How to Check for Bed Bugs in Your Home

Lawrence Bonk
Written by Lawrence Bonk
Updated August 12, 2022
Master bedroom bed
Photo: Bmak / Adobe Stock

The key is to find bed bugs before they find you

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Bed bugs. Speaking these words aloud is reason enough to make homeowners launch into a cleaning frenzy, and with good reason. These insects are cunning, hard to spot, and use humans as their primary food source. Before hiring a local pest control company to get rid of these pests, you need to determine whether that’s the true cause of your suspicious bug bites. After all, bed bugs are easily confused with many types of beetles and other insects.

Here’s how to check for bed bugs in your home so you can breathe a sigh of relief or a longer sigh of resignation. 

Why Do I Have Bed Bugs in My Home?

First of all, let’s dispel some myths. Bed bugs are not the result of a messy home, and they likely did not travel to your home in the clothing of a visitor, though luggage is a possibility. Let’s take a look at the common causes of bed bug infestations. 

  • Present in your new home: If you recently moved and immediately experienced symptoms related to bed bugs, it is likely they were already there. Bed bugs can survive for one year or more without feeding, so they hide and wait in unseen spots. 

  • Used furniture: It’s not a myth that bed bugs can hide and travel in secondhand furniture. As the name suggests, bed bugs love beds and anywhere else that humans lay or sit on for long periods of time. Be extra cautious when bringing in used furniture of any kind into the home, including beds, couches, and chairs. 

  • Luggage: It is a great idea to learn how to avoid bed bugs while traveling, as these creepy crawlies will move into your luggage and, eventually, your home. Check hotel beds thoroughly and keep your luggage away from the bed. 

  • Multi-unit dwellings: If you live in a multi-unit condo or apartment building, you are at greater risk for bed bugs. Controlling what goes into your home is easy, but you can’t control all of the homes connected to yours. If your neighbor brings them in and doesn’t handle the situation, it is just a matter of time before the bed bugs make their way to your home. 

How Much Does It Cost to Identify and Exterminate Bed Bugs?

If you suspect your home has bed bugs, you can expect to pay $65 to $200 for a professional visual inspection, though many exterminators throw in a free inspection as part of a removal package. If the pro finds definitive proof of a bed bug infestation, the extermination will cost anywhere from $900 to $3,000 for professional removal. 

How to Identify Bed Bugs in the Home

Before going over the various places to check and inspection methods, let’s talk about identification. It is rare to see a bed bug “in the flesh,” as they only come out at night, are surprisingly quick-footed, and are extremely small. Additionally, adults are visible to the human eye but the young, called nymphs, are pale and nearly impossible to spot.

Here are some of the physical signs of bed bugs:

  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses

  • Dark spots on fabric

  • Tiny eggs and eggshells

How to Prep for Bed Bug Inspections 

If you’ve hired a professional bed bug exterminator to check your home for bed bugs, there are a few tasks you can complete to prepare for the inspection.

It’s a good idea to wash your bedding and clothing with hot water. This step allows you to focus on larger items throughout the home, knowing that any bed bugs present in bedding and clothing won’t survive the wash. You can also remove clutter and give the space a deep cleaning. Clutter and mess do not increase the chances of bed bugs, but a clean area makes for easier inspections. 

How to Check for Bed Bugs in the Home

Here’s your all-inclusive guide to thoroughly and efficiently check for bed bugs throughout the home. 

Check for Bites 

Start by checking household members for bites, starting with the ankles and other areas of exposed skin. Bed bug bites are similar in appearance to other bug bites, though they lack the red spot in the center associated with flea bites. Bed bugs also tend to feed sporadically in a row, so look for bites in a series of threes or fours in a line. 

Bites redden, swell, or itch according to the allergic response of the victim. Everyone is different and many people are asymptomatic, which is when bed bugs leave no visible indication of a bite. A couple of random bug bites do not indicate bed bugs. You are looking for repetition and multiple bites, night after night. 

