Do You Have a Bed Bug Problem? Here's How to Check

Ben Kissam
Written by Ben Kissam
Updated November 10, 2021
Master bedroom bed
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Sleep tight and don’t let the… well, you know the rest

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Unfortunately, critters living in and around your bed isn’t uncommon. According to National Pest Management Association, one out of every five Americans has had or known someone who’s had a bed bug problem. Yikes!

And while there are plenty of signs that you could have a bed bug problem, the key lies in knowing how to check for bed bugs and then address the issue. That way, you can get back to restless, biteless sleep. Here are some of the warning signs to look for to help address your concern.

1. You’re Waking Up With Bites

Bed bug bites are characterized as a red itchy bump with a clear center, but there are several common signs of bed bug bites to consider.

They may present as a small painless lump at first, but bed bug bites tend to:

  • Be red in color

  • Itchy

  • Result in a mild burning sensation

Bed bug bites are most common on the hands, arms, chest, and shoulders, but could appear anywhere your skin is exposed while you sleep.

The key to treating bug bites is to figure out what’s biting you. It's a common misconception that bites automatically equate to bed bugs. It may not be the news you want to hear, but there are myriad critters that like living in our beds and visiting us while we sleep. (How’s that fact about how many spiders the average person eats go again?)

2. You Have Blood Stains on Your Sheets

Another sign of a bed bug problem is finding blood on your sheets. Bed bugs can bleed after feeding, which can leave behind quite a mess on your bed. 

Similar to waking up with bites, blood on the sheets—while alarming—does not guarantee it’s bed bugs. Other critters, such as mosquitos, could also be the culprit.

3. You Discover Bed Bug Excrement

Finding dark or rusty spots on your sheets or mattress is yet another unpleasant sign of bed bug infestation. And maybe you guessed it, but if not: it’s excrement. 

You can check for bed bug poop on:

  • Your sheets

  • Your mattress

  • Your pillows

  • The crevices and corners of your bed

Bed bug poop is about the size of a marker spot and presents in small clusters on or around your bed. The rusted color is a result of digested blood. (After reading that, the cost to hire a bed bug exterminator, which starts at $1,000, might be easily justified.)

4. You Discover Bed Bug Exoskeletons

Person checking under fitted sheet
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Bed bugs molt, or shed their outer layer of skin, five different times before they reach adulthood. Each time they do, they leave behind an exoskeleton, or translucent covering that invertebrate animals need to maintain structure and rigidity. Like blood and feces, finding these little shells could be a sign that you have a bed bug infestation.

For what it’s worth: the most common way bed bugs get into homes is through other infested furniture. So whether you’re bringing a secondhand couch into your home or staying in hotels often for work, it’s never a bad idea to scan for all these signs listed before bringing belongings back into your home.

Finding bed bug eggs is one of the less common ways to check for these critters, but is still possible. Their eggs are small, white, and oval-shaped, and take about six days to hatch and could be found on your mattress or around your bed.

Unfortunately, a female bed bug lays about 250 eggs during her lifetime, so being proactive about any issues if you suspect bed bugs are in your home is a good idea.

6. Seeing a Living Bed Bug

Truthfully, the warning signs could be there. But until you spot an actual bed bug, you won’t know that there’s a problem. 

Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs don’t fly, so you’re most likely to see them crawling across your sheets or mattress. If you suspect bed bugs, it’s not a bad idea to put white or lighter colored sheets on for a few days to help them stand out.

What to Do If You Have a Bed Bug Problem

Now that you know how to check for a bed bug problem, getting rid of bed bugs is the next step. Washing and drying all fabrics and steam cleaning your mattress (extreme temperatures kill bed bugs) are two popular home remedies.

But if problems persist, a local pest control company may be worth calling. Many companies diagnose the issue for free or at a low cost, which can give you peace of mind—or a game plan—to help you get back to restful sleep.

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