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Frequently Asked Questions

Every week, the Bed Bug Adviser answers a new question. Check out the FAQ below to see if we’ve already answered yours – or submit it on the bottom of the page.

We’d like to thank one of our Expert Advisers Dr. Susan Jones and the Ohio State University for their significant contributions to our FAQ.

What are some home remedies to get rid of bed bugs?

There are many different home remedies for bed bugs, but we strongly recommend that you do not try to treat this problem yourself. We have prepared a guide on the proper usage of home options and what their relative strengths and weaknesses are here. Since most home remedies not only fail to properly work, but can actively make your problem worse, we strongly recommend that your first step is to seek professional assistance, if you can afford it. If not you may be able to safely combine several different strategies to get some relief from bed bugs.

 

Can rubbing alcohol – or sprays – kill bed bugs?

This is a popular DIY solution – but not an effective one. In fact, it can oftentimes make things worse. Making contact with bed bugs makes them easy to kill, hand soap and water, dish soap, your hammer, a thumb, and rubbing alcohol can all kill bed bugs if you can manage to get them directly onto a bed bug. The issue isn’t killing the bugs, it’s finding them in the first place – and rubbing alcohol can actually be dangerous! To learn more about the issues and usage of rubbing alcohol please read our article on the matter here. 

What is the best treatment for bed bugs?

There is no “best treatment” when it comes to bed bugs. There’s pros and cons to all 3 types of treatment.

 

Fumigation is the most likely to deal with your bed bug problem once and for all, but it is by far the most expensive and the most disruptive –  you will have to leave your house for 3 days to a week.

 

Chemical treatments are the cheapest, but they take 6-8 weeks and 3-4 applications to be sure you’ve gotten rid of the bugs, which is 6-8 more weeks of living with bed bugs.

 

Heat treatment works best in smaller spaces, like a one or two bedroom apartment. It’s fast, but it’s more expensive than chemical treatment, and requires a highly trained technician with constant monitoring in order to ensure all areas of the apartment get hot enough.

 

For more, check out our treatment article.

Are bed bugs nocturnal?

It’s easy to think that bed bugs are nocturnal. After all, they do tend to move more at night – and we all know the horror stories about waking up with those 3 telltale bites in a row. But bed bugs aren’t truly nocturnal – they’re just averse to movement. They know their best chance is to avoid human attempts to kill them, so they stop moving when they hear movement.

In fact, bed bugs have no preference for day or night and don’t care much about light one way or the other.

The only exception to the “movement” rule? Large infestations. Those will move simply because some of the bed bugs need to find a new place to hang out – and there’s so many of them, they’ve stopped being scared of your human presence. (This is bad. Call a pest control professional!)

I can’t find any bed bug bites, but I think I have bed bugs anyway. Why aren’t they biting me?

Not always. In fact, only about 4% – 25% of people bitten by bedbugs will have a reaction to the bug’s bite; for the other 75%, they won’t see the bugs at all.

Look for other signs to correctly ID bedbugs. Start with our identification guide, right here.

How Long Do Bed Bugs Survive?

Bed bugs can live between 12 to 18 months without a meal because of their ability to do something like hibernating.

However; if a bed bug has regular access to meals their life span is around 10 months.

Are bed bugs large enough to be seen?

Yes, bed bug eggs, nymphs, and adults can all be seen with the naked eye (assuming normal vision). The eggs and newly hatched nymphs (1st stage nymphs) are only 1/16 of an inch long (about 1 mm). The 5 nymphal stages are successively larger, with adult bed bugs being about a fifth of an inch long (about 4 to 5 mm). Some people find it useful to compare adult bed bugs to the size and shape of an apple seed, with nymphs roughly the size and shape of sesame seeds.People often do not see bed bugs because these insects typically hide during the day and come out at nighttime when they feed. During the day, you need to search thoroughly to find bed bugs, which typically are hiding (in cracks and crevices, on the underside of furniture, along mattress seams, and in other tight spaces).

How big can a bed bug get?

Adult bed bugs are about a fifth of an inch long (about 4 to 5 mm). Once they feed on blood, they become longer and fatter, about double their normal length. However, they do not become ‘giant’-sized bugs, like swollen ticks.

Why am I seeing very tiny bugs as well as larger bed bugs?

Bed bugs are insects that undergo gradual metamorphosis. Bed bugs proceed from the egg stage through 5 nymphal stages until they reach the adult stage. Furthermore, size differences can reflect the bugs’ feeding condition: bed bugs that have digested a blood meal will have a relatively flat shape whereas recently fed bed bugs will be swollen and elongated.

Do bed bugs have a smell (odor)?

