They won’t teach you this in school but learning the early signs of bed bugs, aka how to know if you have bed bugs, is one of the most crucial life skills you will ever acquire.
So if you’re on this article from a frantic Google search in the form of “Help! Do I have bed bugs?!”
Rest assured, we’re going to show you how to find out for yourself. The short gist of it is: You might, you might not and panicking does not help in either case, especially the latter.
If you find yourself asking the same question, the only thing you need to do is focus on looking for signs of bed bugs so you can determine for sure whether you have bed bugs or not.
Because if you do have an infestation on your hands – the sooner you get started, the better chance you have of getting rid of bed bugs fast and easy. So let’s get started.
How to Know if You Have Bed Bugs
So how do you know if you have bed bugs? There are a lot of telltale signs of bed bugs to look for.
But some of them won’t be apparent until you’re in the more advanced stages of an infestation. So for now, let’s focus on the most likely early signs of bed bugs.
Quick tip: Signs of bed bugs are easiest to spot on light-colored bedding. Swap your sheets for a lighter option if you haven’t done so already!
Early Signs of Bed Bugs #1: Bed Bug Bites
How to spot them: Most commonly look like flat or raised red welts, usually itch, appear in groups of bites, and occur primarily on the chest or back, neck, hands, feet or face.
Because bed bugs are sneaky little buggers that are great at hiding, you can live without actually seeing a single one. But bed bugs cannot survive without blood meals, which means they must bite you in order to stay alive.
That’s why bed bug bites are so useful – they alert us to their presence.
The thing about bed bug bites, though, is that they’re not a surefire way to identify bed bugs. For starters, bed bug bites can look very similar to bites from other insects like mosquitoes and fleas.
To further add to the complication, not everyone has the same reaction. People have various sensitivities to the bed bug’s bite, which determine how your skin reacts, how big the bite is and if you even have a visible reaction at all – statistics say between 20 to 80% of don’t show any visible reaction to bed bug bites.
That being said, there are some common signs of bed bug bites:
- What do bed bug bites look like? When bed bug bites do show, their appearance can range from small, flat or raised red welts to rashes, hives, or blisters.
- Do bed bug bites itch? Bed bug bites usually cause itchiness. According to one study, the majority of tested bed bug sufferers (72%) reported having itchy red welts and the rest (28%) percent indicated itching in the absence of welts.
- Where do bed bugs bite? The majority of bed bug bites occur on the chest or back, neck, hands, feet or face although bed bugs can bite any area of exposed skin.
- Is there a specific time when bed bug bites occur? Bed bugs are nocturnal, but they can bite in the daytime if they’re hungry. However, they generally prefer to feed when you’re in your deepest sleep, which is around an hour or two before sunrise.
- Any other tell-tale signs of bed bug bites? Bed bug bites can occur alone, but they tend to bite multiple times since they often “test” a few areas first to locate the best source of blood for their meal. Bed bugs crawl everywhere – they can’t fly or jump – so these bites show up in a pattern of sorts, appearing in a cluster of red bumps (a rash termed bed bug dermatitis), a row of several bites (jokingly referred to as bed bug breakfast, lunch, and dinner), or in a zig-zag line.
Still not sure you have bed bug bites? Find out more about bed bug bite symptoms to help you identify them here.
Early Signs of Bed Bugs #2. Bed Bug Blood Stains
How to spot them: They’re reddish or rusty-colored stains, smears or streaks.
Easily dismissed but also fairly easy to spot on light-colored sheets if you know what you’re looking for, these reddish stains typically occur when you move in your sleep and unwittingly squash a bed bug with an undigested blood meal in the process.
It’s crucial you look for them because these are one of the early signs of bed bugs that can clue you in quickly to the presence of an infestation.
Combined with the presence of bed bug bites, these blood stains can be an indication of bed bugs but it’s still not definitive. Even if you have bites and blood stains on your sheets – if the blood stains are fresh and visibly blood-colored, it could still be due to other factors, like scratching mosquito bites in your sleep.
The next sign of bed bugs, however, is a pretty strong sign that you’ve got an infestation on your hands…
Early Signs of Bed Bugs #3. Bed Bug Fecal Matter
How to spot them: Dark or black stains that look like the marks of a felt tip pen, will usually bleed into the fabric.
We hate to break it to you, but these stains are digested blood, aka bed bug poo.
If you have an infestation, you don’t have to look far for these early bed bug signs – they can usually be found on the bed sheets you sleep on since around 20% of the time, bed bugs will void remains of earlier blood meals (aka, poo) while still feeding.
You can confirm whether they are, in fact, bed bug feces by wiping it with a wet rag – if it smears, it is indeed bed bug feces.
