Bed bugs have lived with us for thousands of years. We thought we’d finally gotten rid of them over the course of the 20th century through using pesticides, heat treatments, etc. But, they have always found a way to survive by hiding from us. So, how do you lure bed bugs out?
Bed bugs are naturally drawn to CO2, body heat and many other ‘lures’ that draw them to their host at night. By using their natural instincts against them, you can get them to come out of hiding so that they’re easier to kill.
In this guide, we take a look at what attracts bed bugs, in particular, the ‘markers’ that tell them where their host is, and when is the perfect time to feed (including a few myths about what bed bugs like, and don’t like). Afterward, we look at how to get bed bugs out of hiding, including information on where they tend to hide, where they lay their eggs, and whether they can live on you.
How to Lure Bed Bugs Out of Hiding
So, you can use the bed bug’s instincts to force them to come out of hiding. These are based on of years of their adapting to live with us. They use them to find us at night so that they can feed.
Some tools and methods are better for bed bugs in furniture. Others are useful for bed bugs hiding in wall cracks. So, let’s take a look at where bed bugs hide during the day.
Where do Bed Bugs Hide?
Bed bugs are expert hiders. They can conceal themselves and evade our best efforts at killing them. They have specific skills and qualities that are hard to combat.
Their shape is almost entirely flat. This gives them the ability to hide in any gap or slot the width of a credit card. As you can imagine, this gives them any number of places to hide.
- A bed bug’s favorite place to live is in your mattress and box spring. They offer the perfect mix of easy access to a host and many hiding places. Each has fabric folds that they can hide underneath, and besides that, it’s a rare occasion that you lift or move your mattress. And, if there’s a way inside, that’s even better.
- They can also hide in your bed frame, even a metal one. The cracks and joins in the wood are wide enough for them to fit. The underneath is always dark and stable and offers corners to hide. Even metal frames have screw holes they can live in.
- Furniture offers dark corners, cracks, and joins for them to live. Here, they’re not as close to you, so it’s not a preferred location. You’ll find them here in moderate infestations.
- In the most severe infestations, bed bugs will live anywhere that they can reach you from. They can live in wall cracks, inside the walls themselves, inside old pipes, inside the gap between the carpet and the baseboard, and in the carpet itself. As long as they can find their way to you at night, they’ll live there (provided that there’s nothing to kill them or wash them away).
- Can bed bugs live in carpet? Yes, they can, and in soft furnishings like curtains too. Wherever they can find a safe purchase, they’re happy to live. You may also see bed bugs running across the carpet at night, as part of their general explorations.
They use pheromones to mark their territory: the best hiding spots. They make their way back to these spots after they feed, and stay there, immobile for days as they digest. That’s why it’s so important that they pick somewhere still, dark and secure so that they aren’t disturbed. Then, they’ll lay their eggs nearby and continue the bed bug lifecycle.
How to Check for Bed Bugs in a Room
There are many basic checks you can make to find bed bugs, in a room:
- Start by checking in the bedding itself, inside the duvet cover if there’s a duvet.
- Remove the sheets from the bed, air them, and check on top of the mattress.
- Check the folds in the mattress.
- Check underneath the mattress, underneath any dust covers in the box spring, and in the bed frame itself.
- Check underneath any furniture, and in the corners of any drawers.
- Check the soft furnishings, e.g., curtains, next to the bed.
- Check the corners of the room, the carpet, and the electrical outlets too.
- Check for any crack in the wall.
You should be looking for many things: bed bugs themselves, old bed bugs shells, fecal staining (black and tar-like spots) and eggs. But what makes somewhere a good place for a bed bug to lay eggs?
Where do Bed Bugs Hide Their Eggs?
Long story short, anywhere that they won’t be disturbed.
This includes dark corners, inside your bed frame, on your mattress and box spring—anywhere that they won’t be disturbed, and that’s dark and hidden. For example, they might choose the underside of a pillow on your couch, but they certainly wouldn’t lay an egg on top of it.
If you lay perfectly still for a year, they would lay their eggs on top of your mattress and bedding, because the only other thing they think of is proximity to the host.