Bed bugs are insects that undergo gradual metamorphosis. Bed bugs proceed from the egg stage through 5 nymphal stages until they reach the adult stage. Furthermore, size differences can reflect the bugs’ feeding condition: bed bugs that have digested a blood meal will have a relatively flat shape whereas recently fed bed bugs will be swollen and elongated.

What do bed bugs eat?

Bed bugs eat blood. They prefer to feed on humans, but if a human host isn’t available, they will feed on other warm-blooded animals (such as cats, dogs, birds, rats, etc.). Bed bugs do not drink water. Bed bugs will not feed on blood oozing from a cut or wound, or from a dead body.

Are bed bugs nocturnal?

Bed bugs are not only active at night. Bed bugs are technically nocturnal and prefer to feed and move around after dark, but they will feed during the day or in bright light conditions if that is the only time a host is available. As a result, sleeping with the lights on will not prevent bed bugs from feeding. In heavy infestations, numerous bed bugs can often be seen during the daytime.

Will bed bugs stay on my body?

No, bed bugs typically do not stay on a person’s skin for any longer than it takes them to feed (generally 3 to 12 minutes, depending on stage). Immediately after feeding, they seek a site off of the host’s body to hide and digest their blood meal. Bed bugs do not like to remain in constant contact with human skin. Particularly in very heavily infested homes, bed bugs may crawl onto an inactive person and hide in seams and folds of their clothing. Bed bugs typically do not get on people while they remain active.

Do bed bugs live outdoors?

No, bed bugs are an indoor-only pest. They need to be in human dwellings to have a ready supply of food and hiding places and proper environmental conditions. They will not crawl across yards to neighbors’ houses. However, if bed bugs are hiding in a mattress or other piece of furniture that is left outside, they can survive inside the furniture for a long time. Leaving furniture outdoors is not a reliable way to get rid of the bed bugs.

Can bed bugs jump, like fleas?

No, bed bugs cannot jump (they are not closely related to fleas).

Can bed bugs fly?

No, bed bugs have no wings and cannot fly.

What is the bed bug life cycle?

The bed bug live cycle includes the egg, 5 nymph stages, and the adult stage. In order to have the energy to molt and move to the next stage, a nymph must feed. Adult females must also feed before they can lay eggs. After mating, a female can store sperm in her body and use it to lay eggs for up to 3 weeks. A female bed bug can lay about 150 eggs during her lifetime.At room temperature (around 73°F or 23°C), it takes about 3 months for bed bugs to complete the life cycle from egg to adult; however, they will grow faster if the house is kept warmer. At 86°F (30°C), it takes about 3 weeks for bed bugs to develop from egg to adult.

How long do bed bugs live?

This answer varies. If you’re asking how long a bed bug can survive without feeding the answer is somewhere between 9 and 18 months depending upon the strain of bed bugs you have. How long bed bugs live with regular access to meals also varies, as female bed bugs tend to only survive 3-4 reproductive cycles. On average you can expect bed bugs to live for a year, which is pretty long by insect standards.

How long to bed bug eggs take to hatch?

Bed bug eggs take about 6 to 10 days to hatch. The timing of egg hatching is important to the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) treatment strategy used to control bed bugs, especially considering that eggs tend to be more resilient against pesticides than nymphs or adults.

How long can bed bugs go without food?

Most bed bugs ordinarily go 6 to 7 days between each feeding. Bed bugs have been known to survive starvation for several months (around 140 days) at room temperature (around 73°F or 23°C). They can survive much longer in cooler temperatures since low temperatures slow their growth and metabolism. Hence, bed bugs can survive many months without food. However, bed bugs will not starve themselves if a host is available.

Are both male and female needed to reproduce?

Yes, bed bugs reproduce sexually so both male and female are needed—a female that never mates with a male will never lay eggs. However, once a female has mated, she can store sperm inside her body for up to 3 weeks and continue to lay eggs without mating again.

Are bed bugs public health pests?

Yes, bed bugs are recognized as important public health pests by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Both of these federal agencies strongly encourage the involvement of local public health agencies since bed bugs pose numerous health risks.Many people experience unpleasant itchy bite reactions, and the bite sites can become infected if they are scratched open. In some cases, bed bug bites can be so numerous and prolonged that the person experiences anemia due to blood loss. Some people have very severe reactions to bed bug bites and experience complex (bullous) reactions, which are medically significant as they are associated with local, highly destructive, inflammation of the blood vessels (cutaneous vasculitis). Bed bugs and their shed skins can also trigger asthmatic reactions in humans.

People living with bed bugs often experience sleeplessness, anxiety, and stress. Others also may experience depression. Bed bugs can cause feelings of fear, anger, frustration, embarrassment, paranoia, and social stigmatization. Such an array of health effects caused by bed bugs can make a person more susceptible to common diseases.

