How to tell if you have bed bugs

At least 1 in 5 Americans have suffered from bed bug infestations. If you’re one of them and have recently finished a bed bug treatment, you may be worried that you didn’t quite get them all. Maybe you’ve gone some time without seeing any new bugs or bites, but you want a way to be sure that the coast is clear. Whatever the situation, the question is the same: how do you know when all the bed bugs are gone?

Blood Stains

blood stains are a sign of bed bug infestationIt’s important to note: finding blood stains on your sheets does not automatically mean you have bed bugs. Blood stains can happen for several reasons. You could have itched a scab while you were sleeping, or reopened a scratch while tossing and turning. The blood stains you’re looking for are primarily small, dark, and either roundish or smeared. Bed bug-related blood smears usually occur near the foot of the bed, where you spread your legs while sleeping.

Bed bug-related blood stains usually happen when you inadvertently crush the bugs feeding on you while sleeping. Bed bugs feed continuously for up to an hour, until their bodies are fully engorged with blood. If you crush them while they’re feeding, therefore, this blood seeps out and creates a red smudge or stain. You may also find partial remains of the crushed bug near these stains. Most bed bug-related stains are quite small and look like they spread outward from a single location.

Rusty Smears or Stains

rust-colored smears or stains are a sign of bed bug infestationBed bug excrement is a rusty red, brown, or black color. It tends to bleed into bed sheets, almost like a felt-tip pen or marker would. Excrement stains are quite small and look dot-shaped or splotchy. Over time, these stains can diffuse to cover a larger area and fade to a lighter brown. Remember: bed bugs have surprisingly flat bodies, and they can squeeze into tiny, confined spaces.

As nocturnal pests, bed bugs spend most of the day hiding in nooks and crannies. The majority of the stains they leave behind will be found in these nooks and crannies. Check under the bed and sheets, around the box spring, in joints and folds, and even behind the headboard. Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs don’t just reside in beds. Look for fecal stains on curtains, furniture, wall hangings, wallpaper, and ceiling corners, too. Bed bugs often enter homes via traveling bags, so they may also be in your closet or wardrobe.

Shed Skin and Eggs

shed skin or tiny eggs are a sign of bed bug infestationBed bug eggs and shed skin are tiny and almost totally see-through, so they can be difficult to find. Bed bugs’ eggs are quite sticky, so the pest can lay them on nearly any surface, including walls or ceilings. They’re usually laid in pods or clusters in hidden locations, such as the lower sides of beds. Crushed or hatched eggs may leave behind faint, small yellow stains on fabric.

Bed bugs have to shed their skin five times before reaching full maturity. The skins they leave behind are slightly smaller than the bug itself, translucent, pale yellow, and slightly crusty. Bed bugs require a full blood meal before molting. It takes bed bugs 24 hours to digest blood meals, and they need to remain stationary while they do so. Look for shed skin husks in places where bed bugs might hide, like under the bed or behind the head board. Keep in mind that over time, these skins may break into small, dry flakes.

Musty Odor

Bed bugs may generate an unpleasant, musty smell When crushed or threatened, bed bugs release an “alarm pheromone” from their scent glands. This odor smells quite similar to a stink bug’s odor; it may smell musty, woody, rotten, or sweet to you. Many people compare it to the smell of concentrated coriander. Whatever you think it smells like, chances are you won’t like it. Excretions of this pheromone can also leave behind yellowish stains on fabric.

Worst of all, this smell tends to hang around, especially if it stains fabric. Bed bug infestations also continually produce this scent. If you can’t tell whether or not you have bed bugs, try thoroughly washing and replacing your bed sheets. If the smell reappears right away, chances are bed bugs are actively producing it. Remember: bed bugs don’t just hang around beds, either. If you smell a musty scent near old furniture, fabrics, or sheets, check for bed bugs.

Bed bugs are the worst. We totally understand the paranoia. If you ever need some help figuring out whether or not you have bed bugs, give us a call anytime. We’re always happy to help make sure you can get your beauty sleep.


Monitoring the Population During Treatment

As you progress through a bed bug treatment, you need a way to measure your progress and see if bed bugs are still active in the area that you’re treating. The best way to accomplish this is by monitoring the population directly to try and gauge how it changes over time.

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If you’re treating for bed bugs in a room where you and/or someone else sleeps, the best way to monitor for bed bugs is with a passive monitor and trap, like ClimbUp Interceptors. When an interceptor is placed under each leg of the bed, they will trap bed bugs that try to enter or exit the bed. Inspect these traps regularly to see if bed bugs are still active in the room. Ideally, the number of bed bugs being captured will decline over time, eventually reaching a consistent zero.

If you’ve been treating an unoccupied room, like a living room or a vacated bedroom, monitoring the bed bug population becomes a bit more complicated. ClimbUp Interceptors won’t do you much good in this situation, since there isn’t a human body acting as a lure to draw the bed bugs to the interceptors. Instead, you’ll want to use an active monitor like the NightWatch. These have a lure of their own, so they can attract bed bugs without anyone present.

