Solved! 6 Early Signs of Bed Bugs to Never Ignore

It’s never too soon to start treating a bed bug infestation. Knowing the early signs to look for can help you protect your home and family before the problem escalates.
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Early Signs of Bed Bugs

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What You Need to Know 

  • Some of the earliest signs of a bed bug infestation are bites, brown or reddish stains on sheets, shed skins, a musty odor, tiny eggs, and sightings of bed bugs themselves. 
  • While bed bugs are not usually dangerous, their bites have the potential to lead to allergic reactions or skin infections. 
  • DIY bed bug removal methods can be limited, so it’s important to get in touch with a pest control professional as soon as signs of an infestation are discovered.
  • Some ways to prevent a bed bug infestation are washing clothing after returning from a vacation, inspecting secondhand items before bringing them home, installing door sweeps, sealing gaps in windows and walls, and vacuuming and decluttering regularly.

Q: After coming back from a recent vacation, I’ve noticed some bites on my arms and legs. I’m worried that I could have picked up bed bugs from my hotel! I’ve only been back for a week, so I don’t think I have a full-on infestation yet, but what are some of the early signs of bed bugs?  

A: Your instinct to be concerned about bed bugs is a good one. While bed bugs have a reputation for inhabiting cheap hotels and dirty homes, the reality is that what attracts bed bugs are human or animal hosts, not dirt. Bed bugs are nocturnal and prefer to stay out of sight, so if there aren’t many of them, they may be hard to spot. It’s also important to keep in mind that in addition to finding bed bugs in mattresses, it’s not uncommon to find signs of bed bugs on walls and in furniture.  However, there are plenty of early signs of bed bugs to find upon close inspection.

On the positive side, bed bug bites can take several days to show up, so it’s possible that you were bitten without bringing the pests home. Still, it’s a good idea to check for evidence of bed bugs right away, and call one of the best bed bug exterminators, like Orkin or Terminix, if necessary. 

how to get rid of bed bugs in a mattress

Bites are one of the earliest signs of bed bugs.

If someone is asking, “What are the signs of bed bugs?” it’s often because they have noticed bug bites with no obvious source. It’s not uncommon to confuse the characteristics of bed bug bites vs. no-see-um bites, mosquito bites, or spider bites as these all have many similarities. They typically appear as small bumps that itch and swell when scratched. However, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), one of the most distinct early signs of bed bug bites is that they often appear in groupings of three to five bites that create a zigzag formation.

When it comes to early signs of bed bugs on skin, the bites are unique in that they don’t typically become noticeable until several days after the initial bite. Some people have no reaction to bed bugs and may never know that they have been bitten at all. Bed bugs’ saliva contains both anesthetics and anticoagulants that allow the puncture to bleed more freely and keep it from itching. This is one reason it’s common to find blood spots from bed bugs—their bites tend to bleed more than other types of insect bites.

Some may notice waking up in the middle of the night and feeling like something is crawling on them. If that’s the case, it’s best to monitor the skin for a few days to see if a bug bite appears.

Dark spots and rust-colored stains on sheets can also suggest the presence of bed bugs.

Bed bug stains on sheets are a common early sign to look for. When bed bugs finish feeding, their bodies become swollen with blood. If the bugs are accidentally crushed, blood will leach out, leaving brown or reddish stains. Look for this sign of bed bugs on pillows, sheets, mattresses, furniture, or clothing. Stains will be much more visible on light-colored materials than darker ones. 

Some additional signs of bed bugs on sheets are bed bug droppings. Since bed bugs feast on blood, their droppings also have a dark rust color that will stand out on light-colored bedding or upholstery. These spots may be no larger than a mark from the point of a felt-tipped pen. Since bed bugs leave droppings wherever they go, these spots may be more prevalent than the larger rust-colored stains from crushed bugs. Look for this early-stage sign of bed bugs on walls, floors, and furniture as well as mattresses. 

Seeing molted skins or bed bug shells is a sure sign of an infestation.

The presence of skins or shells is one of the most unmistakable bed bug signs and indicates that the infestation has begun to escalate. These casings look very similar to the bed bugs themselves but are yellowish in color and slightly translucent. Bed bugs shed their exoskeletons several times during their life cycle, so molted skins may appear in a variety of sizes. 

Bed bug exoskeletons are not as likely to be found in the open as bloodstains or droppings, so those who suspect they have bed bugs will want to check the areas where these insects congregate for shed skins. These most commonly include the seams of mattresses and upholstered furniture, the cracks and corners of the bed frame, or other small crevices.  

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Another possible sign of bed bug infestation is a musty smell.

It may come as a surprise, but bed bugs have quite a distinct smell; most describe it as musty, sweet, and even berry-like. This smell results from a combination of pheromones, blood, droppings, and dead bed bugs. In the early stages of a bed bug infestation, it’s uncommon to detect this odor, as it’s usually only possible to smell it when the infestation is quite large. It’s also worth checking whether a musty odor in the home has another source, such as a pile of dirty laundry. But if this smell is present along with other early signs of bed bugs, it can be a way to tell if you have bed bugs in the home.

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The presence of bed bug eggs is an early sign of bed bugs—but they are hard to spot.

Another one of the early signs of bed bugs are eggs. Bed bugs won’t lay eggs without a reliable food source present, so finding eggs is an indication that the bed bug population is feeding regularly. It’s possible to see bed bug eggs with the naked eye, but they might be difficult to identify for those who don’t know what they’re looking for. Bed bug eggs are the size of a pinhead and whitish in color, and they resemble tiny grains of rice.

