Unwanted Guests: Discover What Attracts Bed Bugs to Your Home

Bed bugs are the type of guest nobody wants, but many people don't know what makes their homes desirable to these critters. Bed bugs enter the home by hitching a ride on your luggage, used furniture, or other items brought in. Factors like dark sheets, a warm bedroom, and the presence of other bed bugs will encourage the little hitchhikers to stay. While making your home less hospitable to bed bugs won't eliminate an infestation, it could dissuade the bugs from taking up residence in the first place. Learn about what attracts bed bugs and how you can uninvite them to your home.

By Pest Advisor Editors (Updated on Jul 06, 2023)

Fact Checked by Jason Chapman

Unwanted Guests: Discover What Attracts Bed Bugs to Your Home photo

Many people have the misconception that a dirty home is what attracts bed bugs, but this isn’t the case. There are several factors to keep in mind when it comes to making your home less hospitable.

  • Bed bugs tend to come into the home by hitching a ride on items you’re willingly carrying inside.
  • Knowing the signs of bed bugs can help you catch an infestation quickly.
  • Bed bugs feed off of human (and sometimes other mammalian) blood, so simply living in your home is what feeds them.
  • You can take steps to make your home less attractive to bed bugs, but if you do see them, you’ll probably need to call an exterminator.

Check out this guide to learn how these unwanted guests enter your home in the first place and how you can give them the boot.

Bed Bug Infestations: How Do They Happen in the First Place?

While clutter can provide a hospitable environment after bed bugs have arrived (more on that later), these critters are opportunistic party-crashers. If there’s something soft and cozy going into your home and they’re in the area, they’ll become stowaways to infiltrate the new surroundings.

The main “vehicles” for them to hitch a ride on include items like a suitcase that’s been mingling with infested luggage on an airplane, a used chair you found for a steal at a secondhand shop, or even your clothing after you’ve unwittingly been hanging out with bedbugs in a hotel room or a friend’s home. You could have the cleanest luggage on the whole plane, and that thrift store might be upscale; that won’t stop them from hitching a ride. 

Because bed bugs are tiny and because they are adept at hiding in the slimmest of spaces (think about the crevices near your headboard or along the seam of your mattress), they can be happily eating and procreating for quite some time before being detected. This allows their numbers to grow rapidly, leading to an infestation.

Identifying the Unwelcome Guests: What Are the Signs of Bed Bugs?

When it comes to an infestation of some insects, like ants or silverfish, you’ll generally see them before you notice any potential damage or other signs. With bed bugs, this isn’t usually the case. It’s helpful to know what bed bugs look like, but in reality, you’re going to have other signs of these bloodsuckers before you’re likely to notice any live ones.

One of the most common signs you may have bed bugs is that you’re waking up with itchy, red bites. Bed bugs come out at night and feast while you sleep, so the evidence often begins with the bites they leave behind. The bites are often in lines or clusters. Not everyone reacts to bed bug bites, however, so a lack of bites doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have bed bugs.

Tiny brown or rust-colored stains on the sheets are another indication you may have unwanted houseguests. When the bed bugs feed, they’re drinking blood. If you roll over and crush them, that blood inside will make a little dark spot on your sheets.

Bed bug exoskeletons are another telltale sign you may have an infestation. The empty shells resemble tiny pieces of popcorn kernel shells. If you aren’t eating popcorn in bed and you see this type of material, it’s worth looking into sooner rather than later.

A large population of bed bugs could result in a musty odor. If you’re noticing any of the above signs and you also smell something sweet and musty, you might have a rather big problem when it comes to these critters.

Feeding Bed Bugs: What Do They Eat?

For bed bugs to want to stick around in your home, they’ll need to be assured of a steady supply of food. To put it plainly, bed bugs feast on blood. They prefer human blood, but if you or your human housemates aren’t available, they’ll get what they need from your cat, dog, rabbit, or other warm-blooded furry friend. 

They find you by being aware of carbon dioxide and heat, both of which you give off all of the time, but especially when you’re in one spot under the covers, sleeping peacefully. This is when they’ll make your move. They’ll take a little bite and drink their fill for several minutes. Once a bed bug is full, it will want to eat about once per week, but it can actually live for several weeks before feeding again. This means that even if you go on a three-week cruise and don’t leave any pets in the home, you can still come back to a live infestation.

Common Human Habits: What Behaviors Encourage Bed Bed Bugs to Come and Stay?

messy bedroom

Once your hitchhiking bed bug has made it into your home and has found food, it’s likely to want to stay a while. But could you have prevented them from coming in in the first place? And what factors can persuade bed bugs to really get comfortable, have large families, and make it very difficult to get rid of them? Here are some ways your behaviors could encourage an infestation:

  • Not taking care with luggage. It’s a tale as old as time: You go on vacation, check your luggage on the plane, then take it into the hotel room and plop it on the floor. If there are bed bugs present, they’re happily infiltrating the clothing, shoes, and suitcases you’ll be carrying into your own house. Take steps to keep your luggage safe and to inspect it for potential bugs before you bring it in the house.
  • Using pre-owned furniture. Yes, thrift stores and yard sales are amazing places to get great deals. Unfortunately, they’re also amazing places to get not-so-great bed bugs. Really think about it before you bring upholstered used furniture into your home, and inspect it carefully for signs of infestation.
  • Living in a cluttered environment. While clutter isn’t what attracts bed bugs in the first place, it can definitely impact whether they find some nice, dark places to hide. Clean up clutter in your bedroom. This could consist of clothing that isn’t hung up, papers, books, or just about anything stacked on a nightstand or on the floor.
  • A lack of regular cleaning. While mess or even dirt won’t attract these bugs, regular tasks like vacuuming and dusting can remove potential hiding spots and make it less likely for them to establish a colony. Keep your home not only tidy but also clean to help cut down on the risk of an infestation.

Seeking Professional Help: When Is It Time to Call an Exterminator?

While there are a lot of “recipes” out there for DIY bed bug extermination, the reality is that you really need to call in a professional as soon as you see the signs of an infestation. Household items like bleach, rubbing alcohol, and baking soda may seem convenient, but they will not rid you of your unwanted houseguests. Really, the only way to be sure you’re getting all of them is with a combination of manual cleaning (some of which you can do), chemicals, and, in some cases, heat treatments. The latter two really need to be done by an expert.

By being aware of what attracts bed bugs to your home as well as what encourages them to stick around long-term, you can minimize their impact. Once you experience bed bug bites or see the other signs they’ve moved in, though, it’s time to call in the big guns to get your home back to its normal, bug-free state.

Citations and Credits

Feature image by Tom Spinker / Flickr

Photo by  Charles Wiriawan / Flickr

Photo by Kara Babcock / Flickr

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