dust

Bed bug dusts come in a natural form (diatomaceous earth) or form that includes a mixture of dust and insecticide. It works by applying a thin layer to a crack or floor. When a bed bug passes through the dust field it clings to the insect, absorbing the wax exterior of the bed bug shell.

Dust is frequently used after treatment with insecticides as a lasting barrier. It should not be used in homes with pets that would lick up the dust from the floor. 

Dust can be safely used around bed frame tubes, in wall cracks, under furniture, inside walls, inside box springs, around electrical outlets etc. to kill any bed bugs and late hatching eggs that may have been missed. 

Only apply a thin coating and we suggest (per government safety regulations) when working with any dust product, use a low cost duster and a protective dust mask.

The most important advantage of bed bug dust is that they have residual value.  Meaning that they provide lasting protection as long as the area where the dust is applied isn't disturbed.  The effect can last for months or years.  Most sites that are all about bed bugs recommend the use of a dust product with other insecticides such as sprays.

types of bed bug dust

Types of bed bug dust products include:

  1. Silica Dust: This is a man made dust product that is often found in those white packets found in new product boxes. We recommend Cimexas Insecticide Dust. You may need multiple applications.

  2. Fossil Dust: This is the most popular dust product as it is all natural. It is also called diatomaceous earth. Studies conducted by Mike Potter at the University of Kentucky shows that diatomaceous earth IS NOT effective at killing bed bugs.(3)

  3. Insecticide Dust: These products are referred to as a stabilized pyrethroid insecticide .  One product commonly used by pest control professionals is Tempo.

  4. Fossil Dust and  Insecticide Combinations: Some manufacturers blend together a natural or silica dust and an insecticide such as a pyrethroid.  A popular choice is Drione.

How to use heat and freezing to kill bed bugs

Heat:

Most online sites and blogs all about bed bugs mention that Heat is the best non-chemical option next to vacuuming for removing bed bugs from a home or apartment.  Since bed bugs and their eggs are killed at 114F there are several approaches to applying heat.  

  1. Steam Heat: High end steamers are used (multi-hole head) to apply heat directly to bed bugs and their egg.  Since water is the only ingredient, it is highly effective and not harmful.  Note that water can stain wood, so test on wood surfaces before using. 

  2. Heaters: These units are used to professionals to heat a room or building to the required temperature.  Some firms have heat boxes on the back of trucks or in a building where furniture and mattresses can be safely treated and certified bed bug free.

  3. Portable Heaters: Small heaters such as the PackTite unit can be used to kill bed bugs that are hiding in electronics and other small items that may have hidden bed bugs.

  4. Heat Chambers: These work the same way as portable heaters, but on a larger scale.  Heat chambers are found in buildings, on the back of trucks, or like the PackTite, larger units can be set up in the home to treat furniture such as couches.
portable bed bug heat chamber A portable heat chamber like this one can be setup in the home to treat larger items such as a couch. The chamber is heated to a level that ensures that heat at 120F penetrates the item being treated.
Source: Dr. Stephen A. Kells

Freezing

 High pressure freezing units instantly freeze and kill any bed bugs that come in contact with the freezing spray.  This is an approach used by professionals that have the proper equipment.

You can kill bed bugs by putting them in a freezer. Freezing kills bed bugs when ice forms inside the insect's body.  A freezer must:

  • Freezer must be set to 00F. Items must be kept in the freezer for 4 days.  Note the "0" temperature must be reached at the center of the object being treated in the freezer. At higher temperatures bed bugs eggs and baby bed bugs may not be killed.

Items that can be treated for bed bugs with freezing:

  • Electronics that do not have any type of screen such as LED or LCD
  • Toys
  • Pictures
  • Jewelry
  • Shoes
  • Books
  • Clothing (preferred method is washing machine and dryer at high heat settings)(2)

DO NOT freeze items that you believe will be damaged in a freezer such as LCD panels or rare collectible items.

Tip: Placing items outdoors in freezing temperatures is not a reliable way to kill bed bugs. Variations due to wind and sun make this an unreliable method.(1)

Products that do not kill bed bugs effectively

The following products are not effective at killing bed bugs:

  1. Natural sprays or oils
  2. Cayenne pepper
  3. Diatomaceous earth

how do you kill bed bug eggs

Bed bugs eggs are small oval white specs that almost look like white colored sesame seeds.  The female will attach them to a rough surface where they are laid and attached with a cement like substance, making it impossible to a  vacuum.  

