Bed bugs usually hide in car seats, along seams and stitching, and under the seats where it’s warm and dark. But bed bugs can hide anywhere in a car, so it’s important to check the interior from top to bottom, left to right, including the ceiling, console, and floors.
Finding a single bed bug in a car could mean only one found its way in and it would soon die off, which is most likely the case. But there is a chance that one bed bug or signs of bed bugs point to an infestation that needs urgent attention.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What you need to find bed bugs hiding in a car
- My step-by-step method to find signs of bed bugs in a car
- How often you should look for bed bugs in a car
- 5 quick things you can do to get rid of bed bugs in a car
How to find bed bugs in a car
To find bed bugs hiding in a car, start at the top of the interior and work your way down, going from left to right. This way you’ll cover the entire area and anything you disturb during the inspection will fall down, and you’re more likely to find it when you get to the lower area.
The following tools come in handy when you’re looking for bed bugs:
- A magnifying glass, like this handheld magnifier or this head-mounted one from Amazon. Adult bed bugs are visible to the naked eye, but a magnifying glass makes the job much easier, especially for smaller signs of bed bugs like eggs and young larvae.
- Sticky tape or a lint roller, to roll over areas and pick up signs of bed bugs. These are especially helpful for hard-to-reach areas that you can’t get to and take a look.
- A flashlight (torch), to inspect dark areas and under seats.
- Pantyhose – old or new, as long as there’s no holes in it. We place the pantyhose over a vacuum cleaner’s nozzle and turn on the vacuum to suck up things in hard-to-reach places. Then we turn off the vacuum and drop whatever got picked up on the pantyhose onto a white sheet of paper, for inspection.
I work through the process of checking all possible hiding places for bed bugs in the next section, but it’s important to know what you are looking for.
When looking for bed bugs, you’re looking for any and all signs of bed bugs, including:
- Eggs and eggshells
- Molted skins
- Live bed bugs
- Dead bed bugs
- Red or brown blood spots
- A musty smell in the car
- Black spotting (bed bug poop)
Getting bitten in the car is another sign of bed bugs.
These signs are important, so please be sure to read this article on all the bed bugs signs to look for – with pictures and video.
Where to look for bed bugs hiding in a car
Here are all the places bed bugs hide in a car and the order in which to look for these bed bugs:
In trash or clutter
Bed bugs love hiding in clutter.
If you have trash or clutter in your car, check it closely for signs of bed bugs while it’s still in the car – so you don’t spread the insects when carrying the items somewhere else.
Remember that bed bugs could be hiding in garbage bags in the car, so check these inside and out too.
Kill bed bugs that might be hiding in any of these items before taking them into the house or throwing them into the trash. To do this, follow the guidelines in this article on how to kill bed bugs.
Start looking for bed bugs in the car’s ceiling panel. If bed bugs are hiding in the ceiling, they’re most likely along the edges of the ceiling panel in the front or back, or along the side panels, where the material meets the plastic.
Bed bugs like hiding under sun visors by the front seats, because it’s warm and dark under there.
Take a quick look at the rear view mirror and ceiling lights too, just to be sure.
Lower the grab handles by all the seats and check closely for bed bugs along the plastic and ceiling material.
Doors, side panels, and seat belts
Now check the doors and side panels.
Pay close attention to the plastic coverings that hide the seat belts. Check these plastic coverings first, then pull out each seat belt completely and look at it closely with a flashlight on top and underneath.
Be sure to inspect the seat belt clip. Bed bugs are more likely to hide in seat belts that rarely or never get used, and least likely to be in the driver’s seat belt, but it’s still worth checking.
Look at the door handles and locks: Are there bed bugs hiding under buttons, levers, or between the plastic and material?
Next, check for signs of bed bugs in the headrests.
Start along the top of a headrest and work your way down, making sure to check under the headrest too, especially where the headrest slots into the seat’s pins.
Once you’ve checked all the headrests, move on to the seats.
If bed bugs are hiding in a car, they’re most likely in the seats. This is because car seats give them ample place to hide, where they won’t be disturbed, and they have easy access to passengers to bite.
Living in a car seat increases a bed bug’s chances of surviving in a car because of all these factors. Click here to find out how long bed bugs survive in cars and what determines how long they live (or how quickly they die).
Bed bugs easily hide in material car seats, but they can also hide in the stitching and seams of leather car seats.
Start with one car seat and check it as follows:
- Begin at the top of the car seat and check for signs of bed bugs. Pay attention to the steel pins in the top of the seats, the ones that support the headrests. Inspect the area around and under these headrest pins, as this is a good hiding spot.
- Move down along the sides of the seat, checking the seams and stitching.
- Take a close look at turn wheels and levers on front seats that lower the seats or move it forward or back.
- Check the back of the car seat, though it’s unlikely bed bugs will hide here unless there’s a hanging back rest organizer or cover to hide under.
- Now check the seating area, where the passenger sits. Wrap sticky tape around your index and middle fingers, with the sticky side facing out. Gently push these fingers into the gap between the seat and the back rest, and move your fingers along to pick up signs of bed bugs. Check the tape regularly to see what you’re picking up besides crumbs and dirt.