Have a quick search for eggs and see what you can find. They’re small and white, about the size of a sesame seed. They’re stuck tight to the surface that they’re laid on so firmly that you wouldn’t be able to vacuum them up, and they’re even difficult to scrape off. The ‘live’ ones are rubbery and hard to squish. If you know there’s a central location for an infestation, under your mattress, for example, then it’s likely that there are eggs there too.
Where do Bed Bugs Hide on Your Body?
Here’s a crucial point: bed bugs don’t hide on your body. They’re a specific kind of parasite that lives near their host, but not on them. They don’t need to live on you, and even if they tried, it wouldn’t end well for many reasons. Here’s why:
- Even the ‘greediest’ bed bugs only need to feed once every five days. Depending on the weather, they might only feed once every couple of months. If you only needed to eat once a week, you wouldn’t camp out in the kitchen near your fridge, would you?
- Bed bugs lack the leg shape and structure needed to push their way through hair. Lice, for example, have front claws that can hold onto a hair; bed bugs don’t. They’re also the right shape to crawl across your scalp and fit between hairs. Bed bugs are wide and flat: the worst possible shape to live in hair. That’s why they don’t.
If you’re still convinced that bed bugs live on the skin, bear in mind that the cause might be psychological. According to any number of psychological papers—and this summary in the Huffington Post—itching is partly physical and partly psychological. People with lice, bed bugs and other infestations regularly report PTSD. This is the continuation of itching in the complete absence of an infestation.
Bed bugs don’t live in your hair, or on your body. They don’t need to, because they can always find their way to you from where they do live.
What Attracts Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are perfectly in tune with their hosts. They know how to recognize a sleeping person, through heat, sweat, breath, and pheromones. Using each of these things that attract bed bugs is the key to drawing them out of their hiding places.
Do Bed Bugs Like the Dark?
Bed bugs are photophobic. This means that they hate the light, a fact reported in many journals, including the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.
At the root of this is the necessity of them being secretive. The easier they are to find, the easier they are to remove. Therefore, they have learned to avoid light and easy detection.
Conversely, bed bugs are drawn out of their hiding place in the dark of the night. In the day, you might see just one or two, if your infestation is severe enough.
As a test, the next time you wake up at night, turn on the light. You’ll likely see plenty crawling around, either on the carpet or the wall—especially close to their harborages.
Are Bed Bugs Drawn to Carbon Dioxide?
By nature, we need oxygen to live. Air, though, is only 20.95% oxygen. W, therefore,e breathe out a concentration of air with less oxygen.
Not only that, though, but we breathe out more carbon dioxide we breathe in, which we took in from food. This increased level of CO2 is a marker for bed bugs that their host is nearby.
According to a piece in the Journal of Pest Science, this has a specific effect on bed bugs nearby. Their mobility is increased.
The paper looked at a new bed bug treatment: desiccant dust (something like diatomaceous earth, which dries them out) in combination with a small increase in CO2 in the nearby air.
They found that the CO2 increased the number of bed bugs that explored the area covered by the desiccant dust, which is something they usually avoid. This resulted in more deaths.
Are Bed Bugs Attracted to Heat?
Bed bugs are also attracted to body heat. They seek out your warmth at night because you’re likely to be the only thing giving off warmth in the room at night. Their attraction to heat, therefore, helps them to find you.
According to a paper in Laboratory Medicine, bed bugs are attracted to both heat and CO2 to find a host. They travel at around the same speed as ladybugs, from their harborage, towards their sleeping host, to feed.
Pest control experts can take advantage of this using traps that give off the same warmth as a human. However, far more common is heating the room to lethal temperatures.
The same paper detailed how this process works. According to the review, bed bugs die at 122 degrees, which is achievable in a room using specialist equipment.
This kills 100% of bed bug stages, including eggs, over the course of 90 minutes. You can also achieve much the same effect by throwing clothes in a washing machine or dryer.
Kairomones and Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are also attracted to other chemicals that you naturally emit over the course of a night. These are called kairomones. These are chemicals like pheromones that humans and other animals use to communicate with others chemically.
