Bedbugs are small blood-sucking insects that live in cracks and crevices in and around beds. They crawl out at night and bite exposed skin to feed on blood.
Adult bedbugs are oval-shaped, flat and up to 5mm long – similar to an apple seed.
Their colour varies between dark yellow, red or brown.
Bedbugs aren't dangerous and don't spread any diseases, but some people experience a reaction to their bites and they can be stressful to live with.
How to spot bedbugs
Signs of a bedbug infestation can include:
- small bugs or tiny white eggs in the crevices and joints of your mattress and furniture – use a bright torch to check for these
- bites on your skin
- tiny black spots on your mattress – this could be their dried poo
- mottled bedbug shells – bedbugs shed their skin as they grow
- blood spots on your sheets – these can occur if you squash a bug after it has fed
- an unpleasant, musty scent in your bedroom
Bedbugs tend to prefer fabric or wood over plastic and metal, and often hide near to where you sleep – for example, under the mattress or along the headboard.
But they can be found away from the bed in other furniture, along the edges of carpets and even behind mirrors or inside smoke alarms.
How to get rid of bedbugs
Bedbugs can be very difficult to get rid of. Your best chance of successfully treating an infestation is to get professional help.
A technician will carry out an inspection to confirm an infestation. They can then use special treatments such as insecticide, a steamer or rapid freeze system to get rid of the bugs.
They may also advise about things you can do to help, such as:
- wash infested clothes or bed linen at 60C, or put them in a dryer on a hot setting for 30 minutes
- use a vacuum cleaner with a hose to suck up any bugs you can see – dispose of the contents of the vacuum cleaner in a sealed bag
- consider throwing away any mattress or furniture that's heavily infested
- use plastic mattress covers that encase the entire mattress – this will stop any bedbugs getting in or out
Bedbug bites are painless, but some people experience a reaction to them. This can occur from a few minutes after being bitten up to a week or two later.
- can cause itchy red bumps on the skin
- usually occur on exposed areas such as the face, neck, hands or arms
- often occur in lines across the skin
- may cause a rash or fluid-filled blisters in more severe cases
- can become infected with bacteria if scratched – signs of infection include pain, increasing redness and swelling
See your GP if you develop signs of a skin infection (pain, redness and swelling). You may need antibiotics.
Preventing bedbug infestations
It can be difficult to avoid bedbugs, as they can be transported easily in luggage, clothing and furniture.
Once in your home, they can quickly spread from room to room. They don't jump or fly, but can crawl long distances.
It can help to:
- inspect your mattress and bed regularly for signs of an infestation and get professional advice if you think you have bedbugs
- avoid buying second-hand mattresses and carefully inspect second-hand furniture before bringing it into your home
- keep your bedroom tidy and remove clutter
Bedbugs aren't attracted to dirt, so they're not a sign of an unclean home, but clearing up any clutter will reduce the number of places they can hide.
Page last reviewed: 01/12/2016
Next review due: 01/12/2019