How to check for bed bugs by self-inspecting your home or apartment
Article by Joseph Salvatore Knipper
Perhaps you noticed an itchy bump on your skin, and the thought has penetrated your mind: Do I have bed bugs? Or perhaps you are moving into a new apartment, and you want to make sure you aren’t accidental roommates with the tiny vampires.
Either way, this article will show you how to check for bed bugs by performing a visual inspection of your dwelling.
What to look out for:
First, review our article on the 7 Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation. We will be specifically looking for the last four signs: fecal stains, eggs, shell casings, and live bed bugs.
Bed bugs themselves have six legs, antennae with 4 segments, and can’t fly. They vary from the side of a poppy seed (juveniles) to an apple seed (adults).
Fecal stains bleed into most fabrics like a magic marker when pressed or smeared, which distinguishes them from regular dirt.
Eggs are white, oval-shaped, and have an eye-spot after 5 days; they are also sticky when first laid, so you will likely find them clinging to surfaces rather than loose.
Bed bugs do not form true colonies, but they do tend to congregate together when they are not feeding. As a result, you may find a cluster of bugs, shell casings, fecal stains, and eggs all in a single hiding place.
However, just because you find this cluster does not mean that you have found all the bed bugs in your dwelling. Stray pregnant females and/or eggs in other areas can restart the infestation. For this reason, it is always vital to get professional help if you think you may have bed bugs.
Tools You’ll Need:
First, you’ll need a good flashlight.
Second, you’ll need a crevice tool, that is, a putty knife or old metro card for exploring hard-to-see crevices.
Third, you’ll need something to capture any live bugs you find in order to show them to a professional. I recommend clear packing tape, but be ready—bed bugs are fast.
Fourth, you’ll need your cell phone’s camera to take pictures of anything you find to send to MMPC’s Free Pest ID Service.
The New York City Department of Health also recommends using a hairdryer on high, as bed bugs will flee the extreme heat. However, make sure you aim the hairdryer so as to coordinate the direction bugs flee so that you can catch them with the sticky tape, and take care not to blow them somewhere you don’t want them to go.
Check their common hiding places:
The Bed: Bed bugs tend to hide on the bed frame, or around the seams of the mattresses and baseboard. Check your pillow, covers, and sheets for rips or tears. If your bed has a metal frame, use duct tape to cover sharp edges in order to avoid tears.
Make sure you get the flashlight into the joints of the bed frame (or run the crevice tool into them if you can’t see). If you want to be extra thorough, take apart the bed frame to inspect the joints. Check personal items near your bed, but do not stick your crevice tool into anything electronic while looking.
Baseboards and door frames: Next run your crevice tool in cracks behind and under the baseboards. Also check all molding along door frames, especially the corners. These are a favorite hiding place of bed bugs.
Furniture: Bed bugs also hide in the joints of other furniture and the indentation made by the screw holes. As your mother always said “You have to move things to find things.”
Take out the drawers of your bureau and check the corners, crevices, and screws. Remove couch cushions and check their undersides; inspect the corners and back of the couch, the seams of the cushions, and any zippers. Run your crevice tool in the seams on the back of shelves. Carefully turn over chairs and small tables; check the joints where the legs meet the seat, as well as the screw holes and any other joints.
Walls: Take pictures off the wall and check the back of these pictures, as well as the joints of the frames. Take posters off the wall, and check behind them (including the backs of the posters themselves). Looks behind any peeling wallpaper or peeling paint, another favorite spot. Keep an eye out for cracks in your wall’s plaster to inspect.
Floors: Flip over throw rugs and check the underside. If you have carpet that is not attached to the floor, you can peel back the corners and check underneath. If your carpet is attached to the floor, just check where it meets the baseboards with the flashlight and crevice tool.
Curtains and Clothing: Bed bugs like to hide in the folds of clothing and curtains. Make sure you spread out your curtains and go over them with the flashlight. Do the same for your hanging clothes, while also checking the pockets and zippers.
While you are in your closet, don’t forget to check the baseboards and door frame molding there as well. Remember, that depending on the color of your clothing/curtains, the bed bugs may blend in.
Tricky areas: DO NOT stick your putty knife or metro card behind wall sockets or light switch plating. Perform a visual inspection ONLY in these areas. Also, don’t forget to check underneath your radiator and where the radiator pipe meets the floor, but make sure the radiator is NOT on first. If you cannot perform any of these checks safely, please get the assistance of a professional.
Using a Professional:
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: checking for bed bugs and getting rid of them is a team effort. There are many steps you can take on your own, but you cannot do it all by yourself. If your visual inspection reveals anything, don’t panic. Just call in the cavalry.
Take a clear picture of what you found and send it to MMPC’s Pest ID Service to confirm. This service is 100% free of charge. I cannot overemphasize the peace of mind that working with a professional can provide. I have sent them many pictures, all of which turned out to be merely cockroach nymphs.
If the results are inconclusive, we will advise you on your options. This may include recommending a canine inspection.
All of our canines are certified by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDCA). They can detect the smell of viable bed bug eggs or live bed bugs with 98% accuracy.
In addition, the canine’s handler will be performing a visual inspection simultaneously, bringing the accuracy to nearly 100%. If bed bugs are confirmed, they will provide you with the next steps.
You now have a plan for inspecting your domicile for bed bugs. Remember that safety comes first. Also, bed bugs are experts at hiding, so be patient and thorough in your inspection.
If you find anything, don’t panic, but simply make use of MMPC’s Free Pest ID Service. Good luck! May your hunt turn up absolutely nothing.