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Bed bugs are hitchhikers. Most infestations begin with a bug or two sneaking their way back home with you on your clothes or in your bags.
They only need you to sit down or put your stuff down for a moment. They’re happy to grab onto suitcases, backpacks, purses, clothes, furniture, and even wheelchairs.
Bed bugs are also known to slip between the cracks and voids of shared walls. This makes infestations in apartments especially frustrating and hard to deal with.
On this page, we’ll go over where you’re most likely to encounter them. We’ll also discuss what you can do to lower your chances of bringing them home.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From
Your chances of coming across bed bugs are highest when you are in an area where lots of people come and go.
Hotels, apartments, and shared housing are prime bed bug hot spots. This is especially true in big metropolitan cities. When looking at the top 50 bed bug cities in America, most are big cities.
A revolving door of guests and many hiding places make for perfect bed bug conditions.
Single-family homes and apartments are the most common sites of infestation. Hotels and motels come in second. Nursing homes and offices are tied for third. College dorms are the fourth most frequently affected, followed by hospitals and transportation.
It’s impossible to avoid all these locations while going through life.
Most infestations come from visiting an infested home.
Keep an eye out and inspect beds before spending a night on them. Do this even when staying with friends or family.
Follow these instructions on how to check a room for bed bugs.
Plenty of regular people have no idea they have bed bugs. It’s easy to assume that you might be dealing with fleas or a busy mosquito season.
Learning to identify the most common symptoms of bed bugs will be useful for the rest of your life.
Check out the bed bug pictures page for visual examples.
Bringing furniture left on the streets home is a high-risk decision if your goal is to prevent bed bugs. Avoiding mattresses left out on the street is a good idea in general.
Leasing and purchasing used furniture can be risky. This depends on the seller or company.
Leasing companies without well-enforced bed bug policies are a big problem.
If you will be bringing home used furniture, take the time to inspect it. Doing this before bringing it into your car or home could save you from an infestation.
It may seem over the top but checking is the best way to make sure you aren’t bringing home a huge expensive headache.
Treating Used Furniture
Steam treatment is an inexpensive way to get rid of eggs and hitchhikers that can hide in used furniture.
Other used furnishings like small carpets and curtains can be treated in a dryer set to high. Run it for at least 30 minutes.
Bed bug heaters are versatile and effective. They come in all sizes – from large enough to fit a suitcase, to heaters that fit the entire bed. They treat anything you can fit in them and only need electricity to work.
Every few months, news breaks of someone burning down their home or apartment with one.
Heaters are very affordable these days, especially compared to the cost of a new home.
Other Used Goods
This includes inside electronics, suitcases, kids’ toys, clothes, and even books.
When buying used clothes, it’s a good idea to clean them as a precaution. It’s a simple matter of running them in the dryer for at least 30 minutes on high heat.
A dryer can also be used on small items like plush toys, backpacks, and shoes.
If dealing with delicate items, a bed bug heater is the best option. Dry cleaners are also an option, although most don’t guarantee bed bug elimination.
Don’t bring infested clothes to the dry cleaners without calling first.
If you’d like to treat delicate or larger items that can’t be tumbled in a dryer, personal bed bug heaters like the ZappBug heater will easily do the job.
Unit to Unit Spread
Once bed bugs spread to more than one unit in a building, everyone needs to be on the same page to deal with them.
Cooperation is necessary. Treatment needs to happen in every single infested unit at the same time.
Units neighboring infested units should be treated or monitored at the very least.
Bed bugs will escape through plumbing and electricity routes when they feel heat treatment starting. Those routes end up in next-door units.
Waiting for professional treatment can be frustrating. In the meantime, you can do a lot to slow or stop the biting.
Laws about the burden of payment for treatment vary from state-to-state. Check with your local office.
Bed Bugs And Travel
When traveling, you use shared furniture and bedding way more often than usual. This is true whether you’re staying in a fancy hotel or in a budget-friendly hostel. Always check for symptoms of bed bugs before settling in.
Hotels and motels have an endless cycle of people entering and leaving. Bed bugs will make their way in with someone eventually.
Even with constant housekeeping and bed encasements, a bug or two can slip through the cracks.
Traveling safely with bed bugs in mind is the best way to prevent bringing an infestation home.
We have written on how to check your hotel room for bed bugs.
When checking for bed bugs, you’re unlikely to find a live bug outside of an advanced infestation.
Bed Bug Hot Spots
Big cities bed bug hot spots. Studies find that bed bugs most often affect younger people living in rented homes in big cities.
Large populations, apartment living, and easy mobility help them spread fast and far.
Every year, Terminix looks into the number of bed bug services it gives across the country.
They then share the top 50 bed bug infested cities in the US.
Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington make the top 10 every year.
Being especially careful in big cities is worth your time.
It is good to be extra aware when staying in budget travel accommodations. Budget options usually see more customers. High turnover and overworked staff can lead to bugs slipping through the crack.
We recommend checking reviews online for mentions of bed bugs before signing up to stay. I’ve seen hostels with reviews mentioning bed bugs several times myself. That bed may be cheap for a good reason.
We have a guide on how to check for bed bugs in hotels here.
