Bed bugs feed on human blood. Take a parasitic creature away from its food source and it starves to death. So, how long can bed bugs live in an empty house, where there’s nothing for them to feed on? As it turns out, bed bugs can survive for a long time, with or without food.
Bed bugs can survive for about a year without food. They can hibernate through the cold, lose one-third of their weight, survive heatwaves, and still come back. Even if your house is empty, there’s still the chance that they can feed on animals, and your infestation will continue.
We’ll now look at why bed bugs are so hard to kill. We’ll also look at whether you can contain an infestation in one room, and how quickly bed bugs can spread from one room to another. Finally, we share suggestions if the empty house or apartment you moved into has an infestation.
Are Bed Bugs Hard to Get Rid Of from a House?
Do bed bugs like heat or cold? They don’t mind either. They’re hardy and can survive almost any condition that you can find in a home.
According to a review in Clinical Microbiology Reviews, they’re not just capable of surviving a range of conditions. Their numbers are increasing, and have been since the turn of the 21st century. This is due to many potential reasons:
- International travel has become more common
- The number of people traveling for business has increased sharply, and hotels are commonly infested
- Bed bugs across the world are becoming immune to conventional pesticides, like DDT
This has contributed to a resurgence. According to the study above, Australian pest managers saw a 4,500% increase in infestations between 2000 and 2006. And complaints to the NYC city council increased from 537 in 2004 to 10,985 in 2009. That’s a massive rise in such a short time.
In short, they’re doing well, and that’s all based on how hardy they are, how smart they are, and how good at hiding they are. Bed bugs are naturally photophobic—afraid of the light.
Whenever you shine a light on them, they run away. It’s their natural reaction because it makes them harder to spot and kill. Because they’re photophobic, they hide in cracks and crevices where you can’t get them—or even spray them.
Not only that, but according to Time magazine, bed bugs are developing a resistance to common pesticides. Their report found that bed bugs are immune to insecticides like deltamethrin, bifenthrin, and chlorfenapyr.
A study by researchers at Purdue University found that around 25% of the bed bugs survived a dose of bifenthrin for seven days. Considering that these are the most common pesticides that exterminators use, its little wonder bed bugs are spreading like wildfire.
How Long Can Bed Bugs Hibernate?
Bed bugs, like many other insects, can hibernate over the course of a long winter. They can also go into a kind of semi-hibernation, conserving their energy, when food is scarce.
The point of hibernation is to save energy and use it for essential functions rather than moving around. A bed bug that has fed can live for between 300 and 485 days, depending on the species.
That being said, bed bugs in domestic environments don’t tend to last that long. That’s because of the temperature. The warmer the climate, the quicker they can breed; once they breed and lay their eggs, the life cycle is near to the end. As such, the typical life cycle of a bed bug is around 4 and a half months.
Bed bugs can happily wait for a new tenant to move into their apartment or house.
If I Leave My House Will Bed Bugs Die?
Because of the variability of the lifespan of a bed bug, they might survive from anywhere between a few months to over a year. But, inevitably, they would die: leave anything without food for long enough, and it will starve.
However, you have to be aware that it isn’t just humans that bed bugs feed on. They’re happy to feed on pets and even rats and mice in the absence of a human host.
So, just leaving your mattress alone for long enough is no guarantee that they’ll die, unless you cover it with a protective, sealing cover.
If they’re not sealed in, bed bugs are happy to travel. They can happily climb walls and walk over carpets. In fact, in severe infestations, you’ll see them moving around plenty during the night: dozens of them, searching for something to eat.
Your absence will make them more determined to find you, or somebody else: but how long does it take them?
Can Bed Bugs Be Contained in One Room?
Once you identify an infestation, you immediately start cleaning—naturally. This is a process that takes a while. You have to scour the room with a fine-tooth comb, and if you’re working, there isn’t enough time in the day or the week to complete a deep clean.
It can take a while. That’s why it’s so tempting to try and isolate bed bugs in one room, monitor them, and see how long it takes for them to die.
Unfortunately, as we’ve already discovered, it takes bed bugs an exceptionally long time to starve. Isolation is, therefore, an ineffective way of dealing with an infestation. Not only that, but it’s practically impossible to isolate an entire room from the rest of the home. There are many reasons why:
- Pets will happily find their way into the room unless you lock the door.
