How to Check for Bed Bugs

by | Feb 15, 2024

Detecting a bed bug infestation early is crucial because addressing it in its initial stages is far less complex and expensive than managing a widespread problem. Early-stage infestations, however, are difficult to detect and accurately identify. Misidentifying a bed bug problem allows these pests more time to expand within your home or spread to new locations. Relying on bed bug bites as an indicator is not reliable because their bites can appear after several days and often resemble those from other insects like mosquitoes or fleas. Furthermore, individual reactions to bed bug bites vary greatly with some people not showing any reaction at all. To effectively identify a bed bug infestation, homeowners must look for more signs of bed bugs like small blood spots on bedding, black fecal spots, molted skins, or the bugs themselves. These indicators will often be apparent around the bed and nearby furniture.

Table of Contents

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Prepare for a Bed Bug Inspection

Preparing for a bed bug inspection involves taking steps to minimize hiding places and prevent the spread of these pests. Properly managing your space is key to a successful inspection. Here are some essential steps to follow:

  • Be cautious when decluttering to avoid transferring bed bugs from infested areas to clean areas:
    • Use plastic bags for disposing of heavily infested items. 
    • Seal the bags as best as possible and dispose of them immediately in an outside bin.
    • Items that need to be moved can be transferred in plastic tubs with smooth interiors. The smooth walls of the container should prevent bed bugs from crawling out. 
  • Dispose of unnecessary paper clutter like magazines and newspapers because bed bugs can hide in between pages.
  • Keep clothing off the floor to reduce potential hiding places and wash and dry clothing items on high heat. 
  • Eliminate cardboard boxes because they are a common bed bug hiding place and replace them with plastic containers with smooth interiors.
  • Discard unnecessary items that may be infested but be sure to dispose of them in a way that doesn’t spread them to areas free of bed bugs.
  • Put all electronics that are in an infested area into plastic bins with smooth surfaces to see if there are any bed bugs hiding out inside the electronic components. 

By reducing clutter and carefully managing potentially infested items, you can create a more effective environment for the bed bug inspection and subsequent treatment.

Know What Bed Bugs Look Like for Proper Identification

Properly identifying bed bugs is the most important step in addressing infestations and knowing what they look like is key. Bed bugs are distinguished by their distinct physical characteristics: 

  • They have a flat, oval-shaped abdomen, which becomes more elongated and rounded after feeding.
  • Adults typically display a brown or reddish-brown coloration but nymphs, or juvenile bed bugs, are pale and translucent.
  • These insects are characterized by two beady, black eyes that protrude from the sides of their heads, six legs, and two antennae with four segments each that extend from the front of their heads. 
  • Bed bugs possess small, vestigial wing pads but they are incapable of flight. This means that any flying insect is definitely not a bed bug. 

Understanding bed bug behavior is crucial in narrowing down your search for these elusive pests. Bed bugs prefer human hosts and have adapted their habits to be able to feed on humans when they are asleep. This means that they will typically stay on or within a short distance of a bed. Normally bed bugs will hide within the seams of a mattress but as populations grow, there may be limited space in these aggregation points. When infestations get out of hand, bed bugs will move to less crowded spaces near the bed like nightstands, dressers, and the surrounding walls. These insects can travel 5-20 feet [1] from their hiding spots to reach a host, so they do not need to be in the immediate vicinity of a sleeping person to feed. Although their peak activity is at night, bed bugs can and will seek out hosts in full daylight if they are hungry and a host is available. 

In homes, bed bugs are attracted to the CO2 humans breath out and the warmth bodies produce [2]. This draws them to our beds where individuals remain inactive for long periods while sleeping. Once they find their host, they will seek out shelter close by which is why they are often found in mattresses and box springs. Bed bugs also frequent areas where humans sit or lay idle for long periods like couches, recliners, and office chairs. These locations provide ideal hiding spots like beneath furniture, where fabric meets furniture legs, between cushions, and the folds of upholstery. Given their preference for being close to their hosts and their ability to fit into small spaces due to their flattened bodies, focusing on areas where people spend significant amounts of time is key in detecting their presence.

Know What Signs of Bed Bugs to Look For

Identifying a bed bug infestation involves being vigilant for specific physical signs. Regularly inspecting your living spaces when cleaning, changing bedding, or after staying away from home can reveal these indicators. Here are key signs of bed bugs to look for [3]:

  • Dark spots about the size of a period are usually bed bug excrement. These dots may bleed into the fabric similarly to how a marker would.
  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses. These are usually a result of bed bugs being crushed after feeding.
  • Eggs and eggshells that are tiny (about 1mm) and pale yellow.
  • Pale translucent yellow molted skins that nymphs shed as they grow.
  • Individual or clustered live bed bugs are the most definitive sign of an infestation.
  • Bed bug bites are typically in a linear or zigzag pattern and present themselves as itchy red welts.
  • The musty odor of bed bug pheromones can be noticed when infestations have gotten severe.

While noticing these signs can indicate the need for action, it’s always prudent to seek professional confirmation to ensure accurate identification and effective treatment. Familiarizing yourself with these warning signs is a proactive step in managing bed bug issues.

