The idea of little blood-sucking insects crawling around your bed at night is probably enough to send shivers down your spine. Unfortunately, bed bug infestations have become an ever-increasing problem for many households these days.
Bed bugs are a type of pest that feeds exclusively on the blood of humans and other mammals. They are normally oval-shaped and reddish-brown in color but become purplish-red when engorged with blood.
Although they need regular feeds at two-week intervals to reproduce, they are capable of surviving for much longer when food is scarce. They are also very prolific, with a single female bed bug capable of laying as many as 500 eggs in her lifetime.
Their resilience, coupled with their small size and ability to hide well from human eyes, make them a real problem. Fortunately, bed bugs don’t carry diseases and their bites are only unpleasant but not dangerous.
Being tiny and nocturnal, some people might not even notice the infestation until it’s spread quite extensively. If you’re wondering about a possible bug presence in your home, it’s important that you know some of its more common signs before taking direct action.
Table of Contents
- Symptoms That Your House Has Bed Bugs
- Where Do Bed Bugs Hide?
Symptoms That Your House Has Bed Bugs
No one wants to think about a bed bug infestation, but once the bugs have made your bedroom their home, it is unlikely that they’ll move out on their own. As a result, it requires decisive action on your part.
You may be wondering what causes a bed bug infestation, but the answer is not all that obvious. For example, it’s actually a misconception to think that the lack of cleanliness has anything to do with it.
Generally, bed bugs spread from place to place via the items that people bring with them (such as luggage, mattresses, briefcases, old furniture, etc.), so a bed bug infestation can commonly begin after you’ve come back from a trip abroad.
These little insects might have been tagging along with you without you knowing. It’s not so easy to know for sure if these unpleasant guests are scuttling about your rooms, but there are definitely some signs you can look for.
1. Physical Evidence of Bed Bugs
One of the easiest ways to know if you’ve got bed bugs in your home or hotel room is to look for the physical evidence the insects leave behind.
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Because of how small the bugs are, you’re going to need to look very carefully and thoroughly if you’re going to attempt a reliable inspection.
Some of the clues can be found directly on your sheets or pajamas, others more commonly in and around bed bug hideouts known as harborages.
Because these bugs live in groups and will look for small crevices to hide in, make sure you inspect mattresses, bed frames, headboards and box springs for their presence. They tend to prefer wood or fabric and are not often found on plastic or metal surfaces.
They will tend to hide out close to their human hosts, so you probably won’t have to look very far from your bed to find their hideout. While finding a few of these physical signs may not mean much, the presence of most or all of them should raise suspicion.
2. Shells or Molted Skins
Bed bugs live for six months to about a year, during which they will reproduce at very high rates.
In order to become adults, they go through a life cycle that entails five different transformations from the moment they hatch out of their shiny, pearly white eggs, to when they become fully adult.
Baby bed bugs, also known as nymphs, start out translucent and much smaller than adults, about the size of a pinhead. As they grow by successive feeds, they become too large for their exoskeletons, also known as shells.
They must shed them in order to form a new, larger exoskeleton to suit their needs. This process is called molting. Of course, bugs aren’t very good at cleaning up after themselves, so these discarded shells can often be found collecting around the bugs’ hideouts in clutters.
They will be of all different sizes – each one from a different moment in the insect’s life cycle. They’re reddish-brown, like the insects themselves, but lighter.
3. Unpleasant Smell
People consistently report that high concentrations of bed bugs leave the room with a very distinct smell. Most reports indicate that it is a musty, sickly-sweet smell, compared often to coriander, almonds, or raspberries that are on the verge of rotting.
It’s unlikely that any smell will be noticeable unless the infestation is well underway. However, not everyone will respond to the scent in a similar way, making it one of the more unreliable signs.
However, if your bedroom starts smelling distinctly different, especially of a moldy, musky smell, then you might want to take it very seriously. It’s not known exactly what creates the smell, although a common guess is that it comes from the droppings.
