Bed bugs (or Cimex lectularius) are nasty critters that can invade our homes, nestling themselves in our clothing, mattresses, bed frames, furniture, and behind our picture frames. If the idea of having these pests residing in your home sends shivers down your spine, you’re not alone. These tiny, oval-shaped insects need blood to survive, so they feed on us and our beloved pets.
But while these critters can cause mayhem once they’re in our homes, we can prevent this from happening. To do this, we need to understand a little more about them and how they enter our homes in the first place.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are small insects with brown-coloured, oval-shaped bodies. An adult bed bug is typically around 5 – 7 mm in length, so you can spot them if you’re looking for them. For reference, they closely resemble apple seeds in their size and colouration.
These critters live for up to 12 months, but this can vary depending on the conditions. Unfortunately, in nice, warm cosy homes, bed bugs tend to live for their maximum lifespan.
Bed bugs survive by feeding on blood, either from humans or animals. They tend to prefer human over animal blood, which is why they are considered such a common household pest.
Female bed bugs need blood to produce eggs. When they get their fill of blood, they produce hundreds of eggs in one go! Per year, females may lay three generations worth of eggs if the conditions are right.
They typically feed at night and produce small red marks (like other insect bites) the following day – these can be extremely itchy, which is how many people first come to notice bed bug infestations.
While the prospect of having a bed bug infestation likely makes many of us feel itchy, there are two important things to know:
- Bed bugs don’t carry diseases, which means the bites are the worst we’ll suffer from these horrible pests.
- We can prevent a bed bug infestation through five relatively simple steps. More on this later!
For now, let’s delve into how you get bed bugs.
How Do You Get Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs have four main forms of transportation. They are:
1. Hitching Rides
Bed bugs can travel by hitching a ride on almost any cloth-like material – this includes clothing, our luggage and holdalls, and even personal items like makeup bags. They can be particularly prevalent in hotel rooms, so it’s important to check in any accommodation you’re staying before bedding down for the night!
2. Public Places
Bed bugs aren’t only familiar pests in homes; they can also reproduce in abundance in other warm buildings, such as cinemas and offices, as well as trains and tubes. Over the years, there have been several bed bug outbreaks on popular transportation services, such as the London Underground. When you travel via these services, bed bugs can cling onto your clothing, bags, or any other personal items you’re carrying – eek!
3. Thrifted Items
If you’re a lover of charity shops or second-hand furniture shops, it’s important to consider bed bugs. You never know where your second-hand goods are coming from and whether their previous homes had a bed bug infestation. Before you decide to bring any second-hand furniture or clothing into your home, inspect it for bed bugs and treat it, if you can.
4. Bed Bugs from Neighbours
Beware if your neighbour has a bed bug infestation, as the little insects have been known to travel from one house to another. This is particularly common in flats and apartments, as it’s easier (and warmer!) for bed bugs to travel between homes.
Now that we’re all sufficiently itchy at the thought of bed bugs in our homes let’s educate ourselves on how to prevent an infestation so we can all rest easy at night!
5 Steps to Prevent a Bed Bug Infestation
To keep your peace of mind and your home bed bug-free, here are the five steps you should follow:
1. Remember Bed Bugs When Travelling
When travelling by bus, train, or any other form of public transport, it’s important to check for signs of bed bug infestations. If you can, refrain from sitting down on public transport, or if this isn’t possible, check your clothing and bags for bed bugs before entering your home. According to Barbara Stern, from Ottoman Textiles — a leading global supplier of wholesale bedding, it is essential that travellers are cautious of bed bugs in various accommodations. If you’re staying at hotels, Airbnb’s or other forms of accommodation, check for bed bugs in bed frames, headboards, bedding, mattresses, and wardrobes. If you can, keep your bags elevated, not storing them on the floor or bed.
2. Think Twice Before Buying Second-Hand
While second-hand furniture and clothing can help protect the planet, it’s only best to buy these items if you check them for bed bugs beforehand. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so consider treating any items for bed bugs before taking them home.
3. Inspect, Inspect, Inspect
If in doubt, inspect an item for bed bugs. Checking any item entering your home for bed bugs won’t do any harm, but it may save you a lot of hassle down the line, preventing you from having to treat a bed bug infestation in your home.
The main times to check your home for these little critters is after trips, particularly if you’ve used public transport and stayed in guest accommodation or when you’ve had guests come to stay.
4. Seal Any Gaps
Bed bugs love to live in warm nooks and crannies, so any gaps in walls, doors, or windows can be prime spots for them. Do your best to seal all the gaps you have in your homes, as this will give insects fewer places to hide.
5. Get a Professional In
If you’re not sure whether you have a bed bug infestation but think you might, it’s best to get a professional in to handle it. Call up pest control and ask them to inspect your home; these professionals will be able to manage and eradicate the problem.
Final Word on Bed Bugs
Let’s be honest; the thought of having bed bugs in our homes is ghastly. But while bed bug infestations can send shivers down our spines, there is one (small) silver lining – we can take steps to prevent bed bugs from entering our homes. Whether it’s by being extra-vigilant or recruiting the help of an expert, you can keep your home bed bug free. For a deeper understanding of bed bugs, including identifying them, treating their bites and effective strategies for their eradication, the NHS provides a detailed guide on bed bugs.