5 Reasons Bed Bugs Hide In Garbage Bags And 1 Reason They Don’t

by | Bed Bugs, Insects

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Bed bugs hide in garbage bags when the bags are close to a human food source, better hiding places are overcrowded, and the inside of the bags are accessible, warm, and dark. Bed bugs never hide in garbage bags to eat garbage because they don’t eat waste.

Bed bugs always choose to hide in a mattress, a box spring, or a couch before settling on garbage bags. So let’s take a look at all the reasons why bed bugs hide in garbage bags, if they survive, and how to kill them with garbage bags.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • Why and when bed bugs hide in garbage bags
  • How to kill bed bugs in garbage bags

Bed bugs hide in garbage bags when…

–        The garbage bags are close to a person

Bed bugs live on blood. They prefer human blood, but they drink animal blood if there are no humans around. Bed bugs don’t eat anything else, so they are never attracted to garbage or waste and won’t move into a garbage bag for the garbage inside.

Bed bugs move in to garbage bags that are kept close to someone, so the bed bugs can drink that person’s blood.

–        Better hiding places are overcrowded

Bed bugs start off hiding in a mattress, bed, or couch. They breed quickly if they have access to blood, and the mattress, bed, or couch soon gets overcrowded.

This is when young bed bugs leave to find new nesting areas.

If there are garbage bags nearby, within about 8 feet (2.5 m) of a human food source, the bed bugs are likely to climb in and make the bags their new home.

–        The garbage bags are dark and humid

Bed bugs need hiding places that are dark, fairly humid, and a comfortable temperature of between 70 and 90 °F (21 and 32 °C).

Bed bugs are happy to crawl under or inside garbage bags that give them a dark, warm area to call home.

–        The garbage bags are easily accessible

Bed bugs don’t like being out in the open because they risk being seen and killed. If garbage bags are easy to get into or under, and they give bed bugs protection from threats, bed bugs crawl in and stay there.

Bed bugs have little claws for feet. These claws make it possible for bed bugs to climb on materials with some texture, like wood, walls, fabric, and paper. The claws hook into the material and give bed bugs leverage to push themselves forward, and the bugs are so light this doesn’t require much effort.

Bed bugs cannot climb up smooth, hard plastic, which is why bed bug traps called interceptors are made of this type of plastic.

But garbage bags are made of thin plastic with a slightly rough texture, even though the plastic feels quite smooth to you and me. Also, the bag is usually squashed down, creating little bends and folds that give bed bugs something to grip.

So bed bugs simply hook their claws into the plastic and use the folds to easily move around.

Some bed bugs are better climbers than others, and climb plastic bags quickly and easily. Click here to find out more about these tropical bed bugs and where they are found.

Either way, bed bugs must crawl into garbage bags – they can’t bite their way in or out.

Bed bugs have beak-like mouthparts. These make a teeny tiny hole in skin to access the area under the skin, where they look for a blood vessel to drink from. These mouthparts can’t chomp holes in plastic or anything else, especially not a hole that’s big enough for a bed bug to fit through it.

Photo of 3 bed bug bites
Take a close look at the bed bug bites in this picture – you can’t see any punctures where the bed bug’s mouthparts broke through the skin. That’s because bed bugs make tiny holes that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Bed bugs can’t bite holes in plastic bags (or anything else).

–        Someone put them in the garbage bags

If someone catches bed bugs and puts them in a garbage bag, or someone puts an item infested with bed bugs into a garbage bag, then the bed bugs hide in folds and in items inside the garbage bag.

How to kill bed bugs in garbage bags

Garbage bags alone aren’t good at killing bed bugs, but they can trap bed bugs so you can take steps to kill them.

A garbage bag with bed bugs in it needs to be sealed tightly, so there are no gaps or tears for bed bugs to escape. Once you have bed bugs sealed in a garbage bag, here’s how to kill them:

–        Starve them to death

Bed bugs don’t suffocate in a garbage bag, even if the bag is vacuum sealed. In fact, bed bugs die of starvation long before they suffocate (and they can live a very long time without food!)

When there’s no blood to drink, bed bugs go into a sort of hibernation called diapause. They slow down so they don’t use much energy, which makes it possible for older bed bugs to live as long as 400 days without eating.

Younger bugs and eggs die off sooner than this.

To starve bed bugs in a garbage bag, keep things bagged up and leave the bag alone for at least 400 days.

–        Make the bag very hot inside

Bed bugs can survive in a range of temperatures, so the temperature in a sealed garbage bag probably won’t kill them – that is unless you heat it up to 115°F (46°C) or more for at least 8 hours.

This is a tricky one because bed bugs burrow inside items in the bag, where it stays cooler, so this isn’t a fail-proof method.

My best advice is to leave the garbage bag out in full sunlight on a very hot day. Lay the bag as flat as possible, to make all the contents as hot as possible, or have few or no items in there.

If you can, use a clear garbage bag to let the sun’s rays in because UV light is a good way to kill bed bugs (here are all the other ways to kill them).

If there are items in the bag and you can’t raise the internal temperature high enough for long enough, some bed bugs could survive.

Another option is to heat items or bags in a bed bug heater, like this one from Amazon. A proper heater traps them inside and monitors the temperature, to make sure it kills all bed bugs and all stages of the bed bug life cycle.

–        Freeze the garbage bags

Freeze a garbage bag for at least 3 days to kill all the bed bugs inside. Don’t open the freezer to check on the bag, or you’ll let warm air in and give the bugs a chance to survive.

If done right, freezing kills all stages of the bed bug life cycle, though it’s not quite as effective as a heat treatment.

Here’s what happens to bed bugs as the temperature cools down (diapause is their hibernation stage):

Infographic - How the cold affects bed bugs
This infographic shows what happens to bed bugs at different temperatures when you put them in the freezer to die.

I'm Monique. I love gardening and spending time in my backyard growing things. Here's where I share what I know about backyard pests and what to do about them, so you can enjoy your yard too.

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Monique loves gardening and spending time in her backyard, where she grows flowers, succulents, herbs, fruits, and vegetables.

Monique spends a lot of time researching how to protect her backyard from harmful pests and trying to attract beneficial insects and animals.

She shares everything that she learns and tests here at Backyard Pests.


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