What are the health implications of bites?

While bed bugs have not been shown to spread disease, they still can cause severe adverse health effects. A significant amount of people are allergic to bed bugs and have itchy welts at the site of a bite. Bites can cause more serious allergic reactions, exacerbate existing health issues, and cause psychological distress. See the above Q&A for more information on their public health impacts.

Do bed bugs spread disease?

This is a complicated question, but the short answer is that bed bugs have not been shown to be a vector for disease spread. For more information as to why this is complicated you can read the full article on the matter here.

How can you tell bed bug bites apart from other insect bites?

A firm diagnosis cannot be made unless a bug is seen. Even a doctor can’t tell a bed bug bite just by looking at the bite mark. However, some signs that it might be bed bugs:

  • Bite marks occur on the skin exposed while sleeping – for example, if you sleep shirtless, bite marks may be on your chest and back
  • Bite marks on neck and face
  • Bite marks often occur in rows or groups
  • You wake up with new bite marks
Everyone else in my household is getting bitten, so why aren’t the bed bugs biting me?

If you live with bed bugs, they are most likely biting you, but you simply are not showing any signs of their bites. Somewhere between 3 of 10 people and 9 out of 10 people do not have an allergic reaction to bed bug bites, depending upon which study you find to be more believable, so you may be among that number.

Why don’t the bites on my friends look exactly alike?

In addition to the fact that a large portion of the population doesn’t react to bed bug bites at all, those that do all tend to react very differently, which is why it can be so hard to identify bed bugs based on bite reactions alone. It is very common that you and someone you know have different reactions to bed bug bites.

Do bed bugs always bite in 3s?

Despite the common myth, bed bugs do not always bite in 3s, but they are known to leave bites in rows or groups. Since bed bugs prefer to gather together, clusters of bites will occur from several individual bugs feeding near each other. In some cases, a bed bug may have inserted its mouthparts several times (probed the skin) before reaching a blood vessel—the first few bite marks will be smaller (due to milder allergic reaction), followed by a bigger bite mark.

Will bed bugs feed on my pets?

Yes, bed bugs will feed on any warm-blooded animal (e.g., cats, dogs, birds, bats, and rodents), but they prefer to feed on humans. If they feed on a pet, they typically feed on those areas with little fur or feathers. Once a bed bug has finished feeding, it is unlikely to remain on the animal.

Will my pet spread bed bugs when I take it to a neighbor’s house?

While bed bugs might bite a pet, they don’t live on bodies, so pets themselves are very unlikely to spread bed bugs. However, bed bugs will hide in pet bedding and pet carriers, and transport of those items can allow bed bugs to spread to new sites.

If a dog or cat lives with a bed-bug infested person, should the pet be treated?

No special treatment is necessary for your pet. Fortunately, standard flea and tick treatments provided by a veterinarian often help control bed bugs on pets. Bed bugs prefer to bite humans rather than pets in a bed bug-infested house. If you still have concerns, you can speak to your veterinarian about the issue.Although pet flea and tick treatments can protect pets from bed bugs, they are not safe for use on humans and there is no evidence that they protect humans from bed bugs. In addition, never use dog flea or tick treatments on other animals, as this can seriously poison them. Look for treatments specific to each kind of pet.

Will my pets be safe from bed bug treatment of my home?

In general, the pesticide treatments applied by pest management professionals are safe for pets, as long as you follow the professional’s directions exactly. Bed bug treatments vary widely, so ask your pest control professional about what pesticides he or she uses and how to keep your pets safe during treatment. You probably will be instructed to take your pets out of the house during treatment, and then to return after several hours which allows time for the pesticide to dry. If you have an aquarium, make sure it is completely covered during treatment so that pesticides do not drift into the water.Be aware that while pyrethrins or pyrethroids are safe for use around people and dogs, they are extremely toxic to cats, and even small doses can lead to life-threatening poisonings. Never use dog flea or tick treatments on cats; be sure to use cat-specific treatments. Be extremely careful when considering any “grocery store” pesticides in your house if you have cats—a large number of these products contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids that can harm your cat.

How can people prevent the spread of bed bugs?

