What Attracts Bed Bugs and How to Prevent Them

Last Updated On January 10th, 2024
What Attracts Bed Bugs and How to Prevent Them

Key Takeaways

  • Bed Bug Characteristics: Bed bugs are small, oval-shaped, reddish-brown insects about the size of an apple seed. They primarily feed on human blood and tend to hide in tight spaces close to where people sleep. Their presence can cause itchy bites and other health issues like insomnia and anemia.
  • Bed Bug Attraction: Bed bugs are attracted to the warmth and carbon dioxide that humans emit, using these cues to locate their hosts. They typically emerge at night and can be found in hidden spots near beds, such as mattress seams, bed frames, and cracks in walls. They are also adept hitchhikers and can easily travel via clothing, luggage, or furniture.
  • Prevention and Control: While there aren’t any specific repellents for bed bugs, certain measures can help deter and control infestations. Regular cleaning, heat treatments, and the use of steam on infested areas can help eliminate bed bugs. Maintaining a clutter-free environment and being vigilant during travel can also prevent the spread of these pests. Professional pest control services may be necessary for severe infestations.

Bed bugs are tiny, crafty creatures nobody wants in their homes. They measure about five to seven millimeters in length, which is almost the size and shape of an apple seed. These oval-shaped brown bugs are infamous for their itchy, red skin bites. They can also bring about other health problems, such as insomnia and anemia.

But what draws bed bugs to our homes in the first place? Let’s explore what attracts bed bugs and how to stop them. Bed bugs are attracted to dirty laundry and feed on human blood, which can result in itchy bed bug bites. In this article, we’ll uncover the reasons these pests come into our lives and how to prevent them from invading our spaces.

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What Is the Main Cause of Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs look like small, reddish-brown insects that have flat, oval-shaped bodies. They are typically about the size of an apple seed, and after feeding, their bodies can become more swollen and elongated.

Two things attract bed bugs: carbon dioxide and body heat. Bed bugs don’t see well, and some scientists even think they might be completely blind, as suggested by research. That’s why they rely on their sense of smell and the breath of their hosts to find their way to humans. Since we need to exhale to live, bed bugs have a built-in tracking system to make up for their poor eyesight.

Bed bugs like to come out at night and find cozy spots near where humans sleep. This way, they can feast on warm-blooded hosts while they snooze. These clever critters can adapt to our sleep patterns.

They create their nests in hidden places close to where humans sleep, like under bed frames, the underside of mattresses, nightstands, and even in tiny cracks in the walls near a bed. This is how they sneak into your home and set up a bed bug infestation.

How Do You Get Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are expert hitchhikers for insects that crawl everywhere, rather than Verified Source Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) The United States’ health protection agency that defends against dangers to health and safety. View source jump or fly.

They often catch a ride on people or their belongings like suitcases, purses, or coats. Any spot where you’ve sat or rested could be a place to pick them up. Travelers and those with guests have a higher risk of getting bed bugs.

You can spot adult bed bugs, nymphs, and eggs with your naked eye on your luggage andsuch. These tiny pests can be found in various public areas.

It’s a myth that bedbugs only live in dirty places. Here are some examples of where bed bugs can thrive:

  • Retail clothing stores
  • Public transportation
  • Libraries
  • Train and bus stations
  • Movie theaters
  • Hotels, hostels, and guest houses
  • Airports
  • Apartments
  • Second-hand wooden furniture

What Do Bed Bugs Eat?

Bed bugs have no taste for human food. And you’ll notice they aren’t interested in other substances like human waste either. 

Bed bugs have a preference for warm-blooded creatures, with humans being their favored food source. They are attracted to you through your body heat, exhaled carbon dioxide, and other scents. It’s worth mentioning that bed bugs aren’t picky when it comes to blood types; they’re equal-opportunity bloodsuckers.

These pests are called bed bugs because they’re often discovered around bedding. They seek refuge in nooks and crannies of box springs, headboards, and bed frames, patiently awaiting your stillness for a warm blood meal.