Check Beds, Sofas, and Chairs

Inspect your bedding, such as mattress covers, for small blood stains, thus indicating feeding. Bring a flashlight, as these stains are small— usually two to four times the size of a standard period on a keyboard. You are looking for signs of feeding, growth, or excrement, though if you happen upon a living bug, that’s your answer. 

You are also looking for excrement, presenting as small rust-colored smears or groups of dark spots. Also, keep an eye out for shed skin and egg shells. Shells look like little white dots and shed skin pieces resemble the bed bug itself, with the same shape, though they are translucent in color. 

Pay special attention to bed frames or furniture frames, shining the flashlight in any nooks and crannies to look for bugs, blood, skin, or excrement. Peel back any stapled fabric to get an even closer look. Go under the bed and item of furniture, flipping it over if necessary. 

Check Near the Bed and Furniture

Bed bugs may start in the bed, but colonies travel around the room in due time, though most stay near to the primary food source.

Widen your search to items around and near the bed, including inside of books, the edge of rugs or carpet, and even in electrical outlets. Shine your flashlight and look for any of the aforementioned signs. This task also includes the closet and the bedroom dresser, if either is within crawling distance of the bed, chair, or couch. Work slowly and check clothing items as you did with the bedding. 

Use Your Nose

Think vampiric bed bugs couldn’t get any worse? There are also some associated odors with bed bug infestations. Bed bugs release potent pheromones when threatened. This sweet and musty odor resembles raspberries, coriander, cilantro, or almonds.

Severe infestations amp up that musty odor, as pheromones mix with dead bed bugs to create something comparable to moldy laundry. 

Find a Living Specimen 

Finding a live bed bug is rather difficult, though not impossible. Stay on high alert during nighttime hours, with your flashlight at the ready, as the most likely area to spot one is crawling toward you in bed. 

They are fast, so trap one with a cup and then transfer it to a plastic bag to show the exterminator later. Keep in mind that any bug found in a bed is not necessarily a bed bug. 

How to Prevent Bed Bugs

Check out these common-sense steps to preventing bed bugs in your home

  • Avoid used furniture: Avoid used items of furniture, particularly beds. If you purchase a secondhand furniture item, inspect it carefully for blood stains, excrement, egg shells, and skin casings. 

  • Use protective mattress covers: Install protective covers around mattresses and box springs, and make sure these covers resist tearing and punctures. This method won’t help with bugs in other locations, but it will trap any in the mattress and box spring.

  • Vacuum frequently: Use a high-powered vacuum frequently to pick up any stragglers, including eggs and shed skin. You should also use a steam-based cleaner in any nooks and crannies near the bed. 

  • Travel safely: Practice safe travel habits for avoiding bed bugs and encourage any visitors to your home to do the same. 

  • Exercise caution at laundry facilities: If you’re using a public laundry facility, transport clothing in plastic bags and swap these bags out for new ones when the items are clean and dry. If possible, fold your clothes at home. 

  • Seal up cracks: Take time to seal up cracks and crevices around baseboards, light sockets, flooring, etc. This step is especially important with multi-family homes. 

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

The above procedures are great first steps to identifying bed bugs, but if you come up short while still experiencing nightly bites, it’s best to bring in a professional. Exterminators proficient with bed bug removal have many identification tools, such as detection monitoring devices, high-powered lighting tools, and even bed bug-sniffing dogs. Best case scenario? Even the dog comes up with no evidence, and the exterminator finds another type of insect near your bed. 

Additional Questions 

Check out these answers to common bed bug questions.

What draws bed bugs out of hiding? 

Unfortunately, we do. Bed bugs sense our heat signature, particularly the altered heat signature associated with sleep, and exit their hiding spots to feast. 

Do bed bugs bite every night?

A single bed bug bites multiple times throughout one night until full, but then takes a break for a week or so to digest. However, the more bugs present, the more likely you get bit every night. Tracking how often you get bit is a good way to approximate the size of the infestation.

What time of day are bed bugs most active?

Bed bugs are most active when we are most inactive, typically from 2 a.m. until 5 a.m. They are cunning, and adjust their schedules according to their victims. If you work at night, for instance, your bed bugs will flip the script. 

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