A common myth is that bed bugs are attracted to dirty, messy homes, leading to the misperception that an infestation is caused by a homeowner’s untidiness or negligence.
But this isn’t true. Bed bugs can inhabit both clean homes and dirty homes alike. They can sneakily enter your home in various ways, and from a range of different places.
Understanding where bed bugs come from and how they get into your home can help you take preventative measures to protect your home from a future infestation.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?
The earliest evidence of a relationship between bed bugs and humans dates back to 3550 years ago. As people migrated around the world, bed bugs would hitchhike on these travelers’ belongings.
Bed bugs aren’t a pest you would normally find wandering out in nature. Outdoor environments aren’t suitable for bed bugs, since they require close proximity to a source of warmth and food (blood).
Most of the time, bed bugs come from infested indoor spaces, such as homes, hotels, schools, stores, etc. They are picked up by other people and transported long distances to new indoor environments, which is how they spread. This is sometimes referred to as “passive dispersal.”
Another way that bed bugs can spread from place to place is via “active dispersal,” which describes the ability of bed bugs to travel short distances to spread within a local area. This typically happens between neighboring apartments, as bed bugs make their way to adjacent units through outlets, vents, and gaps in the wall.
In rare cases where bed bugs are found outside, it’s usually on an infested mattress or upholstered furniture that was recently disposed of. The other way bed bugs can end up outdoors is when they’re being inadvertently carried in or attached to a person’s clothing, purse, backpack, suitcase, or other infested items.
How Do Bed Bugs Get into Your Home?
1. Suitcases and Bags
One of the most common ways bed bugs travel is by hitchhiking around on personal belongings, such as suitcases, bags, purses, backpacks, and briefcases. As you travel around with these items, there’s always a small possibility of unknowingly picking up bed bugs at an infested location and bringing them home with you.
Bed bugs can use your luggage as their own mode of transportation to spread infestations across long distances (passive dispersal). When suitcases and bags are left open for extended periods of time, bed bugs get inside and hide underneath clothes and other items. They can also fit their small bodies along seams, folds, gaps, or inside pockets.
2. Hotels and Public Transportation
Frequent travelers are more likely to be exposed to bed bugs and at a higher risk of their personal belongings being infested.
Hotels and motels in particular are well known for being a place where bed bugs can be accidentally picked up. There are also cases of travelers picking up bed bugs after using public transportation, particularly when riding vehicles with fabric seating.
Bed bugs often crawl onto clothes that aren’t being worn. They’re especially attracted to the odor of soiled clothing. If you’re at a hotel and you leave clothing out, chances are bed bugs can find their way into your laundry.
When you’re seated or resting in an infested area for an extended period of time, bed bugs might also crawl onto your clothes and grip onto the fabric. However, finding bed bugs attached to clothes you’re wearing is less common than finding them in suitcases and bags since there are fewer spots for bed bugs to hide.
Kids sometimes accidentally bring bed bugs home from school via backpacks and clothing. Those bed bugs likely originated from another student with an active infestation at home. This transfer can happen when backpacks and clothes are stored in close proximity to each other, such as in classrooms, closets, and cubbies.
Stores and retail locations are a less-talked about source of bed bugs, but the risk should not be underestimated. This is doubly true for stores located in densely-populated cities like NYC.
Used clothing stores are at the highest risk of being infested by bed bugs, as these tiny pests can hide in merchandise and breed in storage areas. Fitting rooms are another potential hot spots where bed bugs are brought into the store or picked up by unsuspecting customers. Even major clothing stores and big box retailers need regular bed bug inspections as part of their pest control protocols.
Other examples of stores where you should be cautious of bed bugs include laundromats, electronic stores, and cafes.
6. Neighboring Apartments
While bed bugs won’t crawl into your home from outside on the street or yard, they can sometimes migrate into your home from neighboring units if your neighbor has a heavy infestation (active dispersal). Bed bugs may enter your home this way via light switches, electrical outlets, and other small cracks in the walls.
If you’re dealing with a bed bug infestation in your home, MMPC is here to help. We have over 25 years of experience providing a variety of bed bug services, from NESDCA-certified canine bed bug inspections to eco-friendly bed bug treatment programs.