However, bed bugs aren’t confined to bedrooms. They feed day or night and don’t wait for your sleep. They’re just waiting for you to become inactive.

What Attracts Bed Bugs

Intriguingly, what attracts bed bugs is a question that often leads to discovering what bed bugs are drawn to in our everyday lives.

Bed Bugs Are Attracted to Dark Bed Sheets

Bed bugs prefer dark bed sheets, as an Oxford study Verified Source Oxford Academic Research journal published by Oxford University. View source found, with red and black preferred over other colors. But when they’re hungry, the color of your sheets doesn’t matter to them, whether they are red or lighter in shade.

So when it comes to bed bugs, bedroom color won’t repel these pests from seeking a human host or guest bedding.

Bed Bugs Are Attracted to Dirty Laundry

Scientific evidence suggests Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source that scents attract bed bugs such as those left on soiled clothing. This lingering human scent tends to lure bed bugs, which quickly triggers their hunt for a host, similar to how increased CO2 in the room stimulates the bugs, making them seek out a human to feed upon, so washing dirty laundry and old guest bedding is vital in managing these pests.

Bed Bugs Are Attracted to Warmth

Bed bugs need to feed, and they are primarily attracted to warm-blooded animals, humans being their top choice. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source It’s our body warmth and the carbon dioxide we breathe out that attract these pesky insects to us, with their preference having nothing to do with our home’s state or our style of living.

What Keeps Bed Bugs Away?

Right now, there aren’t any insect repellents approved for use on human skin to prevent bed bugs. And, according to pesticide specialists, using outdoor products indoors is both unlawful and could encourage the bed bugs to scatter from one or two hiding spots to many. This makes combatting their presence much more difficult. 

But, essential oils like lavender, tea tree, and peppermint offer natural solutions to keep bed bugs away, while also serving as top essential oils for sleep.

Other alternatives that can prevent bed bugs from making their way into your home include:

  • A careful application of diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source is a natural, fine powder composed of fossilized remains of diatoms. It dehydrates and damages the exoskeleton of bed bugs, leading to their eventual demise. Applied as a barrier, it effectively repels and controls bed bug infestations without the use of chemicals.
  • Frequent vacuuming around the bed, including the crevices of your bed frame. You want to leave no crack open and free for bed bugs to settle.
  • Maintaining a tidy and clutter-free living space.

What Should You Do if You Suspect Bed Bugs?

Getting rid of bed bugs can be an arduous task, and many individuals may prefer leaving the cleanup to professionals. But if you want to try tackling it yourself, there are a few things to do.

Start by decluttering the infested areas.  Use a vacuum to clean the mattress, bed frame, and surrounding areas, including carpets, baseboards, and furniture.

You can effectively get rid of bed bugs through heat treatments. Simply wash your items in water that’s at least 120°F (48.9°C) or toss them in a hot dryer for 20 minutes. However, while this heat treatment can take readily care of bedding, it’s more difficult to apply that amount of heat to a whole bedroom.

Consider using a steamer to treat areas where bed bugs are likely to hide, such as mattresses, furniture, and baseboards. Steam can penetrate deep into these surfaces and eliminate the pests.

For items you can’t simply wash in hot water, you can try placing infested items in an enclosed vehicle. For example, if you live in a very hot place, bag up the items and leave them in a car parked in the sun with the windows up for a day.

When all else fails, it’s important to note that hiring professional pest control services is a key part of pest management. They conduct thorough treatments, including heat treatments if needed for a severe infestation, ensuring those pesky bed bugs don’t stand a chance.

Bed Bug Prevention: How to Keep Bed Bugs Out

Most insecticides available to the public can’t effectively kill bed bugs, often causing them to hide until the insecticide loses its potency, sometimes forcing bed bugs to relocate to nearby rooms or apartments, making pest management a challenge.

There are no miraculous sprays to eliminate a bed bug infestation, and bed bugs can survive for months without a meal, even up to a year in colder temperatures of 55°F or lower.

