The Lamen

Bedbugs: Early Signs, Extermination, and Prevention

Bed bugs are small, reddish-brown insects that hide during the daytime, typically in your beds, and feed on your blood during the night. If you think you have a bug infestation, you should check for the early signs of bed bugs before they spread throughout your house.

You can try to fix smaller infestations by yourself, while a larger, more widespread infestation might require professional treatment.

by | Nov 25, 2022

Bed bugs are almost too small to notice, measuring about 4 to 7 mm across. These pests are small and hardy and can survive without sucking your blood for months. They are known to stay hidden during the daytime, often even hiding for up to 10 days to lay eggs. A female bed bug can lay up to 250 eggs in her lifetime.

Unsurprisingly, these bed bugs can give you many sleepless nights, and by that point, they are already large in number. Leaving you with red, itchy bites and rashes all over your skin, these pests are not to be ignored.

How to check for bed bugs: Early signs


Small red bumps on your body can be one of the signs of bed bugs.

Bed bug bites cause small red bumps on your body. | Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The most noticeable manifestation of bed bugs is small, red, itchy bumps on your skin that mysteriously appear overnight. With their bites being generally painless, their feedings will not wake you up.

These bites generally appear on the exposed areas like arms and legs and often appear in small clusters.

Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may not develop any signs of being bitten. In fact, about 30 percent of the population does not even react to bed bug bites at all, with the elderly being the least reactive. Their saliva also contains a mild anesthetic, which helps mask any pain the prey might feel.

While bed bug bites are not generally known to be dangerous or cause any diseases, some may experience allergic reactions and anaphylaxis on rare occasions. If you experience severe itchiness, painful swelling, or flu-like symptoms, you should seek the aid of a medical professional.

Red stains on sheets

Bed bugs are filled with blood, and not all of them get away safely every time. Your inadvertent movements when asleep can easily crush a bed bug.

This can cause red or rust-colored stains on your sheets, clothes, or pillow.


Eggs of bed bugs tend to resemble small grains of rice with a small red dot on them. | Credits: MMPC YouTube

A female bed bug can lay up to 7 eggs after a blood meal, which catch in the next 7 to 10 days. These eggs are only about 1 millimeter across. They appear pearly white in color and are only about the size of a pinhead.

While visible to the naked eye, people are hardly able to identify these eggs. They are generally found in crevices and other areas where the bed bugs might hide.

Bed bugs odor

A distinct, musty odor from your room is a sign of bed bugs. These pests emit alarm pheromones, which are chemicals synthesized and released when they sense any danger.

The smell is usually very faint, resembling the scent of berries or coriander. It is generally noticeable only when the bed bugs have grown large in number, and can easily be masked by other stronger scents.

What does a bed bug look like?

Bed bugs are really small and appear reddish-brown.

Bed bugs appear reddish brown when they are filled with blood. | Credits: Piotr Naskrecki

Adult bed bugs are reddish brown in color, and about the size of an apple seed. Adult bed bugs are only 4 to 5 millimeters in length. They can, however, reach up to 7 millimeters across when filled with blood up to six times its weight.

While the immature bugs are also visible, they are even smaller at around 1 millimeter across. They appear translucent with a whitish-yellow color, making them even harder to notice.

Where to check for signs of bed bugs

The most important thing to get rid of bed bugs quickly is finding them in the earlier stages of infestation. While smaller infestations can be harder to detect, an inspection of certain areas gives you the best chance of finding these pests.

Bedbugs generally hide in small corners and crevices, like the seams of a mattress or couch, the folds of a curtain, or in furniture joints.

Using a flashlight and a magnifying glass, go over the following areas:

  • under your mattress, near its lining and tags
  • between couch cushions
  • in the cracks and joints of the bed frame and headboard
  • under paintings, posters, and loose wallpapers
  • the folds of curtains
  • carpets and rugs
  • inside electrical outlets
  • in baseboards
  • in the gaps between hardwood flooring
  • in your clothes
  • the gaps and cracks in your closet

Bed bugs are only about the thickness of a nickel, and can squeeze into small areas. The best course of action is to inspect any small holes, gaps, and cracks to make sure. Bed bug interceptors can also be great to identify an infestation.

How to kill bed bugs

How to get rid of bed bugs at home

The most convenient way to get rid of bed bugs is to call a professional exterminator. However, professional extermination can cost well over $2,000 because of how long these pests can go without food.

If you have found the infested areas, however, you can try a few methods to remove these bugs on your own. Bed bugs can survive temperatures as low as 7ºC (46ºF), they die at temperatures higher than 45ºC (115ºF).