That’s why it is only going to be noticeable when bugs are in large numbers. It’s possible that the scent is also due to the pheromones produced by the insect during the various stages of its life.
Sometimes, in particularly long and intense infestations, a minty smell has also been reported. It is possible that this is due to the rather high number of crushed bed bugs, which also leave a distinct smell.
Fortunately, although smell can be a tricky sign for humans to go on, there are dogs specifically trained in recognizing the scent of bed bugs and sniffing out their hideouts.
Because of their acute sense of smell, they can detect infestations more quickly and surely than humans trying to visually spot the tiny creatures. As a matter of fact, these trained dogs have a success rate of 97%.
They are often used by exterminators when unsure of where the bugs are, especially in homes where the potential hiding places are many.
4. Fecal Spots
We know that bed bugs have to feed pretty often in order to grow and survive. They feed on their host’s blood and the byproduct of their digestion has to go somewhere.
Well, this is another sign among others that your house might be infested with these little pests – the spotting from their feces. Their digestion characteristics are quite specific if you are looking only at the speed of it: they defecate almost as soon as they have finished feeding.
That is why if you happen to find the fecal spots they’ve left behind, you are probably pretty close to finding their “nest.” One thing that might be misleading though is the color and general look of what you should be keeping an eye out for.
Since human blood is their food, one would expect for their feces and its stains to at least somewhat resemble the color of the food itself. However, this is not the case due to the metabolic processes that turn the blood from its usual color into dark brown or even black.
The spotting will generally look like some dark fluid has been sprinkled around. Hence, instead of looking for blood drops, you should check your mattress and sheets for dark felt tip or fountain pen stains, since that is what spots from bed bug feces resemble the most.
5. Eggs and Bed Bug Feces
We’ve mentioned the fecal spots that are found around the sleeping area as well as on the sheets and mattresses. Unlike those, the very excrement looks a bit different. More specifically, it appears like dark little blobs of hardened material and can be found around bed harborages.
It is usually encountered along with bed bug eggs and egg shells and while the fecal matter is dark in color, the eggs are white.
The unhatched eggs also differ from hatched ones – the egg shells are translucent and dried out, while the eggs themselves are one-millimeter shiny specks of a thick white color.
This shine comes from a sticky substance in which they are covered so as to stick more easily to the surface on which they were laid. Their concentration is the greatest in the sleeping area, but females are known to lay a certain amount some distance away from the “epicenter.”
The first place to look for them would be bed harborages, but the rest of the nooks and crannies should be searched as well.
As mentioned, eggs are more commonly found on wooden and fabric-covered surfaces than on metal and plastic ones, so you might want to take this into consideration when choosing your bed frames.
6. Blood Stains
An additional sign of a bed bug infestation that might appear together with their feces and its stains are blood spots on your sheets, pillowcases and pajamas.
These are the results of your tossing and turning during the night and here’s how they occur: when the bugs leach on to your skin to feed and you unexpectedly turn around, they get trapped and crushed under your weight.
As a result, smearing the blood they have taken in and staining your sheets. Hence – the blood spots. However, this hint alone cannot be taken as a certain sign you are dealing with a bed bug infestation, since this type of stain can be caused by a number of things besides bed bugs.
The same goes for average insect bites you might notice on your skin. The only scenario in which you can assign the blood spots on your sheets to a bed bug invasion is if it also includes bed bug fecal stains, their feces itself, or any other clue mentioned previously.
7. Bed Bugs on Other Furniture
Although the main place of their nesting and gathering is the sleeping area itself, bed bugs can easily spread around the room. In fact, they are likely to inhabit whatever convenient cracks in wooden surfaces or creases in fabrics.
That is why if you have found some conclusive signs of bed bugs’ presence in your home, it would be wise to do a thorough search for any potential place in which they might be hiding.
After you’ve checked your bed and the area around it, the next on your examination list should be every piece of furniture.
