A few weeks ago, a client of mine suddenly had an infestation of bed bugs in their house.
The bugs started from one spot, and before they knew it, every room in the house was infected.
This led me on my quest to find out what exactly was attracting these creatures.
So, what attracts bed bugs?
Bed bugs are attracted to their food, and unfortunately, their food is blood, specifically warm blood, such as the one we carry in our bodies.
Bed bugs can identify warm blood through the heat our bodies give off along with other human signatures.
Apart from the warmth of our bodies, bed bugs can also identify their hosts through the carbon dioxide given off while breathing out.
These tiny creatures can recognize if a living being is giving off carbon dioxide in their breath and are automatically attracted to them.
A little more on bed bugs
One well-known fact about bed bugs is that they love to hide (which is why it isn’t so easy to find them).
For this reason, bed bugs are attracted to dark-colored sheets, specifically red and black bed sheets.
The red sheets remind these insects of their beloved food, and black or extremely dark sheets feel like great places to hide.
One more thing:
When bed bugs can’t find a host to feed on, they look for signs that the host is somewhere close by.
A great lead for them is dirty laundry.
A big heap of dirty laundry is a great place for bed bugs to lurk until a host comes to pick it up.
This pile of dirty laundry carries scents that alert bed bugs that a human is in the vicinity; plus, the folds in the clothes make for a great hiding place.
Even though there are so many things that attract bed bugs, at the end of the day, their goal is to get to their food, which is blood.
They will look for any and every way to get to the host (humans), whether it is from inside of the house or outside.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are tiny, round-shaped insects with flat bodies.
They are brown in color, but swell up and become reddish once they have fed.
These creatures get their names, not because they reside on beds, but because that is where they are most likely to feed on humans.
Bed bugs wait for their prey to become still before they feed, and the best time to do it is when they are sleeping.
Hence, dark areas near the bed are the best place for them to rest and wait until they can eat.
Bed bugs do not have wings, so they can’t fly.
However, they move very quickly across floors, headboards, and other flat surfaces.
These bugs are hard to find because of how quickly they move, and so it can be hard to tell if you have an infestation or not.
Females and nymphs
Female bed bugs lay hundreds of little eggs in their lifetime.
These eggs are barely bigger than a speck of dust.
When they hatch, baby bed bugs called nymphs are born.
Here’s what those look like (pretty gross):
These nymphs grow by shedding their skin.
The skin shedding process is done five times before the bed bug reaches full maturity.
Before each shedding, a nymph must feed to be able to complete the process.
A bed bug can reach full maturity in just about a month, but if they are not allowed to feed, it can take longer.
Bed bugs can birth up to four generations of more bugs per year!
Though bed bugs don’t have a set time to feed, meaning they will do it day or night, they usually wait for the host to be asleep, which is most likely at night.
They need their host to be inactive in order to feed, so they wait, hiding in dark corners, looking for the warmth that is emitted from the body to find their food.
Once they find their host, these bugs use elongated beaks like mosquitos to pierce the skin and suck on the blood.
They continue to feed for a few minutes (up to 10) until their bodies are full of blood, and then they crawl away.
At the risk of grossing you out, here’s what it looks like:
These bites don’t hurt at first, but eventually, they become red dots on the skin that itch.
These bites can show up on any part of the skin that is exposed while you are sleeping.
While it used to be thought that bed bugs bites aren’t a danger to humans, a new study from Penn Medicine researchers in the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics demonstrated that bed bugs can transmit Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, one of the most prevalent and deadly diseases in the Americas.
How to control factors that attract bed bugs
So, as I mentioned earlier, these bugs are just looking to feed, and there is no way you can control the type of blood you have in you, so you need to control the other factors to make sure that these bugs don’t find a way into your home.
Another reason to know how to control them is that it is a lot easier to stop bed bugs from getting in your home than to actually get rid of them.
One of the main factors that attract bed bugs as a sign of life is carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide is not just expelled by human beings but plants too.
Try to avoid putting plants in the bedroom, especially near the bed, because the excess release of carbon dioxide will attract bed bugs more than it should.
Another way to control carbon dioxide levels in the house is to ensure that your house is well ventilated.
For small rooms with no windows, install an exhaust fan to help keep the room air circulated. For larger rooms, keep windows open whenever you can to help ventilate the area.
As I mentioned earlier, bed bugs tend to feast on exposed skin.
In order to control bed bugs from biting you, either cover all your exposed skin with the clothing you wear to bed or then wrap yourself properly with your blanket or quilt.
Avoid dark bed sheets at all costs.
Dark bed sheets will not only make your room look dingy, but it can also become a great hiding spot for bugs, especially bed bugs.
Instead, use light or bright colors, especially white.
If there are any bed bugs in your home, you will be able to spot them instantly on these colors.
Speaking of dark areas as being a place of attraction for bedbugs, if you spot any cracks in the wall, headboard, or any other good and small hiding places, repair them so the bugs can’t hide there.
You also need to make sure that you are washing your sheets properly.
When it comes to washing sheets, quilts, pillowcases, and any other sort of bedding, you need to wash them and dry them at high temperatures.
If there are any bed bugs or eggs on your sheets, temperatures between 117°F and 120°F should kill them effectively.
One other thing to keep in mind is, bed bugs don’t reside in your home; they are most often tracked in from the outside.
If you visit a public place, or especially while traveling and staying in hotels, keep all your laundry separately and follow the same high-temperature protocols as above.
If you want to be extra cautious after traveling, keep all your laundry in a zip-lock bag until you are ready to wash; this will help control the spread of the bugs in case they are residing in your laundry.
Where do you get bed bugs?
These pesky little creatures can be picked up from practically anywhere, especially places with lots of human traffic.