How to Confirm Bed Bugs are Gone

By now, we’ve covered the tools we need to monitor the bed bug population, as well as a rough timeline we need to monitor before giving the all-clear. Let’s review what an effective treatment and post-routine treatment looks like in order to be confident that the bed bugs are gone for good:

First, you need to completely treat the bed, ensuring that no bed bugs are on it and that they can’t get back in/on it. Begin by stripping the bedding and washing them on high heat, then drying on high heat if the beddings’ tags allow for it. While the laundry cycles are running, use a vacuum cleaner to remove any bed bugs and eggs that might be along the seams of your mattress, box spring, pillows, and bed frame.

Follow up the vacuuming with a high pressure steamer to penetrate deep inside those same nooks and crannies to kill bed bugs and eggs on contact. Lastly, spray down the joints of the bed frame, headboard, and footboard with contact and residual bed bug sprays that are labeled for use on the bed, and encase the mattress and box spring with sealed bed bug encasements once the bed is dry. Be sure to leave those encasements on for at least 18 months to ensure that any bed bugs that managed to survive stay trapped inside until they starve.

Next, you’ll need to isolate the bed to make sure bed bugs elsewhere in the room can’t get onto the bed and feed. Move the bed away from the walls and any nightstands or other furniture. Tuck in or remove any hanging skirts or sheets, and remove any storage under the bed that is touching any part of the frame. The only thing your bed should be touching is the floor via its legs. If you don’t have a bed frame with legs, you should purchase one to sleep in, at least until you are bed bug free.

To complete the isolation, place ClimbUp Interceptors under each leg of the bed. These traps will prevent bed bugs from climbing up your bed legs, stopping them from reaching you in your bed. As bed bugs attempt to get to you, they will climb up the edge of the interceptor and fall into the perimeter pitfall where they can’t escape. With the ClimbUps in place, you can monitor the population of bed bugs in the room over the next several weeks (and even longer to avoid future infestations).

As you proceed through the rest of our 4-step treatment solution, including the follow-up treatments over the next four weeks, that isolated and intercepted bed will act as a long-term monitoring system. Once both follow-up treatments are done, continue checking the ClimbUps daily for bed bugs. If the occupants of the room go at least 6 to 8 weeks without any new bite marks, and without any sightings in the interceptors, you can fairly safely declare that room bed bug free!

Bed bug facts!


Bed bugs are actually pretty amazing little critters! Here are some quick facts for you:

  • Bed bugs can survive for up to a year without food, particularly when it is cold. They can survive temperatures ranges down to around –32C and up to 45C. When it is cold, they go into a sort of hibernation, and pop out of it when it warms up.
  • In the right conditions It takes one pregnant adult female six months to create an infestation of literally hundreds of thousands of bugs. She is bloody awesome at hiding in the meantime.
  • Bed bug sex is not a fun thing for the bed bug female. It involves carapace piercing in order to get the necessary fluids inside her. If I was a bed bug girl, I’d want to go bite someone, too.
  • Bed bugs like other bed bugs. They secrete a pheromone that attracts more bed bugs. Sociable little chaps.
  • Bed bugs are bigger than you might think, particularly in their adult stage, which they reach after five junior stages. And I thought one go at puberty was tough. They grow up to 0.5cm long, easily visible by the naked eye, in their adult stage at least.
  • They are attracted to their victims by carbon dioxide and warmth, amongst other things.
  • Bed bugs love travelling almost as much as you do. They or their eggs will happily hitch a ride in your clothes or on your backpack, and then hop off when they reach somewhere new and exciting with fresh fields of blood filled meat to suck on. This makes eradicating them a bit tricky in a well visited bed!
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How to know if you’ve been bitten by bed bugs

People react to bed bug bites, like any other bites, in different ways. You may have been munched upon countless times, and have absolutely nothing to show for it, or you may come up in horrific pustules, blisters, or bumps that look just like mosquito bites. Diagnosis can be tricky! Additionally, for some reason, elderly people barely react at all.

The easiest way to tell though is the classic line pattern that the bed bug leaves behind. This will be a nice straight line of red bumps, that looks like something has methodically chewed you up. And that would be because something has methodically chewed you up!


Often this will be a line of three bumps, sometimes more, depending on a variety of factors, including whether or not the bug was disturbed during the meal, or if the bug didn’t quite find what it was looking for on the first, second, third.. or.. well, you get the idea.

Bed bug bites can also take a while to appear after you’ve been bitten, sometimes up to a couple of weeks. Which makes working out what bit you and when fairly difficult. Very often, you will discount the bites as nothing more than mozzie bites, and move on with your life.

Bed bugs also tend to bite in areas that aren’t covered, however in tropical areas you’re not likely to be sleeping in much anyway. They also don’t usually target armpits or the back of your knees.

How to spot bed bugs in your hotel room or bed – the warning signs!