When it comes to chairs, armchairs and other pieces of fabric-covered furniture, take a long and hard look at the upholstery seams and other similar fabric wrinkles, especially on the undersides.
This is because these are their favorite spots. On top of that, you should double-check these areas since the eggs and nymphs can easily be mistaken for bits and crumbles of other material or just mere dust.
Another type of furniture to inspect would be anything made of wood – shelves, bookcases, dressers. These bugs love to hide and nestle in the joints of wood pieces as well as any other indentation that can be found on wooden surfaces.
Make sure you check the furniture from all sides and angles and for each of the bed bug signs – eggs, nymphs, feces, fecal spots, etc. Now, it has been mentioned that eggs are more likely to be found on wood and fabric surfaces, as opposed to metal and plastic.
However, bed bugs – especially nymphs and adults – won’t shy away from hiding even on those surfaces if they find it convenient for some reason.
They are even known to have been found inside screw heads on chairs, so be thorough in your search if you want to get rid of these pests.
8. Signs of Bed Bugs In Other Places
If the infestation isn’t discovered during the early stages, it will spread around your place. Because of that, you might find traces of bed bug presence in the most unexpected and peculiar parts of your home.
A grown bed bug is between five and seven millimeters long and really flat, so they can hide in any of the tiny places that you might not even dream to find them in.
Whether you just have suspicions that the infestation has spread around your home, or you have hard evidence of it, it would be a good idea to search all of the places inaccessible to you but great for them to dwell.
Anything from picture frames, carpet edges and door hinges, to electrical outlets, behind windows or door moldings and baseboards can be their target area – once the areas surrounding your bed have become too crowded.
9. Symptoms of Bed Bug Bites
Our skin’s reaction to bed bug bites won’t differ much from any other average insect bite, such as that of a mosquito or a harmless species of spider. These bites usually appear on parts of the body that are exposed during sleep – face, neck, hands and legs.
They commonly have a visible bite spot with a minor inflammation around it, or multiple bumps in a zigzag or a circular pattern. Fortunately, they heal within a week or so. At least, this is how people who aren’t sensitive to bed bug bites usually react to them.
However, there are those who are considered hypersensitive to these insects’ bites and their skin develops different reactions. Their encounter with a bed bug may result in anything from mere itchiness or a burning sensation, to various bumps and swellings.
Their skin might be spotted with a number of bumps with a clear center and a somewhat swollen surrounding area, bumps with dark centers, or more severe inflammations of the larger areas of skin.
The most severe cases could even include symptoms commonly related to the flu, nausea, fever, blisters, swollen tongue, difficulties in breathing, or irregular heartbeats. However, these are extremes and are truly rare.
In any of these cases, it is of utmost importance to react and this reaction is twofold. Firstly, you should wash the bites with soap and water to prevent an infection and, if necessary, use some antihistamines or hydrocortisone.
Secondly, contain the infestation and get rid of these bites completely. It is a matter of your health, since multiple bites over a long period can lead to more severe reactions, increased risk of infections and even sleep deprivation.
Where Do Bed Bugs Hide?
The fact that you’re reading this means you’ve probably either got an infestation in your home already, or you’re in danger or having one sooner or later. We don’t blame you, these creepy crawlies go to wild lengths for their chance at survival.
We’re going to tell you basically every nook, cranny and hiding spot these critters crawl into so that you will be able to take care of the issue. We will also teach you to spot not just the ones that are easily visible, but also the sneakier ones that come out in the middle of the night to snack as well.
Bed Bug Hiding Places
Despite its name, the bed bug doesn’t only stay in your bed. Before we get to pinpointing exactly where these creepy crawlers tend to hide, you need to understand their sense of the world a little better.
The bed bug, or the Cimicidae, is an insect with a diet that consists of only blood – blood from any animal but most preferably humans. In fact, their sole purpose is to feed and reproduce. This gives us two hints as to where they might be hiding:
- Somewhere close to where we usually stay for long periods of time. Since they’re really good at hiding, there’s no real point in staying somewhere that’s far away from the food source.