Be Sure to Check Common Bed Bug Hiding Places 

Bed bugs have tiny, flat bodies that can hide in the thinnest and smallest openings. Any gap the width of a credit card provides ample space for a bed bug to squeeze into [4] and similarly an opening as small as a nail head can contain a bed bug. To effectively check for bed bugs, it’s essential to inspect their common hiding spots thoroughly. Here are key areas to focus on:

  • Bed: Inspect pillows, bedsheets, mattress seams, headboards, bed frames, and box springs.
  • Next to the Bed: Check around nightstands, dressers, rugs, and storage boxes.
  • Furniture: Look in and around couches and cushions, bookshelves, tables, desks, chairs, rugs, and pet beds.
  • Walls and Windows: Examine wallpaper, baseboards, window and door frames, curtains, pictures, posters, electrical outlets, and smoke alarms.
  • Other Areas: Inspect in the folds of curtains, in drawer joints, inside electrical receptacles and appliances, under loose wallpaper, at the junction where the wall and ceiling meet, and even in the head of a screw.

Begin your inspection in the bedroom, as bed bugs tend to congregate near sleeping areas, but don’t neglect other parts of the home. Pay special attention to all crevices, corners, and hidden spots near where people sleep, as these are the most likely areas for bed bugs to hide

How to Perform a Visual Inspection for Bed Bugs

After taking the necessary preparation steps, performing a visual inspection for bed bugs is the best way to find signs of a bed bug infestation. To start, you’ll need a flashlight and a thin, rigid card, like a business card or old credit card. Follow these steps for a thorough inspection:

  • Begin with the bedding and examine pillows and bed sheets closely for any fecal marks or bloodstains.
  • Remove bed sheets and inspect the edges, seams, and labels of the mattress for bed bugs, shell casings, fecal stains, and eggs.
  • Lift the mattress and use the flashlight to scrutinize any crevices, corners, and hidden areas of the box spring, bed frame, and headboard.
  • Use the card to probe into small cracks or crevices like where wood joints meet. Slide the card into these cracks to dislodge any hidden bed bugs or their debris.
  • Extend the inspection to nearby furniture like dressers and nightstands. Pay special attention to small openings such as screw holes and wooden joints which are favorite hiding spots for bed bugs.
  • Move furniture away from the walls to inspect the backs and the baseboards for signs of bed bugs.
  • Examine couches and other upholstered furniture. Remove cushion covers and use the card to reach into the gaps and crevices between upholstery.

This methodical approach helps in uncovering hidden bed bugs and any signs of their activity which assist in early detection and effective management of an infestation. 

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How to Check for Bed Bugs at a Hotel

Bed bugs are commonly found in places where there is regular turnover of guests like hotels and motels. This results in bed bugs spreading after someone stays in a room infested with bed bugs. When staying in a hotel, it’s wise to conduct a thorough inspection for bed bugs to ensure a comfortable and pest-free stay. Here’s how you can check a hotel room for bed bugs:

  • Upon Arrival: Before settling in, place your luggage on a luggage rack or in the bathroom tub because these areas are less likely to harbor bed bugs. This precaution prevents your belongings from becoming infested while you inspect the room.
  • Inspect the Bed: Carefully pull back the bed sheets and blankets. Examine the mattress and box spring seams, particularly at the head of the bed. Look for live bugs, nymphs, eggs, exoskeletons, and dark, rust-colored spots. If possible, lift the mattress and use a flashlight for a more detailed inspection. Don’t forget to examine the headboard and baseboards.
  • Check Upholstered Furniture: Extend your inspection to include chairs, sofas, and other upholstered furniture in the room. Pay attention to crevices and seams where bed bugs hide.

Remember that bed bugs are nocturnal and tend to hide during the day, so thoroughness in your inspection is key. By taking these steps, you can significantly reduce the risk of unknowingly encountering bed bugs during your stay.

How to Prevent the Spread of Bed Bugs After Staying in an Infested Hotel

Preventing the spread of bed bugs after staying in an infested hotel is crucial to avoid bringing these pests into your home. Here are steps to reduce the risk of catching bed bugs during your hotel stay:

  • Immediately Address Concerns: If you spot signs of bed bugs, inform the hotel staff and request a new room, preferably in a different part of the building that is away from any contiguous walls, floors, or ceilings of the infested room.
  • Store Luggage Safely: Keep your suitcases on a luggage rack with stainless steel legs or on a hard surface. Avoid placing luggage on the bed or floor. As an extra precaution, consider placing your luggage in large plastic trash bags.
  • Initial Placement of Belongings: Upon entering your room, place your belongings in the bathtub which is an area difficult for bed bugs to access. Once you’ve completed a thorough inspection and are satisfied, move your belongings to the luggage stand.
  • Post-Travel Precautions: When returning home, avoid bringing your luggage inside immediately. Leave it outside if possible and wash all clothing in hot water, followed by drying on the highest setting for at least 30 minutes. This allows the heat to effectively kills bed bugs and their eggs.
  • Luggage Storage: Store your luggage in sealed containers outside your living areas, such as in a garage or storage shed, to prevent any potential bed bugs from entering your home.