First, check the mattress for bed bug eggs, making sure to inspect any seams and crevices, especially around the mattress tag. They can also appear in other crevices like gaps in baseboards, the corners of drawers, and under loose bits of wallpaper. Bed bugs secrete a sticky substance along with the egg, meaning the eggs may be slightly stuck to the wall or side of a mattress. If a close inspection turns up bed bug eggs, it’s time to call in a professional.

Live bed bug sightings are a clear sign of an infestation.

One of the most apparent early signs of a bed bug infestation is spotting live bugs. A female bed bug can lay 1 to 7 eggs per day for about 10 days after a single meal, and most eggs hatch within 6 to 9 days. To put it briefly, bed bug populations can grow rapidly, so seeing even one live bug means there’s likely more that you can’t see. While it’s easy to mistake these insects for other bugs that look like bed bugs, there are some reliable tips for identifying them.

Adult bed bugs usually take on the following characteristics:

  • They measure 5 to 7 millimeters long (about the size of an apple seed).
  • If they have not recently fed, they are flat, brown, and oval-shaped.
  • They are reddish-brown and swollen if they have recently fed.
  • They are sometimes odorous, creating a musty-sweet odor.
  • Young bed bugs are typically smaller and more translucent or whitish in color. 

One reason that bed bug infestations go unnoticed for a significant period is because the bugs prefer to stay hidden the majority of the time. Bed bugs are mostly nocturnal, so it’s not common for them to be seen during the day. Even in the evening, these bugs won’t wander around unless they are traveling to or from a feeding. For this reason, the most effective way to get a glimpse of them is to identify their nesting site. 

A bed bug infestation carries some risk of skin infection or allergic reactions. 

Although many people experience only uncomfortable itching as a result of bed bug bites, others can have a stronger reaction. According to the Mayo Clinic, while one person may experience no reaction at all, another might suffer from excessive itching or blisters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also warns that the area has the potential to become infected if the skin is broken from too much scratching. Those who are allergic to bed bug bites can experience hives, swelling, fever, or even difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis. Those with a large number of bites or who experience symptoms of an allergic reaction will want to see a medical professional to get relief and avoid further complications.

Early Signs Of Bed Bugs
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A thorough bed bug inspection can help you identify an infestation before it gets too widespread. 

A mattress is a classic hot spot for bed bug activity because it allows the insects easy access to their primary food sources. It is also especially difficult to get rid of bed bugs in a mattress as they can burrow deep inside and lay eggs (in this case it may be worth it to pay for mattress removal costs and start over with a new one). Bed bugs emerge at night to feast and choose harborages (hiding spots) that it’s not likely to find on accident. Here’s how to check for bed bugs:

Early signs of bed bugs on a mattress include:

  • Reddish or brownish-red stains
  • Bed bug excrement, which looks like a dark spot smaller than the size of a pinhead
  • Pale yellow skins or shells about 1 millimeter in length
  • Live bed bugs

A mattress is far from the only place bed bugs can take up residence. While they tend to stick to the same hiding spot, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), bed bugs are typically willing to travel up to 20 feet to reach their hosts at mealtime. An inspection is not complete without looking for signs of bed bugs on furniture and other common hiding spots, such as: 

  • Seams of upholstered furniture
  • Folds of curtains
  • Joints of drawers
  • Under wallpaper or wall hangings
  • Where the wall and ceiling or wall and baseboard meet
  • Electrical outlets

Bed bugs are sometimes mistaken for fleas or beetles, but they can be distinguished by their relatively flat bodies and lack of wings. Whether you find early-stage signs of bed bugs on your couch, walls, mattress, or elsewhere, it’s time to start making a plan for how to get rid of bed bugs.

Bed Bug Treatment Cost Types of Treatment

Although it’s tempting to DIY bed bug removal, these pests are best treated by a professional exterminator. 

After spotting the first signs of bed bugs, it can be tempting to try to remedy the problem independently to save on pest control costs. It’s not impossible to get rid of bed bugs yourself—it’s possible to mitigate the problem with one of the best bed bug traps or chemical sprays. Bleach kills bed bugs on items that can be safely treated with bleach, such as sheets. Some may also find moderate success using diatomaceous earth to kill bed bugs, although this method can take several weeks to be effective. But for the quickest and most thorough solutions, a pest control professional will need to be called.

Bed bugs are not likely to go away on their own, and they will continue to reproduce as long as they have access to a food source. Bed bug exterminators have foolproof methods to eliminate the pests for good. Starting costs for bed bug treatment are only about $300. Many find that exterminator costs are well worth it compared with the time and stress of trying various DIY methods until one eventually works. Many of the best pest control companies also guarantee their services, meaning that if the bed bugs return, exterminators will apply the treatment again at no additional cost.

Implementing some preventive measures can help residents avoid future bed bug infestations.

Bed bugs are a nuisance that most people dread. While there are many ways to get bed bugs, they often enter homes by hiding in the folds and seams of clothing. Fortunately, bed bug infestations are largely preventable (which is one of the reasons that renters insurance may not cover bed bugs). Some of the most effective ways to prevent bed bug infestations include:

  • Wash clothing immediately after returning from a vacation
  • Inspect rented or secondhand furniture before bringing it into the home
  • Install door sweeps
  • Seal gaps in walls and windows with caulk
  • Vacuum regularly
  • Reduce clutter within the home

It can take days or even weeks to start seeing signs of a bed bug infestation. Regularly looking for signs of bed bugs in carpet, walls, upholstered furniture, and mattresses can provide peace of mind and help you protect your home from bed bugs

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, Nature’s Mace, Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Dermatology Association,