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Adult bedbugs are indeed visible to the human eye — although some of us may need to put on our prescription glasses.
Bedbugs are usually about the size of an apple seed, which is about 5 to 7 millimeters long, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
These pests can resemble a lot of other household bugs, so it’s important to know the difference between bedbugs and similar ones, like the carpet beetle or cockroach.
Keep reading to find out how to detect and identify bedbugs — as well as how to get rid of them if they’re in your home.
What they look like
Bedbugs can vary slightly in appearance by region. They usually have a few similarities, though, including:
- Size. Their eggs are roughly the size of a pinhead. Adults are the size of an apple seed.
- Color. Bedbugs are brown to reddish-brown.
- Shape. They may have an oval-shaped or elongated body.
- Smell. They have a musty smell.
- Wings. Although they have wings, bedbugs don’t fly.
It’s important to know that young bedbugs aren’t visible to the naked eye (unless they’ve eaten recently). They’re usually very small and translucent to whitish-yellow in color.
Where to find them
Sometimes, you may not see the bugs themselves, but instead the remains they leave behind. This includes:
- red or rust-colored stains on bedsheets or mattress due to the bedbugs being crushed
- bedbug poop, which looks like dark dots that may appear blurry
- small eggs or shells of eggs
You may spot these remains when cleaning or changing bedding. Bedbugs can hide virtually anywhere that’s large enough to fit a credit card. Therefore, you can find them not only in a bed, but also:
- in curtain folds
- in drawer joints
- under loose wallpaper
- in chair seams
Bedbugs prefer to feed off humans (lucky us). They usually feed at night while you’re sleeping, so you’re less likely to be aware of them. However, some bedbugs will feed during the day.
Some ways you can recognize a bedbug bite include:
- a curved-shape pattern to the bedbug bites of usually three to four bites
- intense itching, usually in the morning
- bites that are usually about 2 to 4 millimeters in size
- bites that occur mostly on the arms and legs
- bites that have small blisters on top of them
Bedbug bites may also cause allergic reactions. This can include itching, redness, and swelling at the bug bite site.
If you aren’t sure whether a bite is from a bedbug, see your dermatologist or primary care doctor. The bites can look like flea, mosquito, scabies, or body lice bites.
Getting bedbugs doesn’t have anything to do with how clean your home is.
Bedbugs are “hitchhikers” that many people can pick up accidentally while traveling. They can get onto your clothes while staying in a hotel or at another person’s home, and you bring them home.
You can also accidentally bring bedbugs home when purchasing used furniture.
Bedbugs can survive for up to 1 year without feeding. It’s important to inspect your items, even when they’ve been in storage for some time.
Treating bedbugs usually involves a comprehensive approach where you not only treat bedding, but also clean up any clutter and other items where bedbugs and their eggs may be.
Sometimes, if an infestation is severe, you may have to call a professional.
Here are some recommended approaches to removing these unwelcome critters.
Bedbugs usually can’t survive past temperatures between 114°F (45°C) and 115°F (46°C), according to Virginia Tech.
Pest management professionals may use special steam cleaning devices that deliver steam consistently and in such a way that it doesn’t spread bedbugs and their eggs to other locations.
Pest management professionals may also use special heaters placed in a room that heat it to high temperatures to kill the bugs. However, special care must be taken for items in the room to ensure they’re not melted or damaged due to the high heat.
While steam cleaning can effectively eliminate bedbugs, you still must clean up other cluttered areas where the bedbugs are. It’s not a one-stop method.
Diatomaceous earth (DE)
Diatomaceous earth is a dust you can apply to areas such as bed frames, carpets, and even pet bedding. The dust sticks to the bedbugs and basically dries them up from the inside out, killing them.
Different types of diatomaceous earth exist. Ones that work on bedbugs include an animal food additive and insecticide.
Don’t use the diatomaceous earth type that’s in pool filters. This type is an inhalation hazard inside the home.
Insecticides, such as those that contain pyrethroids, are somewhat effective for killing bedbugs. This is because you can usually apply them to cracks and crevices, but not directly to all areas where bedbugs are.
Carefully read insecticide labels before applying, and use only as directed. Sometimes, you may need a pest professional who has special application equipment.
Mattress encasements are special impermeable covers that keep bedbugs from entering your mattress as well as existing bedbugs from escaping. These covers must encase both the mattress and all box springs.
You can also purchase encasements for pillows. All encasements must have a zipper protector that’s zipped tightly closed to ensure there’s no route for bedbugs to enter or leave.
You can purchase encasements for mattresses and pillows online.
While you can treat bedding and other areas of your home with insecticides, there are some items you can’t treat. This includes unused clutter, such as:
- junk mail
If you don’t use an item anymore, place it in a sealed bag and throw it away. Also place clothing and other washable materials in sealed bags for washing.
Many pest management professionals will suggest dissolvable laundry bags that seal. You then place the bagged laundry into the washer, and the hot water will dissolve the bag.
You can find dissolvable laundry bags online.
Don’t take items from one room where you know bedbugs are to another room. Just take them straight to the trash.
Most of the time, bedbug bites will go away on their own. If you have a more severe reaction to them, you may wish to apply topical steroids or take an oral antihistamine.
An article in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners recommends using the acronym SLEEP to prevent bedbugs from coming to your home after traveling:
- S is for survey. When traveling, look for any signs of potential bedbugs, such as rust-colored spots on sheets, bed skirts, or mattress tags.
- L is for lift. Look at bedding, the bed frame, and furniture for any signs of bedbugs.
- E is for elevate. Place luggage and other personal items on luggage racks away from beds.
- E is for examine. Look at luggage and clothing items before returning home.
- P is for place. Place all clothing in a dryer on high heat for at least 15 minutes after getting home.
Bedbugs can also hitchhike onto many items you could bring into your home. This includes used furniture and clothing. Before you bring these items into your home, do a thorough inspection.
Bedbugs are a nuisance best treated as quickly as possible once you identify them.
Often, you must use several methods to ensure they’re completely gone from your home. Once they are, use careful methods when traveling to ensure you don’t bring them back.