Buses, planes, and trains in big cities put you shoulder-to-shoulder with lots of people. In these conditions, crawling onto your clothing or bag is easy for a bed bug.
Bed bugs have exploded as international travel has become more affordable. Scientists have linked human odor with the epidemic.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield set out to test a simple theory. They wanted to know if dirty laundry attracts bed bugs.
They conducted a study and concluded that the smell of worn clothing is a major draw to bed bugs.
Dr. William Hentley of the University of Sheffield commented and advised that:
“Bed bugs are a huge problem for hotel and homeowners, particularly in some of the world’s biggest and busiest cities.
Once a room is infested with bed bugs, they can be very difficult to get rid of, which can result in people having to dispose of clothes and furniture that can be costly.
Our study suggests that keeping dirty laundry in a sealed bag, particularly when staying in a hotel, could reduce the chances of people taking bed bugs home with them, which may reduce the spread of infestations.”
During the study, bed bugs wound up in bags with dirty clothes twice as often versus bags with clean clothes.
These days, many hotels use bed bug proof encasements. Your open suitcase full of worn clothing lying on the ground is easier to get into than the bed.
Researchers specifically shared that:
“Potential ‘vehicles’ for passive dispersal, such as luggage, are likely to contain recently worn clothes (i.e., those soiled with sweat and volatiles) that release human odor, especially since travelers tend to take home their dirty laundry. Odors from soiled clothing (or luggage containing soiled clothing) may therefore influence host-searching behavior in bed bugs and consequently facilitate the passive dispersal of bed bugs via long-distance transport networks.”
The study brings home the importance of keeping luggage off the ground and out of the reach of bed bugs.
Keeping bags sealed and away from the bed will go a long way.
For more on checking rooms for bed bugs, there’s this post on the topic.
Frequent travelers should invest in a decent bed bug heater. The peace of mind you get from tossing your luggage in and setting a timer is priceless.
Summer Is Bed Bug Season
As soon as summer rolls in, bed bugs come out of hiding.
Most exterminators report that they get more calls for bed bugs during the summer.
Exercising extra caution during your summer travels is always a good idea.
Can I Avoid all Bed Bugs?
It is a common misconception that bed bugs only infest dirty or cluttered homes. The difference between a clean and a cluttered home is that a clean home has fewer places for bed bugs to hide.
Bed bugs aren’t picky at all. That lack of pickiness has helped them thrive all over the world. Bed bugs are so common that 1 in every 5 Americans has had bed bugs or knows someone who has.
All 50 states deal with bed bugs.
You could deny visitors, avoid public places, check every car and bus seat you ever sit on, and still get them from a neighbor.
Everything you’ve read on this page will help reduce your chances of bumping into bed bugs in the wild. Prevention is the only other meaningful way to take control.
Read this section on easy ways to prevent bed bugs for more.
It’s a skill that you’ll also need if you ever have to deal with a possible infestation at home. Knowing where and what to look for lets you check furniture, rooms, offices, and anywhere else. It will help you avoid bringing bed bugs home in the first place.
Detecting Bed Bugs Early
It doesn’t take much work to set up early detection tools. These days, traps are cheap and convenient.
We recommend interceptor traps to anyone wanting to prevent or treat an infestation. They’re easy to install, catch bed bugs early, and don’t need replacing or maintenance.
Once installed, prevention becomes as easy as checking interceptors every few weeks.
When you pair interceptors with encasements, your bed becomes a fortress.
Click any product name or picture to go to the corresponding review:
|Bait||You||You||You||You, Optional Lure|
|Trap||ABS Pitfall||Powdered Pitfall||Comfy Harborage||Pitfall|
|Rating||100 / 100||92 / 100||92 / 100||74 / 100|
|Price||$$||$||$$||$$ - $$$|
For more information on traps and in-depth reviews, check out the bed bug traps page.
What Not to do
- Do not jump the gun and begin treating for bed bugs if you’re worried about mystery bites. Find other symptoms first.
- Do not begin treatment if your operator doesn’t offer you proof of bed bugs. Knowing how to find a great exterminator will make a big difference.
- Do not use generic bug solutions. Bug bombs and foggers make things worse by scaring bed bugs into every room of the house. The gas used in consumer foggers will not kill bed bugs.
- Do not randomly apply pesticide powders. If you decide to use preventative powders, wear a respirator. Learn how to properly apply bed bug powders.
- Do not trust any product labeled as a “bed bug repellent.” Bed bug repellents do not exist. Like bug bombs and foggers, they can make things worse by scaring bed bugs deeper into your home. A good encasement and interceptors will do the job of keeping bed bugs off your bed.
Be Ready for Bed Bugs
If you want to take the next step, it’s a great idea to make a treatment plan before you even have a problem.
Our guide to getting rid of bed bugs will walk you through the entire process.
Thanks for Reading!
Remember, if you ever suspect an infestation:
- Look for symptoms of bed bugs in the bedroom first. Don’t start treatment until you have proof.
- Avoid bug bombs and foggers.
- Learn how to properly apply products before using them.
We’ve shared all there is to know about the most common high-risk bed bug scenarios. You now know where to be extra careful and all about the importance of checking for them and prevention.
Have a questions or feedback? We’ll respond to them in the comments section below.