Bed bugs are small, tough, and multiply quickly. Once your bed bugs have disappeared, are they gone forever, or is there a chance they’ll come back? Were they really gone in the first place?
Bed bugs can return after treatment. Even professional exterminators can miss eggs hiding in unlikely places. And even if every egg is destroyed, it only takes one new bed bug to be brought into your home, and you potentially have a brand-new infestation.
Today, we’re going to look into what makes bed bugs so resilient. We’ll examine their characteristics to see why it’s so difficult to get rid of bed bugs permanently. We’ll then give you some tips on how to check if your bed bugs are gone, and the warning signs to look out for in case they return.
Why Is It So Hard to Get Rid of Bed Bugs?
Anyone who’s experienced a bed bug infestation in their home knows one thing: they’re difficult to kill. Because of their habits, physical characteristics and hardiness, bed bugs are one of the most resilient household parasites.
Small in Size
One reason that they are so hard to remove is their size. Bed bugs are small – around 4-7mm in length. They look a bit like apple seeds. Their nymphs (young) and eggs are even smaller, and transparent in color.
Though bed bugs can be spotted with the naked eye, they are good at hiding. They can easily fit into:
- Holes and creases in the mattress, plus underneath
- Tiny cracks and crevices in the bed frame, flooring, walls, and door hinges
- The gaps behind baseboards and headboards
- The gaps at the edges of the carpet
- Electrical outlets
So, you can see why it might be easy to miss them with treatment. If you find a bed bug, the chances are there are more, hiding in places you might not see. If you use a contact-only killer, such as tea tree oil, you may easily miss them.
They multiply at what some might call an alarming rate. According to research in the scientific journal Insects, female bed bugs lay up to six eggs per day.
This means that the population of any bed bug infestation doubles in size roughly every 13 days. If you’ve got a small infestation, it can quickly turn into a large one.
Do bed bugs eventually die? They aren’t immortal creatures, but their lifespan is quite long. Each bed bug can live for between 4 and 16 months, according to the Journal of the Formosan Medical Association.
In that time, a female bed bug could have laid several hundred eggs. So, while they do eventually die on their own, the population will increase exponentially in that time. An entire infestation wouldn’t die out without intervention.
Can Live Anywhere in the Home
With other bloodsucking creatures, such as head lice, you always know where to find them. This isn’t the case with bed bugs. According to Clinical Microbiology Reviews, bed bugs do not live on their host’s body. They tend to stay away from people, and only make contact for a blood meal every few days. In the meantime, they try to stay well hidden.
Bed bugs can live anywhere in the home, as long as it’s relatively close to their food source (you). They tend to stay inactive most of the time in their hiding place.
A bed bug could quite happily live in the box spring of your bed, and you’d never notice. Don’t be fooled by their name, either. Bed bugs do not only live in beds. They can live in nightstands, electrical outlets, lamps, or anywhere with easy access to you.
Difficult to Starve
Bed bugs don’t have to feed every day. Although they usually take a blood meal every few days, they don’t need to. Starved bugs can live a surprisingly long time without feeding. According to the same study, bed bugs can live between 4 to 9 months on a single blood meal.
This means that it’s not practical to try and starve bed bugs by leaving home. Even if you stayed in a hotel for a month, your bed bugs would be waiting for you when you got home.
Changing bedrooms won’t work, either. According to a study in Scientific Reports, bed bugs can detect human odorants – they can smell where you are. This would enable them to follow you into a different room.
Can Become Resistant to Insecticides
According to the American Chemical Society, bed bugs can adapt to certain chemical insecticides (pyrethoids). Each generation of bed bugs has a higher chance of being resistant to the insecticides used on the previous generation.
With the recent resurgence of bedbug infestations in the US, this creates a huge problem. Most of the most common household bed bug killing products on the market are based on pyrethroids.
This means that if your particular bed bugs happen to be resistant, most chemical insecticides won’t work. Fortunately, there are other things they can’t become resistant to – such as treating bed bugs with heat, and diatomaceous earth for bed bugs.
Can Survive Winter
Many people find that they don’t seem to have as much of a problem with bed bugs in the colder months. Some people even wonder: do bed bugs go away in winter?
It is true that bed bugs prefer warmer temperatures, and are more active in summer than winter. However, this doesn’t mean that they die in the winter, unfortunately.
According to the scientific journal Insects, bed bugs are quite resistant to cold. For bed bugs to die from the cold, they need to be held at a temperature below freezing for several hours. The average US home is a lot warmer than that, even during the coldest spells.
Eggs are Tough
As if it weren’t already hard enough to get rid of adult bed bugs, their eggs are even more resilient. According to a study in Insecticides Resistance, bed bug eggs are uniquely tricky to kill. They are made up of many layers which serve the purpose of keeping out insecticides.
