How to Prevent Bed Bugs (11 Ways)

White pillows on a bed. Washing bed sheets at the highest setting is a good way to prevent bed bugs.

Bed bugs have been a pest for longer than America has existed, yet they not only continue to exist, their numbers are increasing. You don’t want to wait to see them. You want to know how to prevent bed bugs from appearing, and to take those steps:

The best way to avoid a bed bug infestation in your home is to practice these 11 ways to prevent bed bugs:

1. Don’t Store Items Under Your Bed

Storing items under your bed creates opportunities for bed bugs to hide near your mattress. You may also unknowingly store an infested item.

2. Store Items in Plastic Containers

Bed bugs find it difficult to crawl on smooth surfaces such as glass or plastic. Keeping your storage items in a plastic container or plastic bag helps to prevent spreading.

3. Remove Clutter From the Floor

Keep your clothes off the floor. If a wandering bed bug happens to latch onto your sweater, you run the risk of infecting your dresser or closet.

4. Dust Mite-Proof Encasements

Cover your mattress or box spring in dust mite-proof encasements to create a barrier between you and any potential bed bugs.

5. Vacuum Regularly

This prevention method helps you remove stray bed bugs. For further prevention, dispose of the vacuum bag in an outside trash can.

6. Keep Clothes off the Bed

You don’t know whose bed these bugs have infested and whose bed they haven’t. It’s best to keep your clothes off any beds if you want to prevent bed bugs from coming into your home. 

With that in mind, keep other people’s clothes off your bed. You never know if they may be transporting a bed bug from their home. Instead of placing guests’ coats on your bed, hang them in the coat closet.

7. Inspect your Lodging Area

Before unpacking your clothes in your new sleeping arrangements, such as a hotel, motel, or dorm room, inspect the space. Check curtains, the carpet, the walls, and surrounding areas for any signs of bed bugs. Most importantly, check the bed for any signs. If you spot a potential infestation, ask for another room. Avoid placing your clothes on the bed.

8. Wash Clothes and Luggage After Traveling

Ensure your travels don’t bring home a bed bug. Immediately wash your clothes and clean any luggage, including suitcases, backpacks, and purses.

9. Wash Sheets on the Highest Setting

About once a week, wash your bed linens at the highest temperature. The heat can help kill bed bugs and their eggs.

10. Avoid Taking Furniture From Curbs or Dumpsters

A free couch on the side of the road can be tempting. But bringing it into your home can lead to a grave bed bug infestation. Avoid taking any furniture from curbs or dumpsters, as bed bugs may have infested them.

11. Keep Your Bed Sheets off the Ground

When making your bed or sleeping, make sure your sheets are not touching the floor. A hanging sheet allows a wandering bed bug to crawl up to your bed.

Where You Will Find Bed Bugs

A LawnStarter analysis found that 85 percent of all bed bugs are found where their name tells you they will be found, in the bed. Other places where they are found:

  • Couches and office chairs
  • Nightstands and dressers
  • Curtains and drapes
  • Windows and door frames
  • Walls, ceilings, and outlet covers
  • Your clothes
  • Household items
  • Floors and carpets
  • Hotels, motels, theaters

Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?

Although they have no wings (and therefore can’t fly), bed bugs are quite the traveling bug. They happily travel from place to place on luggage, upholstery, and from room to room in multi-family dwellings. 

A survey of 5,500 pest control professionals found that they have treated bed bugs in these numbers in these locations:

LocationBed Bugs Found
Single-family homes91 percent 
Apartments/Condos89 percent
Hotels/motels68 percent
Nursing homes59 percent
Schools and daycare centers47 percent
Offices46 percent
College dorms45 percent
Hospitals36 percent
Public transportation19 percent

The 2018 Bugs Without Borders survey conducted by the National Pest Management Association also found:

  • Bites are the most common way that people realize they have bed bugs, resulting in 92 percent of the calls to professionals.
  • Symptoms of bed bug bites don’t appear for 2-3 days, so by the time you are aware of them, you might have a major infestation.
  • A whopping 97 percent of pest professionals treated bed bugs in the previous year. 
  • Most bed bug complaints come during the summer.
bed bug bite photo
Photo Credit: hiroo yamagata / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Where Bed Bugs Are a Concern

There is no scientifically-sound data on bed bug infestations in America, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, there were 18,672 hits from June to November 2011 to a website that handed bed bug reports, (now closed), as determined by Google Analytics, with those hits coming from the places indicated in the map.

How to Check for Bed Bugs

The University of California shows in a video how to check for bed bugs

Bed Bug Treatment

Consider Using Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a pest control approach that minimizes pesticide use to protect the health and safety of people, pets, wildlife, and the environment. IPM uses strategies such as removing a pest’s food and water sources and strengthening your grass so it’s less susceptible to pest damage in the first place. 

You can use pesticides in an IPM program, but only as a last resort and only in the safest, most environmentally responsible way possible. IPM principles can be applied in all areas where pests exist, including your lawn, home, and garden.