When killing bed bugs, it is important to use a spray product that kills bed bugs and their eggs.  Bed Bug dust is often used as  a layer of protection after the primary treatment is completed to kill any hatched bed bugs from eggs that might have been missed.  This is also why zippered mattress covers and box spring covers are used, to not only trap bed bugs, bug late hatching hard to find eggs as well.  

bed bug eggs Magnified View of Bed Bug Egg on Surface

Steam heat or heat itself is also an effective way to kill bed bugs at 114F. 

how long does it take for a bed bug egg to hatch?

It takes about 1 week for a bed bug egg to hatch.

Tips for Renters in apartments

Local government agencies are finally learning all about bed bugs. Many localities are passing laws regarding bed bugs in apartments. In general, apartment owners have an obligation to provide a safe living environment for tenants. 

The first thing you should do is notify your management company or landlord. If you are lucky, they will know all about bed bugs and have a plan for how to treat a bed bug problem.  Research all about bed bugs in apartments shows that early and fast action is critical as there is a 20% chance that bedbugs will spread to an adjoining apartment and a 7% chance that they will spread to an apartment above or below the infested unit.

If your apartment does not have bedbugs, but they are in your building, you can spread bed bug dust along the perimeter of the room, in cracks etc., as a first line of defense. You can also use a good crack and crevice insecticide that has a lasting effect such as Phantom.

Any apartment treatment program should include an education program for tenants. Every tenant needs to know all about bed bugs. Often used furniture and mattresses are the source of a bed bug infestation. Banning or making sure that these items are treated first, is an important preventative. Rented furniture should also be inspected before bringing it into a home or apartment.

Apartment buildings are often treated with a combination of insecticides and heat. The key is to make sure a treated apartment are free of clutter, so that treatments can reach all areas. All items such as furniture and mattresses can be treated.  All apartment owners and renters that live in the treated area  must participate.

When waiting for treatment, protect the bed by moving it at least 6 inches from the walls and adjoining furniture.  Keep all blankets and linens from hitting the floor, removing a way for the bed bugs to climb onto the bed.  Place Climbup Interceptors under each bed leg or use double sided tape as an alternative.  You can make your own interceptor by placing a cardboard ramp on the outside of a bowl.  Inside of the bowl place a layer of talcum powder.  Bedbugs will climb up the outside and get stuck in the bowl.

Another tip for preventing bed bugs in apartment buildings is to install a heat room in the building where any furniture or at least used furniture can be subject to high heat before moving to an apartment.  The key is proactive education all about bed bugs and bed bug prevention effort.

bed bug prevention When traveling

Whether avoiding bed bugs on planes, in hotels, and on cruise ships there are things you can do to avoid bringing them home with you. 

  1. Pack a Travel Bed Bug Spray: This Bed Bug Travel Spray can be a helpful way using a natural bed bug product to protect against bed bugs when traveling.

  2. Use hard luggage or bed bug proof luggage: There are more hiding spots on the outside of soft canvas luggage vs. hard cased luggage.

  3. Inspect the hotel room or cruise cabin before entering: Do not immediately bring your luggage into the room. Inspect the mattress by pulling back the sheets on one corner. Look for red brown spots. If you see dark small stains, call the manager.

  4. Pack Ziploc Big Bags: This is a low cost, simple way to keep bed bugs out of your luggage. Pack the bags. When you arrive at the hotel, don't unpack, but keep clothes in the luggage. Place each piece of luggage into one of the double zippered bags for protection.

  5. Keep Luggage in Bathroom: Bed bugs tend to avoid hard surfaces such as tile in bathrooms. Also keep hanging clothes in the bathroom.

  6. Inspect Luggage When You Get Home: Check the luggage seams for bed bugs. In the summer, leave bags in the direct sun to kill off any bugs. Bed bugs are killed at 114F. You an also place luggage into a PackTite heat chamber before unpacking to ensure all insects are killed.

free brochures

Excellent brochure that will teach you all about bed bugs:

All About Bed Bugs Including Pictures, Descriptions, Habits and Insecticides.


REferences

(1) Cold Tolerance of Bed Bugs and Practical Recommendations for Control by Joelle F. Olson, Marc Eaton, Stephen A. Kells, Victor Morin, Changlu Wang; Journal of Economic Entomology December 2013.

(2) Using Freezing Conditions to Kill Bed Bugs - University of Minnesota

(3) Consumer Reports: Bed Bug Myths Debunked

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