How to Make Bed Bugs Come Out of Hiding

bed bug sitting over a skin background

You’ve flipped your mattress, double-checked your luggage, and even examined that nice second-hand recliner you picked up last week, but the bed bugs that have been tormenting you are nowhere to be found. You need to flush them out of their hiding places so you can eradicate them once and for all, but how? 

There are ways to draw them out. Using heat, CO2 and other readily available methods, you can go into search-and-destroy mode and let these sneaky squatters know who’s boss.

Bed Bugs: A Quick Glance

Before we initiate our methodical search for these infiltrators of our bedrooms, let’s sharpen our understanding. Knowledge, after all, equips us with a strategic advantage in the hunt for these stealthy creatures.

  • Appearance: These critters look like tiny, flat apple seeds, rocking a reddish-brown hue. Don’t let their size fool you, though; their slim profile lets them disappear into just about any nook.
  • Lifecycle: Bed bugs progress through five nymphal stages, each time molting and leaving behind a skin, a clue of their presence. They reach adulthood in about a month, provided they’ve had regular meals of blood, and can live up to several months to a year in optimal conditions.
  • Diet: These critters are all about one thing: blood. And they prefer to take it straight from the source (you). They feed under cover of night, leaving you with those signature itchy bumps come morning. Meals typically occur every 5-10 days, but bed bugs can survive months between feedings.
  • Habitat: Bed bugs thrive right where we like to relax — beds, sofas, chairs. But they also hunker down in the crevices of picture frames, electrical outlets or anywhere close to where people sleep or rest. That’s because they’re attracted to the warmth and CO2 we exhale.
  • Behavior: Two words: stealthy and elusive. They lay low during the day, make their move at night, and can book it out of there fast if they need to. However, they tend to stay close to their feeding areas unless they’ve been disturbed or displaced.
  • Risks: No, they don’t spread diseases, but they sure do a number on your skin and peace of mind. The itches and the idea of something feasting on you while you sleep can really mess with your head.

Where Do Bed Bugs Hide?

bed bug evidence on a mattress
Photo Credit: NY State IPM Program at Cornell University / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Bed bugs tuck themselves away in all sorts of nooks and, given their pancake-like bodies, can slip into spaces thinner than a dime. Let’s take a peek at their most wanted hideouts:

  • Mattresses and Beds: Your beloved bed and its box spring are basically the perfect spot for bed bugs. They revel in the fabric folds and relax in the crevices of bed frames: cozy, dark, and oh-so-near to you.
  • Couches and Chair Seams: These critters drift among furnishings, making themselves at home between the plush pillows and within the inviting seams of your armchairs.
  • Curtain Folds: If you thought your curtains were just innocent window dressings, think again. They provide a cozy daybed for our bloodthirsty bedfellows to nap in anticipation of their nightly feast.
  • Wallpapers and Wall Arts: Not fans of minimalism, bed bugs love the decorative layers of your wallpaper and wall hangings. Under the wallpaper and behind decor provide perfectly concealed places for these pesky insects to lay low.
  • Laundries: A heap of laundry isn’t just a chore waiting to happen, it’s also another hot spot for bed bugs. Dirty clothes, in particular, are attractive due to the human scent they hold.
  • Drawers: Whether it’s the darkness or the scent of your last tropical vacation lingering in your clothes, bed bugs often find drawers to be an appealing spot to hide. They can sneak into the corners and folds of your clothing or bedding.
  • Outlets and Appliances: Yes, even the unexpected nooks behind your outlet plates or within your alarm clocks are not safe from these bugs. They slide through the cracks, making themselves snug and nearly invisible.
  • Walls and Baseboards: Bed bugs are not shy of difficult-to-target areas, the walls and baseboards being two prime examples. Between slats of wood or through a crack in your wall, they consider any place home.

How to Trick Bed Bugs Out of Hiding

A bed bug’s life revolves around a few key things: food, safety, and reproducing. Since their menu consists of one item, blood, they’re biologically wired to seek it out. The warmth of our bodies, the carbon dioxide we exhale, and even our unique human scents are like a siren call to these pests.

Bed bugs are smart, but we’re smarter and it’s time to use that gray matter to our advantage. Here are a few effective ways to coax them out and catch them in the act:

Crank Up the Heat

a single bed bug on a blanket fiber
Photo Credit: dblight / Canva Pro / License

Yes, you could wait for the sun to set and for the bed bugs to come sauntering out, but why not take the fight to them in broad daylight? These little biters are suckers for a warm spot, which is why they love your bed so much. Using heat can draw them out like a magnet. Crank up your steamer and deliver a shocking sauna session they didn’t sign up for.

