You have to be careful after you’ve been outside—whether you were at work, visiting a friend, or even just taking the bus—that you’re not bringing bed bugs back home. In trying to prevent this, you should consider showering or bathing after you get home.
Bed bugs don’t like water, and can only swim for so long before they die. Not only that, but they aren’t strong enough to grip your hair or skin as you wash them away. However, it’s far more likely that they stow away in your clothes or bag. That’s why it’s unwise to rely on just bathing to prevent infestations.
We’ll look at whether washing or showering will get rid of bed bugs. Afterward, we’ll answer whether can bed bugs stay on your clothes all day or live on your body.
Do Bed Bugs Stay on Your Skin After Washing?
First things first, then: no, bed bugs can’t stay on your skin if you either shower or bathe.
If you didn’t know, bed bugs don’t infest your hair like fleas or lice. They live in your mattress or furniture, or even in cracks in the walls. They don’t live in your hair or on your skin.
And if you bring one home with you, it’s unlikely that you ‘caught it’ in your hair, or by one attaching itself to you. Far more likely is that it found its way into your clothing or bag.
The story of why bed bugs can’t stay on your skin after you bathe starts with how they feed.
How Do Bed Bugs Feed?
If you’re picturing that bed bugs feed like ticks, you’re on the wrong track. They’re far more like mosquitos.
Bed bugs feed at a slower rate to many other bugs. During warm weather, they feed once every five days or so. That’s because feeding is linked to development: every time they feed, they advance to a new life stage (called an instar) that moves them closer to becoming fully developed. This rate can be slower during cold months or cold weather.
Either way, they don’t feed like ticks. They don’t burrow their head into you and latch themselves fast to your skin. They have something called a proboscis, which is like a long and sharp beak.
It’s remarkably similar apparatus to that which a mosquito uses. They find a suitable spot above a blood vessel and inject their proboscis like a needle into your vein.
The point of saying all this is that bed bugs don’t latch to your skin. If a bed bug is feeding, and you shift in your sleep, they’ll scatter and run. If you move your hand towards them, they’ll ‘disengage’ and run away as fast as their legs will carry them.
This means that even if a bed bug chose to feed just before you woke up and got out of bed (which, by the way, is uncommon) then the moment you wake up and start moving they’ll run away. They won’t stay attached to you.
Not only that, but the fact is that bed bugs don’t have sharp claws that can grip onto surfaces and never let go. So even if one came with you, under the force of a shower, they’ll be brushed right off. That being said, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll ever encounter this situation while your house is infested. Bed bugs are naturally photophobic, which encourages them to hide away from light. 99% of them will return to their harborage long before you wake up.
Where bathing can be useful is if you’re trying to prevent a fresh infestation. If you happen to know that you caught your last infestation from a work colleague, then it may be wise to wash your clothes and bathe whenever you get home from work. This would help prevent re-infestation.
Do Bed Bugs Drown?
Yes, they do. Bed bugs need access to oxygen, just like any other animal. A paper in the Journal of Economic Entomology highlighted the point. Without access to oxygen, a bed bug will suffocate quite quickly. The same applies to a bed bug drowning, especially in hot water. You could be forgiven for thinking that washing machines were tailor-made to kill bed bugs. A combination of factors, including:
- The fact that bed bugs drown
- The heat of the water
- The movement of the water
All of these combine to make the washing machine 100% lethal over the period of a regular wash. Dryers are also excellent at killing bed bugs, simply because they are so hot. Bed bugs die at temperatures over 113 degrees, which dryers provide for perfectly.
Washing and bathing would not achieve quite the same effect. Any bed bug caught in a shower or bath would undoubtedly be very uncomfortable but would be unlikely to die. What would happen is that they would get ‘flushed’ down the drain, which is an excellent alternative.
However, it’s worth repeating that this would almost never happen since bed bugs don’t follow you around, but stay in their harborages 99% of the time during the day.
However, as we said above, bathing or washing would be a wise move if you know that you can catch bed bugs from a colleague or friend. But is it true—can bed bugs stay on your clothes all day?
Can Bed Bugs Stay on Your Clothes All Day?
They don’t like to hide in your hair, and they won’t crawl all over your skin to announce themselves. They also don’t tend to hide in the clothes that you’re currently wearing. There’s far too much movement for them to be comfortable. However, they’re happy to hitch a ride in other ways:
- Hiding in any clothes that you aren’t currently wearing, especially in luggage
- In rucksacks and bags, especially in pockets where they can sit securely
It’s simple: the easier that it is for them to hide in a certain place, and the less likely that they’ll be disturbed, the better (for them). They can happily ride along with you all day unless the temperature outside is too hot or too cold. Anything below 3 degrees will kill bed bugs quickly, and anything above 113 will too. Of course, that doesn’t rule out many places.