- Bed bugs can crawl through pipes and walls, in an attempt to find food. The same applies to cracks in the floor or ceiling.
- If there were any—any—bugs or eggs on your clothes and belongings, then you’ll be taking them with you.
- Aside from all that, it’s exceptionally inconvenient to quarantine an entire room. Far better is to deal with the problem as it is, despite the effort or expense it might entail doing so.
As we’ll cover in a moment, bed bugs are attracted to you in many ways. It’s impossible to ensure that they won’t come after you, even if you lock the door and throw away the key.
You have to deal with the problem rather than leaving it to fester. Otherwise, they’ll find you—quicker than you might imagine, too.
How Fast do Bed Bugs Spread from Room to Room?
The fastest way for bedbugs to spread is by hitching a ride.
The rapid growth of bed bug infestations is down to one key reason: international and regional travel have become far more common.
Check almost any hotel room in New York City, and you’ll find bed bugs. But they’re not just there for the beautiful décor. Once they feed, they scatter and hide wherever they can. They’re then immobile for many days while they ingest their meal.
If they happen to hide in your clothes or your bag, you’ll take the bed bug with you. If that bed bug happens to be a female with eggs to lay—or if you happen to bring more than one bed bug home with you—then that’s all it takes to start an infestation. Bed bugs can, therefore, travel from one room to another in just minutes, with human intervention.
So, you might think that they can’t spread if they live in an empty room or an empty house. But that’s not true.
Bed bugs are also more than happy to move around on their own. They don’t have wings, but they can crawl across floors and walls to spread to another room. According to a paper in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, they’re attracted to many things: carbon dioxide (which you breathe out), your body warmth, and your unique human pheromones.
If they can spot any of these signs of a host, they’ll find their way to you. If they’re left in an empty room, they’ll be drawn to any other animal that’s present in the house, including you.
And, probably most importantly, they spread by breeding.
How Quickly do Bed Bugs Breed?
Bed bugs breed exceptionally quickly. According to a paper in Clinical Microbiology Reviews, they lay between five and eight eggs a week over the course of 18 weeks.
Their life cycle varies, typically according to temperature, but the eggs will hatch in around ten days. In two months, time, they will be ready to breed again. You can imagine how quickly their population can explode in warm weather when their life cycles are even shorter.
How to Check for Bedbugs in an Empty House
If you’re moving into a new place, it would be wise to check for bedbugs first. But, because they’re so good at hiding, the question is: how can you make sure there aren’t any?
Let’s take a look at how you can make sure that there aren’t any in your home.
Don’t Wait for Bed Bugs to Bite
The worst thing you could do is wait for them to bite you. This is the easiest way to tell that there are any. You don’t even need to be awake to do it.
But the problem is that eggs take up to 15 days to hatch, and once hatched they won’t bite you straight away. At the point where a bed bug first bites, it’s too late: your mattress is already infested, and you’ll need to treat the problem.
Far better is to check for them before they start feeding—before you move in, or before you start sleeping on a new mattress. If you spot them early, before the infestation begins to spread and establish itself, they’re far easier and cheaper to get rid of. The only problem is that bed bugs are hard to find as eggs or nymphs since they’re so much smaller. But it’s not impossible.
How to Find Bed Bugs on a Mattress
The first place that you should check is your mattress. Bed bugs can live almost anywhere in a home, but they prefer to live as close to you as possible. That means they’re most likely to live on/inside your mattress or box spring. To spot an infestation:
- Check under every fold of your mattress. The small fold at the edge of a mattress is their favorite hiding spot.
- Don’t skip checking under your mattress. Since bed bugs are photophobic, they prefer being where it’s dark. They prefer to be underneath your mattress than anywhere else.
- Check the mattress for any holes, rips or tears. If there are any, the bed bugs may have gone inside. If they’re living inside your mattress, they’ll be much more difficult to get rid of.
Eggs are especially prevalent under folds and in dark corners. You should also check for key signs of bed bugs on a mattress, including discarded shells and fecal trails.
According to any number of sources—including this one in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases—bed bugs go through many growth stages over the course of their life cycle, each of which requires a blood meal. After they feed, they shed their skin, like many other insects. These skins remain on and around your mattress.
Their fecal stains are even easier to find. These dark spots, about the size of a pinhead, are the result of digested blood. They spread on fabric, in the same way, that ink from a marker would. You may also see rusty red stains, which, again, are from digested and undigested blood. These are the result of bed bugs being crushed.
