It’s commonly believed that bed bugs only live in dirty homes. When most people think of a bed bug infested environment, they probably imagine an unclean person, a dingy motel or a filthy house. That’s simply not true, though.
Bed bugs are attracted to humans, not dirt. They don’t discriminate between clean and unclean homes. However, vacuuming and washing bed linen regularly can help keep the bed bug numbers down. Also, less clutter provides fewer bed bug hiding spots.
Let’s find out where bed bugs come from and what attracts them to your home. You’ll also discover whether there’s any truth in the idea that they’re caused by poor hygiene, and whether keeping your home tidy can help prevent a bed bug infestation from ever happening.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?
To figure out whether bed bugs are caused by uncleanliness, we first need to understand where bed bugs come from.
The USA has a bed bug epidemic. According to research by the University of Arkansas, the number of properties infested with bed bugs has been rising since 1980. This is partially due to bed bugs developing a resistance to pesticides.
Bed bugs can be found in all 50 states. Densely populated cities are particular hotspots. Bed bugs can infest entire apartment blocks and hotels with ease, due to how fast they reproduce.
Every time that you leave your home and interact with other people, there’s a chance that you’ll pick up bed bugs. If you ever stay in hotels or spend time at others’ homes, the risk is even higher.
Bed bugs can infest anywhere that humans spend a lot of time, including:
- Houses and apartments
- Cars and upholstery
- Hotels and motels
- Public transport, such as airplanes, coaches, trains and subways
- Office buildings
- Nursing homes
- Movie theaters
If you sit down somewhere that is infested, bed bugs may climb on your clothes. If you place your luggage down on an infested floor or surface, they may even climb inside. Eventually, they’ll hitch a ride back to your home, and you’ll have an infestation on your hands.
What Attracts Bed Bugs?
So, now that you know where bed bugs come from, let’s discuss what attracts them to our places of residence. Why do bed bugs like to live near humans?
Bed bugs are a parasite: they cannot survive without feeding off another living creature. To be more precise, bed bugs drink blood. Though they can feed on other animals if necessary, they much prefer human blood to other food sources.
Over years of evolution, bed bugs have developed the ability to sense environmental cues that indicate the presence of humans. They can detect our body heat, carbon dioxide and other chemicals that our bodies naturally give off.
Though bed bugs don’t live on or in our bodies, they must stay close to us at all times, so that they can feed when necessary. This is why bed bugs make themselves at home in bedrooms, living areas, and anywhere that humans spend a lot of time.
Are Bed Bugs Caused by Uncleanliness?
Many people believe that bed bugs prefer to unhygienic environments because they are attracted to dirt and decay. However, this is completely untrue.
Bed bugs are not like pill bugs – they do not eat decomposing matter. They only consume blood, and do not have any reason to seek out a dirty or unhygienic environment.
What attracts bed bugs is the smell of humans, and pheromones released by other bed bugs. Dirty homes and clean homes are both equally as attractive to them, as long as there are people around.
The myth that bed bugs are attracted to dirty homes is widespread. In fact, it’s one of the most commonly perpetuated misconceptions. If it’s not true, though, where did it originate from?
Nobody knows for sure. However, there are two potential reasons why this myth developed.
Bed bugs have always been associated with dingy, dirty and cheap hotels. We know, however, that bed bugs can take up residence in any accommodation, whether it’s the Ritz-Carlton or the local drive-in motel.
With that being said, however, the hotel chains with the most bed bug reports do tend to be the cheapest ones. And cheap hotels often have lower standards when it comes to room cleanliness, too.
Professional bed bug eradication is very expensive. Cheaper hotels may resort to more economical and less effective methods. This results in the infestation spreading and becoming more obvious to guests. If the hotel is also dirty, this may lead to guests conflating the two separate issues.
Another common myth is that poor households are more likely to catch bed bugs than wealthy ones. This, as we know, is not true. Your blood tastes the same to bed bugs whether you are above or below the poverty line.
However, poorer families often lack the funds to hire professional exterminators. This may lead to infestations persisting for longer, or getting larger.
Poor households are often associated with also being unclean or cluttered. This could be for many reasons. For example, poor people are at higher risk of developing depression, making it harder to take care of the household. People working lower-paid manual jobs with longer hours also have less time to clean and keep house. This may have led to the association of bed bugs with unclean homes.
Does Cleaning Help Prevent Bed Bugs?
As long as humans are around, bed bugs are equally as happy living in a pristine mansion or a filthy apartment. This much is clear.
Keeping your house clean will not prevent bed bugs from establishing themselves. However, if you do keep on top of the house, it is easier for you to spot infestations while they are still small, and help keep numbers down. Let’s find out how.
We all know that bed bugs like to live in beds. They are the most common area to find infestations, because bed bugs like to be close to us while we are resting. A sleeping human is not likely to notice a bed bug feeding on them, or move enough to dislodge them.
What you may not know, however, is that washing your bedlinen at 140 degrees Fahrenheit will actually kill all bed bugs and their eggs.
At least once a week, we recommend that you wash everything, including:
- Pillows and pillowcases
- Comforters and comforter covers
- Mattress protectors
- Blankets and runners
Along with anything else that you keep on your bed. It’s also a good idea to wash couch covers, rugs and any other soft furnishings that you can.
By routinely exposing your bedlinen to high temperatures, bed bugs will not get a chance to breed or multiply. This is an excellent way of keeping bed bug numbers down and preventing the infestation from growing.
As you cannot wash the mattress itself, routinely inspect every crevice to check for any sign of bed bugs. Hand-held steamers work well for delivering fatal blasts of heat to suspicious areas. Using a bed-bug-proof mattress encasement will keep bed bugs out of hard-to-reach spots.
Bed bugs don’t only live in beds. They can make a home in carpets and rugs, where they can nestle deep into the fabric and stay hidden.
However, they are no match for a good vacuum cleaner. Regularly vacuuming your entire home – at least once per week – can help keep an infestation at bay by sucking up any bugs and eggs on the ground.
Dispose of the contents of the vacuum securely in an outside trash can, so that the bugs can’t re-enter the home.
Keeping On Top of Clutter
While it won’t prevent you from bringing bed bugs home, keeping your home organized can enable you to spot bed bugs before the infestation becomes too large.
Bed bugs hide in dark, secluded spots. Any crack or crevice around the home is a potential hiding spot for a bed bug. They are not limited to beds and bedroom furniture: they can live in electronics, wooden furniture, toys, and ornaments. That’s why you need to be careful about bed bugs if you bring second-hand furniture into your property.
The more clutter and mess you have around your home, the more places the bed bugs will be able to hide. And if they’re hidden, you won’t spot them until the infestation is too large to handle without professional intervention.
A messy, dirty home won’t attract bed bugs. Just because you have an infestation doesn’t mean that your home is unhygienic. However, mess and dirt can undoubtedly make the bugs harder to spot. Keeping a clean and organized house will make it far easier to deal with bed bugs if they do arrive.