Here are a few ways to kill off bed bugs without the use of chemicals:

  • Wash your sheets, pillow covers, clothes, and curtains in hot water for 30 minutes. Then put them in a dryer with the higher heat setting for another 30 minutes.
  • Use a steamer on mattresses, couches, and other places where the bed bugs could hide.
  • Deep clean your mattress and other infested areas by vacuuming them. Keep in mind that the bugs and eggs may have invaded your vacuum. Place the sealed plastic bag in a freezer for a few days to kill off the bugs.

Once you have cleaned all the visible bed bugs, it is important to protect other articles from infestation. Place bedbug-proof covers on your mattress, sealing it off. This traps the bed bugs inside, killing them off.

If this does not wipe out all the bed bugs, you should treat your home with an insecticide.

Chemicals and non-chemical treatments

Here are a few types of insecticides you can try:

  • Desiccants destroy the outer protective coating of bed bugs, causing them to dehydrate and die. Examples of desiccants are boric acid, silica gel (CimeXa), and diatomaceous earth. While desiccants work slower, they are effective because bed bugs cannot gain resistance to them like other pesticides.
  • Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are the most common chemicals used to exterminate bed bugs and other pests. Pyrethrins are derived from chrysanthemum flowers, while pyrethroids are synthetic chemicals that act like pyrethrin. While these compounds are lethal, some bed bugs have become resistant to them.
  • Pyrroles disrupt the cellular functions of bed bugs, killing them off. Chlorfenapyr is a pyrrole pesticide currently registered for exterminating bed bugs.
  • Neonicotinoids are synthetic forms of nicotine. They cause the failure of the nervous system in bed bugs. Neonicotinoids are effective against bed bugs that are resistant to other pesticides.
  • Plant essential oils contain compounds that have insecticidal and medicinal properties. Cold-pressed neem oil is considered one of the most effective biochemical means of killing bed bugs.
  • Insect growth regulators alter the production of chitin or the bed bugs’ development into adulthood, forcing them to develop too rapidly or stopping development altogether.
  • Fungus has been suggested to be helpful in the extermination of bed bugs. Specifically, the fungus Beauveria bassiana has been shown to kill bed bugs within five days of exposure.
  • Bug bombs or foggers spray out pesticides all at once. Mostly containing pyrethrin or pyrethroid pesticides, they make a fog that fills up the room. While they are effective at killing bed bugs, they cannot get into small spaces where these pests generally hide. Foggers also pose a threat to human health due to their large area of effect.

Whenever using any type of pesticide, it is important that you wear a gas mask, rubber gloves, and other protective gear to avoid exposure to chemical compounds.

Health risks of using certain pesticides

Pesticides are chemicals meant to kill pests, but they can be harmful to all life. They can be toxic to vegetation, birds, fish, and yes, humans. Estimates suggest that about 385 million people worldwide experience acute unintentional pesticide poisoning annually, with about 11,000 annual deaths.

  • Animal studies show that silica showed inflammation, granuloma formation, and emphysema. They may also pose the risk of chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (1).
  • Diatomaceous earth insecticides are harmful to us by inhalation. They are not removed from the body, accumulating in certain areas like bronchi and lymph nodes. Repeated use of such pesticides can cause silicosis, lung cancer, nonmalignant respiratory diseases, and even death (2) (3) (4).
  • Pyrethrins and pyrethroids can enter your body by ingestion, inhalation, or by skin contact. While they pose a low risk to humans due to rapid metabolism, they can induce acute poisoning with chronic exposure. They interfere with the brain and nervous system, and can cause numbness, itching, stinging, or burning that could last a few hours (5).

It is best to read the labels on pesticides and take the necessary precautions to ensure that they pose no risk to your health and those around you.

Precautions when using pesticides

Although pesticides are highly effective, they need to be stored properly and handled with care.

Here are some precautions and tips for safer pest control:

  • Physical treatment. The most effective method to reduce the risk of exposure to pesticides is to not use them at all. Non-chemical methods of exterminating pests eliminate such risks.
  • Read the label. Before using any pesticide, always read the label, directions of use, and any precautions. Always use products that have been registered for use as pesticides.
  • Wear protective gear. Wearing rubber gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, or protective gear for fumigating helps avoid any skin exposure to the chemicals. Changing clothes and washing up immediately after applying pesticides are also suggested.
  • Protect the indoors. Before applying a pesticide indoors, remove or cover the food. Remove children, pets, and toys from the area and keep them away until the pesticide has dried, as recommended by the label.
  • Storage. Store pesticides out of the reach of children, pets, and rats. Never store pesticides in cabinets near food, animal feed, or medical supplies. Never reuse empty pesticide containers as they contain residue that can contaminate new contents.
  • Use a commercial applicator. Using a commercial applicator helps spread the pesticide over the desired area effectively. Always check for potential risks and the precautions of use.
  • Mind the weather. Take precautions when spraying the pesticide outdoors to keep it from drifting off into the pool, garden, or neighborhood. Don’t spray on any windy or rainy days.
  • Don’t purchase excess pesticides. Most pesticides have a shelf life of at least two years, but it will be shortened if the pesticides are not stored properly. Disposing of unwanted pesticides properly is best to ensure safety.

