Protecting Your Home

Below are a few tips that can protect your home from bed bugs. They involve regularly monitoring for bug activity, being aware of risky environments, and how to lower your risk.


Before we get to how to avoid bringing bugs home, let's talk about some ways we can prepare ourselves in case they ever do make it inside. Early detection is the key to keeping bed bugs manageable and reducing the time it takes to get rid of them. It's a common misconception that bed bugs multiply quickly. It actually takes over a month for them to get going but after that, time is of the essence. After two months, you will have multiple generations contributing to the population eventually getting to the point where they will double in number about every 2 weeks! If you can notice their presence and start treating them before month 3, the odds of being done with them quickly are very good. Each week after that they go unnoticed, it gets exponentially more difficult and requires significantly more time.

A couple of tools can help you spot bug activity much sooner than you would without them. One of those is mattress encasements. Encasing your mattress and box spring don't prevent bugs from coming on to your bed. What they do is take away hiding spots and make it much easier to inspect. The clean white fabric makes it possible to spot any signs of bugs with a quick glance around the sides and underneath. Be sure to replace it every so often if it has holes or tears. Good old fashioned duct tape is good enough as a temporary patch until you're ready to replace the whole thing. I keep all of my mattresses in encasements at all times just to be safe.

Another tool that helps with monitoring are interceptors or pitfall traps. These can be placed under the legs of beds and furniture to catch bugs coming and going. They are also effective next to furniture and in corners of the room where they are out of sight but could help identify movement. Be sure to clean them out every so often so they don't accumulate dust and dirt that could reduce their effectiveness.

Passive monitors that attach to the head board and mattresses are also an option. They work by providing an ideal home for bugs with the hopes that instead of going somewhere else in the room, they will move in right there. For inspection, you can check there first and easily see the signs of them if they are in your bed. I've never used them before but they seem like a good idea in theory. I might just make my own though as shown below. Some have had success with glue traps for early detection but I haven't used those either so I can't confirm that.

Homemade Monitor

Entomologist Lou Sorkin once gave me the idea of just folding a small piece of construction paper into a fan and putting a paperclip on it to hold it shut. Put them underneath your mattress in the corners or tape it to the box spring sides and headboard. Then, when inspecting, just remove the clip and open them up (carefully if you suspect bugs).

folded paper monitor open
folded paper monitor

Keep in mind that none of the above methods are meant to prevent you from encountering bed bugs but rather help you detect them as early as possible if they do get in so you can more easily wipe them out. They don't do any good if you never look at them so I would incorporate checking each time you change the bed linens which brings me to the next point.

Cleanliness is Next to Bugless-ness

Although bed bugs are not directly related to hygiene, having a good cleaning schedule will help keep them from getting too settled in. If you are regularly changing the linens every few weeks, you will have an opportunity to see signs to detect them. I would advise always bagging bed linens and immediately throwing them in the wash after removing them if possible to reduce the risk that something could fall off in between. If you use a reusable laundry bag, you could throw it in the dryer to ensure it's safe and fresh.

Regularly vacuuming the bedroom and living room could also catch the random straggler that snuck into your home. I still feel that vacuuming is not that effective because they are usually hidden on furniture during the day while you would be vacuuming and not wandering around the floor but if they haven't settled somewhere yet, you might get them.

Keeping clutter away from your bed is a great way to be better prepared for a bed bug invasion. It makes inspection easier because there are less things to have to look through. Don't store papers under or near the bed. If you need to have storage under the bed, instead of cardboard boxes, use plastic sealed bags or tubs. Even things laying out on dressers or tables could be stored in small plastic containers or tubs. Plastic is difficult for bugs to climb and unattractive to them. And having your stuff better organized is always a good thing.