Here’s a quick guide on how to get rid of bed bugs following IPM principles:

  • Clean: This is spring cleaning on steroids. Get out the vacuum, wash clothes (and dry them on ultra high heat), get rid of infested furniture, and clean every inch of your bed and mattress. (Also, seal the mattress for at least a year to kill them and prevent more bed bugs from getting in.)
  • Prevent future infestations: Practice basic sanitation (don’t store items under the bed, keep laundry off the floor, and sanitize clothes after you travel). Love to go to garage sales? Sorry, but you’ll want to avoid picking up furniture or goods from the curb or outdoor sales. 

The EPA also offers a full IPM program, offering guidelines for non-chemical methods, plus a review of what pesticides can be applied, with a guide of the 300 registered for use.

Pesticides to Use Against Bed Bugs

If you decide to use chemicals, there are seven classes of chemicals for use as pesticides against bed bugs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

These 300 registered products fall into seven chemical classes of pesticides that are currently registered and widely used for bed bug control:

  • Pyrethrins
  • Pyrethroids
  • Desiccants
  • Biochemicals
  • Pyrroles
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Insect growth regulators

Avoid Illegal Actions

People do things against bed bugs that are not only dangerous, but illegal, the EPA has found. To remain both safe and legal, the EPA issues these warnings:

✘ Don’t use rubbing alcohol. It is flammable; it has been known to cause house fires.

✘ Don’t use carbon dioxide, propane, or helium to fumigate bed bugs. Among other things, they can cause explosions.

✘ Don’t use a pesticide labeled for outdoor use. Just like insecticides, they can be dangerous when applied indoors.

✘ Don’t apply pesticides to your body. There are none that are EPA-approved for use on the human body against bed bugs.

✘ Don’t use more of a pesticide than the label calls for. If the one you are using isn’t working the way you want (some are designed to take time), then try a different one.

✘ Don’t apply pesticides to places not on the label. Be careful about applying them to a bed or clothing.

✘ Don’t use more pest strips than recommended. They can make people ill.

Bed Bug Basic Facts

Life Cycle of a Bed Bug

bed bug lifecycle
Photo Credit: Freepik

How to Identify Bed Bugs

bed bug
Photo Credit: Picryl

A LawnStarter analysis of the appearance of bed bugs has found:

  • Size: A quarter-inch long
  • Shape: A flat, oval-shaped body
  • Segments: Three
  • Antenna: With four parts
  • Wings: Not used for flying
  • Color: Brown unless full of blood; then reddish-brown

The Cost to Treat a Bed Bug Problem

A LawnStarter pricing guide on bed bug treatment finds that:

  • Homeowners pay about $917 to $1,917 for professional bed bug treatment. 
  • For an infestation that’s isolated to one room, an average of $308. 
  • For an infestation of an entire house, as much as $5,267.

The Increase of Bed Bug Reports

If you’re dealing with bed bugs in your home, you’re not alone. Pest control professionals report a dramatic increase in the number of bed bug cases since 1990. There is no national clearinghouse of reports, but there is this study from the New York City Bed Bug Advisory Board that reflects the national trend:

Source: NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development

A note in the report on the definition of a violation (vs. a complaint): “Violations are issued to landlords as a result of verified tenant complaints.”


Should I Use a Fogger?

Foggers should not be used as the only method against bed bugs, for the same reason that you might not want to use one at all: Bed bugs often hide, especially during the day, and when they do, the fogger won’t reach them. Plus a fogger can create problems if a human inhales even some of it.

Why Are Bed Bug Numbers Increasing?

● Increase of travel
● Growing tolerance to pesticides
● People not learning, therefore not applying, the best counter-measures

How Common Are Bed Bug Problems?

One in five Americans have had bed bug problems or know someone who had them, according to the New York Times.

What Are Places Where Bed Bugs Are Known to Lurk?

Places that are known to be host spots for bed bugs include: 

● Baseboards
● Crevices (remember to seal cracks)
● Electrical outlets

Hiding places include:

● Bed frames
● Luggage racks
● Mattress covers
● Mattress seams
● Secondhand furniture
● Upholstered furniture
● Used furniture

Do Bed Bugs Transmit Diseases?

While the bite of a bed bug can leave an itchy red welt, there is no evidence that bed bugs transmit diseases to people. 

A Call to Action

There are so many bed bugs and in so many places that you can expect to have a bed bug problem sometime during your lifetime. Don’t wait for it to happen. Follow the common sense steps to prevent them from being an issue. Don’t wait for an infestation. Take action now.

If you already have bed bugs, know that getting rid of bed bugs is a difficult task. If you believe they have come into your house, it might be best to call a bed bug exterminator. Certainly you should call if your attempts aren’t working, or if their numbers increase.

Additional source: CDC

Main Image Credit: Pexels

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is an artist, writer, and nature lover. She enjoys teaching readers about the importance of eco-friendly lawn care, integrated pest management, biodiversity, and sustainable landscaping.