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You’ve probably heard of the phrase, “don’t let the bed bugs bite,” and dismissed it as one of those silly things that’s said to kids. But bed bugs are real insects, and they do come out and bite you at night. In this post, I’ll answer the questions, what are bed bugs as well as explain how you can determine whether you have bed bugs or not, how to prevent bed bugs from getting into your home, and most importantly, how to get rid of bed bugs when you get them.
You’ve probably never seen a bed bug before, and that’s because they are super small and very good at hiding in the creases of fabric. Bed bugs typically range from 5mm to 7mm (or a ¼ inch) in length when fully-grown (they can be bigger after they’ve fed). They have a brownish color, which can be more reddish after they’ve been feeding, because they feed on human blood. Younger bed bugs (which are called larvae or nymphs) tend to be so small that they’re just visible to the naked eye. They’re wingless insects and their body looks like a flat oval.
Bed bugs are generally found where people are, because they’re able to track us by the carbon dioxide we breathe out. That’s why they’re mostly found on beds and in the bedroom. Some devices for preventing bed bugs mimic human carbon dioxide emissions to trap bed bugs or lower our carbon dioxide emissions to trick bed bugs.
Bed bugs like to wait until you’re asleep before they bite you as you’re less likely to notice them. So, they emerge in the early hours of the morning. And to further decrease the likelihood that you’ll disturb their feeding, they first inject you with a numbing agent before inserting the tube that sucks up your blood. Gross, huh? Luckily they don’t feed every day – usually every 3-4 days and for around 15 minutes each time. That’s why you might not even notice you have bed bugs at first. Also, not everyone shows red bumps when they get bitten, which makes them lucky in that they don’t have to itch for days but also makes it tough for them to know when they have bed bugs and need to take measures to exterminate them.
It’s tough to determine accurately if you have bed bugs unless you actually see bed bugs. The first flag for whether you have bed bugs is usually when you find bed bug bites on your body. However, bites are not good indicators as many other insect bites look very similar and many people may have delayed reactions for bites or no reactions to bites.
So, if you want to know for sure whether you have bed bugs, then you should try to get hold of an actual bed bug in your home. Using a bed bug monitor like this Climbup Bed Bug Trap (a plastic device that catches bed bugs climbing down your bed legs) can help.
If you have more money and want to make sure very quickly that you have bed bugs, then hire a sniffer dog.
Other signs of bed bugs include seeing red or dark spots on your bedding (this can be due to faecal spotting from them). You might also smell a sickly sweet scent that omit, although this is usually only noticed in heavy infestations.
Check out our comprehensive post on bed bug symptoms for more info on how to determine if you have bed bugs (including photos of bed bug bites).
Bed bugs usually come into your home through you bring them back from your travels. This could be as simple as contact with someone on a bus, train, or plane that has bed bugs on them. It could also be from you sitting in a chair that was sat in earlier by someone who had bed bugs and some bed bug eggs or bed bugs fell off them onto that chair. You could also be staying at a hotel that has bed bugs, and if you sleep on a bed infested with bed bugs unknowingly, you might pick them up (or pick up their eggs) and transfer them on your clothes or luggage back to your home.
The biggest danger is typically hotels or hostels that you stay in. So here are 6 tips to help lessen the chance that you’ll bring bed bugs back into your home:
1. Check whether your hotel has had bed bugs recently.
Always research the hotel you’re staying at to make sure they haven’t recently had bed bugs. You can do a quick search on Google for the hotel name plus the words “bed bugs.” Another option is to look on Tripadvisor.com and search for bed bugs within the reviews to determine if any of the recent reviewers suggest they found bed bugs at the hotel.
2. Check the bed when you get to the hotel.
You can quickly determine if your hotel bed has a major infestation or not. Bed bug infestations leave obvious stains on the mattress (don’t just check the sheets as they will have been changed). Peel back the sheets and look at the corners of the mattress. Look for brownish and reddish streaks or stains and bed bugs that might be dead or moving. Small red smears could be blood stains from bed bugs that were killed.
3. Place your luggage on the table or in the bathroom.
Most bed bugs are near the bed, so placing your luggage away from the bed lessens the chance that bed bugs will come into contact with your clothes and luggage. If the bathroom is big enough, then place your luggage in there.
4. Wash all your clothes in hot water when you get home.
Bed bugs and their eggs can be killed by high heat. While laundry temperatures are typically not high enough to kill all bed bug eggs, they are still a good preventative measure to take. In particular, dryers often reach higher temperatures and may be able to kill live bed bugs as well as some bed bug eggs.
5. Use a hard-cover suitcase.
Bed bugs usually hide out in fabric and wood, so having a plastic hard-cover suitcase decreases your chances that you’ll take home a bed bug.
6. Get a bed bug mattress cover.
Just in case you did bring a bed bug into your home, you don’t want it to destroy your mattress, so get a good mattress encasement like this one and a good box spring encasement like this one.
This are just a few tips for preventing bed bugs when you’re traveling and staying at a hotel. Check out our section on how to prevent bed bugs for more tips.
Bed bugs are also very resilient. They can live for more than a year without feeding and can withstand very cold temperatures. They are not super-bugs, though, and they can be killed. Some pesticides, such as DDT, are very effective at killing them. Unfortunately, bed bugs have either developed resistance to those pesticides or the pesticides have been banned. They do have one weakness, though: temperatures above 120F generally kill them.
That’s why the best way to get rid of bed bugs is to use a dry steamer on your carpet, mattress, sofas, and other fabric furniture. A good dry steamer (like this Vapamore one) will reach high enough temperatures to kill both bed bugs and bed bug eggs without damaging your furniture. The problem with regular steam cleaners is that they’ll leave too much moisture on the furniture and can cause them to rot or grow moldy.
Another strategy for killing bed bugs we recommend you implement is to get some diatomaceous earth and spread it on your floors (in the corner of your rooms and under your bed). Diatomaceous earth is a natural white powder that will dry out insects (including bed bugs) when they walk over it. The dehydrated bugs will then die.
Other methods like washing your clothes and bed sheets on high temperatures and then drying them also at high temperatures will help too.
While it’s natural to want to buy chemicals to spray to kill bed bugs (like you would do with ants or other insects that infest your home), sprays unfortunately don’t work that well with bed bugs. You tend to have to use a ton of spray and it has to be directly on them. If you do have a large infestation you’re dealing with, then something like this Eco Defense bed bug spray might help. But don’t let buying just a spray lull you into a false sense of security. Bed bug sprays will not kill bed bug eggs, so you’ll have new bed bugs hatching all the time unless you kill them using a dry steamer.
If you want to find out more about the various methods of killing bed bugs, then read our How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs page.
I hope this post helped you understand what are bed bugs as well as provided you with some ideas on how to make sure you don’t get them ever.
Bed bugs are most definitely not a myth. While they are not dangerous, they are annoying and can prevent you from getting good sleep for a long time if you have an infestation. So, do what you can to prevent them from entering your home, and if you do ever suspect you have bed bugs, act quickly to determine whether you actually have bed bugs or not and then take swift action to kill both the bed bugs and any eggs they laid.
Most people that act quickly are able to get rid of the few bed bugs that they brought into their homes and stop an infestation from taking place.
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