How You Get Bed Bugs & How To Avoid Them

by | Bed Bugs, Insects

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If you have bed bugs in your home or you think you might have them, you’re probably trying to figure out where they came from.

Most bed bugs get carried into a house on second-hand items that have bed bugs. These are usually items with material on them that people sit on or lie on for long periods of time, such as mattresses, couches, and motorized chairs.

The reality is that there are many ways to get bed bugs. If you know how bed bugs get inside you can take steps to avoid bringing them home or prevent them from crawling in on their own.

In this article, you’ll find out:

  • 3 ways bed bugs get carried into a house
  • How and why bed bugs crawl into a house
  • How easy it is to get bed bugs, and what increases the chances
  • How to stop bed bugs from coming into your house
  • How to get rid of bed bugs in a house

How bed bugs get carried into a house

Most houses get bed bugs when an infested item is carried into the home. This is called a passive infestation because the bed bugs didn’t crawl in – they lay there and waited to see where they would end up.

Bed bugs usually enter a home passively in one of three ways:

1.            On pre-loved mattresses, furniture, upholstery, etc.

The most common way for bed bugs to get into a house is by being carried in on pre-loved or second-hand goods that are infested with bed bugs.

Bed bugs love to hide in dark, humid places, especially in items that people sit on or lie on for long periods of time. This is why bed bugs pretty much always choose to hide in mattresses, box springs, and couches.

If you have bed bugs, click here to find out where you should be sleeping (and how to keep them off you).

Photo of a box spring bed showing where the mattress and box spring sit
Bed bugs often hide in mattresses and box spring beds.

But bed bugs can also hide in carpets, rugs, drapes, curtains, clothing, soft toys, wooden furniture, upholstered items, and many others.

Explanation of what upholstered furniture is and a photo of an upholstered sofa
The couch in the picture above is an example of an upholstered item because it’s covered in material and has stuffing inside.

Before taking a used item home, inspect it very closely for any of these signs of bed bugs. Don’t take it if you think it might have bed bugs.

If you need to get rid of a mattress that has bed bugs, click here to find out how to do it safely so you don’t spread the bugs through your house and to your neighbors.

2.            On the clothes you’re wearing

Bed bugs can be hiding anywhere:

  • It’s possible for bed bugs to infest public chairs, such as those in trains, planes, offices, and coffee shops.
  • Bed bugs can hide in the mattresses or furniture in hotels, motels, backpackers, summer camps, spas, dorm rooms, etc.
  • Bed bugs might even be in the homes of your friends or family members.

If you sit or lie down somewhere that has bed bugs, there’s a chance some bed bugs will come out of their hiding place to bite you. Once they’re on you, they might stay hidden in your clothes and get carried back to your house.

As scary as this sounds, it’s extremely unlikely for you to get bed bugs from public spaces. In fact, only 1 or 2% of hotels have bed bugs. And even if you happen to visit one that does, there’s an even smaller chance that you will bring a group home with you that can breed in your house.

3.            On handbags, backpacks, or suitcases

We know that bed bugs can live in public furniture, including the chairs or beds of:

  • Cruise ships
  • Trains
  • Planes
  • Offices
  • Coffee shops
  • Dorm rooms
  • Hotels
  • Motels
  • Backpackers
  • Summer camps
  • Spas
  • A friend or family member

When you put your travel gear down in an area that’s infested with bed bugs, there’s a chance the bugs will crawl onto your gear and come home with you. By travel gear I mean a suitcase, backpack, handbag, satchel, laptop bag, or anything else made of fabric.

It’s very unlikely that your home or car will get infested with bed bugs from this, but it is possible. The only way for an infestation to occur is if you bring home a breeding group of bed bugs. If you bring home anything else, the bed bugs will just die off and never reproduce.

If you think your pet is bringing in bugs, these are most likely fleas (not bed bugs). Click here for info on how to tell the difference between bed bugs and fleas.

How and why bed bugs crawl into a house

Sometimes bed bugs crawl into a house on their own, which is called an active infestation.

An active infestation is most likely to happen when there’s a bed bug infestation in a neighboring apartment or unit. Once there are too many bed bugs to live comfortably and feed on the people living in the first dwelling, they start spreading into other units to find more human blood to drink.

Bed bugs are not attracted to “dirty” or unclean homes. They are attracted to any house nearby where there are people to feed on and dark places to hide. This makes pretty much any house a target!

The bed bugs can travel up to 100 feet (30 m) a night on their quest to find a new home. Once they find a house, they crawl inside.

Below is a list of ways that bed bugs can get into a house:

  • Through open windows and doors
  • Through gaps around doors or windows
  • Between walls, especially in openings for wires
  • Along hallways
  • Via pipes in the walls, floors, or ceilings
  • In rain gutters
  • Through air ducts, vents, aircons, or heating components, though this doesn’t happen often

Once inside, bed bugs crawl around looking for a place to hide that’s near to where people sleep or spend a lot of time sitting. They find these places using their sense of smell:

  • Bed bugs follow the scent of carbon dioxide that people breathe out. When they smell carbon dioxide, they know that people are nearby.
  • Bed bugs can also smell people on fabrics that have come into contact with human skin, such as bedding, laundry, and mattresses.