Bed bugs are in fact extremely resilient when it comes to hot and cold temperatures. A study found Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source that to kill bed bugs and their eggs, they need to use temperatures of at least 48 degrees Celsius or approximately 118 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s a little hotter, around 50 degrees Celsius or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, the bed bugs can’t survive. The study also found that their eggs are stronger and need more time to be completely killed.

More to Watch Out for

While bed bugs are one of the more persistent pests, they’re not all that you should keep your eyes peeled for:


What scents are bed bugs attracted to?

Bed bugs are primarily attracted to scents associated with carbon dioxide, body heat, and the scent of human skin. They locate their hosts by detecting the carbon dioxide exhaled during respiration, body heat, and certain chemical compounds found on human skin, such as sweat and pheromones.

Bed bugs are not particularly drawn to sweet or fruity scents, unlike some other pests. So you don’t need to worry about any essential oils, scented candles, or pillow sprays for sleep attracting any bed bugs.

Are bed bugs due to poor hygiene?

No, bed bugs are not exclusively associated with poor hygiene. Bed bugs are equal opportunity pests and can infest even the cleanest of environments. They are primarily attracted to the presence of hosts (humans or animals) for blood meals, not the cleanliness of the surroundings.

While clutter and debris can provide hiding spots for bed bugs, they can thrive in both tidy and unkempt spaces. Bed bug infestations are more related to travel, used furniture, or other factors that introduce them into a home rather than a reflection of personal hygiene.

How did I get bed bugs when I haven’t been anywhere?

Bed bugs are highly adept at hitchhiking and can be introduced into your home in various ways, even if you haven’t traveled recently. Common sources of bed bug infestations include used furniture, particularly upholstered items, as well as luggage that has come into contact with bed bugs in hotels or other infested areas.

Bed bugs can also be transported through clothing, bags, or belongings that have been in infested environments. They are resilient pests that can survive for several months without feeding, making it possible for them to remain hidden until they emerge.

What keeps away bed bugs?

Preventing bed bug infestations involves a number of proactive measures. These include regular cleaning and decluttering of living spaces, using mattress and box spring encasements to trap any existing bed bugs, and practicing good hygiene. Minimizing potential entry points for bed bugs, such as cracks and crevices in walls and furniture, can also help deter them.

While some recommend natural repellents such as certain scents, their effectiveness in keeping bed bugs away is limited. Professional pest control measures are typically required for full, effective prevention.

What to do if you’ve slept in a bed with bed bugs?

If you’ve slept in a bed with bed bugs or suspect that you have, take immediate action to minimize the risk of bringing them home with you. If possible, leave your luggage and any potentially infested items outside or in the bathroom of the infested location. This prevents bed bugs from spreading to other areas.

Thoroughly inspect your luggage, backpack, or bags for any signs of bed bugs. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove any visible bugs or eggs. Wipe down the exterior of your luggage with a damp cloth to remove any potential hitchhikers. Seal your belongings in plastic bags until you can ensure they are bedbug-free.

Once you return home, inspect your living space for any signs of bed bugs. Check your mattress seams, furniture, and nearby areas for tiny reddish-brown bugs, shed skins, or small black fecal spots. If you’re concerned that bed bugs may have come home with you, consider hiring a pest control professional for an inspection. Early detection can prevent a full-blown infestation.


Understanding what attracts bed bugs is essential in managing pest problems effectively. By staying vigilant, practicing good hygiene, and being proactive, we can sleep tight and truly avoid letting the bed bugs bite.

About the author

Mitchell Tollsen is a graduate student and a freelance writer who’s contributed to the Early Bird blog for three years. Mitchell’s always been fascinated by the science of sleep and the restorative processes our bodies undergo when at rest. The self-titled “Sleep Expert” is always looking for ways to improve his shut-eye, and throughout the years has implemented numerous lifestyle changes and tried dozens of sleep-promoting gadgets to determine the best ways to truly get better rest.

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