Many of the most successful methods of killing adult bed bugs will not work on the eggs. Not only that, but bed bug eggs are very small, translucent, and hard to see.
When conducting an attack on bed bugs, you may easily miss some eggs – either because you haven’t seen them, or because they’re resistant to whatever product you’re using.
When these eventually hatch, your infestation will begin all over again.
How to Know if Bed Bugs Are Gone
Now that you understand how hard bed bugs are to kill, you’re probably wondering if your bed bugs are gone. How can you tell for sure that you haven’t missed any?
Sadly, there’s no neon sign that lights up to tell you all the bed bugs are removed. The key to spotting the second infestation is to be vigilant. Once you think you’ve killed off bed bugs, you should thoroughly clean your home to remove all previous evidence of them. This will give you a “blank slate,” making it easier to spot a new infestation.
To spot a new infestation, regularly check bed bugs’ typical hiding places, including:
- Sheets, comforters, and pillowcases
- Bed frames and headboards
- Chairs and couches
- Walls and baseboards
- Nightstands and other furniture
- Electrical outlets and light switches
- Anywhere else where you’ve seen evidence of bed bugs in the past.
Keep a watchful eye out for these six main indicators that an infestation may be recurring.
Bed Bug Shells
Bed bugs go through life stages as they progress from eggs to adults.
According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture, bed bugs progress through five developmental life stages before reaching adulthood. To progress to the next stage, the bed bug must shed its exoskeleton. Each one leaves behind five exoskeletons, or shells, throughout its life.
While the bugs themselves can run and hide, their shells can’t, making them much easier to find. Discarded shells look similar to bed bugs, except empty. Rather than being dark reddish-brown, they’re translucent in color.
Bed Bug Feces
Like all animals, bed bugs eat to survive. And, as always, what goes in must come out. Once bed bugs have digested their blood meal, the leftover waste emerges as feces.
Because bed bugs eat blood, you may presume that their excrement would also be red, or reddish. However, this isn’t the case. Digested and processed blood is much darker.
Bed bug fecal spots look like small, flat, dark brown or black dots. You’ll often find them clustered together, anywhere that bed bugs like to live or eat.
Luckily, because they’re so dark in color, they’re quite easy to see.
Bed Bug Eggs and Eggshells
Adult female bed bugs can lay between one and six eggs per day. Finding bed bug eggs is a sure sign of an infestation, so keep your eyes peeled. Bed bug eggs are very small – only about 1mm in length, which is about the size of a pinhead. They’re pearly-white in color, whereas empty eggshells are almost transparent.
Generally speaking, bed bug eggs and eggshells are much harder to see than fecal spots. However, they aren’t by any means invisible to the naked eye. Using a magnifying glass may help you to spot them. Bed bugs tend to lay their eggs in secluded spaces, such as small cracks and crevices.
Bed bugs have to bite humans to survive, as they live solely on blood. They usually do this during the night, while you’re asleep. The bite marks usually look like small, red circles, often appearing in clusters or lines. They may appear anywhere that your skin is uncovered during the night.
You may notice that the bites are raised or itchy, but not always. Some people are more sensitive to bed bug bites than others. A study in Medical and Veterinary Entomology found that approximately 5% to 20% of people experience no reaction at all. This means that you may still have bed bugs, even if you can’t find any bite marks.
Even if you aren’t able to find any bite marks on your skin, there may be evidence in your sheets. When bed bugs bite humans, they first inject an anticoagulant, to stop your blood from clotting. This means that they can drink their fill for up to 10 minutes without the wound healing.
Sometimes, the bites will continue to bleed even after the bed bug has stopped feeding. Keep an eye out for small blood stains on your comforter, pillowcases, and sheets. These may be an indicator that something’s been eating you.
Bed bugs are small and sneaky. They tend to hide in small cracks and crevices during the day, so they’re hard to spot.
If you suspect your bed bugs have returned, you can confirm it in a couple of ways. Firstly, purchase some bed bug interceptor traps to place around your bed legs and the legs of other furniture. If any live bugs are still crawling around, they’ll eventually fall into one of these traps.
For absolute proof, consider hiring a professional bed bug sniffer dog via an exterminator. Bed bugs have a distinctive scent which dogs can be trained to detect.
What Are the Chances of Bed Bugs Coming Back?
Now that you know the warning signs to look out for, you might be feeling a bit uneasy. It’s not pleasant to imagine that a bed bug problem could return, after all your extermination efforts.
So, what are the chances of bed bugs coming back, even if you haven’t seen any for a while? How long do you have to keep checking, before you can be sure they’re gone for good? Can bed bugs come back after a year or even longer?
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. The likelihood of bed bugs returning depends on several factors:
- The size of your home. The larger it is, the higher your chances of missing some bugs or eggs during treatment.