Bed bugs tend to follow a predictable pattern after this. Click here for my detailed guide on where bed bugs hide in a house and where to look for them.

How easy it is to get bed bugs

It’s easiest to get bed bugs when you bring an infested item, such as a mattress or couch, into your house. This gives you a high probability of getting bed bugs in your home.

When a neighbor does not effectively manage an infestation in their home, your chance of getting bed bugs increases over time as their infestation gets worse.

The good news is that it’s NOT easy to get bed bugs from travel, with only a 1% chance of bringing bed bugs home this way.

But it is more likely to get bed bugs in the months of August and September, when there’s a lot of traveling going on and bed bugs have more chances to hop onto luggage and spread. Even though bed bugs can hibernate and become inactive, they don’t unless temperatures drop to 59°F (15°C) or below for a few days.

You have a slightly higher chance of getting bed bugs if you travel around or live in New York or California, where bed bugs are more common than in other states.

If you have bed bugs, it’s best to use a range of methods to kill them. Here are 8 ways to kill bed bugs.

It’s very unlikely that you will get bed bugs from traveling.

Bed bugs don’t live in human hair and aren’t passed along this way like lice. Here’s what you need to know about bed bugs and human hair.

How to stop bed bugs from coming into your house

There’s no guaranteed way to ensure that you’ll never get bed bugs. Below are my best tips and the best products from Amazon to help you not get bed bugs:

  • Don’t bring used upholstered items into your house, especially those that people spend time sitting on or lying on, such as mattresses, couches, and motorized chairs.
  • If you still want to risk bringing second-hand items home, inspect them for signs of bed bugs. Make sure you check the seams and labels, under and behind the items, and inside any tears or rips in the fabric.
  • Clear out clutter in your bedroom and living areas so bed bugs won’t have places to hide.
  • Don’t put dirty laundry or items on the floor within 8 feet of your bed.
  • If you think there might be bed bugs or know there are bed bugs in a house or area, don’t sit down or sleep there. Stay standing upright, and keep your distance from furniture that might be infested.
  • Move your bed as far as possible from walls and other furniture.
  • Cover your mattress with an encasement, to stop bed bugs from hiding in there. You can also get an encasement for a box spring, if you have one.
  • Vacuum your bedroom and house regularly, including the base boards, tiles, floorboards, carpets, and rugs. Throw the vacuum bag away after each vacuum. If you have a bagless vacuum cleaner, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting the vacuum.
  • Wash all bedding on a hot cycle once a week.
  • Keep windows closed, cover gaps under doors that open to the outside or shared hallways, and seal gaps in walls, no matter how small they look.
  • When traveling, keep your bags and cases on a suitcase stand away from walls and other furniture. Don’t put your bags on the floor or bed where bed bugs could be hiding.
  • Before you come home from traveling, put all your clothes into a dissolving laundry bag and tie the bag. When you get home, throw the laundry bag into the wash and wash on a hot cycle, then hang them to dry in the sun or put them in the dryer. Don’t ever throw your travel clothes on the floor without washing them first.

How to get rid of bed bugs

If you already have bed bugs, here’s what you can do about it:

  • Take action the minute you think you might have bed bugs, before they have a chance to breed. The longer you ignore bed bugs, the worse the problem gets. Bed bugs don’t go away on their own.
  • If you want to make sure you have bed bugs and not something else, put these bed bug traps under the feet of your bed, your couch, or anything you think bed bugs are crawling on. Leave the traps there for at least a week to give the bugs time to come out of hiding for a blood meal. If there are bed bugs present, there’s a good chance you’ll find some in the traps one morning.
  • Hot wash or freeze any clothing or small material items that might be infested with bed bugs. Leave these in the sun for a few hours or at least 30 minutes, if you can. Put the clean items and any other items into sealed plastic boxes for storage, where bed bugs can’t get to them.
  • Studies have found that cimexa powder is much more effective at killing bed bugs than diatomaceous earth, which many people still use. A light dusting of cimexa powder (or diatomaceous earth) around base boards, cracks in floorboards, and bed and furniture legs will kill bed bugs that come out from these hiding places. Whatever you choose to use, be sure to follow the instructions carefully and don’t inhale the dust.
  • Don’t take an infested item outside. Moving the item could spread bed bugs throughout the apartment or house, making the infestation much worse. If you want to get rid of the item, wrap it tightly in plastic, mark it as “infested”, and dispose of it responsibly.
  • To save a mattress, wrap it in an encasement and wait at least 1 year for the bugs to die.
  • Foggers are NOT good for killing bed bugs. If you have bed bugs, even if it’s just a few, speak to the property manager or call in a pest professional to treat the house. They will probably use a combination of treatments, such as a bed bug spray, vacuuming, and/or a heat treatment.
  • If you think all the bed bugs are gone, put these sticky traps near the furniture where bed bugs were active. Leave the traps there to see if any bed bugs get stuck. If you don’t find any bed bugs and you don’t get bitten for 6 weeks in a row, you know that the area is most likely free from bed bugs.
Photo of 3 bed bug bites
These are bed bug bites. If you are seeing bites like these when you wake up in the morning, it’s time to do something to get rid of bed bugs. Keep an eye out for other signs of bed bugs too, as some people don’t have any reaction to bed bug bites and don’t know they’re being bitten.

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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