Bed bugs essentially hitchhike on humans and jump ship onto other humans in order to spread.
This is why most public areas are a breeding ground for these bugs.
Some of the most common places to pick up bed bugs include cinemas and hotels.
Cinemas are dark and have tons of people in and out every day, too (maybe less since COVID-19, though).
Here, the bugs can stay in hiding until they find a new host to jump on to.
Hotel and motel beds are similarly at risk because of the sheer volume of people in and out of the rooms; the number of people increases the risk.
Other common places you can get bed bugs include:
- Public transport; buses, trains and even planes
- Stations; airports, bus stops, train stations
- Retail stores
How do you know if you have bed bugs?
The best way to know if you have bed bugs is if you spot one.
Most people assume they have bed bugs when they see itchy bug bites on their skin.
Unfortunately, sometimes these bites can get confused with mosquito bites or tick bites.
It is always a good idea to start looking for bed bugs to be absolutely sure you don’t have any before writing them off.
If you don’t spot a bed bug itself, there are a few other signs you can look for that can help you identify if you have an infestation:
- Bed bug droppings: they are small rust-colored spots that can be found on walls, bedding or mattresses.
- Bed bug eggshells or skin shedding: it is pale yellow in color and very small.
- Bloodstains on your bed: If a bed bug gets crushed under you when you sleep, it will leave a spot of blood behind.
- Bed bug smell: bed bugs give off a musty odor from their glands which can be an identifier.
How do you get rid of bed bugs?
There are plenty of ways to get rid of bed bugs, even though it can be quite tedious because it is a meticulous process.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of doing it yourself, I would recommend you hire an exterminator.
Exterminators are professionals who have dealt with bed bugs on multiple occasions and will have the best and most effective way to get rid of them.
Before hiring, if you want to take steps to ensure the infestation doesn’t become too bad, you can follow these steps below.
Make sure you do everything cautiously and carefully because you don’t want to become a host carrying the bugs around from one room to the other:
Step 1: Identify
Once you are sure that you have bed bugs, you need to identify where all of your home they are.
- Look behind your headboard, and check for any cracks where they could be hiding.
- Check your mattress without any bed sheets, especially around the corners.
- Check between your sofa cushions, and around any piped stitching on the cushions.
- Check behind any paintings or posters.
- Check inside books, magazines, and loose papers.
- Check inside electrical sockets.
These are some of the most obvious places to check, but it is a good idea to see what specifically in your home could make for good hiding places.
Use a flashlight and magnifier to search these places properly.
While you are looking for these bugs, keep a jar with a lid with you.
Put a little bit of rubbing alcohol in the jar, and throw the bugs in it as you go.
The alcohol will kill the bugs.
Step 2: Contain
The best way to contain the spread of bed bugs is by capturing all the ones you can find, and the best way to capture them is in a vacuum cleaner.
Use the vacuum on any surface where the bed bugs could be hiding.
Start by removing all the bedding from your bed and store it in a plastic bag, then vacuum the mattress.
Next, vacuum around the bed and underneath it. If possible, vacuum behind the headboard using a nozzle attachment.
Shaggy or thick carpets are a great breeding ground for bed bugs. Make sure you vacuum carpets thoroughly to ensure you pick up any bugs that may be living inside.
Finally, vacuum everything else, including the TV, in and around the TV table, around any furniture, and the dresser as well.
Once you are done vacuuming, place the vacuum bag into a plastic bag and throw it in a garbage can outside of the house.
Finish this process by cleaning your vacuum with a chemical solution made to kill bed bugs.
Here’s a video on how to do it:
Step 3: Prepare
The prep work you need to do includes making sure everything that could possibly be affected is sealed and kept separate from anything else.
All laundry, including clothing and bedsheets, should be placed in large plastic bags and kept away from everything else.
Anything that cannot be sealed or cleaned needs to be thrown out!
Remove everything from the infected room that could be a potential hiding place for the bugs.
This includes all shoes, stuffed animals, books, magazines, and loose papers.
Remember not to move these from an infested room to a clean one; instead, either throw these items away or store them in sealed plastic bags outside the house.
Step 4: Clean
The cleaning step is essential to kill any bed bugs that could be on anything in the area.
Just like I mentioned above, wash anything that you can on high temperatures above 117°F for at least 30 minutes.
After that, put them in the dryer for an additional 30 minutes at the highest temperature possible.
Anything that cannot be washed can be put in the dryer at the highest temperature setting for 30 minutes.
If you have items that cannot be washed or go in the dryer and you are not willing to throw them out, you need to isolate them.
These items need to be placed in a sealed plastic bag and left outside in the heat for at least 2 to 5 months. If you live in colder temperatures, this isolation can take place in the freezer, where the temperature needs to be a maximum of 0°F for four to five days.
The fact of the matter is, though you yourself can control the bed bug infestation, to actually get rid of them completely, some form of a chemical solution needs to be used to kill them.
However, it is not recommended that you use any chemical solution on your own because you need to know what kind and how much of this solution is recommended for use in the bedroom.
Getting a professional pest control company to do the job is your best bet.
If you have a bed bug infestation, you need to act on it as soon as possible.
These little creatures multiply and spread fast!
Once everything has been taken care of, and you have identified the items that need to be thrown out, you need to make sure you do it responsibly.
Bed bugs are a real nuisance, so you want to make sure you are not spreading the infestation further.
Any furniture that you decide to throw out needs to be torn apart and marked clearly with the words “bed bugs” so some unsuspecting victim does not fall prey to these blood-suckers!
Credit for featured image: “Pests – Bed Bugs” flickr photo by British_Pest_Control_Association https://flickr.com/photos/95230066@N07/29517671700 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license