- How messy your home is, and how much furniture you have. A home filled with clutter and furniture provides more places for bed bugs to hide.
- Which method(s) you used to get rid of the bugs. If you used contact-only killers, such as diatomaceous earth, you might have missed some eggs in hard-to-reach places. If you hired a professional to heat-treat your house, there’s less chance of an infestation returning.
If the treatment wasn’t successful, it might take some time before you know. Bed bug nymphs take around ten days to hatch, but over two months to grow old enough to breed. If your treatment only left a small number of eggs, it might take several months for the infestation to become large enough for you to notice.
Also, bear in mind that your original bed bugs had to come from somewhere. It may only take one night in a hotel to pick up new bed bugs and bring them home. If a neighboring apartment has bed bugs, they could even enter your home through the wall.
How to Make Sure the Bed Bugs Never Come Back
Nobody can ever make their home 100% safe from bed bugs. They can be found in every state in the country, and are getting more proliferous every year.
Bed bugs don’t discriminate between small and large homes or dirty and clean ones. And just because you’ve got rid of one infestation doesn’t mean they won’t come back.
However, there are ways of making re-infestation far less likely. To reduce your chances of bed bugs returning, follow our five top tips.
Regularly Wash Your Bedding
Heat is one of the most effective ways of killing bed bugs, at all stages of the life cycle. A study in the Journal of Economic Entomology found that bed bugs die when exposed to temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit).
So, at least once or twice a week, make sure to wash all of your bedding at a high temperature. While this won’t prevent bed bugs from entering your home in the first place, it will stop an infestation from developing. It will kill any bugs that find their way into your bedding, preventing them from breeding.
One of the most effective preventative methods is surprisingly simple: vacuuming. Bed bugs and bed bug eggs are very light in weight. A standard vacuum cleaner can pick up bed bugs.
Aim to vacuum any bedrooms and living areas at least twice a week. Try to get into as many cracks and crevices as you can. Don’t forget to vacuum your mattress, too. Regular, thorough vacuuming should dispose of any solitary bed bugs which find their way into your home.
Importantly, once you’ve vacuumed, discard the internal bag immediately. Seal it inside a plastic bag, and throw it away in an outdoor bin far from your home.
Encase Mattresses and Box Springs
Mattresses, unsurprisingly, are one of the bed bug’s favorite hangouts. If you end up with one or two bed bugs in your mattress, it could quickly turn into an infestation. And if your mattress contains many folds or crevices, it might be hard to spot a bed bug inside it.
Mattress encasements are large, zipped coverings that enclose a mattress entirely. They contain no holes and are made with special zips that bed bugs can’t get through. A mattress encasement provides two benefits:
- If there are any bed bugs (or eggs) remaining in your mattress, the encasement will completely seal them inside. That way, they can’t escape to feed, and will eventually die.
- They make it easier to spot a new infestation, as encasements contain no crevices where bed bugs can hide.
You can also buy box spring encasements. If your bed has a box spring as well as a mattress, consider encasing them both.
Reduce Potential Hiding Places
The more hiding places inside your home, the harder it will be to prevent a new infestation. Bed bugs love to hide inside tiny cracks and crevices. The less hiding places are available, the more easily you’ll spot an invader.
If your walls, baseboards or floorboards have any cracks or holes, seal them up with caulk. Consider installing door sweeps to make it harder for bed bugs to pass from room to room. If you live in an apartment building, make sure there’s a door sweep under your front door, too.
Try to keep your home as clutter-free as possible, and keep furniture to a minimum. Bed bugs will take advantage of any place that they can hide, making them much harder to control.
Also, when you need to buy a piece of furniture, you should buy it new. Avoid used furniture at all costs – you don’t know whether bed bugs could be hiding within.
Finally, be smart when you travel. You could easily pick up a bed bug outside the home, and bring it in on clothing or in luggage. For the best chance of avoiding a new bed bug infestation:
- Avoid sitting down on public transport whenever possible.
- Before booking a hotel, visit the Bedbug Registry to check whether a bed bug infestation has been reported.
- Never set your suitcase down on hotel beds. Use a luggage rack, or store it in the bathroom, as this is the least likely place for bed bugs. Consider bringing a sealable plastic bag with you to store your suitcase inside.
- Inspect your hotel room for signs of bed bugs. Strip the bed of its sheets and examine the mattress. Don’t forget to check furniture, such as nightstands. If you find evidence of bed bugs, report it to the hotel manager and find a different hotel.
- Upon returning home, carefully inspect your luggage for any signs of bed bugs. Wash all the clothes that you brought with you on your trip at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
By now, you know everything there is to know about why bed bugs are so tough to get rid of, how to spot signs of a recurrence, and how to prevent a future infestation.
With any luck, your home will be bed-bug-free from now on. If the bed bugs do return, the best way to deal with them is by calling a professional exterminator.