But how do you catch bed bugs, and where do they come from?
Where do Bed Bugs Come From?
How do you catch bed bugs? It’s easy. All you have to do is come into contact with them. Let’s take a look at some of the most common sources.
- Family and Friends. A key avenue for bed bugs to find their way to you is through family and friends. Bed bugs love to make their way into bags and clothes and hitch a ride to a new host. A visiting friend or a trip to your in-laws can both cause infestations.
- Work and Work Colleagues. The same applies to work and your colleagues. They can unwittingly bring more than their lunch to work and end up infesting their colleagues. Bed bugs can even, very occasionally, infest the actual workplace (according to the EPA).
- Neighbors and Other Nearby Infestations. In apartment blocks, cockroaches are rife. Why? Because you can spend all you like on killing pests in just one apartment, but if they’re still present at your neighbor’s place, then they’ll come back sooner or later. Bed bugs are no different.
- Second Hand Furniture. Furniture can be infested with bed bugs too. They love tiny cracks and corners, especially dark ones underneath furniture. Anything from bedside cabinets to dining tables can bring bed bugs into your home.
- Bed bugs love to travel, and they love hotels too. Even the five-star Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan has been infested. Again, it’s all based on the fact that people can unintentionally carry their infestation with them. Not only that, though, but dry-cleaned laundry and staff can also act as vectors in hotels.
- Public Transport. Last but not least, bed bugs can hide in the upholstery in public transport. Mass transit systems like the subways in big cities are an excellent place for a pest to find a new host.
It’s a scary thought, but if you live in a city like New York or LA, then there’s every chance you could come into contact with bed bugs just by living your normal life. So, they can travel in your clothes and bags. But can bed bugs live on your body?
Can Bed Bugs Live on Your Body?
The short answer is, no, bed bugs can’t live on your body. They can travel with you in your clothing or luggage, but they don’t live on you in the sense that fleas or lice do. That being said, many people are uncomfortable with the idea that bed bugs can make their way into their hair, ears, nose or even under the skin. Let’s take a look at what bed bugs are capable of, and what they aren’t capable of.
Do Bed Bugs Bite Your Scalp?
Bed bugs can bite your scalp, but will typically choose anywhere but there.
Bed bugs lack the body shape and legs that are required to clamber through hair. They, therefore, find it difficult to access your head and prefer smooth skin on your upper arms, legs, back, and front. However, if you have shaved your head, then it will become a target for bed bugs too.
The only exception is if you wear clothes to bed, covering your entire body, and wrap yourself tightly in your sheets. If that’s the case, the bed bugs will find it harder to access any smooth skin. They may, therefore, bite your scalp if there’s no alternative. They are, after all, attracted to the CO2 that you breathe out.
If you feel itchy throughout the day, it’s because you’re thinking about bed bugs so much—not because they’re in your hair.
Can Bed Bugs Lay Eggs in Your Hair?
As we said, bed bugs lack the same kind of claws that allow lice and ticks to navigate through hair. However, even aside from that, your hair is the last place that bed bugs would want to lay their eggs. They prefer corners, cracks, and crevices.
Crucially, they like places that are completely still and solid. It makes sense: if you were a bug wanting to lay some eggs, would you lay them in a dark, safe corner, or on top of a continually moving animal many thousands of times bigger than you?
Bed bugs are different to other parasites. Scientifically speaking, they’re ectoparasites: a kind of parasite that doesn’t live inside, but rather on or around their host. Bed bugs are of the variety that live conveniently near to their host, rather than on them directly like fleas or lice.
Can Bed Bugs Lay Eggs in Your Ears?
Now, your ears are a whole different problem. On the one hand, bed bugs don’t like finding places to stay that move; they prefer to live near their host, not on them.
However, they also like dark cracks and crevices. It sounds like they might be happy to lay eggs inside somebody’s ear. It’s not unheard of; ticks and cockroaches can find their way into people’s ears, although not frequently.
In one horror story on a bed bugs forum, a lady felt something ‘fall’ into her ear, which she couldn’t get out. She went the next morning to see her ENT, and he found a dead bed bug in her ear.
The idea is incredibly unpleasant, but it’s as uncommon as it is disgusting. Bed bugs naturally prefer to live around their host, not on their skin or in their ears. As for bed bugs laying eggs in your ears, this is completely unheard of.