What’s great about using heat is that it doesn’t just flush them out; it wipes them out. With a properly executed steam, you can kill adults, nymphs, and eggs in one fell swoop. Make sure you get into every potential crevice, all the seams of your mattress and furniture, behind baseboards, and even into those tiny cracks in the wall.

Play the Scent Game

Ever noticed how a bed bug infestation seems worse after you’ve been away for a while? These critters are attracted to the smell of our skin, specifically the histamine that we leave behind, so an unwashed T-shirt or a used towel might just be the perfect lure.

Place these items around potential hiding places, and the bed bugs might just come flocking, thinking you’re there and ready to provide their next meal.

Set CO2 Traps

Okay, you’re probably aware that bed bugs have a thing for carbon dioxide. It’s their version of a dinner bell. They follow our exhalations right back to the buffet: us.

You can actually create traps that emit CO2, mimicking a tasty human. DIY dry ice traps are one method, with care taken to handle the dry ice safely. The bed bugs will gravitate towards the CO2 hotspot, believing a feast awaits, only to get trapped instead.

Be the Bait

It might sound a tad crazy, and it’s definitely not for the squeamish, but one of the most foolproof ways to draw out bed bugs is to be the bait. Go about your evening routine, hop into bed, and wait. Eventually, hunger will drive the bed bugs to venture out for a snack.

That’s your moment to spring into action with a flashlight, sticky tape to trap them, or whatever method you prefer. Just remember: you might get bitten in the process.

Dark Room, Bright Flashlight

slipper infested with bed bugs
Photo Credit: louento.pix / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Bed bugs mistake darkness for night, which is when they like to come out and play. Flip the switch, plunge the room into darkness, and give those bed bugs the false sense of security they crave.

Then, armed with a flashlight, conduct a thorough search. By mimicking their natural feeding time with darkness, and then startling them with a light, you’re basically throwing off their game, giving you the perfect opportunity to spot and deal with our unwelcome munchers.

The Bed Bug Color Trap

Bed bugs are attracted to certain colors, with recent studies suggesting they might be partial to the reds and blacks of the world. Why red and black, you ask? Scientists believe they fancy these hues because they blend in better with a dark, secure spot or. Or they might just think they’re snuggling up with a bunch of their friends.

Glue boards or interceptors with these colors can work wonders. But remember, while sprucing up your traps with bed bug’s favorite colors might make for a more successful bug bounty, they should be just a piece of a more comprehensive bed bug removal strategy.

The Credit Card Technique

bed bug on a white wall
Photo Credit: Yxyv / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Take a plastic card and use it to probe the potential hiding spots. Press the edge of the card into the seams and slide it along the potential bed bug hideaways.

It’s a simple move, but it’s pretty darn effective. Keep your eyes sharp; as you swipe, bed bugs may just pop out, ousted from their snug spots by your nifty card maneuver.

Use Essential Oils as Agents of Confusion

The effectiveness of essential oils against bed bugs is still up for debate, but plenty of people stand by them, citing the potent properties of tea tree, lavender, and peppermint oils.

Now, you wouldn’t want to repel them when you’re trying to draw them out, but here’s the twist: by spraying these oils away from their hideouts and around the perimeter of the room, you might confuse their senses and herd them into particular areas where you have traps or detection measures set up. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can bed bugs resist heat treatments?

Bed bugs are hardy, but they generally can’t withstand prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Properly conducted heat treatments are usually effective.

What scents attract bed bugs?

Bed bugs are attracted to the scent of carbon dioxide that humans exhale, along with a mix of body odors and heat.

Is there a scent that bed bugs hate?

Bed bugs dislike certain essential oils and scents like lavender, peppermint, and tea tree oil, although these aren’t foolproof methods for control.

The Great Bed Bug Exodus

So you’ve flipped the lights on this hide-and-go-sneak saga and sent those bed bugs scrambling for new quarters. It’s been real (as in, a real pain), but take heart because you’ve reclaimed your space from these undercover pests. Still, if the thought of these tiny invaders outsmarting you has you tossing and turning, it’s time to bring in the big guns.

This is where Pest Gnome sweeps in, ready to connect you with seasoned pest control pros who know just how to evict your unwanted guests for good. No more late-night stakeouts or CO2 concoctions. A peaceful night’s sleep is not just a dream; it’s your right.

Main Image Credit: 70023venus2009 / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Adrian Nita

Adrian is a former marine navigation officer turned writer with more than 3 years of experience in the field. He loves writing about anything and everything but specializes in covering smart technology and gardening. When he's not writing, Adrian enjoys spending time with his family and friends or hiking in the great outdoors.