Everyone:

  • Check for bed bugs at hotels and refuse to stay in a room showing signs of bed bugs
  • Store luggage on a luggage rack and/or in the bathtub to prevent hitchhikers
  • Never pick up furniture left at the curb or side of the road
  • Avoid any second-hand furniture that is upholstered – stick to plain wood, plastic, or metal, and check the cracks for signs of bed bugs
  • Bag second-hand clothing immediately and wash it before bringing it into your home
  • Cut down on clutter in your house so that any future infestation can be discovered more easily and treated faster

If you visit an infested area:

  • Visit during the day if you can
  • Bring as little with you as possible, and keep it either with you, or in a sealed plastic box, bag, etc. and keep it by the door, not near beds or sofas
  • Don’t sit on beds or sofas – stick to standing or sitting on non-upholstered furniture
  • Check your shoes before you leave
  • Change clothes before entering your home and bag the old clothes in a sealed zip-top bag until they go into the washing machine

 

If you get an infestation:

  • Treat as soon as you discover bed bugs, before their population takes off (or, in apartments, before they spread to other units)
  • Don’t throw away your furniture unless absolutely necessary – it can almost always be treated, including bedding
  • If you have no choice but to discard furniture, make sure to wrap it securely in plastic sheeting, and either write BED BUGS or destroy it so that others don’t use it
  • Don’t give away or share items with others until you have treated your infestation
  • Decontaminate your clothing and other washable items by washing them and then drying them for 30 minutes on medium to high heat
  • Items that can’t be washed but can survive the dryer (shoes, stuffed animals, etc.) can be decontaminated in the dryer for 30 minutes on medium to high heat
  • Check your shoes before leaving your house so that you don’t track bed bugs around
  • Don’t store your backpack, briefcase, etc. near your bed, and leave it in a sealed plastic bag or plastic tote when you go to work or school
  • At school, make sure children don’t intermingle their coats, backpacks, etc. They should stay in individual cubbies, bins, etc.
How should clients coming from heavily-infested homes be handled?

While you should try to limit the spread of bed bugs in your facility, do not make the person feel stigmatized or discriminated against. Many people are ashamed of having bed bugs, but bed bugs are nothing to feel shame about. You can reassure an embarrassed person that anyone can get bed bugs.

  • Ask the client to wait for you to come to them, rather than having them walk through the building to you
  • Keep clients in one room if possible, so that only one room needs treatment
  • Provide non-upholstered seating if possible (for example, plastic or wood)
  • If bed bugs infest a walker or wheelchair, offer a replacement for them to use as long as they are in the building
  • If infestation is severe, offer fresh clothing at the entrance and ask them to change before coming further into the facility
  • If the person is leaving items with you, instruct them to seal the items in Ziploc bags or other sealable, plastic containers
If I visit a bed bug infested apartment, how can I help protect myself from getting bed bug hitchhikers?

Remember that bed bugs are most active at night, so daytime may be best for your visit. Take as few items as possible with you into an infested apartment. Bed bugs are most likely to bite you or perhaps climb into your clothing if you are sitting, sleeping, or lounging on infested furniture. Remember that the bugs also may crawl into your belongings if you have placed them on an infested item. In particular, avoid sitting on upholstered furniture or beds, and don’t place any of your belongings there. Consider standing or sitting at a kitchen table since bed bugs often are less numerous in areas where people don’t rest for long periods of time. Otherwise, you are not very likely to get bed bug hitchhikers unless there is a very heavy bed bug infestation. If the apartment is very heavily infested and bed bugs are in the carpet, then the bugs may hide on your shoes, especially the underside, where they can crawl into gaps created by the shoe tread. It is especially important to inspect your shoes after exiting. A good practice is to change into fresh clothes and shoes; be sure to immediately place any potentially infested items into a bag and seal it until you can launder the items. Put any potentially infested clothing through the dryer on medium to high heat (120°F is needed) for 30 minutes to kill any bed bugs.

What is the silver bullet to control bed bugs?

There is no silver bullet! Bed bug control typically takes lots of time and effort. It is a good idea to consider hiring a knowledgeable pest management professional to control bed bugs.

Once a treatment has been completed and no bugs are seen for one year, can there be bed bugs remaining from the previous infestation which will resurface as a new infestation?

This is very unlikely after a gap of that much time. What is most likely happening in cases like these is that new bed bugs have been introduced to form a brand new infestation.

What is the difference between a bite barrier and an encasement?

Bite Barriers and Encasements are products that seem similar but are actually quite different. Encasements seal your mattress and box springs so bugs can’t get in or out, so it’ll keep new bed bugs from getting to your mattress and keep ones already on your mattress from moving anywhere else. But that’s all they do. And since most bed bugs don’t actually live on the mattress or box springs encasements don’t really solve any problems. They’re good for protecting a newly purchased mattress, or making it easy to spot signs of bed bugs, but they don’t stop bites and they don’t solve a bed bug problem.

Bite Barriers on the other hand protect the person. The unique construction of the bite barrier means that bed bugs can neither bite through the barrier to feed on the sleeping host, nor can it climb around it to get to the top surface to bite the host.

In short an encasement protects your mattress, a bite barrier protects you.

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