Updated: Dec 3, 2019
Fact: Even the cleanest houses (hospitals, dormitories, offices, etc) can be home to bed bugs. The resilient little critters do not respect people or places. They are equal-opportunity pests.
Unfortunately, bed bugs often make their way undetected into homes, offices, hospitals, etc. And they can be brought in on clothing, in luggage, nested in used beds and couches, and clinging to other everyday objects, like shoes, books, newspapers, and shopping bags. You name it — they can use it as a mode of transport.
Most people realize that bed bugs like to make their homes in mattresses, box springs, bed frames and headboards; in fact, the animals will live wherever they have access to people or animals, the sources of their diet of choice: blood.
But here’s something we didn’t know until just recently: bed bugs absolutely love to hide out in dirty laundry.
Surprising New Research About Bed Bugs
Actually, most people still don’t know this fact because it was only recently discovered. The role of dirty laundry in bed bug infestations was one of the main findings of a recent paper by scientists at the University of Sheffield in the UK. The study, published in the September 2017 issue of Nature.com, found that dirty laundry acts as a powerful magnet for bed bugs. In fact, bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) were twice as likely to gather on and inside bags containing soiled clothing, as compared to bags holding clean clothing.
That is not to say that bed bugs prefer dirty clothes to real live humans, but the UK scientists were able to show that, in the absence of a human host, bed bugs zero in on their next best option: the smell humans leave behind on soiled clothing. “It is the first time human odour has been considered as a potential mechanism facilitating long distance dispersal in bedbugs,” said William Hentley, an ecologist at the University of
Sheffield and first author on the paper.
Bed Bugs Are Back? They Never Went Away!
Bed bugs went into something of a decline in the 1980s and 90s, but the last two decades have seen an aggressive resurgence in their numbers. Some observers have linked the problem to the increase in low cost air travel.
The new researchers suggested that because “Bed bugs are attracted to the odour of sleeping humans and soiled clothing may present a similarly attractive cue, allowing bed bugs to ‘hitch-hike’ around the world after aggregating in the laundry bags of travelers.” This is, of course, conjecture, but the study clearly showed that “Soiled clothing is significantly more attractive than clean clothing to active bed bugs moving within a bedroom sized arena and [that] . . . elevation of CO2 to a level that simulates human occupancy in the same arena appears to initiate search behaviour [by bed bugs] rather than direct it.”
Have Bed Bugs. Will Travel.
This should be something of a wake-up call to those of us who travel abroad. Standards of hygiene vary from country to country and place to place, so travelers should exercise caution wherever they go. If you have spent a long day visiting the sites of a foreign city, don’t just dump those sweaty shorts and shirts across a chair or bed spread. Why? Because, say the UK scientists, “a failure to securely pack away clothes while travelling may explain why populations of biting parasites have soared during the past decade. Our results show how leaving worn clothing exposed in sleeping areas when travelling can be exploited by bed bugs to facilitate passive dispersal.”
The good news is that, according to Professor Hentley, you can take steps to avoid taking any of these critters home with you. “Bedbugs struggle to walk up smooth surfaces, so when I go traveling I always look for those smooth metal luggage racks to keep my suitcase on,” he said. “Failing that, I would keep my clothes in a big zip lock bag.” Good advice indeed!
Another Surprising Finding ̶ Wealthier Homes Contain More Bugs!
For those of you who think that your home, office, clinic or rest home is immune to bugs just because it’s nicer and more upscale, think again!
Another study published last year by The Royal Society, found that homes in wealthier areas harbor more bugs, flies, spiders, beetles and ants, as well as dust mites and book lice. It turns out that because richer neighbourhoods are more biologically diverse ̶ in birds, bats and other creatures ̶ and possess a greater number and variety of plants in gardens and parks, they attract many more ‘guests.’
“Our work,” said lead scientist Misha Leong at the California Academy of Sciences “overturns the general perception that homes in poorer neighborhoods host more indoor arthropods. Our unexpected, and perhaps counterintuitive finding highlights how much we have yet to learn about indoor ecology.”
How to Avoid Bed Bug Infestations
So, bed bugs are great hitchhikers. But you don’t want them in your home — or anywhere else for that matter. A few, simple precautions can help keep bed bugs out of your home, office or anywhere we humans work. You should:
Check bedding, furniture and even the luggage rack in your hotel room for bed bugs.
Scrutinize secondhand furniture, beds and couches for any signs of bed bugs before you bring them into your home or office.
Use protective covers which totally enclose mattresses and box springs. These eliminate many bed bug hiding spots.
Vacuum regularly to remove any ‘successful’ hitchhikers.
Reduce clutter in your home or office. Bed bugs love hideouts and out-of-the-way places.
If you live in an apartment building or multi-family home, you can help get rid of bed bugs out if you:
Install door sweeps on the bottom of doors to deter tiny infiltrators.
Seal any cracks or crevices around baseboards, light sockets, etc.
Exercise precautions if you use shared laundry facilities. Remove clothes from the dryer and place them directly into a bag. Wait until you are home to fold your clean clothing.
Finally, remember that Sterifab is the best product for getting rid of bed bugs and their unwelcome kin.