Bed bugs and other insects (and predators too) take advantage of these pheromones to locate a host, or to find prey during hunting. Prey can also use them to locate predators. Mice and rats can detect cats who emit them, for example.
Because we thought we’d almost eradicated bed bugs, little research was done on them in the 20th century. A review in the journal Pest Management Science found that bed bugs have something called olfactory sensilla on the end of their antennae. These are like tiny noses that sense specific chemicals (kairomones especially).
Their paper reviewed other studies that looked into kairomones too. They found that kairomones have an “additive effect” when used in traps that emit carbon dioxide and heat.
In other words, they make the traps even more attractive than they were before, presumably by making them appear even more like a human host than they otherwise would have.
Do Bed Bugs Use Pheromones?
Bed bugs also have pheromones of their own. But they don’t serve the same purpose.
Bed bugs, like many other animals, use pheromones to communicate with one another. This is necessary because making any noise or another signal would be obvious to their host, who would surely get rid of them if they got the chance. One key reason they communicate is to find their way home. They’re called trail pheromones, and it’s how ants find their way back home.
Bed bugs don’t use trail pheromones, but they do use pheromones in another way. They use them to mark out their home, which is why you see so many congregating in one place.
Are Bed Bugs Attracted to Poor Hygiene or Is It a Myth?
One common myth about bed bugs is that they’re drawn to people with poor hygiene. That’s not true. Anybody can catch bed bugs, and it’s all down to the luck of the draw. You can catch them from friends, relatives and work colleagues.
All it takes is for them to find their way into your bag or some folded-up clothing that you aren’t wearing. Once you bring them home, they immediately hide. If you’re unlucky enough to have brought a female with eggs home, you’ll have an infestation.
That being said, poor hygiene can play a part in spreading infestations, for example:
- Clothes left on the ground provide a hiding place (harborage) for bed bugs and their eggs.
- Failing to change your sheets gives bed bugs more time to establish themselves. Laundering sheets kill both bed bugs and eggs.
- Not using your vacuum cleaner for a long time has a similar effect, allowing an infestation to spread and take hold more easily. Vacuuming does not kill bed bugs but reduces the biomass (number) of bed bugs in an infestation.
Bed bugs aren’t drawn to you any more or less by the fact that you regularly bathe, or choose not to bathe. You release the same warmth and CO2 that attracts them regardless of whether you bathed yesterday or last month. Bed bugs won’t come out of hiding to bite people with worse hygiene than others.
Are Bed Bugs Attracted to Blood Type?
Some people seem to get bitten by bed bugs more than others. Many myths try to explain why, for example, that there’s such a thing as a bed bug blood type preference. It’s not true.
Bed bugs do have a particular blood type that they’re raised on from birth: the blood type of their host. Some studies have looked at whether raising bed bugs on a certain kind of blood would give them a preference. A paper in the Journal of Circadian Rhythms looked to test that exact question.
They looked at the feeding behaviors of many different bed bug species to see whether they could learn anything about them, and how to kill them more effectively.
They found that raising a bed bug on a certain kind of blood resulted in a “modest delay of feeding” when they were then presented with a different kind. However, they found overall that bed bugs will feed on any blood type, not just one or two, and none with any preference. Bed bugs, therefore, won’t come out of hiding to attack a new or different host with a different blood type.
Can I Make Bed Bugs Come Out of Hiding?
So, now that you know what bed bugs are attracted to, can you convince them to come out of their hiding places? Yes, you most definitely can. You can use bed bug lures to persuade them to leave behind their harborages, and come out in search of you. The lures themselves are the only thing that can make them come out because the bed bug thinks they’re closing in on a host.
By and large, bed bugs are inactive during the day. That’s because they’re photophobic. They spend the day hiding somewhere that you can’t get them, like a crack in the wall. They also remain inactive for a long period of time after they feed, as they digest. But you knew all that already.
What you might not know is that this makes many common bed bug treatments like diatomaceous earth, insecticides and DIY treatments like tea tree oil ineffective.