There is a bit of a misconception that for a place to have bed bugs, it needs to be dirty, or unkempt, or messy. This sadly isn’t the case – the hostel I worked in for example was absolutely fanatic about cleanliness and bed bug management, and we still had the odd bug.

Of course, if your chosen accommodation doesn’t care too much about basic things like cleanliness or tidiness, then you can be pretty damn sure that they aren’t that bothered about bed bugs either. So the two can be linked, even if one doesn’t cause the other.

So how to tell if you might not be sleeping alone? Here are some pointers:

  • Bed bugs are fairly shy and retiring creatures. They mostly come out at night. In the day time they like to hide, not too far away from their evening meal. Obvious places to look therefore include in your bed frame, and anywhere near the bed that harbours cracks that they can squeeze into. Curtain rails, skirting boards, door frames – even the heads of screws. You get the idea.
  • Bed bugs secrete a black gooey substance. You might find this on the bed sheets after you have been bitten. You can also look for it on the bed frame. Lots of black goo around a hole or crack indicates the likely presence of our friends. If it is recent, you will be able to easily smear it with your fingers.
  • Bed bugs have a distinctive aroma, which is how they attract other bed bugs. It’s a bit like the smell of a stink bug.
  • Bed bugs have six different sizes, from the super tiny to the fairly large. So there are a variety of body shapes and sizes to look out for.
  • Bed bugs are not excited by heat or excess amounts of carbon dioxide. If you think there are bed bugs in a hole, you could try breathing into it, or blowing a hair dryer into it on a low setting. This may force them out of hiding, or boil them in their shells. Whichever works for you. It may also distribute bed bug eggs all over the room.
  • You may find blood stains on the bed after you’ve been bitten. However, you can get these with any bite, so it’s not a guarantee of bed bugs.
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What to do if you think you’ve been bitten by bed bugs


If you think you have been bitten, the first thing is not to panic. Whilst the bites can be itchy and annoying, bed bugs are not currently known to carry any actual diseases. So in that sense, you are better off having been bitten by a bed bug than a mosquito.

You should, of course, mention to your host that you think you have been bitten. There are two main  reasons to do this:

  • If the problem is with the place you are currently at, then they need to know so that they can do something about it
  • If you were bitten somewhere else, there is a possibility that you have brought the eggs or bugs with you. They therefore need to keep an eye out for future problems. Be aware that they are unlikely to thank you for this.

When you inform your host, a variety of things will happen. It is very likely that, even if the accommodation believes itself to have bed bugs, it will deny this. Admitting to having bed bugs is akin to admitting you have the plague, due to the bad reputation these critters carry. So unless you have the dead body to prove your case, don’t expect too much in the way of liability being admitted.

Additionally, as the bites can take so long to come up, the accommodation provider may actually have a point, in that you could have brought a problem into their previously clean environment. This is a great way to make you feel guilty and thus shut you up. After all, who is going to tell their friends that they may be a carrier of bed bugs?

What you should see, if they are at all bothered / professional / caring are some efforts by the accommodation provider to find any problems. Where I worked, if someone seemed to have an issue, we would take their room apart, literally. Bed frames would be disassembled, and any bugs we found would be squished. We also used a heat gun to sterilise cracks in wood or metal. However, if we found bugs or eggs, this was never disclosed to guests.

Getting rid of bed bugs


The bad news about bed bugs is that in a well visited environment like a hostel or hotel, it is pretty much impossible to eradicate bed bugs. This is because even if you were able to find and kill every last egg, nymph and adult from the premises, all it takes is one new arrival with a pregnant adult female to turn up, and the problem starts all over again. In a warm climate where the bugs can breed quickly, the problem is only going to be worse.

In such an environment, the best that can be done is to try to manage and stay on top of the problem. Regular inspections of sleeping areas, blocking up inviting cracks and the occasional use of some sort of anti-bed bug chemicals are the best that can be done so that the issue stays small – akin to a few mosquitoes flying in through a window at night, rather than spiralling out of control into a serious infestation.

Speaking of chemicals, another problem arises. The most effective chemicals for properly killing off the whole bed bug lifecycle are also not exactly human friendly. Fumigating a room is actually therefore more hazardous to human health than a few bites is ever going to be – and in fact more people have probably died from reactions to the anti bed bug chemicals than from actual bed bug bites. However, there are some non-toxic options, one of which I have listed below.

Products to help you deal with Bed Bugs

There are some products you can get to help stop that most nightmare of all situations – taking the bed bugs from your travels to your home, as well as other sprays for killing bugs generally.

If you do have a problem in your home, it is likely that you will have to call in professionals to fully clean out your house. They will use all sorts of nasty chemicals, and you will probably have to move out for a while. That is the only way to really sort out the problem once and for all.

And that is that for bed bugs! If you’ve got any comments, questions or experiences to share from your travels, including horrific photos, don’t be afraid to share them below! Otherwise happy travels, and remember, sleep tight.. don’t let the bed bugs bite!

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