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Bed bugs are natural hitchhikers that will take any chance to latch onto you in hopes of being brought back home. All they need is for you to take a seat or put your things down for a second.
They frequently stick onto suitcases, backpacks, purses, worn clothing, used furniture, and even wheelchairs.
Bed bug infestations typically develop like so:
- A bed bug or two climb onto something of yours because it has a human scent
- It then lays sticky eggs or sticks itself firmly to your things/clothes
- The bug then hitches a ride with you until you put your things down at home
- Once at home, it hides until nighttime
- The bed bug takes a meal while you are asleep
- If the bug was a fertilized female, it will lay eggs and begin the infestation
Bed bugs also known to slip between the cracks of shared walls, making 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 go over 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 anywhere lots of people come and go.
Hotels and shared housing in general are prime bed bug hot spots. The revolving door of guests staying for a night, and the plentiful hiding places make for perfect bed bug sharing conditions.
To give you an idea, people frequently bring bed bugs home from:
- Homes of family members, homes of friends, homes of a child’s friends
- Apartments and condos
- Hostels, hotels, motels, apartments, bed and breakfasts
- Office buildings, government facilities, workplaces, libraries
- Long-term care facilities, nursing homes
- Day cares, school dormitories, classrooms at all levels of education
- Fire stations, police stations, hospitals
- Buses, airplanes, trains, taxis, Ubers, cruise ships, etc.
- Movie theaters, Broadway theaters, concert halls
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 common, followed by hospitals and transportation.
It’s impossible to avoid all of these locations while going through life. This makes prevention very important. The only space you can actually control is the space inside your home.
Most infestations come from being in an infested home.
If staying with friends or family, keeping an eye out and conducting the same inspection used while traveling will do a lot to help prevent bringing unwanted hitchhikers home.
Being vigilant and properly inspecting beds before settling in anywhere you go is the best way to protect yourself. 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.
Picking up used furniture off the street is a seriously high-risk decision if your goal is to prevent bed bugs at home. It goes without saying that used mattresses left on the street should be left on the street.
Furniture is typically left on the street for a reason. Bed bugs are a common reasons.
Leasing and purchasing used furniture are also somewhat risky depending on the seller or company.
Leasing companies without strictly enforced bed bug policies are a big problem.
If renting furniture, be sure to check store policies for bed bug clauses before signing.
If you do decide to bring home used furniture, conduct a thorough inspection before bringing it into your car or home.
If possible, check:
- Beneath cushions
- Undersides of furniture
- Corners of joints
- Under seams
It might seem a little over the top, but checking yourself is the best way to make sure you aren’t bringing home a huge expensive headache.
Treating Used Furniture
Steam treating furniture is an inexpensive way to get rid of any bed bug eggs and sneaky hitchhikers hiding out in used furniture you choose to bring home.
Other used furnishings like small carpets and curtains can be easily treated in a dryer set to high. Run it for at least 30 minutes.
It’s important that whatever you dry reaches at least 120˚F throughout.
Bed bug heaters are great because they come in all sorts of sizes from large enough to fit a suitcase, to heaters that fit entire beds. They safely treat anything you can fit in them and only need electricity to work.
We highly recommend avoiding DIY heaters because they’re just really dangerous. Every year people make the news by burning down entire homes and apartment buildings in their attempts to DIY heat treat their homes for bed bugs specifically.
Heaters are very affordable these days, especially compared to the price of a new home.
Other Used Goods
Bed bugs can survive almost anywhere. This includes inside used electronics, suitcases, children’s toys, clothing, and even between the pages of books.
When buying used clothing, running them through the dryer on high for at least 30 minutes is the easiest way to keep your home safe. If dealing with delicate items, dry cleaning is an option although dry cleaners normally do not guarantee bed bug elimination.
A dryer can also be used on various smaller items like plush toys, backpacks, and shoes.
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 get in to more than one unit in a building, everyone needs to get on the same page to deal with them.
Cooperation is necessary because treatment needs to happen in every single infested unit at the same time.
Units that are neighboring infested units should also be treated or monitored at the very least. It’s too easy for bed bugs to slip through holes meant for plumbing and electricity into neighboring units once the heat starts to crank up.
Slow unit-by-unit attempts to treat infestations will fail when multiple units are infested.
Treating your own unit and making it not worth the bugs’ time by sealing off entrances, applying powders, and securing your bed with encasements and interceptors will do a lot to stop the biting while you wait for management to have large-scale treatment done.
Laws regarding the burden of payment for treatment vary from state-to-state.
Bed Bugs And Travel
When traveling, you come into contact with 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.
Studies have shown that international travel is a big part of the modern return of bed bug cases throughout the industrialized world; particularly in the United States and Europe.
