How to Check for Bed Bugs

A bed bug nymph feasting on a human.

How do you check for bed bugs? First, you need to round up some gear, know where to look for signs of bed bugs, and how to spot signs of an infestation.

Note: Bed bug bites are not a definitive sign of an infestation. Why? Bed bug bites look similar to common rashes and insect bites. Also, some people do not react to bed bug bites.

How to Check for Bed Bugs

Before you start looking for signs of bed bugs, you will need to gather some gear.

What you’ll need to inspect for bed bugs

  1. Flashlight: This will enable you to shine a light in dark places to see any evidence of bed bugs.
  2. Credit card: A bed bug’s width is about as thin as a credit card. If a credit card can fit through a crevice or crack, a bed bug likely can fit through it.
  3. Disposable gloves: These help prevent a bed bug from hitching a ride on you to a new feasting spot.
  4. Mirror: A small mirror can help you to get a better look at an infestation in hard-to-reach places.
  5. Magnifying glass: Bed bug eggs can be as small as a pinhead. A magnifying glass will help you find any evidence your eyes can’t see.

Where do bed bugs live?

Bed bugs like warm places where humans rest, which means your bed (they are, after all, called bed bugs), couches, and chairs. There have even been bed bug infestations in theater seats.

Bed bugs also can be found all around your house, on curtains, on nightstands, on your floors, and even on your clothes (how do you think bed bugs went to the movies?).

What are some signs of bed bugs?

Use a flashlight to inspect dark spaces for live bugs, eggs, feces, or molted skin. Eggs are about the size of a pinhead, are pearl-white, and stick to surfaces.

Their fecal matter is partially digested blood appearing in clusters of tiny spots, often found on bed sheets. Their feces will soak into the surface and leave behind a black dot, almost like a marker tip.

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

Where to Check for Bed Bugs

1. Your bed

Your bed is the No. 1 hiding spot for bed bugs. According to the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources, research shows 85% of bed bugs are in or near the bed.

What to look for: Inspect your bedding and linen for blood spots. Bed bugs will leave these brown or red spots behind when crushed. Look closely at the seams, tufts, and folds of your mattress and any corners or crevices of your bed frame. You may need to dismantle your bed.

2. Couches and office chairs

Your couches, recliners, and office chairs (in your home office or work office) are excellent places for humans — and bed bugs — to rest.

Where to look: Look beneath furniture and where the fabric meets the legs of the furniture. Inspect between seat cushions, underneath the seat cushions, and any furniture pillows.

3. Nightstands and dressers

Bed bugs can lurk right next to your bed — or wander into an adjoining room. Bed bugs will travel 5-20 feet from their established hiding place to feed on a host.

How to look for signs of bed bugs: Using your flashlight and a credit card, check your nightstand and dressers. Empty each drawer and inspect their cracks, joints, and underneath.

4. Curtains and drapes

Curtains and drapes make great hiding spots for bed bugs.

5. Windows and door frames

Inspect any crevices or cracks around windows and door frames.

6. Walls, ceilings, and outlet covers

Look around and overhead. Bed bugs love to hide behind loose wallpaper and outlet covers. You may even spot bed bugs hiding near the ceiling. If you have wall hangings, such as paintings, fabrics, or clocks, check behind and inside those items.

7. Your clothes

No one wants to be attacked by bed bugs as soon as they get dressed. Inspect all of your clothes for any signs of bed bugs.

8. Household items

Around your resting spots, check miscellaneous items (especially inside) for bed bugs. These items may include remote controls, alarm clocks, picture frames, and lamps. Don’t forget to check Fido’s bed for bed bugs.

9. Floors and carpets

Check your floors and the edges of baseboards, and don’t forget to check any carpeting. Bed bugs can travel from your bed to the carpet to another room.

10. Hotels, motels, theaters

Bed bugs are not found only in homes. These teeny-tiny pests can live in hotel and motel rooms (check the bed for those tiny red spots when you check in), and even theater seats.

Knowing the signs of bed bugs may help you avoid any infested areas, and when you see evidence of these pests, you will know where to treat for bed bugs.

How Monitors Can Detect and Trap Bed Bugs

The University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources says research indicates that monitors can help attract or intercept bed bugs moving from their home (your bed, for example) to a host (you or a family member).

Monitors are diverse in size, appearance, and price.

  • Active monitors have an agent that attracts the bed bugs. These attractions include heat, carbon dioxide, host odors, or pheromones. Active monitors help identify bed bugs that remain hidden or may be hard to detect.
  • Passive monitors take advantage of a bed bug’s attraction to dark crevices. These monitors rely on chance encounters that lead to pitfalls and sticky traps.
  • Interceptor monitors are a hybrid between active and passive monitors. They rely on a host to attract hungry bed bugs and then trap them en route. These monitors can be installed under the legs of beds or furniture and can trap six times more bed bugs than human searches alone.

When to Call a Professional

Managing a bed bug infestation requires removing or treating all infested materials. You must also ensure no reinfestation occurs. Call a bed bug exterminator near you if you’re unable to locate the infestation on your own.

A pest control operator can inspect the suspected infested area and provide an extermination solution. He or she may even bring along a canine inspector, as some dogs have been trained to sniff out bed bugs.

Calling a professional becomes an urgent matter when bed bug symptoms are severe, bed bugs grow in large numbers, bed bugs expand their hiding areas, or re-infestation occurs.

Why You Should Routinely Inspect for Bed Bugs

The key to ridding your home of bed bugs — and keeping them out — is finding an infestation early. Once bed bugs establish a beachhead, they will spread to other hiding areas. Treating a well-established infestation is difficult and expensive. Exterminating a minor infestation quickly will save you a costly treatment down the line.

Finding a low-level infestation can take a significant amount of time, patience, and determination. Bed bugs are small, and their eggs are even smaller. You’ll need the right tools and information to help detect these unwelcome pests — and having read this article you’re all set.

Main Image Credit: A bed bug nymph feasting on a human, Content Providers: CDC/ Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan; Richard Pollack. Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki / Public Domain

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.