How Do You Get Bed Bugs?

Adult Bed bug

How do you get bed bugs? These tiny blood suckers are great hitch-hikers, meaning you can pick them up visiting a neighbor’s home, staying at a hotel, or buying a couch at a thrift store.

Knowing how bed bugs spread from home to home, room to room, and right to your mattress can reduce your chances of an infestation.

Bed bug infestations are difficult to manage, and treatment can be expensive. A severe infestation can temporarily force you out of your home.

How Bed Bugs Enter Your Home

A single bed bug can cause a severe infestation in your home. Bed bugs will cling onto anything that transports them to new locations. If you’re traveling, an easy way to pick up a bed bug is in a hotel, motel, or college dorm room.

If the place you’re visiting has bed bugs, then a single bed bug can get on your clothes, in your luggage, or inside your purse. Bring those items back to your home, and you bring with you the bed bug.

Visiting thrift shops, shopping at yard sales, or buying used furniture are other ways you may accidentally bring a bed bug to your home. These blood suckers may infest used items, such as clothes, couches, or mattresses, without you knowing it.

You may even contract bed bugs from other people’s homes. If your neighbor happens to have an infestation in their home, they may carry a single bed bug when they pop over for a visit. You may even attract a bed bug while sitting on your neighbor’s couch. Your child may bring home a bed bug on their clothes or bedding after a sleepover at an infested house.

Crowded living conditions in apartment complexes are another cause of bed bugs spreading. If the neighbors you share a wall with have bed bugs, their infestation may become your problem.

What is the First Sign of Bed Bugs?

The first sign of bed bugs is not a bite. Bed bug bites can be easily mistaken for common rashes or other insect bites (See: Bed Bug Bites or Mosquito Bites?), and some people may show no sign or have any reaction to a bed bug’s bite.

Here’s another reason why an insect bite is not enough to assume you have an infestation: According to the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources program, bed bugs can go between 20 to 400 days without feeding.

There can be many signs of a bed bug infestation in your home. Finding an actual bed bug is a significant sign, because if you find one, there are bound to be many more.

To accurately identify a bed bug, it’s essential to know what one looks like. (And don’t be confused by other bugs that look like bed bugs.) Otherwise, you’ll pay for an expensive bed bug treatment that doesn’t target the pest infesting your home.

Other signs of bed bugs include eggs, feces, or molted skin. Bed bug eggs are about the size of a pinhead, are pearl-white, and stick to surfaces. Bed bug fecal matter is partially digested blood and will appear in clusters of tiny spots. Their feces soak into surfaces and leave behind a black dot, almost like ink from a marker tip.

Bed bugs shed their skin and leave behind a translucent skin shell. The shell looks like an actual bed bug, but empty. These left-behind skins appear in different sizes, depending on the life stage of the bed bug.

Finally, be on the lookout for any blood spots, mainly when checking your bed. Crushing a bed bug in your sleep will cause the bed bug to burst and leave behind a small bloodstain.

How Fast Do Bed Bugs Spread?

female bed bug on a surface
Photo Credit: JasonOndreicka / Canva Pro / License

There is no universal speed at which bed bugs spread. Every infestation is different. Infestations do take time to grow before they become large in numbers. Below are factors that can help determine an estimated rate of infestation and ways these pests may be spreading within your home.

Bed bugs…

Reproduce like rabbits

The bed bug that will cause the worst spread damage is a female that has recently mated. A single mated female with regular access to blood meals can cause an infestation without a male present. Although the female will eventually run out of the male’s sperm, bed bugs can mate with their offspring to further the infestation.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension has a detailed description of how bed bugs produce and multiply in numbers via reproduction. After a single blood meal, a female will produce 1-7 eggs per day for about 10 days. To lay more eggs, she’ll need another blood meal. In total, she will lay between 5 to 20 eggs per blood meal. In her lifetime, which is about one year, she will produce approximately 140 eggs.

Keep in mind that a female can lay her egg anywhere in the room. One day she may lay eggs in your mattress, and the next, she may leave her eggs in your bedside table drawer. Within nine days, 90% of her eggs will hatch, doubling the bed bug population every 16 days.

Travel through walls

Bed bugs can slowly spread from room to room through cracks in the walls. The width of a bed bug is about the same as the thickness of a credit card. Any crack that your credit card can fit through, a bed bug likely can enter.

Hitch a ride on you

You unknowingly spread bed bugs within your home. If your bed is infested, a bed bug may hitch a ride on you to the couch in your living room. Furniture with seams or cushions makes a great hiding place for these pests. Even your office chair may be home to an infestation. Bed bugs may cling to your clothes, the sheets as you carry them to the laundry room, or even a miscellaneous household item such as a remote control.

Crawl from room to room

Bed bugs can’t jump or fly, but they can crawl along surfaces as fast as an ant. Though not as helpful as hitching a ride, crawling to a new hiding place is another way these pests spread their infestation.

When to Call a Bed Bug Exterminator

Getting rid of a bed bug infestation is a challenge. These pests are persistent, and it’s hard to know if you’ve treated all infested areas. Leave a single bed bug unscathed, and you could be looking at a whole new reinfestation.

When dealing with bed bugs, it’s essential to call a bed bug exterminator near you. A professional bed bug exterminator can offer solutions to help get these blood suckers out of your home.

Main Image Credit: AFPMB / Flickr / Public Domain

Jane Purnell

Having lived in the rural countryside and bustling city, Jane Purnell is familiar with a wide variety of critters sneaking into the home, including mice, spiders, cockroaches, snakes, and stink bugs. She practices a proactive approach (Integrated Pest Management) to keep pests out of her home.