- Somewhere secluded where we won’t be able to notice them hiding and multiplying.
Just like most other insects, they prefer darker, protected and often undisturbed places where they can safely crawl out of and crawl back in after feeding since they can’t fly.
Bed bugs can’t travel very far, so they’re usually found 5 feet where you often sit or sleep.
That is why it’s hard to pinpoint specific hiding spots directly, especially because they could literally be hiding anywhere.
Every home is different, so the best thing you can do to find out where the bed bugs are hiding is to step back and take a closer look at all the possible places they might be. Think of it this way: it’s just like another game of hide and seek.
However, don’t be discouraged, many studies and research have been done to help understand how these insects behave and how we can identify where they are located with ease.
Here are the places where you’re almost bound to find infestations if any are present.
A quite obvious spot, but all the more necessary to mention. Bed bugs are rarely found on the tops of your mattresses, but rather under or inside. They can also hide between your mattress and the bed frame, under the bed frame, or inside your pillows.
Box springs are also a bed bug favorite for sleeping, since you don’t take a look inside them often.
- Dressers and Nightstands
Dressers, nightstands and anything else that’s close by to your bed is also a common hiding spot. Drawers and the bottoms of tabletops are an ideal place to find them lurking as well as behind picture frames or under lamps.
- Chairs and Couches
When we say bed bugs like to be close to you, we mean it. In other words: any rooms with chairs that you like to sit in, couches where you like to relax and that comfortable sofa next to the window.
They’re usually found under these objects or within the cushioning. This also means that you need to check the insides of any pillow cushions you might have that usually sit on your comfy sofa.
- Walls and Ceilings
If the bed bugs start moving to the walls and ceiling, then it’s likely that the infestation in your home is serious. This usually occurs when the original infestation has begun to grow and can no longer go unnoticed if they multiply while remaining in the same hiding spot.
Bed bugs will often hide under wallpaper and little cracks that might be in the walls or your ceiling.
They have really flat bodies, so they can nicely fit inside nooks and crannies while remaining unnoticed.
- Where Else?
Beds and couches are pretty obvious places to find bed bugs residing; it’s probably where you discovered them in the first place. However, here is a list of places that aren’t so obvious but rank highly in popularity among the bed bugs, so make sure to check these areas as well.
This is probably the most frequent way bed bugs get to travel to new spots for them to hide. Since they are very small, they often go unnoticed in your clothing, which they hop off of whenever they so choose.
- Seams and Stitches
Bed bugs like fabric surfaces, so this means any kind of seam or stitch that you can find on a product that you use often. This can mean bedsheet of quilt stitches, clothing seams, or any other kind of fabric that you like to use.
- Coffee Tables
Especially if your coffee table is placed near a sofa or chair that you frequent, you’ll need to inspect your coffee table. Try the insides of drawers, any ornaments or picture frames you might have on the coffee table, or even under the cloth draped over it for decoration.
Bed bugs don’t like to be found and they’ll go to pretty extreme conditions for it. If they feel like under the bed or sofa is unsafe, they might be hiding under your rug, which you walk over all the time.
If you have a carpeted floor, try checking all the corners and edges of where the carpet meets the wall. Chances are, they are hiding somewhere in that vicinity.
Also check your luggage and all other bags that you use often. Since you put many different things inside your bag, it is easy to imagine that a bed bug might have slipped in without you realizing.
Once they get there, they’ll start multiplying inside. That is why you are going to need to seal that bag up before cleaning it with high heat in the washer.
- Surprising Places
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are some places that you might not expect to find these critters.
You aren’t the only one who needs to get somewhere. Once bed bugs drop themselves off in a car, there are plenty of small, hard-to-reach places where they can choose to hide. Although cars aren’t a common site to find bed bugs, they will be very difficult to clean.