If you notice cracks or gaps in the walls and trim especially near the bed, use caulking to seal them up so they can't be used as a hiding spot. For for outlets in the wall near the bed that aren't being used, cover them with those plastic child proof safety plugs. That will make it harder for bugs to travel through the walls from other rooms or apartments.

couch next to curb

Leave It At the Curb

I can't count how many bed bug stories start out with, "We found a used ___" or "A friend gave us their old ___". DON'T BRING USED FURNITURE INTO YOUR HOME! Even if it's from your family or a trusted friend, you should thoroughly inspect it first and if you can, give it a steaming for good measure. Many people are unaware that they have bugs and with good intentions give you something from their home without knowing that they are also giving you a biological weapon hidden inside. NEVER take something from the curb no matter how new and expensive it looks. It's in the trash for a reason. You should always be suspicious when you see mattresses and couches sitting out and not even touch them. If you ever have to throw something out that has bugs (which you usually shouldn't have to), remember to damage or mark it in a way that no one would be tempted to take it.

Apartment Dwellers Beware

apartment building

Multi-unit apartments are so difficult to keep bugs out of. The more people living next to each other, the higher the risk. The turnover of occupancy (people moving in and out) also is a significant factor. Bed bugs are able to move through wall spaces and electric and heating ducts from apartment to apartment. They can even walk down the hallway and come in under the door. The challenge is that if you have just one person in the building who is not aware of their presence, either because they don't react to bites or are elderly or limited in some other way, that could become a recurring source of infestation. Other tenants may not cooperate with treatments hiding their problem or mismanaging it themselves and spreading bugs to their neighbors. So what can you do if you live in an apartment?

Keep your eyes open. The sooner you can spot a new infestation, the faster it will be to eradicate it. Be careful in shared areas like recreation rooms and laundry rooms. Keep open communication with your neighbors so that if there is a problem, they will be more likely to inform you. If you see lots of furniture and mattresses thrown out by the garbage, that could be a sign someone in your building is dealing with an infestation. If you see the pest control van in the parking lot, be especially on guard.

Due to the high risk that apartment living poses, applying the monitoring techniques above are highly recommended and should be done at least monthly to minimize the time that a new infestation could have to develop.


Travel With Care

Most people have learned to be cautious when staying at a hotel. But bed bugs can be anywhere that people carry their luggage. That includes public transportation and taxi cabs, airplanes, and airports. For hotel stays, store your luggage in the bathroom and keep all bags and personal items away from the bed. Do a thorough inspection of the bed (Inspection Tips). If you find bed bugs or signs of them, report the problem and ask for another room. If you discover them after it's too late or have suspicious bites, follow the protocol outlined in the FAQ section "I was exposed to bed bugs. How do I avoid bringing them home?". Actually, even if you don't think you were exposed to bed bugs, I recommend following that protocol when coming home from any travel due to the heightened risk.

Welcome Guests But Not Your Guests' Guests

Another common beginning to bed bug stories is, "My ____ stayed with us for a few days...". Allowing people to sleep in your home carries a risk of them bringing bugs with them. They may be unaware or maybe they just picked up a bug or two while they were traveling to your home. If someone is coming over who has a known bed bug infestation, ask them to take the steps covered in the section Protecting Others. After any guests leave, it's a good idea to bag up the linens and wash and dry immediately. Take the opportunity to inspect the bed as well.

Other Risks

Besides travel related sites and apartments, other high risk locations are doctor's offices, hospitals, schools, dorms, and movie theaters to name a few. Basically anywhere that lots of people come and go but spend more than a minute sitting down. Even visitors who don't spend the night could pose some risk; especially professions like home health aides who may visit several other homes during the day before yours. We can't and shouldn't live in a fortress where we never leave or let anyone else in so some of these risks have to be accepted as part of life. The monitoring steps above can give us peace of mind as we do.

Frequently Asked Questions

See the responses to several commonly asked questions about bed bugs and treatments

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Tools for Fighting Bed Bugs

We have several tools available to us in our arsenal with which we can beat the bugs. This list will describe each one and explain how they are used.

See the List