How to Find Bed Bugs on a Box Spring
So, where do bed bugs hide in box springs? Where don’t they hide might be the better question? Step by step, let’s go through the best places to find bed bugs in a box spring:
- Start by checking the edges, just like you did for the mattress. Check any stitches, too.
- Look underneath the box spring, where it comes into contact with the solid bed frame. You can quickly check by lifting it onto its side, and inspecting it before the bugs have the chance to run away.
- Look under the dust cover on the back of the box spring. In particular, check any joins or corners. These are a bed bug’s favorite place to lay their eggs.
Again, look for the classic signs: skins and fecal stains. The bugs themselves will happily hide in dark corners and folds, but their staining and old skins can’t. After you’re done with the box spring, take a look at the bed frame too, especially in any casters (wheels), cracks or corners.
How to Find Bed Bugs in Furniture
Bed bugs are happy to hide in furniture, and soft furnishings too. So even if you manage to get rid of them entirely from your mattress and box spring, they might be ready and waiting to re-infest them from their hiding point. That’s why it’s vital that you check throughout the house for them.
As always, bed bugs love to hide in any cracks or dark corners where the light doesn’t shine. When you’re checking your furniture:
- Lift out any cushions and check underneath, even inside them. They’re likely to have similar fabric folds to your mattress: check under each of these thoroughly.
- Lift your couch and place it on its back. Have a look underneath and see what you can find in the frame and any corners you can see.
Even if the house has been empty for a good long while, there’s still a chance that bed bugs might be living there. As we said above, they can comfortably live for up to a year without feeding.
Do You Have to Move If You Have Bed Bugs?
Given everything we’ve said, you might be tempted to back out of moving into a house or apartment that’s already infested. And it might seem like there’s no way to get rid of bed bugs without hiring an exterminator yourself, but that’s not true.
It’s possible to get rid of bed bugs using a variety of methods, each of which combined should be enough to eradicate them. However, it depends on your house. Bed bugs can hide:
- In the cracks in walls, and behind baseboards
- Inside floorboards, and underneath carpets
- Inside furniture
And inside your box-spring and mattress. In the worst infestations, these items would be almost unrecoverable; and even if you could completely rid them of bed bugs, it’s an uncomfortable thought to think that your mattress was home to hundreds and hundreds of tiny, scurrying insects that fed on the previous tenant or owner.
In the worst-case scenario, bed bugs may have spread to the fixtures and fittings in your new home. They can live inside walls and pipes, too. If this is evident—for example, because of fecal trails around electrical outlets, or cracks in the wall—then it might be worth continuing your property search instead of moving in.
I Moved In, But the Bed Bugs Won’t Die
Every infestation is manageable; all it takes is more effort, and sometimes, a different tack. If you’ve been trying to contain the problem on your own, the best first step for you to take is to ask your landlord for help. According to state and federal laws, landlords have to provide habitable housing. This includes getting rid of any pests, provided that they were there when you moved in.
Unfortunately, bed bugs can spread through apartments like wildfire, and it’s impossible to say who was to blame. That’s why most complexes in cities like NYC already have an existing bed bug problem. If this is the case for you, your landlord will have to pay for an exterminator. If this doesn’t work, there are a few things you can try:
- Heat treatments. Bed bugs prefer warm apartments, but they don’t like high temperatures. Anything over 113 degrees is too much for them, and they soon start to die. The higher the temperature, the quicker they die. Steam treatments and heat boxes can decontaminate an area or your belongings.
- Natural remedies. There’s no shortage of natural remedies that don’t work on bed bugs. However, not all of them are old wives’ tales. Tea tree oil is a good example: when sprayed directly on a bed bug, it kills them, even at 5% concentration. You can’t defeat an entire infestation, but it helps.
- Diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is a very fine powder, made from the fossilized remains of minute microalgae. The size of the grains, their hardness, and their dryness make D.E. an exceptional tool against bed bugs. It damages their exoskeletons, as does dried silica gel, a very similar but synthetic substance.
Ultimately, there’s no better guide to your situation than your common sense. If you’re moving into a new house or apartment, do some basic checks to search for bed bugs. If there are any, move on—pick somewhere else to live.
If everywhere has bed bugs, you should pick the place with the fewest. And, once you’ve moved in, don’t give them any time to breed. Get rid of them as soon as you can.