They could be hiding literally anywhere – from the inside of car seats, underneath the seats, in the seat pockets, in the electric parts of the car and in the carpeting.
- Electrical Outlets
Just because bed bugs prefer wooden or fabric surfaces doesn’t mean they don’t venture out to new places to live in. Chances are, there’s probably an electric outlet near where you sit or sleep, since your phones, tablets and laptops need charging.
Because of that fact, bed bugs have actually been reported to be found inside or behind these outlets and switch plates.
- Electronic Devices
This means that your phone, tablet, laptop, TV, PC and everything else that is electrically-powered can also be a hiding spot for bed bugs.
It’s clearly a rare sight to find us opening the backs of our electronic devices. As a matter of fact, we keep them close at all times. That is why it’s possible that they might be hiding in one of them.
Try paying close attention to doorways, door and window moldings as well as door hinges. After all, it’s the only way out of the bedroom every morning.
- Toy Boxes
For families with children, you need to be aware. If your children have toy boxes at home, they are probably worth giving a peek. Children rarely manage to play with all their toys and may get bored of a couple after a while.
It’s easy for a bed bug to crawl into one of the corners and wait until it’s bedtime to look for dinner.
If you like to read in bed or have a bookshelf near your bed, you might need to flip a couple of pages and maybe do some reorganizing while you’re at it. Bookshelves usually get a wipe-down treatment but are mostly left to themselves where bed bugs can hide in peace.
- Dog Beds and Animal Cages
As mentioned earlier, bed bugs prefer human blood to feast on. However, this doesn’t mean they will turn down an available meal when they find it.
Pet owners surprisingly often find bed bugs hiding inside or under dog beds as well as on the insides of cages where they are harder to spot and clean out.
- Places Bed Bugs Do Not Hide
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check anyway, because as we’ve stressed before: they can literally be hiding anywhere. However, research has shown that these are the places that bed bugs usually choose not to hide in for various reasons.
You also need to remember that if you do manage to find infestations in these areas, it’s a telltale sign that the infestation in your home is serious and needs professional attention.
- Unfinished Basements
This is an understandable choice, at least from the bed bugs’ point of view. An unfinished basement would probably mean lots of nooks and crannies, but infrequent guests and a lot less time spent in them.
They’re probably cold too, so some warm bed sheets are a more viable option.
Similar to the unfinished basements, you don’t get a lot of traffic in garages and the chances of them getting squashed by a car is much more likely. Garage doors are probably a more popular option for bed bugs, if anything at all.
We often like to keep our bathrooms sparkling clean, so it’s most likely a bit more difficult to hide in bathrooms than a living room or a bedroom. Furthermore, we usually only go into bathrooms if we have business to attend to, which means less meals for the bugs.
Unless you spend a whole lot of time inside your kitchen, you won’t really find any bed bugs there as well. They aren’t interested in your spices or the chicken in the fridge, since they’re much more interested in having you for dinner.
- Rarely Used Rooms
Just like any other room or area in this list, any room in your house that you don’t use often is probably going to be free of bed bugs.
- To reiterate:
The more traffic you have in a room, the higher the chance of having bugs. However, the less time you spend in a room, the less you have to worry about it.
The detailed vacuuming of your home and furniture might help in the prevention of a bed bug infestation. However, there are no rules and the important thing is to not panic or obsess over them.
In other words, a few insect bites or a couple of blood drops on your sheets shouldn’t be enough for you to start suspecting a bed bug invasion.
If you find more convincing evidence of infestation, then you should do a thorough search of your whole home, since these insects are extremely skillful at hiding.
If you’ve come across any of the unmistakable evidence of their presence in your home, alongside the mentioned blood stains on your sheets and bites on your skin, that’s when you should react.
Of course, the first step would be to take care of the bites so as to prevent an infection, while the second step is to definitely get rid of these parasites. The best and safest way to do that is to seek a professional’s help.