What Do Bedbugs Look Like?
Bedbugs are small, oval, brown insects that feed on the blood of animals and humans. Adult bedbugs have flat bodies about the size of an apple seed. After feeding, though, they swell and turn a reddish color.
Their flattened bodies make it possible for them to fit into tiny spaces, about the width of a credit card. This means they can get just about anywhere so long as there's blood to feed on.
Bedbugs don't make nests like ants or bees, but tend to live in groups in hiding places. They don't fly, but they can move quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings.
Female bedbugs may lay hundreds of eggs, each about the size of a speck of dust, over a lifetime. Immature bedbugs, called nymphs, shed their skins five times before reaching maturity. They require a meal of blood before each shedding. Under favorable conditions, the bugs can develop fully in as little as a month and produce three or more generations per year. They can live from about 10 months to a year long.
What Causes Bedbugs?
Bedbugs usually get into your home from another place that's infested with them. If you live in an apartment or condominium, they can travel from another unit in your building. They might hitch a ride on used upholstered furniture. Or you could carry them in on luggage or a purse that you set down in a place that has bedbugs.
They're tiny and good at hiding during the day, so it's easy for them to get into your home without you knowing it.
How Can Bedbugs Be Harmful to My Health?
Bedbugs aren't considered dangerous. There's no evidence they can spread disease to people. But their bites can be itchy and uncomfortable.
If you scratch a bedbug bite enough to break the skin, it could lead to an infection. Some people are allergic to the bites. For them, bites could lead to hives, blisters, or intense itching. See your doctor if this happens to you.
Early Signs of Bedbugs
The first sign of bedbugs may be small, itchy bites on your skin, often on your arms or shoulders. Bedbugs tend to leave clusters of bites rather than single bites here and there. But for some people, bedbug bites don't cause any marks or itching.
You might also notice:
- Blood spots on your sheets or mattress
- Bedbug poop, black dots about the size of a period
- The bedbugs' shed skin, which looks a lot like the bugs themselves
- White, oval eggs that are about as big as an apple seed
- A sweet, musty odor around your bed
- Actual bedbugs in your bed
How to Check for Bedbugs
If you suspect you may have bedbugs, inspect your mattress and bed carefully, especially in the crevices. Bedbugs like to hide in these areas, where they have easy access to people to bite. You might find them near the seams, tags, and piping of your mattress or box spring, or in cracks in your bed frame or headboard.
But over time, the tiny bugs may move farther out into any crevice or location that offers a hiding place. You could find them:
- In the seams or between the cushions of sofas and chairs
- In the folds of curtains
- In the joints of drawers
- In electrical outlets and appliances
- Rooms or apartments nearby
Because bedbugs live only on blood, they're not a sign of dirtiness. You are as likely to find them in immaculate homes as in messy ones.
Bedbugs are active mainly at night and usually bite you while you're sleeping. They pierce the skin and take your blood through their long beaks. The bugs feed from 3 minutes to 10 minutes until they're full, then crawl away.
If you have a bedbug bite, you may notice an itchy spot on your skin. On people with light skin tones, the bites usually look red. On darker skin, they may be purple. It can be harder to see them on dark skin.
Bedbugs tend to leave groups of bites in a straight row or zigzag pattern, but they can also be in a random pattern. You may not notice bites right away, as it can take up to 2 weeks for marks to develop.
Unlike flea bites, which are mainly around your ankles, you'll find bedbug bites on areas of skin that are exposed while you're sleeping, often your face, neck, or hands. Also, the bites don't have a red spot in the center the way flea bites do.
You may think the itching and welts are from other causes, like mosquitoes. To confirm a bedbug infestation, you must find and identify the bugs.
How to Get Rid of Bedbugs
To get rid of bedbugs, you can start by taking some steps at home:
- Wash your bedding, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Put stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can't be washed in the dryer and run it on high for 30 minutes or more.
- Use a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
- Vacuum your bed and the area around it every day, including windows and molding. Afterward, immediately put the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place it in the garbage can outdoors.
- Put a tightly woven, zippered cover on your mattress and box spring to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Bedbugs can live several months without feeding. So keep the cover on your mattress for at least a year.
- Repair cracks in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to get rid of places bedbugs can hide.
- Get rid of clutter around your bed, and move your bed away from your walls and other furniture.
If your mattress is infested, you may want to get a new one. But first, take the above precautions for the rest of your home so bedbugs won't get into your new mattress.
While these techniques can help to control bedbugs, getting rid of them completely often requires chemical treatments. Make sure you use only pesticides that are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and whose labels say they're meant to control bedbugs. Don't treat mattresses and bedding unless the label specifically says you can use them on bedding. Never apply them to your body.
It's usually best to hire a professional exterminator who has experience with bedbugs.
How to Prevent Bedbugs
A few ways to stop bedbugs (and bedbug bites) include:
- Use a protective cover on your mattress and box springs. Check it regularly for holes.
- Reduce clutter in your bedroom so bedbugs don't have many places to hide.
- Vacuum regularly, including your mattress, carpet, curtains, and upholstered furniture.
- When you stay away from home, put your bag on a suitcase stand, dresser, or table rather than on the bed or floor. When you get home, wash all the clothes from your trip and dry them in a hot dryer.
- Wear pajamas with long sleeves and long pants to protect your skin from bites.
- Carefully inspect used upholstered furniture, before bringing it inside.
- Avoid used mattresses and bedding.
- Use plastic bags to hold your clothes and linens while using shared laundry facilities. Bring clean clothes home to fold them, if possible
- If you live in a multi-unit building, install barriers under your doors and seal cracks around baseboards.