One day you wake up to find little red dots which seem to form little trails. Immediately, you realize this is one of the telltale signs of bedbugs. But do you really have an infestation? It might surprise you to know that you can have bed bug bites without bed bugs and vice versa.
Of course, the obvious way to know for sure is to hire a professional to inspect your home, but that could be costly. And what if you’re staying at a hotel or visiting someone else? The good news is there’s a much cheaper way to check, and that’s to do it yourself.
Inspecting your home will make it almost easier to get rid of a bed bug infestation than relatives. Here’s everything you need to know to catch infestations early on or ensure your house has an all-clear, and not just for bed bugs.
Some Important Basics
You don’t have to wait for bed bug bites before inspecting your home. In fact, periodic inspections (usually accompanied by a deep clean) can help prevent all sorts of potential bug or rodent problems.
But before you begin, here are some basic tips to keep in mind.
Knowing the Risks
Pay attention to the local threat levels, either by asking around or by joining your community’s social media groups on Facebook, Locals, Nextdoor, or some other decent platform. This will allow you to hear if there’s an outbreak locally.
Usually if a school or public resource (libraries, for example) discover someone has bed bugs, they will make an announcement so anyone who may have been exposed can be ready.
The downside to this is that you may have to talk to people as if this were the 1980s again, and that often puts people off the idea. But it’s better to suffer a little human contact than a lot of bed bug contact.
Does a Bite Mean an Infestation?
This is where a lot of people panic and waste money on an exterminator. There are two very good reasons not to immediately make a phone call when you wake up to a bite.
#1 – Confirm the Critter
The first is you’ll want to confirm what’s biting you before paying to exterminate the wrong critter.
#2 – Confirm the Timeline
The second is one of those myths that keep circulating, and that is the fact that discovering a bite today doesn’t mean you were bitten today.
In fact, the itchy redness people equate to bed bugs is actually an allergic reaction to the bug’s saliva that can show up anywhere from several minutes to several days after the actual attack. Even worse, in some cases, a victim can be totally asymptomatic!
Instead of biting your bank account, bite the bullet and confirm whether or not your home is actually an infestation.
You may also wish to contact the people you’ve been hanging out with over the past one or two days and let them know they may also have been exposed. It could well be you were bitten in a public place as well.
Where Do Bed Bugs Hide?
One of the things bed bugs hate most is light because it allows predators to find them. They’re also perhaps more adept at hiding than even fleas, which can already fit into some pretty tight spaces.
As a result, they’ll hide in pillowcases, comforters, cracks, crevasses, or nearby clutter – but almost always within a few feet of their food source.
Something else to keep in mind is that bed bugs absolutely love your clothes. They will snuggle up to the smell of sweat and pheromones in your dirty laundry and will often hitch a ride home if you’ve just been working out.
Of course, unless you’re into vampires, there’s nothing actually kinky about this. They just know that those smells equate to a source of blood.
The Four Risk Zones
Your home can be broken down into four risk zones to make inspections easier. In order of highest risk to lowest, these are:
- Zone 1: Bedrooms
- Zone 2: Heavily-Used Common Areas
- Zone 3: Less-Used Common Areas
- Zone 4: Rarely-Used Areas
How to Find Bed Bugs During the Day
It might seem easier to look at night, but unless you’re a pro with night-vision goggles, you probably won’t be able to catch one.
In rare cases, they’ll venture out during an afternoon nap, although they mostly try to come for you at night when you’re less likely to react.
Of course, this doesn’t mean a daytime inspection is a bad idea. In fact, it’s often easier to find signs of an infestation in the daytime. So have another sip of coffee, switch over to a mobile device (if you’re at your desk), and let’s go bug hunting!
Zone 1: Start with the Bedrooms
Bed bugs want to be near their food source, preferably when it’s resting. This makes the bedroom its number one hiding spot.
The good news is, this is also the easiest place to detect evidence of an infestation as a result. Thus, all inspections should begin with the bedroom. Just keep in mind, there are also other critters that get mistaken for bed bugs, so aim for a positive ID.
Check Bedding for Red Specks
As mentioned before, bed bugs love bedding. Peel back your bedding one layer at a time, watching for sudden movement or little brown or red specks. These tiny dots are often signs of feeding.
When you see one, place a damp paper towel or wet wipe on top and hold it for a few seconds. If the spot blossoms out, it’s a blood spot.
Examine the Mattress and Frame
While bed bugs can hide in the bedding, they actually prefer to be under the mattress or in the bedframe. You’re going to want a good magnifying glass for this step. Check the piping along the edges of your mattress for any sign of bugs or eggs.
You can actually shut the light off or draw the curtains if you have a portable UV light to aid in the inspection, as the bed bugs will glow when the light hits them.
However, this can cause them to scatter and may also reveal a lot of other things you don’t want to see, especially in a hotel room. But if you just want to confirm the presence of bugs, it does work.
For the frame, grab a paint scraper or other thin, flat object you can stick into the cracks. Shining a flashlight will also help you spot any movement.
Poke and prod your way through every crack and crevice, pulling the bed away from the wall so you can also check the back surfaces.
Examining Crevices (The Easy Way)
As mentioned, you’ll need a tool to check every crack and crevice. You may also need a screwdriver to loosen fixtures for inspection. Remember, bed bugs can squeeze into cracks sometimes as small as a sheet of paper.
A good trick is to use a monocle, jeweler’s loupe, or (if you don’t mind looking silly) a headband with your magnifying glass stick in. If you don’t have any of those, you may also make do by using your cellphone camera with the light and zoom functions active.
Holding a light in one hand, stick your tool into one end of the crack and drag it to the other end, watching for any escapees.
Checking Clutter and Room
Next, go over the furniture and any clutter within three feet or so of the bed, going slow and steady to make sure you catch any critters scurrying away.
Remember to also check baseboards, peeling paint or wallpaper, or any other possible hiding spots. Work your way outwards from the bed until you’ve searched the entire room.
Zone 2: Living Room, Den, Playroom
Now that you’ve gone over each bedroom, it’s time to branch out. Rooms can be handled in any order, but it’s usually best to begin with the common areas, then extend to hallways and less-used rooms.
Living rooms, dens, and playrooms should be your top priorities. As with the bedroom, begin with the most frequently used seating and work your way outwards.
Zone 3: Kitchen, Dining Room, Bathrooms
Next, move on to the kitchen, bathrooms, and passageways. These areas are far less likely to have bed bugs, but you may find some other unwanted guests in the process. There’s also always the possibility a bed bug hitched a ride home and was dislodged.
Zone 3 areas aren’t essential to check if you’ve found no signs in zones 1-2, but can easily tell you how bad an infestation is if you’ve found clear signs of the critters already.
Zone 4: Other Areas
Bed bugs congregate where they know there’ll be food, so there’s a pretty low chance they’ll be infesting spaces which see very little traffic. However, that’s not to say one or two weren’t moved to a rarely used room when you’re shifting things in and out of storage.
Be sure to check any items you retrieve for bed bugs if you’ve had an infestation in the past 3 months. Remember, an adult bed bug can survive for up to 70 days on a single meal, so don’t let them catch you out.
Some Final Tips
You may wish to keep a sealable plastic bag on-hand to store evidence of an infestation if you’re in an apartment, hotel, etc. Also, know your home remedies, such as rubbing alcohol or garlic, and which are actually effective in repelling or killing.
Finally, based on the level of infestation (or number/type of other infestations) you’ve discovered, decide whether you wish to tackle the problem yourself or hire a pro.