Waking up with bed bug bites is enough to make anybody anxious and unhappy. Even worse is if you have bites underneath your pajamas or bed shirt. The question is, can bed bugs bite through your clothing or are they biting you some other way?
Bed bug mouths can’t bite through fabric. Their feeding response also isn’t triggered unless they’re on bare skin. However, a bed bug can get underneath your clothes to bite you. It, therefore, might appear that they can bite through clothes when they can’t.
Bed bugs can get into almost any gap. That’s how they fit through tiny cracks in the wall. In the same way, they can get into your shirt or pajamas. That’s not to mention how clothes will roll up and leave some skin exposed at night anyway.
Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Clothes?
Let’s say that you’ve just woken up. You’ve known about your bed bug infestation for a while, and have been trying to remedy it, but with no success so far. Today, you notice the usual bites on your legs. But there are also bites all along your back—even though you were wearing a shirt. Surely, then, bed bugs can bite through clothes?
They actually can’t, and there are many good reasons why not.
Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Pajamas?
Bed bugs can’t bite through clothes because their mouths don’t work that way. They don’t have teeth that can gnaw through fabric, plastic or any other material. Their mouth is more like a mosquito’s. They have a long, sharp ‘proboscis’ which they use to access the blood vessels just underneath your skin. They are quite long—about half the length of their body. They keep it tucked up underneath themselves and bring it out to eat.
Now, given that it’s quite long, you could be forgiven for thinking that they could poke their proboscis through your clothing and into your skin from the other side. But they don’t, because that’s not how their feeding response works. Scientists found this out the hard way, when they tried to keep bed bugs for laboratory testing. Bed bugs will only drink through a skin-like membrane, because they know that blood is underneath the skin. Fabric won’t trigger that response.
If you’re wearing pajamas, then, there’s no way that a bed bug can bite through them. The most obvious explanation is that while you move in the night, your bedclothes get all rucked up. This could leave your back, belly, arms or anything else exposed for them to bite. If you stay in that position for a half hour at least, that gives them the chance to feed there.
What Bed Bugs Bite Through Clothes?
There isn’t a bed bug that can bite through clothes. There are two different bed bug species in the U.S., one or both of which may be in your area:
- Cimex lectularis, the common bed bug. This species is responsible for the majority of North American infestations, and has been with us for hundreds of years.
- Cimex hemipterus, which is the tropical bed bug. Until recently, this pest was only found in southeast Asia and similar tropical areas. However, according to a paper published by the Florida Entomological Society, it was first recorded in Gainesville, Florida in 1938 and has spread across warmer parts of the U.S. ever since.
These two insects are considered different species within the same genus. According to a paper in the Journal of Economic Entomology, they are somewhat morphologically different (meaning that they’re different shapes). C. hemipterus has better-developed hairs on its legs and feet, which makes it better able to climb smooth surfaces.
However, they both have the same kind of mouth. They don’t have mouths like ours at all. As we said, they have something that looks a little like a beak, with a big straw-like appendage that they fold underneath themselves. They haven’t got teeth, lips, a tongue, or any of the things that we need to bite something. This means that neither C. lectularis or C. hemipterus can bite through clothing. There also aren’t any other species or subspecies of bed bug that can.
Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Tights?
Tights are quite effective at preventing bed bug bites. They’re tight enough that the bed bugs can’t get underneath them, unlike most other kinds of clothes. If you are wearing tights, the bed bugs can’t access the entire lower half of your body.
The problem is that they’ll be determined to find somewhere to feed, so they’ll congregate on any open skin they can find. This area will, therefore, have far more bites than anywhere else. It’s, therefore, best to try some way of getting rid of them, rather than tight clothing.
Do Bed Bugs Bite Through Socks?
Bed bugs don’t commonly bite underneath socks, and as we explained above, they won’t bite through them. The elastic in socks makes it more difficult for them to get underneath. Generally speaking, a bed bug will gravitate towards open patches of skin rather than trying to get underneath clothes. So, if there are any exposed patches of skin, the bites will almost always be there.
However, if there are no exposed patches of skin, that’s when the bed bugs have to get resourceful. At that point, they’ll wander almost randomly until they find something they can try and get underneath, e.g., pajamas, socks, an undershirt and so on. In that case, yes, perhaps you could get bites under your socks. Of course, this is also more likely if you have quite loose socks without strong elastic at the top.
Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Blankets?
Bed bugs can still easily bite you if you wrap yourself in a blanket. As we’ve explained, they can’t bite through the material, but they can very easily get underneath it. That applies whether you’ve got a simple sheet, a comforter or a very thick blanket. The bed bug’s only goal is to find an open patch of skin and feed, so while it might take them longer to do so, they’ll find a way in the end.
Not only that, but there’s no way to keep the blanket tightly wrapped around you effectively. Let’s say that hypothetically, you’ve got a serious bed bug problem. You wrap yourself up before you go to sleep. But throughout the night, as you stir and as you dream, you move around. Your legs kick every now and again, and occasionally you turn to the other side. Throughout the night you get untangled from the blanket, and so even if it did stop bed bugs, you couldn’t keep it in place.
Can Bed Bugs Bite Through the Sheets?
No, bed bugs can’t bite through sheets, for the same reason they can’t bite through anything else. Their mouth parts aren’t designed for it. From where they hide in the cracks and folds of mattresses, they’ll make their way out from underneath the sheet.
They like to stay in places from which they have easy access to you, but at the same time is protected. That’s why you can find so many on the underside of a mattress or box spring.