They might be able to kill most of the population, but not all of them. That’s why getting them to move away from their harborages and out into the open is vital, and the best way is using lures.
How to Get Rid of Hidden Bed Bugs
We’ve outlined some do’s and don’ts for getting rid of bed bugs when they have many hiding places.
Don’t Use Insecticides for Bed Bugs
Insecticide has long been a preferred bed bug treatment. There are many different chemical insecticides available to exterminators, and which have been in use for many decades. Manufacturers of bedding, mattresses and so on used DDT extensively during the twentieth century to prevent infestations, for example.
This was the favored way to get rid of hidden infestations. The air inside the entire home would become poisonous for bed bugs, and it would reach even hidden cracks and crevices in the wall and beyond. However, as with all pesticides (and antibiotics, for similar reasons) extensive use has ensured that some populations have begun to become immune to common insecticides.
This is most often the case for populations in major urban areas like New York, L.A. and big cities across the U.S. A BBC News article detailed how bed bugs in Cincinnati and Michigan had developed “dramatic levels” of immunity to many common pesticides. And, as you should know, just 1% of an infestation surviving is enough to re-establish the population within just a month or two.
Exterminators, therefore, have to consider alternatives to insecticides to kill bed bugs. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of ways to kill them: let’s take a look at a few.
Plastic Bed Bug Traps (Passive Monitors)
The simplest traps are often the best. You can immediately cut off the majority of a population by using basic plastic traps, tape or even Vaseline.
These passive monitors fit around the feet of your bed. They are referred to as passive monitors because they don’t actively lure in bed bugs, they get in their way as they’re trying to get to you. They look like small Tupperware tubs or small round plastic caps that fit around the feet/legs of your bed. The bed bugs try to climb up your bed leg to reach you, but they fall into the trap and can’t get out due to the slippery surface. Variations include the following:
- Basic plastic bed bug traps that fit around the feet of your bed. The bed bug can crawl in, but can’t crawl out. You can also use water traps, which are the same idea, but the trap is filled with water. Not only can the bugs not climb out, but they drown, too.
- Sticky double-sided tape around the legs of your bed frame stops them from being able to crawl up to get you. Bed bugs are smart and avoid any surface that they would find it difficult to crawl over. As such, the vast majority of bed bugs would avoid the tape. Any others would get stuck to it.
- Vaseline makes the legs of your bed frame too slippery for them to climb up.
These traps will stop any bed bugs from harborages in walls, furniture or the carpet from being able to reach you. The plastic traps, in particular, will stop them from being able to get back to their safe spots too.
Bed Bug Lures (Active Monitors)
Bed bug lures are like the traps we described above, but they both attract and trap bed bugs. Active monitors actively release a lure that draws the bed bug in. An example is a CO2 or heat trap, which releases either a steady stream of CO2 or heat at a similar temperature to your body (or both). Some release both, alongside kairomones, which increases functionality (draw in more bed bugs).
Over the course of a period of time, normally a few hours, these lures will persuade bed bugs to leave their hiding places. Not all of them will come at once since bed bugs often have a long period where they don’t need to feed. Depending on the temperature and the stage to which they’ve developed, they may take between five days and many months between each feed. There will, therefore, be many that have recently fed and ‘aren’t hungry.’
This lure will gradually draw in more and more bed bugs from their hiding places, although it will take time. Placing lures around your bed may discourage them from coming for you, specifically. This will reduce the number of bites you get, but not stop them completely. You’ll have to do something more active to get rid of them all.
Using CO2 to kill bed bugs isn’t a new idea. Like any other animal, they can suffocate if they go without oxygen for long enough. However, since bed bugs are also attracted to CO2, it’s a unique treatment in that it draws them out and kills them with 100% effectiveness (if the treatment is done correctly).
A paper in the Journal of Medical Entomology examined how effective CO2 was at killing bed bugs. They accounted for many factors: the developmental stage of the bed bug, the temperature at which the treatment was administered, and the time they had to take to kill 100% of the bed bugs. They found that:
- Concentrations of CO2 higher than 30% were sufficient to kill an entire infestation at 71 degrees, over the course of 24 hours.
