It’s one of those announcements that everyone dreads – a place you recently visited was closed down due to the presence of bed bugs. You realize you might have been exposed and begin frantically inspecting your home for any signs of bed bugs.
Before resigning yourself to a sleepless night, you remember some facts about bed bugs, such as their inability to fly or jump. Just to be safe, you pull your bed several inches away from the wall without thinking. And then it hits you…
Can Bed Bugs Climb?
This is a rather complicated question, which is why many sites will give you vague or confusing “yes… but no” answers. Other sites may claim “They’re great climbers… except they’re not”.
Well here at RMC we like to actually answer questions and commit to those answers. Thus, instead of telling you “yes… but no”, let’s get into the details right away.
See Also: Can Bed Bugs Survive in Water?
How They Climb
This is actually one of the most important things to bring up, since the method a bug uses to climb can greatly affect what surfaces it’s able to climb. In the case of bed bugs, they have tiny hooks on their feet that allow them to grip some surfaces but not others.
Bed bugs are able to climb your skin at night, but their hooks are so tiny that they can’t keep a really good grip. As a result, the moment you twitch or move, the bug slips and has to try and grab hold on its way down. The result is the characteristic track marks you notice later.
These hooks can grasp textured surfaces with varying degrees of success, but are unable to find purchase on totally smooth surfaces. As not all surfaces are created equal, let’s go down a list of common materials and whether or not a bed bug can scale them.
Can Bed Bugs Climb Fabric?
First, we have fabric. Fabric is important because your pajamas (or other bed attire) and sheets are all made of the stuff. However, clothing is supposed to be a barricade to bed bugs, right?
The sad truth is that the hooks on a be bug’s feet are socially designed for fabrics. Hitching a ride in the folds of clothing is one of the most common ways they get into your home. They can also move around your bed sheets with ease.
The only difference when it comes to clothing is that your nightwear presses against your body, meaning the bed bug has to find an opening to get into. However, this usually fails, making sleepwear an effective barrier against bites.
Can Bed Bugs Climb Glass?
In most cases, bed bugs can’t scale glass. Glass is a very unusual substance and is actually an extremely viscous liquid. This means the surface is often extremely smooth. Of course, there are textured glasses as well, and this is an important distinction to make.
Smooth glass is an un-scalable barrier to bed bugs. There’s not a single place for them to place their hooks. However, textured glass surfaces may provide enough grip for the bed bug to scale, depending on how the glass has been textured.
Frosted glass is often the easiest to climb, since these have often been sanded to an almost imperceptible texture to create the frosted effect.
Can Bed Bugs Climb Masonry?
This is a material that doesn’t get mentioned as often as it should, and bed bugs can easily take advantage of that fact. Brick and similar man-made materials are heavily textured, even if they look and feel smooth.
Cut stone can be as smooth as glass, but is often also textured on a very fine scale. As a result, bed bugs can easily climb brick but may have difficulty with some types of stone.
Can Bed Bugs Climb Metal?
In most cases, bed bugs absolutely hate metal surfaces. Metal can be every bit as smooth as glass, creating a perfect bed bug barrier. However, metal can also be textured, which will provide hook holds.
Any metal that you can see yourself in (even faintly) will usually be un-scalable.
Can Bed Bugs Climb Plastic?
Plastic is where things begin to get a lot more sketchy. While there are certainly plastic surfaces out there which bed bugs could never hope to climb, there are also surfaces which have minute amounts of texture due to the way they were molded.
3D printed plastics, for example, will have some variations due to the way the plastic is layered. Inflatable mattresses are typically made of PVC or reinforced urethane plastic and unfortunately, bed bugs can climb the material.
Can Bed Bugs Climb Tile?
Chances are, a bed bug won’t be encountering tile on your bedroom walls, but they have been known to skitter across floor tiles. So does this mean they can theoretically climb a tile wall?
Floor tile usually has a bit of texture added so they’re not as slippery. Bed bugs are able to use the tiny bumps to push themselves forward across the floor.
However, walls are very different. A tile wall has nothing to give the bed bug purchase, even if there’s the same texture as a floor tile. The reason for this is simple: the bumps are smooth, meaning their hooks can’t actually find purchase on them.
In fact, the only way a bed bug could climb a tile wall is if the tile and grout are old and weathered, creating a more grippable surface.
Can Bed Bugs Climb Plaster or Wallpapered Walls?
Sadly, the answer to both of these materials is yes. No matter how smooth you make plaster, its crumbly nature can make it easier to climb.
In addition, painting the wall won’t create a smooth enough finish to deter a bed bug’s tiny hooks. Finally, wallpaper tends to have a texture similar to many fabrics, meaning bed bugs can climb them like a jungle gym.
Can Bed Bugs Climb Wood?
Wood can be deceptive. Because it’s an organic material, you can use sandpaper with a microscopic grit and still not have a perfectly smooth surface.
Varnishes can help to a point, but these won’t give wood perfect smoothness and can become textured by general wear and tear.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs from Climbing
So now we’ve had a look at which surfaces bed bugs can and can’t climb (as well as any exceptions), but that poses another problem.
Most of us don’t have metal bed frames, which means the bugs can still climb up into your bed even with the headboard pulled away from the wall. Thankfully, there are ways to stop the bugs from scaling your bed’s legs in search of your’s.
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One popular method is known as an interceptor trap. These are plastic traps designed to be placed under your bed’s legs. Each trap is a dish that has a glass smooth inner surface that bed bugs can’t climb, preventing them from getting hold of the bed legs.
The outside of the trap is textured. This means it works a lot like homemade fruit fly traps, as the bed bug can get in but not back out.
Interceptor traps won’t kill bed bugs, per se, but they can kill newly hatched nymphs which will starve within a few days of hatching without a blood meal. More importantly, the traps will let you assess how bad the infestation is and you can manually kill the bugs after.
Be warned, because plastics sometimes have a surface you can’t feel, it’s best to buy interceptor traps rather than attempt to make one yourself.
Homemade Leg and Wall Protectors
While you shouldn’t try to make interceptor traps due to the risk of using seemingly smooth plastic that is actually textured, there are a couple ways to make your own barriers that simply block bed bugs from climbing.
One option is to get some smooth metal sheeting and strong adhesive strips (the ones designed for use with metal surfaces). Give your baseboards a good washing and allow them to dry thoroughly, then cover their vertical surface with the metal sheeting.
This can be a bit awkward looking depending on how you decorate your room, so it’s not for everyone. However, it can prevent the bed bugs from scaling your baseboard to get to the walls.
In a similar vein, you can use the metal sheets or glass panels (including mirrors) to create a box around your legs. Be sure to add a bottom as well so the bed bugs can’t simply slip underneath.
As bed bugs can’t jump, these barriers don’t need to be very high, but three or four inches may help prevent some other critters from climbing into your bed. Unlike the baseboard protection, these little barriers are small enough to go largely unnoticed.