Taking these precautions can significantly reduce the risk of transporting bed bugs from a hotel to your home which will ensure a bed bug-free environment. Remember, vigilance and proactive measures are key in preventing bed bug infestations.

How to Check for Bed Bugs on Used Furniture

When considering the purchase of secondhand furniture, it’s crucial to conduct a thorough inspection for bed bugs to avoid inadvertently bringing an infestation into your home. While secondhand items can be a great find, they can also harbor bed bugs, especially if they were previously left outdoors or discarded. Here’s how to inspect used furniture for bed bugs:

First, focus on all the hidden and less visible areas where bed bugs are likely to hide. Check the crevices of upholstery, under and around cushions, along zippers, and within the wooden undercarriage of the furniture. Use a flashlight and a magnifying glass if necessary to get a closer look. Look for signs of bed bugs like dried feces or blood stains which appear as small, dark spots. Live bed bugs are often visible in these hidden spots especially if the infestation is severe.

By investing time in a meticulous inspection of secondhand furniture, you can significantly reduce the risk of bringing bed bugs into your home. This preventative measure ensures that your new-to-you furniture is safe and free from these unwanted pests.

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs If You Brought Them In

If you find that bed bugs have hitchhiked into your home, acting swiftly is critical to getting rid of bed bugs before the infestation grows. Here are steps to effectively get rid of bed bugs:

  • Non-Chemical Treatments: These methods can be effective but may vary in success based on the situation.
    • Heat Treatment: Bed bugs have a thermal threshold that kills them once a certain temperature is reached. A temperature of 140°F for 2 hours [5] will effectively kill all stages of a bed bugs’ life cycle. Professional heat treatments which can treat entire houses are the most reliable and effective way to reach this temperature as it permeates an entire structure and all of the items contained within it.
    • Cold Treatment: Freezing items are less effective but can be used for smaller items if the freezer can reach 0°F. Place infested items in a sealed bag and leave them in the freezer for at least three days. Ensure the temperature is correct with a thermometer, as many home freezers do not reach this temperature.
    • Steam Cleaning: Both wet and dry steam cleaners can penetrate cracks, fabrics, carpets, baseboards, bed frames, and furniture. The steam should be at least 140°F and applied gently to avoid scattering the bed bugs. Use a diffuser to minimize airflow and prevent them from spreading.
  • Professional Assistance: If the infestation is severe or widespread, hiring a pest management professional is advisable. They have access to more effective tools and methods for comprehensive bed bug eradication.
  • Use Pesticides with Caution: Pesticides are not generally recommended as modern bed bugs have developed pesticide resistance. Instead, there are some options that rely on items like diatomaceous earth that have proven effective at exterminating bed bugs. However, If opting for chemical treatments, use pesticides carefully and always follow the label directions. Ensure that the product is specifically intended for bed bugs and is safe for indoor use.

Tackling a bed bug infestation often requires a combination of methods and persistence. Safety should always be a priority, especially when using heat, cold, or chemical treatments.

Contact Absolute Pest Management if You Are Dealing with Bed Bugs.

Getting rid of a bed bug infestation can be a massive and complicated undertaking that requires specific knowledge and tools for effective eradication. If you find yourself struggling with these persistent pests, don’t hesitate to seek the help of professional bed bug control experts. Absolute Pest Management specializes in bed bug control and offers expert solutions tailored to your unique situation. Our experienced team is equipped with the latest methods and technology to ensure a bed bug-free environment. We have offices in Austin and Buda, Texas and serve the surrounding communities. Contact Absolute Pest Management today for a thorough inspection and effective treatment plan and reclaim the comfort and peace of your home.

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Check for Bed Bug FAQs

  • How do you check yourself for bed bugs?
    • To check yourself for bed bugs, closely examine your skin, particularly after waking up, for any bite marks that are often red, itchy, and appear in a line or cluster. Bed bug bites are most commonly found on exposed areas of the body like arms, legs, neck, and face. Additionally, check your clothing and personal items for tiny blood spots, bed bug feces, or the insects themselves.
  • Can you see bed bugs with the naked eye?
    • Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye. Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed. They have a reddish-brown, oval-shaped body that is between 5-7 mm long. While adult bed bugs are easier to spot, nymphs are smaller and more challenging to see because they are translucent until they are engorged with blood.
  • Can you visually inspect for bed bugs?
    • You can visually inspect for bed bugs, although it requires thoroughness due to their small size and tendency to hide. Key areas to inspect include mattress seams, bed frames, furniture joints, and other crevices in bedrooms and living areas. Using a flashlight and a magnifying glass can aid in spotting bed bugs, their eggs, shed skins, and dark, rust-colored fecal spots.

Sources

[1] https://schoolipm.tamu.edu/files/2015/02/Bed-bugs-advice-for-parents-of-daycare-children.pdf

[2] https://www.sandiego.edu/residential-life/documents/BedBugWebResLife.pdf

[3] https://bedbugs.tennessee.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/210/2021/01/biology-and-Identication-bb-identify1.pdf

[4] [5] https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7454.html

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