What do Dover, Columbus, Indianapolis, DC, and NYC have in common? It isn’t a long list of tourist attractions—it’s a problem with tiny hitchhiking bloodsuckers known as bed bugs. Despite their best efforts, these hotspots can’t get rid of their pest problem.
They aren’t alone, either. Bed bug infestations continue to increase across the nation, and many people will have to fight their own battle with them sooner or later.
Where do bed bugs come from, anyway? How do you get bed bugs, and is there anything you can do to prevent them?
To learn what causes bed bugs to appear in some homes and how you can avoid an infestation of your own, read on.
What Causes Bed Bugs to Invade Your House?
One common myth is that the main cause of bed bugs is a dirty, unkempt home. Unfortunately, since bed bugs aren’t attracted to decay, keeping a tidy household isn’t enough to keep these insects out. With that in mind, here are the real reasons bedbugs end up in houses.
The reason bed bugs spread so fast is that they’re expert hitchhikers. Despite not being able to jump or fly, these critters can cling to almost any surface. Combined with their flat, narrow body shape and their ability to live for months between meals, bed bugs are the ultimate stowaways.
This makes them especially dangerous to travelers. Bed bugs like to take a ride in cool, dark places that are kept close to humans. Suitcases, backpacks, and even boxes are some of their favorite places to hide and lay eggs.
The other facet of travel that makes you more susceptible to bed bugs is the sheer number of heavily-populated areas you visit. If you’re driving your car to the wilderness to camp in your tent, the chance of picking up bed bugs is low. If you’re traveling by bus or plane, staying in a hotel or hostel, and visiting a list of popular tourist attractions, your risk goes way up.
Public Spaces and Transportation
Any public space where you sit for a long time, especially if it has upholstered furniture, puts you at some risk of picking up bed bugs. This includes public transport, rideshares, libraries, movie theaters, waiting rooms, and even your workplace. Bed bugs will often climb onto carpet or furniture from someone’s bag, clothing, or shoes to wait for their next victims to appear.
Imagine for a moment that restaurants were your only source of food, and you couldn’t store leftovers in your home. If you had to choose between living somewhere that’s hours from the closest restaurant and a city with no fewer than five eating establishments per block, which would you choose?
The choice is obvious—you’d choose the place with enough food readily available for you to survive without worry. The same goes for bed bugs, except in their case, humans and animals are the food source.
That’s why bed bugs prefer to live in places that have large numbers of people living close to each other. College dormitories, sorority and fraternity houses, nursing homes, hotels, daycares, and apartment complexes all fit that bill. If one of your neighbors gets bedbugs and doesn’t notice immediately, it’s only a matter of time before they spread through the rest of the building.
Everyone loves a good deal, especially on big-ticket items like new furniture. Buying secondhand or repurposing discarded things is a good way to save money and the planet.
Unfortunately, thrifting (or picking up free/discarded items) does put you at risk of bringing some uninvited guests along with your discounted furniture. Even though most secondhand stores give their items a thorough once-over, it’s still possible that they might have missed a bug or two.
Keeping Bed Bugs at Bay
Now that you know how bed bugs get in, it’s time to learn how to keep them out. Here are a few of the ways you can protect your home and belongings.
Learn How to Identify the Early Signs of Bed Bugs
How do bed bugs start invading your house? Often, as only one or two stowaways on your clothing or luggage. Once a female bed bug finds it’s way inside and realizes there’s food available, it will start to reproduce.
The first signs of bed bugs are usually their droppings, tiny black granules that look almost like specks of dirt. You can find them most often on, under, and around your mattress, but keep an eye out for them on furniture, baseboards, and flooring as well. Along with droppings, bed bugs leave behind molted exoskeletons and eggs that look like small grains of white rice.
Another early sign of bed bugs is clusters or lines of tiny red spots with dark centers on your skin. These are bed bug bites, and they’ll often match up with small spots of blood on your sheets. The bites can be terribly itchy but aren’t dangerous.
You may have heard that smelling a sweet, musky aroma in your bedroom is a sign of bed bugs. While it’s true that they do secrete odorous chemicals, you won’t smell bed bugs unless you already have a massive infestation.
Bed bugs are small, flat, rounded, and reddish-brown. If you see one of the critters directly, try to capture it in a plastic container or between two pieces of clear tape. Keep it to show a pest control expert so they can confirm your identification and treat your home accordingly.
Protect Yourself While Traveling
According to the experts at https://www.custombedbug.com/, there are a few ways to protect yourself from bedbugs while traveling.
First and foremost, do a thorough inspection of any hotel, hostel, or Airbnb you’re staying at before you bring your luggage inside. Check around and under the mattress, removing fitted sheets to look beneath them. Look closely at upholstered furniture, baseboards, closets, and electric outlets.
If you notice signs of bed bugs, let the host know immediately and book a stay elsewhere. Having to treat your home for bed bugs isn’t worth avoiding a cancellation fee.
Once you’ve determined that the room looks clear, feel free to bring your luggage in, but don’t set it on the floor. Keep it elevated on a table or luggage rack that’s a few inches away from walls and other furniture. If you’re staying in a suite with multiple rooms, keep your luggage away from the bedroom to stay extra safe.
Whether you stayed in a hotel or not, it’s always best to do your laundry as soon as you get home from traveling. Bring your clothes straight into the laundry area—not your bedroom—and wash/dry them on as high of heat as possible. If you don’t have a washer and dryer at home, keep your luggage contained outside your house until you can get to a laundromat.
Once your bags are empty, use a flashlight to inspect them carefully for signs of bed bugs. Store them in sealed plastic bags or plastic tote bins for an extra layer of protection.
Be Conscious About Thrifting and Donating
Even if it seems tempting, never take any upholstered items off the side of the road. This includes mattresses and box springs, couches, pillows, chairs, and any other fabric-covered objects. Even hard furniture is suspect if you can’t inspect every inch of it for signs of bed bugs.
When you’re thrift shopping, be careful about buying upholstered items, pillows, and luggage. It only takes one female to birth an entire population. If you think your secondhand items are safe but want a second opinion, keep them outside your house or in the garage until you can have a pest control expert take a look.
No matter what you do, if you’re getting rid of items from a home with bed bugs, do not donate them. Seal them in plastic as well as possible and label them clearly as having bed bugs. Then, either leave them on the curb for trash pickup or take them straight to the dump yourself.
Make Your Home Unfriendly to Bed Bugs
Even though dirt and debris don’t attract bed bugs, a messy home does give them more places to hide. Keeping your home neat and tidy also makes it easier to spot bed bugs before they take over. Try to keep your floors free of clutter and heaps of clothing, especially in your bedroom.
It’s also a good idea to seal any cracks or points of entry in your room. Use caulk or sealant on your windows, walls, doorframes, floors, baseboards, trim, and hard furniture. You might also consider covering your mattress, box spring, and pillows with bedbug covers to keep them safe if an infestation were to occur.
Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!
Now that you know the answer to “what causes bed bugs?” and some ways to avoid them, it’s time to put these tips to use. Exercise caution when traveling, look over items thoroughly when you’re thrifting, and check often for signs of bed bugs if you live in shared housing. If you do notice them start to sneak in despite your efforts, call a pest control company right away to take care of the problem.
Looking for more ways to ban bed bugs and keep your home clean, safe, and free of unwanted pests? Take a moment to browse through the other articles on our site for more advice.