- Next, we go under the seat, where bed bugs are very likely to be. You could look for them with a flashlight or use sticky tape to try pick up signs of bed bugs. But the best method is to place pantyhose or tights over the front of a vacuum cleaner and vacuum the area. Keep the vacuum running and place the nozzle over a sheet of white paper before switching it off. Whatever it picked up under the seat will fall onto the paper, and you should easily see if there are any bed bugs, eggs, or shed skins from bed bugs under the car seat.
If you find any evidence of bed bugs on a car seat, you can stop the inspection because you know you have bed bugs and need to take steps to kill them.
If you don’t find signs on one seat, check another one. Keep going until you either find signs of bed bugs or you’ve checked all the seats in the car.
Child safety seat
If there’s a baby seat in the car, check it for bed bugs before taking it out of the car. Look closely at the seat with a magnifying glass, if possible. There are many nooks and crannies in a child safety seat, so it’s easy to miss bed bugs hiding in there.
Start at the top of the child seat, lifting each flap and cover methodically as you work your way down the seat, from top to bottom, left to right.
Once you’re done checking the top of the child safety seat, where the child sits, release the seat from the car seat and turn it over. Now check the back and underside of the child safety seat for signs of bed bugs.
The center console
Turn your attention to the center console. Yes, bed bugs could be hiding here.
The quickest and easiest way to do this is to wipe down the area with a damp, light-colored cloth, then check the cloth to see if it picked up any signs of bed bugs.
Make sure you check:
- Ridges in the console
- The dashboard, right up to the windshield
- Air vents
- The steering wheel
- The glove compartment (give this one a good check inside)
- The speakers and stereo / radio
- A/C control buttons
- Around the gear shift / gear lever
- In drink or cup holders
- In any storage compartments
- Under and around the emergency brake / hand brake
Carefully check floor mats before removing them from the car. Check the top, seams on all sides, and underneath. Mats make a prime hiding spot for bed bugs.
If you don’t find any bed bugs it doesn’t mean there aren’t any, so wash the mats in hot water and put them out in direct sunlight to dry. The sun’s UV light and heat kill bed bugs.
Now take a look at the floors for signs of bed bugs. Work methodically to make sure you cover the entire area, and pay close attention to all sides of the brake, clutch, and gas pedal (accelerator).
You can use a combination of wiping down the pedals with a damp cloth to pick up clues and vacuuming the floor with pantyhose over the nozzle to see what you pick up.
Open the trunk, remove all items, then inspect it for bed bugs. Start on one side of the trunk and move across as you look for bed bugs, eggs, black spots, and any other signs.
Check under the mat in the trunk, in all nooks and crannies, around the spare tire and tools, and along the sides and roof of the trunk.
Under the hood
Open the hood of the trunk and take a quick look inside, especially where the hood meets the driver’s area of the car, to see if you spot any obvious signs of bed bugs or other bugs that might have infested your car, such as ants.
How often to check for bed bugs
If you’re worried about bed bugs, here are some guidelines on how often to check your car:
If you use your car to get to work and for social outings only, check it for bed bugs:
- After traveling or transporting luggage
- If you’ve given someone a lift who has bed bugs
- If you start getting bitten or notice signs that there might be bed bugs in the car
Before buying a car or after bringing a new or secondhand car home, check it closely for bed bugs.
If you spend a lot of time giving lifts to strangers or transporting things, it’s best to give the car a quick check daily or at least once a week for signs of bed bugs.
How to get rid of bed bugs in a car
Below are 5 quick tips to get rid of bed bugs in a car. It’s best to combine these methods or as many as possible for the most effective results.
- Remove all trash, seat covers, car mats, and other items from the car. Bed bugs love hiding in things, so don’t give them places to hide. Kill bed bugs that might be hiding in any of these items before taking them into the house or throwing them in the trash. Follow these guidelines in my article on how to kill bed bugs.
- If you live in a hot climate, park your car in a sunny spot, close the windows, and leave it in direct sunlight untouched for at least 8 hours. The inside temperature needs to reach 115°F (46°C) or higher for 8 hours to be effective. UV light is also a great bed bug killer, so you get double points for this tactic.
- Bed bugs need to drink blood to live. If you know where the bugs are hiding and it’s possible, seal them in so they can’t come out and bite someone. The seals need to stay in place for at least 13 months to be effective.
- Sprinkle diatomaceous earth (DE) or cimexa powder (Amazon links)around the area where bed bugs are active and leave it there for at least a week, so the bugs have a chance to come into contact with it. Studies show that cimexa is more effective than DE, but DE remains a popular choice. Bed bugs die after walking over the rough powder because it cuts their protective exoskeleton and dries them out. Don’t sprinkle these powders anywhere you, others, kids, or animals can breathe it in. Vacuum up the powder once the bed bugs are gone.
- Get the car professionally detailed and steam cleaned. Steam instantly kills bed bugs hiding up to ¾” (19 mm) deep in fabric. It needs to be a very hot commercial steam cleaner that makes the surface temperature of the fabric between 160 and 180°F (71 and 82°C), otherwise bed bugs can and probably will survive.