Contrary to popular misconception, you don’t get bed bugs because your house is dirty or because you live in a low-income neighborhood. It’s not a punishment from God or karma from a past lifetime of douchebaggery.
So then, how do you get bed bugs?
Let’s start with the bad news – there are countless ways to get bed bugs. And bed bugs don’t discriminate when they’re looking for a new home.
It doesn’t matter if you vacuum and mop everyday and you live in the poshest part of your city – if a bed bug finds its way into your home, it’ll stay, breed and bite.
So what’s the good news? For bed bugs to enter your home, they need to hitch a ride on someone or something. Which means that as long as you’re careful about who and what you let into your house, you have a good chance of avoiding a bed bug problem.
Here’s a list of the most common causes of bed bugs – and what you should do instead to avoid coming into contact with these annoying-as-hell parasites.
How do you get bed bugs? Let’s count the ways
The number of ways you can get bed bugs is countless – almost. Here are the most common avenues by which bed bugs gain entry into your home.
#1. “We at the hotel, motel, holiday inn…”
That familiar little jingle could’ve been composed by a troupe of bed bugs – ’cause they are at hotels, motels and the holiday inn. In fact, hotels and motels rank among the top 3 places pest professionals report finding bed bugs.
Not too surprising considering temporary lodgings are an ideal breeding place for bed bugs – lots of people plus high turnover equals ongoing opportunities for the introduction of these parasites. All it takes is one sexually mature female bed bug to get in her foot in the door and she’ll be laying up to 5 eggs daily – and mating with her own children – ’til the place is overrun with bed bugs.
Once bed bugs have entered the property, they can spread rapidly – to other rooms through pipes and in vacuum cleaners as well as to your house by hiding themselves as stowaways in clothing, purses, and luggage.
Unwittingly picking up hitchhikers while traveling is one of the most common causes of bed bugs so if you’re planning a trip soon – you’ll want to know how to avoid getting bed bugs at hotels.
#2. “Free” can cost you
Tempted by that gorgeous ottoman lying unprotected and unclaimed on the street corner by your house? Resist the urge – bringing discarded furniture into the house is a very common cause of bed bugs.
People don’t always clearly mark bed bug-ridden furniture and especially if you live in a city with a bed bug infestation – you really don’t want to take that risk, no matter how tempting that suede sofa looks.
But although used furniture poses a higher risk – even new furniture like mattresses and sofas can be exposed to bed bugs during storage or in delivery vehicles. For example, if the company you buy your mattress from also hauls out old, used mattresses from homes – their truck can be harboring bed bug fugitives who are just waiting for a brand new mattress to call home.
#3. Careful of the company you keep
Bed bugs can’t fly or jump very far – they have to crawl to get anywhere. But thanks to their tiny size and the fact that they can survive months without a blood meal, bed bugs have no problem traveling from place to place.
They simply hide themselves in clothes, bags, and purses and off they go – from one infested home to another.
So be careful about who you let sleep over at your place and whose place you crash at, especially if you live in an area with a bed bug infestation. Inviting the wrong person to spend the night is a far-too-common cause of bed bugs. Find out the signs someone has bed bugs.
#4. Your neighbors have bed bugs
This one isn’t fair at all – you could be doing everything right to prevent bed bugs but then your dumpster-diving neighbor picks up what he thinks is a practically new armchair and pretty soon, you’re dealing with a bed bug problem.
Bed bug migration, especially in shared housing situations like condos, apartment and dormitories, is pretty common since these buggers can crawl over 100 feet in a night and go through tiny cracks in the walls, through connected vents, or even in the seams of floor boards! Of course, they can also travel the old-fashioned way: simply crawling out a front door, down the hall and into another apartment.
Since bed bugs will even breed with their own mothers – all it takes it one sexually mature female bed bug to make the trip.
Be especially wary if any of your neighbors report bed bugs – they may try to get rid of the infested furniture by dragging it through the common areas without having properly sealed it off. The result? Bed bugs and their eggs drop off the infested furniture and potentially enter your residence. Find out how to secure your residence from bed bugs!
#5. Used clothes must be washed
Used clothes you get at a thrift store, from donations or borrowing from a friend can be a cause of bed bugs. You can still shop at thrift stores but don’t bring any used clothing into your home without washing it first.
And they should be washed with seriously hot water – bed bugs can’t survive temperatures above 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Of course – this doesn’t just apply to clothes. Used stuffed animals, bedsheets, etc – all must be washed in very hot water before being allowed into your home.
Note: Even new clothes can be a cause of bed bugs – a few retails stores (including Hollister and the flagship Nike store) in Manhattan had to temporarily shut down due to a bed bug infestation.
#6. Non-fabrics aren’t safe, either
Think that book you got from the street-side vendor for a dollar is safe? Not necessarily…although books aren’t a common way to get bed bugs – it can happen, especially if the books have been hanging out in a box in a home or area infested with bed bugs.
Bed bugs have also been known to fester in alarm clocks, coffee makers, and other appliances – especially those that have dark crevices that are great for bed bugs to hide in.
Check and double check anything you bring into your home.
#7. And in bed bug infested areas…
Bed bugs can live anywhere people live, work, stay and rest – this means offices, schools, and even movie theaters can be infested with infested with bed bugs.
If you live in an area that’s dealing with a bed bug infestation, it could be as simple as your child placing his backpack next to another child’s backpack that has bed bugs.
How do bed bugs spread?
If you suspect you may have brought a bed bug problem into your house – you may be wondering how you can keep the infestation from spreading.
The good news is that bed bugs typically tend to stay put once they’ve moved into a new home.
The bad news is that a number of things can cause bed bugs to spread to new locations. So to avoid spreading the bed bug problem throughout your house – and to other people – avoid doing the following things:
- Moving infested furniture. If you’ve got a piece of furniture that’s home to bed bugs, don’t move it to another room in the house as that will spread the infestation. If you’re going to get rid of any bed bug infested furniture, completely seal it tight in plastic bags before you move it out of your house so bed bugs and their eggs don’t fall off and scatter throughout your home. Remember to clearly mark – or destroy – the discarded furniture so dumpster divers don’t wind up with an infestation.
- Using the same vacuum. One of the first things you can do to kill bed bugs in your home is to suck them up with a vacuum – but you shouldn’t use the same vacuum you use for the rest of your house as this can cause the infestation to spread throughout your home. Get a dedicated bug vacuum specifically to kill bed bugs and avoid using your home vacuum in infested areas.
- Let them multiply. These buggers commonly have a few favorite bed bug hiding spots, such as the bedroom, but when there are too many bed bugs and a shortage of living space, they can migrate to neighboring rooms. This is why early detection is so important – it’s easiest to find and kill the bloodsuckers when the infestation is contained so make sure you regularly check for signs of bed bugs!
- Disturb them. Bed bugs like their privacy so when you go around poking here and there for signs of bed bugs and disturbing their peace, they’re likely to move to a new location. To avoid this from happening, when you start checking your house and furniture for bed bugs, be ready to do bed bug control as soon as you find them – here’s how to do the search and destroy on all of your stuff. Otherwise, you can risk spreading the infestation.
Oh, a word on bed bug foggers (aka, bed bug bombs) – don’t use them! Not only are they ineffective at killing bed bugs, but they can also cause the infestation to spread. Foggers don’t reach deep into cracks and crevices – prime hiding spots for bed bugs – so they won’t kill the bed bugs, but instead just drive them to neighboring rooms. Once the fogger is done, guess who’s moving back in?
So skip the fogger and start eliminating with the problem with bed bug treatments that actually kill bed bugs and help control the infestation.