How to Spot and Treat Bed Bugs Quickly

How to Spot and Treat Bed Bugs Quickly

Once considered to be a thing of the past, bed bug infestations are on the rise.1 In addition to homes and apartments, they can be found in hotels, health care facilities, theaters, and various modes of transportation. In fact, bed bugs can be found just about anywhere that people are on the move. The rate at which a bed bug infestation can take place is almost unimaginable. One single pregnant female bed bug can be responsible for producing more than 300 adult bed bugs and as many as 1,000 eggs in only three months.2

Bed bugs and other blood sucking parasites have plagued human beings for thousands of years. Bed bugs are considered to be a public health hazard by the EPA, in collaboration with CDC and USDA.3 Although there is no evidence that they transmit diseases, they can cause a number of negative health consequences. Allergic reactions to bites can be severe, ranging from small bite marks to whole-body reactions. In some cases, bites can cause secondary infections such as lymphangitis, ecthyma, and impetigo. Bed bugs also can cause mental health issues, including insomnia and anxiety.

What Encourages an Infestation of Bed Bugs?

While some people may believe that bed bugs are associated with filth, there seems to be no hard evidence of that. Bed bugs will take up residence in even the cleanest of homes. All that is required is a source of human or animal blood. Being poor does not automatically put a person at risk, nor does being wealthy prevent an infestation. All that is required for an infestation is for a bed bug to hitch a ride on something or someone that enters a person’s home. Bed bugs can hide in clothing, hats, coats, purses, and backpacks.

Once bed bugs settle into a person’s home, they tend to stay in places where occupants are the most sedentary, such as couches, chairs, and beds. They are attracted to humans by the carbon dioxide that a person exhales, and since most people usually spend several hours per night in bed, a good deal of carbon dioxide is given off which attracts bugs to the beds. Although they are called bed bugs for good reason, they also can be found in other furniture, under wallpaper, inside electrical outlets and behind baseboards. While filth may not be a contributing factor, clutter is. A cluttered home provides more hiding places for the bugs.4

How to Spot Them

Anyone who suspects the presence of bed bugs should take immediate action to determine if an infestation has occurred so that an eradication plan can be devised. While it might be possible to see the bugs, most people will not. Therefore, the next best way to check for their presence is to look for signs, especially in the areas where people sleep.5

A sweet, musty odor

One way that bed bugs communicate is through a chemical they produce. This chemical has a distinctive sweet, musty smell to it. This odor will be more pronounced when the infestation is heavy. In addition to a person’s home, this is a good way to check for bed bugs in hotel rooms and cruise ship quarters.

Specks of blood

Because bed bugs feed on blood, their presence may be indicated by specks of blood on mattresses and other bedding, or on upholstered furniture. Box springs, mattresses, mattress pads, blankets, and sheets should all be checked individually, especially around seams.


As bed bugs grow, they shed their outer shell in a process known as molting.6 By the time a bed bug has become a full-grown adult, it will have shed five exoskeleton shells. Therefore, it is important to look for any signs of shells around mattresses and couch cushions.


Bed bugs often leave excrement which appears as tiny blackish specks. This should be apparent upon a close inspection of mattresses, headboards, and couch cushions.


After mating, female bed bugs lay white, oval-shaped eggs. These are very small — about the size of an apple seed. If an infestation has occurred, these usually can be found in cracks and crevices.

How to Get Rid of Them

In many cases, DIY efforts are sufficient to take care of bed bug problems without having to call an exterminator. However, this will depend on the extent of the infestation, the amount of clutter that is present, and whether neighbors have the same problem. In some cases, it can take weeks or even months to completely eliminate the presence of bed bugs.

Here are the steps recommended by the EPA. First, control methods should be checked to make sure they are safe and legal. Non-chemical treatments are preferred, although some will be more useful than others. A clothes dryer set on hot may be able to kill bugs in clothing. Steam cleaners can be used to penetrate cracks and treat carpets and baseboards, as well as some bed frames and other furniture. However, the temperature of the steam should be at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and it should be applied in a non-forceful manner. Cold treatments also have been shown to work, such as placing items in a freezer for several days.7

In some cases, it may be necessary to use pesticides. Only EPA registered pesticides should be used, and the label should show that the pesticide is intended for bed bugs. Foggers should be used with extreme care since they can cause a fire or explosion. Foggers alone will most likely not completely eliminate the problem as they may not reach into cracks and crevices where bed bugs like to hide.

How to Stop Them from Coming Back

After treatment, a thorough inspection should be performed every few days to make sure that the bed bugs have been eliminated. If any new evidence is spotted, it may be necessary to treat the area again. If repeated treatments are needed, pesticides that work in a different way should be applied. Some success has been shown with drying agents which will dry the bugs out. However, this may take several months to accomplish. Interceptors can be place under furniture legs to prevent climbing. Other traps may be available from home stores.

Two of the most important things a homeowner can do to prevent bed bugs from returning is to reduce clutter and vacuum frequently. Light-colored mattress covers make it easier to spot new signs of infestation. In shared facilities, such as apartments, units should be isolated by installing door sweeps at the door bottoms and by sealing cracks and crevices to discourage migration through walls.