Can Bed Bugs Get in Your Nose?
The same applies to bed bugs in your nose. They’re unlikely to want to go there because they prefer smooth, hairless skin. They also prefer parts of your body that aren’t moving. They aren’t like leeches or ticks; if you brush at them in the night, they immediately scatter, even if they were in the middle of feeding.
As such, bed bugs wouldn’t choose your nose. Your breathing, as well as the increased likelihood that you would brush them away, mean that they would prefer almost anywhere else. That being said, in severe infestations, bed bugs tend to crawl around and explore.
If one was crawling near your face, there’s a chance it would ‘investigate further,’ so to speak—but there’s no chance of them staying there, or worse yet, laying eggs there.
Can Bed Bugs Get Inside Your Skin?
Bed bugs’ feeding apparatus is a little like the mosquito. They don’t have a mouth, not in the same sense that mammals do: they don’t have teeth, tongues or lips. They have a long, needle-like tube that they use to pierce the skin. What we’re trying to say is that a bed bug couldn’t bite its way through your skin.
The only conceivable way that a bed bug could get under your skin is if you had an exceptionally large, untreated wound—and even then, they would feed and move on. In the context we’re talking about, no: bed bugs can’t get inside your skin.
Can Bed Bugs Get in Your Private Parts?
Again, more than anything, there would be no need for them too. They prefer open areas of skin to feed. That’s why if you wear, for example, pants to bed then they will bite around them but not underneath them. If you wear a bra to bed, they’ll bite around that, but not underneath that, too. Feel free to test this idea out the next time you go to bed.
So, long story short, the answer to ‘can bed bugs get in your private parts?’ is no. But instead of worrying about what they can and can’t do, you should start thinking about how to prevent bed bug infestations in the first place. Let’s figure out how you can do just that.
How to Prevent Bed Bug Infestations
Since it’s becoming more and more common that people catch bed bugs from others, the EPA themselves have issued guidance on preventing public infestations—information intended for staff in schools, offices and other public settings.
These are basic steps like ensuring that areas are clutter free. But what should you do when you’re out in public, to prevent catching bed bugs? Let’s take a look.
Can You Catch Bed Bugs on the Bus?
You can, but there are many steps you can take to make it much less likely.
- Don’t sit down, if you can’t help it. Bed bugs on public transport live inside seats; anything upholstered. By standing, you completely avoid the problem.
- Don’t stow your bag on a seat, or anything else that’s upholstered.
- If you’re sure that there are bed bugs on your public transport, take your ‘out’ clothes off as soon as you get home, and wash them. Taking a shower or bath is also an option.
This is only really necessary in bed bug hotspots: big cities like NYC or LA, whose metro systems are widely used. In smaller towns and cities, this isn’t a problem. However, you can still catch bed bugs from friends, family or colleagues.
That’s why, if you’re concerned about bed bugs, you should keep your outdoor clothes separate from your indoor clothes. Isolate them in a plastic bag, or launder them immediately once you get home. This will prevent any bed bugs that you ‘caught’ from causing an infestation.
Use Bed Bug Mattress Protectors
Bed bug mattress protectors are special, plastic sheets designed for one key purpose: they isolate the mattress entirely. This means that no bed bugs can get out to bite you from an existing infestation. It also means that no bed bugs can get in, and start an infestation.
Of course, this doesn’t completely protect against bed bugs, but it’s better than not having one. They can still live in your bed frame or box spring (or furniture, or in cracks in the wall). But the mattress is their favorite place to live: it’s closest to you, and it provides plenty of safe, dark harborages too. A bed bug mattress cover works like this:
- Lift the mattress away from the box spring. It’s much easier to put the cover on if two people are working together.
- Feel free, at this point, to treat your mattress either with a spray or just by vacuuming. This can both reduce the population, and make the inside of the coverless hospitable to bed bugs.
- Wrap the cover around it. It’s almost like a normal sheet, but with a zipper.
- Cover the cover with regular bed sheets.
Then, once you’re done, leave the wrapper on for a year at the very least. It’s morbid, but what this does is it causes the bed bugs to starve. They can’t get out and feed, so they go into dormancy (not hibernation, but a lack of activity). After a year of not feeding, they die. Leave the cover on for longer than a year, though, because there’s always a chance that one or two survived. Not only that, but it stops your mattress ever becoming re-infested.
Other than mattress protectors, you can use DIY bed bug sprays to make your bed inhospitable to bed bugs. We’ve got plenty of guides on the topic if you’d like to take a look.