Can Bed Bugs Get Under Your Clothes?
If you have bed bug bites under clothes, it’s not because they can bite through the material. The truth of it all is quite simple. Bed bug bites under clothes are the result of bed bugs getting underneath your clothes to get better access to your skin.
Since their bodies are so wide and thin, they can fit through any crack or gap. They’ve evolved to be that way so they can easily hide in cracks in the walls, but it’s just as useful for finding their way under a shirt or pair of pajamas. That’s how you get bed bug bites under your clothes.
How do Bed Bugs Get Under Clothes?
Bed bugs, like all insects, have an innate ability to explore. If you ever watch a ladybug wandering around on a window, you can see this ability in action. Wandering ‘aimlessly’ is how they find their way around. All insects do the same because it doesn’t require a lot of brain power, but it is quite effective. So the bed bugs will wander around until they find a way into your clothing, and they’ll use it.
Aside from that, bed bugs are attracted to warmth, carbon dioxide and the natural smell of a person. They use these markers to make their way to you from the other side of the room (if that’s where they’re staying). The bed bug is always attracted to anywhere that these markers are more concentrated or stronger—the place where they’re strongest being your skin.
They’ll, therefore, make their way across the room, or out from under your mattress to feed. Since it’s likely that you’ll be wrapped in a comforter or blanket, they’re used to having to explore to get to you. If they find that you’ve got pajamas on, that’s just one more simple barrier that they have to get around.
Can Bed Bugs Get Under Tight Clothing?
If you were tight clothing to bed, like leggings or a bra, then bed bugs do find it more difficult to get underneath them. While they are thin, they aren’t contortionists. If your clothing is held in place by a tight band of elastic, for example, they won’t be able to get underneath. And because of the effort involved, they turn away to ‘wander’ somewhere else.
However, tight clothing isn’t the answer you’re looking for. Even leggings can roll up during the night, just because you move around. Any exposed skin is going to be bitten. And if you do wear tight-fitting clothing in some places, the bed bugs will gravitate towards a different part of your body.
Do Bed Bugs Stay Under Your Clothes?
Bed bugs don’t stay under your clothes throughout the day, nor do they stay in your hair, or on any other part of your body. They don’t behave that way. Bed bugs don’t live inside their host, or even on their host. They live near their host, in places called ‘harborages’—in cracks and places they won’t be disturbed. They’ll rest here, lay their eggs here and digest their food here. When it’s time to feed, they’ll ‘surface’ and find you. They’ll feed for thirty minutes, but once they’re done, they’ll go right back to their harborage.
That’s not to mention that their bodies don’t allow them to cling to you, like a flea, mite or tick can. So even if they did ‘want’ to stay inside your clothes, they would fall off you very quickly. Many people think that they hide in your hair or clothes during the day, but it’s simply not true. That’s something called ‘delusional parasitosis,’ which is bed-bug-induced PTSD.
How to Stop Bed Bugs Biting Through Clothes
There are a few approaches you can take to stop bed bugs biting through clothes. Your first instinct might be to wear more clothing, and tighter clothing too. But aside from this being quite uncomfortable, this won’t stop them from finding a way to bite you.
No matter what you do, there is always going to be a way in for them. And if you manage to cover 95% of your body, then all of the bed bug bites will be on just 5% of your body. No matter which part they pick, that’s going to be desperately uncomfortable and itchy.
Mattress encasements completely envelop the mattress (or box spring, if need be). The bed bugs can’t get out no matter what they try. The only problem with them is that there may be bed bugs elsewhere in your room, which would explain why you’re still getting bites. So, overall, they’re effective but only against a small infestation.
Bed Bug Traps
There are small traps that you can put around the feet of your bed. When bed bugs from around the room trying to climb up these feet, they get stuck in the trap. For such a simple idea, they’re surprisingly effective, not least because you can reuse them indefinitely.
The best traps are those with water in them, as the bed bugs will then drown. Most people buy specially made traps, but if you’re really on a budget, you can actually use cups filled with a little bit of water. It’s vital that you do use a little bit of water, because C. hemipterus can actually climb up slippery surfaces. Either way, you’ll have to dispose of them afterward.
Bed Bug Lures
Through a combination of heat and chemical lures, these devices draw bed bugs to themselves instead of to you. According to a paper in the Journal of Medical and Veterinary Entomology, the lure itself is designed to mimic a person. Bed bugs are drawn to the scent of a person, but also to the carbon dioxide we breathe out. Most of these lures use carbon dioxide, but that’s still exceptionally effective.
Make sure to place the lure close to one of their harborages, so that it’s the first thing they smell when they want to find somewhere to feed. Once inside, the bed bugs will die or can be disposed of easily. You can keep reusing the lure until it runs out. The amount of time until it runs out varies by brand.
Sprays and Home Remedies
People have been using sprays to kill insects for decades now. They aren’t the most effective way to kill bed bugs, but they can still work. They’re simple, too: you spray these around your room on areas where bed bugs will congregate. Examples include essential oil sprays and diatomaceous earth.
These things will stop bed bugs from biting, whether it’s through your clothes or not. Used together, they can be 100% effective. However, you have to regularly reuse/reapply them to stop the infestation from coming back.
Bed bugs are experts at hiding in places you can’t spray them. Even with lures, that’s no guarantee that the bed bugs aren’t breeding and laying eggs, so it’s important that you try to kill them at source as well—or hire an exterminator that can do the job for you.