- Eggs required higher CO2 concentrations: 80% or more to kill them over the course of a full day. However, with 100% concentration, they would be killed within 7 hours at 71 degrees.
- Eggs were more susceptible to 100% CO2 concentration but less susceptible to 80% concentrations and lower.
This is applied both in a laboratory and home settings. In particular, the researchers checked whether bed bugs would survive in trash bags or ziplock bags filled with CO2: they didn’t. This applied to bags that were filled with clothes and boxes, too, proving that it could be done at home. However, they had to use over three pounds of dry ice per bag to achieve the effect, meaning that this would be an inefficient way to kill bed bugs at home.
Either way, using CO2 is an excellent way to kill bed bugs that are hiding. First of all, since CO2 is a lure anyway, it increases their mobility. But also, it decreases the available oxygen (and increases the amount of CO2) throughout the entire room. This, therefore, kills the bed bugs, even if they choose to remain hidden.
Heat treatments achieve much the same as CO2. Heat increases a bed bug’s mobility and speeds up their development. That’s why bed bugs breed and grow quicker during the summer months.
However, once the temperature reaches high enough, they quickly begin to die. Temperatures of above 113 are enough to make them die, although over 122 is high enough to kill an entire infestation in a few hours.
Again, heat treatment is a good choice because it kills bed bugs even if they choose to remain hidden. It’s also effective against eggs, which not all treatments are.
Can Essential Oils Kill Bed Bugs?
Tea tree oil and other essential oils are a well-known alternative to chemical insecticides. And not just according to online blogs and forums, but according to real, hard science.
A study in the journal Insects tested many essential oil mixes to test their effectiveness. They picked a natural spray (EcoRaider) and compared it to Temprid SC as well as a mix of both. They then sprayed many test rooms (real, infested apartments that had agreed to be a part of the test). Unfortunately, there was no control group since nobody was willing to do nothing about their infestation over the course of the experiment. However, the results were still interesting.
Did they work? Over a period of 12 weeks, they reduced mean bed bug count by a number approaching 100%. Temprid SC was more effective at first. However, these were small infestations of 100 bed bugs or less, to begin with. Over the course of 12 weeks, their numbers were reduced to ten or less for each of the sprays.
The treatment, therefore, is reasonably effective. However, one has to bear in mind that these were medium-sized infestations, not large infestations. For infestations numbering in the thousands (which is more than possible), getting them under control would take longer.
The treatment also doesn’t have to be applied consistently; the scientists sprayed the apartment thoroughly and left it for weeks afterward. It’s, therefore, a decent solution for medium-sized infestations.
DIY Bed Bug Killers & Home Remedies for Bed Bugs
Last but not least, there are many DIY options for killing bed bugs. These are particularly appealing because hiring an exterminator can cost north of $1000.
And, for $1000, you’d hope that the infestation would be guaranteed to be dead: but that’s not always the case, which can be exceptionally frustrating. So, what kind of DIY bed bug treatments are there?
- Does baking soda kill bed bugs? The idea is that baking soda (also known as baking powder and sodium bicarbonate) can dry out bed bugs, and cause them to dehydrate and die. It’s how diatomaceous earth and alternative desiccants work. Unfortunately, baking soda isn’t sharp enough or coarse enough to break into a bed bug’s outer shell-like desiccant powders, so it doesn’t work.
- Strong vinegar can kill bed bugs on direct contact. However, everyday home-use vinegar isn’t strong enough to do so.
- Rubbing alcohol can kill bed bugs on direct contact, but not all. It also depends on the concentration (the stronger, the better). Even so, it doesn’t kill them all, so it can’t control an infestation.
You also have to bear in mind that none of these methods will kill hidden bed bugs, only those that crawl around outside their hiding places.
Your best bet is therefore to use heat treatments or CO2, or bed bug lures that actively draw bed bugs away from their harborages. As a long-term treatment, essential oil sprays and traps can work, and in combination with lures, this may be enough to kill even hidden bed bugs.