8 Warning Signs You’re About to Have a Bed Bug Problem

Updated: Feb. 19, 2021

Bed bugs infestations are on the rise in the United States. They can be tricky pests to spot, but they leave behind a distinct trail, so check out these subtle signs to make sure you keep the bed bugs from biting.

Bed bugs might be tiny, but they could be a big problem

Although there aren’t many nice things you can say about  bed bugs, one good thing is that these insects, which are just about the size of an apple seed, are not thought to spread disease or carry bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, they are a serious problem. Bed bugs, which are parasites that feed on humans, can cause severe itching from bites, secondary infections from scratching, and sleepless nights. There are ways to get rid of bed bugs after the fact, but you need to be on the lookout for warning signs so you are aware you might have an infestation in the first place.

close up of a bed bug on fabric

People you know have had bed bugs

Bed bug infestations can spread from home to home, especially in apartment buildings where they don’t have far to travel. “We have more people affected by bed bugs in the United States now than ever before,” says Ron Harrison, PhD, Orkin Entomologist and director of Technical Services. “They were virtually unheard of in the U.S. 10 years ago.” If you know someone who has had a bed bug problem, be safe and check your home for intruders.

person scratching their forearm

There are small, itchy bites on your body

Bed bugs can leave small itchy and inconsistent bites on your body. If you’ve found clusters of bites, especially if they are in straight lines of three, checking for bed bugs might be worth it. It isn’t a sure sign, though. Some people won’t show any signs of being bitten by bed bugs. “People may have bed bugs and not know it because many people have no physical reaction to bed bug bites,” Dr. Harrison says. “That’s why it’s important for people everywhere to inspect for bed bugs regularly.”

wrinkled bedsheets and pillows

There are dark stains on your sheets or pillowcases

Because bed bugs are messy, they can leave behind small stains in places they’ve lived. Any rusty or reddish stains or dark spots which bleed like a marker on your pillowcases or sheets are indicators of bed bugs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. If you find stains and you spot bed bugs, check out our 16 expert tips on how to get rid of them altogether.

nice hotel room

You frequently stay in hotel rooms

Hotel rooms are one of the primary ways that bed bugs spread. Orkin recommends that people who use hotel rooms often use the SLEEP method to inspect for bed bugs, which is:

  • Survey the hotel room for signs of an infestation. Look for black or brown spots on any furniture.
  • Lift and look in bed bug hiding spots: the mattress, box spring, bedskirt and other furniture, as well as behind baseboards, pictures and even torn wallpaper.
  • Elevate luggage away from the bed and wall. The safest place is in the bathroom.
  • Examine your luggage while repacking and once you return home from a trip.
  • Place all dryer-safe clothing from your luggage in the dryer for at least 15 minutes at the highest setting after you return home.

Also, check out these myths about bed bugs.

bed bug casings
cerobit/Getty Images

There are flakes on your bed or clothing

Casings from bed bugs are small, brown, and oval, and they are one of the signs you have bed bugs. If you find any of these small casings around your home, you might have bed bugs, according to Virginia Tech Department of Entomology experts. Don’t be too discouraged, though, by the presence of bed bugs because they can happen in even the cleanest homes. “Anyone can get bed bugs in their home. They are not a sign of uncleanliness. Bed bugs only need blood to survive,” Dr. Harrison says. “We have treated for bed bugs in everything from million-dollar homes to public housing.”

couch and blanket

You’ve only looked for bed bugs in your bed

Despite their name, bed bugs can thrive in multiple locations outside of a bed. According to a 2015 “Bugs Without Borders Survey” by the National Pest Management Association, nearly all (99.6 percent) pest professionals nationwide have treated bed bugs in the past year, up from five, ten, and 15 years ago, and many of these cases did not involve beds at all. If you’re looking for bed bugs, check the seams of chairs and couches, drawer joints, and areas of loose wallpaper too. And, yes, bed bugs can be in your car—here’s how to spot them.

person making the bed

There are brownish-red stains on your sheets that smear when wiped

As gross as it is, bed bugs can leave clusters of their poop on sheets, and these clusters can be how to know if you have bed bugs. If you find small stains that smear when wiped with a wet rag, it might be evidence of bed bug fecal matter, according to the EPA. If you find this alongside mattress seams or box spring edges, you might have a bed bug problem.

older-looking, funky armchair

You’ve recently purchased secondhand furniture without washing it

Getting a great deal on furniture is awesome, but secondhand furniture can invite unwanted pests like bed bugs into your home. Orkin recommends thoroughly inspecting any furniture that comes into your home for bugs before agreeing to purchase it. Next, here’s how to identify bed bug bites and eight other types of bug bites.