Keeping the number of your area’s Poison Control Center and informing your children of the same is essential to ensure safety in the case of an emergency.

Preventing future bed bugs

Bed bugs are resilient creatures, and it can take a few days after treatment to completely wipe them out. To ensure your treatment has worked, you need to check the infested areas once every few days over a month to ensure there are no signs of survivors.

To make it easier to spot any bed bugs, you can place bed bug interceptors under each leg of your bed or couch. These devices trap the bedbugs before they can climb up to your bed. Keeping these interceptors in place for a few months is the most convenient way to make sure the bed bugs are gone for good.

If you still spot any bed bugs after your extermination methods, it’s time to call the professional. Professional exterminators are experienced with pesticides and have equipment that might not be available to you. They use insecticides that are highly effective at destroying pests and can get into small creases and cracks.

Pest control companies may also use whole-room heating treatments to kill bed bugs. This involved special equipment that heats up the room to a temperature between 125°F-140°F (51.6°C – 60°C). A properly conducted and monitored heat treatment can kill off 100 percent of the bed bugs and their eggs in a single treatment.

Professional treatments can take a few days depending upon the area of infestation and may require you to stay out of the treated rooms for a few hours.

Once the bed bugs are gone:

  • Vacuum and wash bedding, furniture, carpets, rugs, and curtains.
  • Seal any visible cracks.
  • Cover your mattress with a bed bug cover and seal it completely.
  • Wash all your clothing in hot water or use a steamer to kill any surviving pests.
  • Clear any magazines, papers, or any other cutter around the place.

It is important to ensure you do not visit any areas that might be infested with bed bugs to avoid bringing them back home with you.

Frequently asked questions

What do bites of bed bugs look like?

 Bed bug bites appear as small, itchy, red bumps on your skin, typically on your arms, legs, neck, and face. These bites often appear in small clusters and are painless, unless you are allergic to bed bug bites.

How long can bed bugs live without food?

 Adult bed bugs can survive for about 3 to 5 months at room temperature. However, younger bed bugs or “nymphs” cannot survive for as long.

Certain factors also affect the survival of a bed bug without a blood meal, including temperature and humidity. Bed bugs tend to survive longer in slightly cooler temperatures.

How do you treat bites from bed bugs?

While bed bug bites can be treated with certain home remedies, you should see a dermatologist if you experience:

  • many bites
  • blisters
  • tenderness or pus
  • an allergic reaction

In case you experience any of the symptoms above, a dermatologist might prescribe you an antibiotic (for bacterial infection) or an antihistamine (for allergies).

If you don’t experience any serious symptoms, you can treat the bed bites by cleaning them with soap and water followed by applying an OTC corticosteroid cream.

Mosquito bite vs bed bug bite

Bites from both mosquitoes and bed bugs might appear as red itchy spots, however, there are certain ways that you can tell them apart.

Bed bug bites usually appear in clusters and typically in a distinct zigzag pattern, and don’t cause you to react or wake up. Mosquito bites, on the other hand, are isolated and appear with a puncture in the center of the red bump. Mosquito bites are also itchier than bed bug bites and may cause you to wake up from your sleep.

Does bleach kill bed bugs?

 Bleach is only effective in killing bed bugs if they directly come in contact with it. This makes it ineffective in dealing with large infestations and exterminating bed bugs that are hidden.

Why do bed bugs keep coming back into my house?

In case you don’t eliminate every bed bug in the colony, or never got rid of all of their eggs, they will keep returning. It might also be possible that you might be bringing back bed bugs from another infested place, resulting in them reappearing.

How much does a bed bug exterminator cost?

 If you catch your bed bug problem early on, you might only require a small treatment that costs a few hundred dollars. However, if your entire house or office is infested, and if the infested area is larger, the treatment could cost well over $5,000.

The cost of treatment also depends upon your region, the equipment used, and the experience of the exterminator.

In a nutshell

Bed bugs are evasive pests that can be hard to notice before their population grows to a large number. Common signs of an infestation include small red bumps on your body and blood stains on your sheets.

While they can cause some sleepless nights, you can get rid of these bugs through various methods, both physical and chemical. What’s most important is to take the correct measures to prevent any future infestation.