If not on your bed sheets, look for them in the bed bugs’ typical hideouts like along mattress seams and the edges and corners of boxsprings.
If you find bed bug fecal spots, there’s a strong chance you’re dealing with a bed bug infestation. To get a clear confirmation, show the fecal matter to a professional or test it at home with the Bed Bug Blue’s Fecal Spot Detection Kit.
Early Signs of Bed Bugs #4. Bed Bug Eggs and Empty Eggshells
How to spot them: Bed bug eggs are translucent to pearly white in color and when first laid, are coated in a shiny film to help them stick to surfaces. Empty eggshells look like the live ones, except less shiny and a little deflated.
Bed bug eggs are shaped like a grain of rice and very, very tiny – around 1mm. Still visible to the naked eye, but a magnifying glass helps.
For such a little bug, bed bugs can lay a lot of eggs. A single female bed bug lays up to 5 eggs per day, totaling an average of over 500 eggs in her lifetime!
That means if you’ve got a bed bug infestation, there are going to be a lot of eggs. You’ll find them mostly on fabric, or other rough surfaces – bed bug moms tend to shy away from plastic or metal.
Tons of them can fit into tiny cracks and crevices so you’ll want to check even the tiniest nooks and crannies.
Want to see more pictures of what bed bug eggs look like?
Early Signs of Bed Bugs #5. Bed Bug Shells, aka Shed Skin
How to spot them: Look for clear, empty exoskeletons that look like lighter-colored and empty bed bugs. They can be as small as 2.5mm or as big as 4.5mm. They sort of look like smaller and thinner popcorn kernels.
After a bed bug hatches from its egg, it starts life as a nymph (aka, young bed bug). They look like adult bed bugs, except they’re smaller, lighter-colored and sexually immature
As they make their way into maturity, they’ll pass through a total of 5 molts (shedding their skin), once at each new stage of development.
That’s a lot of shed skin – look for these in the usual bed bug hangout joints – box springs, mattresses, wooden furniture and framing, and so on.
Other Telltale Signs of Bed Bugs
The above are excellent early signs of bed bugs that can clue you in to the presence of these bloodsuckers. But they’re not the only signs to look for.
Here are two more that will let you definitely answer the question of whether you have bed bugs or not.
Signs of Bed Bugs #6. Adult Bed Bug
How to spot them: Oval-shaped and usually brownish, adult bed bugs are freakishly flat and can range in size from 4.5mm to as long as 7 or 8 mm when fed – approximately the size of an apple seed. They turn a reddish color when fed from being swollen with blood.
Especially when taken together, the above 5 signs of bed bugs are strong indications of an infestation – but how do you know you have bed bugs? Like, really, really know?
Actually seeing the full-grown, apple-seed-sized adult bed bug itself with your own eyes is the gold standard of bed bug identification.
This is harder to do than you’d think, though, since these parasites do a great job lurking out of human sight. They’re nocturnal by nature, feed strategically at times when you’re most likely to be in deep sleep, and even though they can’t jump or fly, they can move quickly.
They’re most likely to be hiding out somewhere close to where you sleep but can live anywhere, including phones, purses, clothing, and furniture.
But you don’t have to go in search of them – they will come to you. You are their source of nourishment, after all. And catching even one of these buggers will help you verify for certain whether you have a bed bug infestation.
A simple way to catch some is to lay some bed bug traps under your bed legs or lifts – they’ll have to climb over these traps to try to get your bed and get trapped in the process.
If you collect some, grab a magnifying glass and find out how to identify bed bugs. Even better, get a professional to identify them.
Signs of Bed Bugs #7. The Scent of Bed Bugs
How to spot it: A musty, offensive smell from the bed bugs’ scent glands.
Bed bugs have scent glands that release alarm pheromones, which has a musty odor – and is how bed bug sniffing dogs detect bed bug infestations. When a group of bed bugs gets disturbed, you may catch a drift of that scent.
Unless you have very advanced olfactory senses, it’s not likely that you’ll notice the smell when it’s just a few bed bugs, so if you’ve gotten to the point that you can smell them – you might have a pretty severe bed bug infestation in your home.
Some people say the bed bug scent smells like coriander, some say it smells like spoiled raspberries, still others say it smells like almonds while some say it’s like moldy clothes. In any case, it’s not a pleasant smell, especially at higher concentrations.
Not bed bugs? If you didn’t find any signs of bed bugs, congratulations! But you’re not home safe yet – especially if you live in a bed bug infested city. A few hours of bed bug prevention will save you months of agony so find out the most common causes of bed bugs and how you can protect yourself from them!
Got bed bugs? It happens to the best of us. But don’t worry – bed bugs do take some time and effort to kill, but if can be done. Find out how to get rid of bed bugs!