With a revolving door of warm-blooded hosts taking a seat on that couch in the lobby or sofa in the room, hotels and other temporary housing situations can be infested even though they use the best bed encasements and have constant housekeeping.
Traveling safely with bed bugs in mind is a great way you can prevent infestations in your own home.
It is unlikely that you’ll find a live bed bug in the open, unless you happen to walk into a room with an advanced infestation.
Bed Bug Hot Spots
Big cities are known hot spots for bed bugs. Studies have consistently found that bed bugs most often affect younger people living in rented homes in big cities.
Bed bugs are three times more common in urban areas compared to rural areas.
Large populations, apartment living and high mobility help them spread fast and far.
You can count on cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington making the top 10 year after year.
Outside of keeping an eye open when staying in big cities, it is good to be extra careful when staying in budget travel accommodations. Budget options usually see higher turnover of customers. That turnover paired with a frequently overstretched and underpaid staff can led to infestations slipping through the crack.
We recommend checking reviews online for mentions of bed bugs before signing up to stay. During my own travels, I’ve seen a few hostels with multiple reviews mentioning bed bugs being a problem. 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 puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with lots of people. It does not take much imagination to see how you might miss a bug sneakily crawling onto your clothing or bag while on the subway, bus, or in a cab.
Summer Is Bed Bug Season
Summer is peak bed bug season for several reasons.
- Bed bugs are able to pull moisture out of the air but struggle to do so in typical dry summer weather.
- This leaves one source of liquid for them – blood.
- With their lives on the line, bed bugs are more likely to come out during the day and are willing to feed more aggressively.
- Warmer temperatures make public transportation more comfortable for bed bugs.
- For many people, summer means travel, and travel is a very efficient way to spread bed bugs.
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 only difference between clean and cluttered homes is that a cluttered home offers bed bugs more hiding places.
They 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 bed bugs through a neighbor or visiting relative.
Learning how to find bed bug symptoms is very important.
It’s a skill that that is necessary if you ever have to deal with a possible infestation at home. On top of that, knowing where and what to look for gives you the ability to check furniture, rooms, offices, and really anywhere else you might visit so you can avoid bringing bed bugs home in the first place.
Detecting Bed Bugs Early
Because bed bugs are normally impossible to see coming, the importance of early detection cannot be understated.
If you find an infestation in the first two months of its arrival, you’ll have a way easier dealing with it.
Like heat treating your luggage after travel, it doesn’t take much work to catch infestations early. These days, traps that help tip you off to growing infestations are downright cheap and hassle-free.
We recommend interceptor traps because they help catch bed bugs early and because you can set and forget them.
All you have to do is check your traps once every couple weeks!
They don’t need any maintenance and do a great job when paired with encasements to secure your bed.
Here are the best passive and interceptor traps available online:
|Bait||You||You||You||You, Optional Lure|
|Trap||ABS Pitfall||Powdered Pitfall||Comfy Harborage||Pitfall|
|Rating||5.0 / 5||4.0 / 5||4.6 / 5||3.4 / 5|
|Price||$$||$||$$||$$ - $$$|
For more information on traps and in-depth reviews, check out the bed bug traps page.
What Not to do
- First and foremost, if you find yourself worrying about mystery bites, do not begin treating for bed bugs without solid evidence that you’re actually dealing with bed bugs.
- If a pest control operator ever recommends treatment without showing you proof of bed bugs, you should be suspicious. There are a lot of great operators, knowing how to find a great exterminator will make all the difference!
- Do not try generic bug killing products.
- Bug bombs and foggers are marketed as effective against bed bugs. They actually make things worse by scaring bed bugs out of a bed room into every room of the house.
- The gas used in consumer foggers will not kill bed bugs. Only professionals have access to gases that work because they’re dangerous.
- If you decide to apply preventative bed bug killing powders, wear a respirator and 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 even make situations worse by scaring bed bugs deeper into your home.
Be Ready for Bed Bugs
If you want to take the next step, it’s a great idea to make a plan before you even have a problem.
Making a plan in advance gives you the huge advantage of being able to get the start treatment immediately once you confirm that you have bed bugs on your hands. Without having to spend time researching and picking out the best products one-by-one, you’ll be miles ahead of most folks dealing with infestations.
The feeling of being able to take control and act right away is priceless in my own experiences.
Thanks for Reading!
Remember, if you ever suspect an infestation:
- Look for the symptoms of bed bugs in the bedroom first. Don’t begin treatment until you have proof.
- Avoid bug bombs and foggers.
- Understand how to apply products before applying them.
It is up to you to protect your home from bed bugs.
This post should have you feeling confident in your ability to recognize the most common high risk bed bug scenarios so that you can avoid them completely or react appropriately.
Have a request or feedback? Please leave it in the comments section!