Sorry To Bring This Up: Does Your New Home Have Bedbugs?

We won’t include any photos. You’re safe here.

Look, we don’t want to write this any more than you want to read it.

But this is for your own good.

Whether you just moved and you suspect your new home may have an issue or you’re planning some upcoming travel, the truth is that bed bug infestations are on the rise—and it is crucial to know the warning signs and what you can do to protect yourself.

Even if it rightfully gives you the heebie-jeebies.

(shudders.)

The facts

In a 2018 National Pest Management Association survey, 97% of pest professionals said they treated a bed bug issue in the last year. Though you may think infestations occur mostly in hotels and motels, bed bugs are even more common in single-family homes. They’re also found all over the world, including all 50 U.S. states, though urban areas see three times more reported incidences due to denser populations and increased mobility. Despite misconceptions, bed bugs are not more common in lower-income households and are found in even the most sanitary conditions. Great!

Bed bugs are wingless, broad and oval in shape. They are also flat, which makes it easy for them to live in all kinds of furniture cracks, crevices and joints in addition to mattresses, box springs and upholstered furniture. They typically live within eight feet of their preferred host and are more active at night, beckoned forth by warmth, moisture and carbon dioxide released through breathing. While they can feed on any warm-blooded animal, they prefer humans over animals because of all our exposed skin. Seems a bit lazy, but okay.

This is actually kind of cool, in a grotesque way: As they bite, bed bugs inject their saliva into the skin to increase blood flow and to release an anesthetic that keeps the host from feeling it and swatting them away. Freaky!

After feeding, a bed bug moves into hiding for five to 10 days digesting, mating and laying eggs. Hedonistic and almost admirable.

Let’s get to work.

Warning signs

One sign of a bb infestation (does making it cute help?) are, of course, bites.

However, everyone reacts differently to bed bug bites. Some people have an immediate skin reaction, possibly developing itchy welts. Others take a few days to show symptoms of a bite, and others show no signs of bites at all. Interestingly, a 1991 study published in the Journal of the Egyptian Society of Parasitology found that people with asthma may have a higher risk of allergic reaction from bed bug bites. Good luck!

The bed bug’s feeding pattern is often referred to as “breakfast, lunch and dinner” due to the clusters or rows of three bites they often leave. That being said, bed bug bites don’t look wholly unlike other bug bites such as fleas, and many experts warn against using bites to diagnose an infestation, so don’t panic right away if a couple of red bumps pop up.

Physically witnessing the presence of actual bugs is the most sure-fire way to correctly diagnose a problem yourself. You can also look for traces, such as molted papery skins that look a bit like small, thin popcorn kernels, or dark spots—like permanent marker dots—from blood-filled droppings deposited on mattresses. You can touch the spot with a wet towel, and if it turns rusty-red, that could be bb feces, according to Live Science.

Treatment

Bed bugs are tough little buggers. They are mind-bogglingly hardy, surviving temperatures ranging from nearly freezing to 122 degrees, and have a reputation for escaping traps.

This is why DIY treatment measures won’t really cut it. You need to call in the professionals, point-blank.

Exterminators can use insecticide sprays to effectively nip the bugs in the bud. They may also use nonchemical methods, if you prefer, like making a room so hot they can no longer live (as in, over 122 degrees. That’s hot.) or freezing infested items. Unfortunately, some heavily infested furniture could be a lost cause, and you may have to cut your losses.

While recent research shows that bed bugs are exhibiting early signs of resistance to prominent types of insecticides, let’s just hope that exterminators and scientists figure something new out soon. They totally will. No worries.

Prevention

The National Pest Management Association has some great recommendations for protecting yourself while traveling, as this is prime time for picking up some new friends to bring home.

  • Bring a small flashlight to thoroughly inspect the entire room in which you’re staying before unpacking, including behind the headboard, under lights and inside dressers, sofas and chairs.

  • Pull back the sheets and inspect mattress seams and box springs, particularly at the corners.

  • Avoid placing luggage on upholstered surfaces or luggage racks with hollow legs where bed bugs may hide unseen.

  • When arriving home from a trip, vacuum luggage thoroughly before storing it.

  • Consider using a garment hand steamer, which can kill any bed bugs or eggs that may have traveled home.

  • Wash and dry all clothes—even those that have not been worn—on hot cycles.


Bed bugs are a tough infestation to get under control, but there are definitely measures you can take for both prevention and treatment.

After all, changing your name and moving across the world won’t help—because wherever you go, there bed bugs are.