How Much Do You Really Know about Bed Bugs?

Bed bug
Can you identify this bug?. Courtesy: Raid

In April 2016, Raid conducted a Bed Bug Myth-Busting survey to determine how much the average American adult knows about bed bugs. Although 69% of the 1,001 surveyed adults (ages 18-64) said they check for bed bugs when staying at a hotel, only 45% actually knew what a bed bug looked like.

The first question on the survey included an image of a bed bug. Then, providing a list of possible insects, asked, "What type of insect is in the image below?" Although almost half correctly identified the insect as a bed bug,

  • 21% thought it was a tick.
  • 13% responded cockroach.
  • 8% checked termite.
  • 7% said flea.
  • 4% said lice.
  • 2% responded that it was none of the above.

Thus, although a number of the respondents said they do check for bed bugs in certain situations, it is not likely that they actually knew what they were looking for, or would recognize the bug if it was seen. It is for that very reason that it is very important to collect a sample of any bug you may suspect to be a bed bug – or any other pest insect. The sample can then be shown to the building management or a pest management professional for identification and effective control/elimination implemented.

Following are situations in which survey respondents stated they do check for bed bugs, and the percentage who do at each:

  • 69%     When staying at a hotel.
  • 53%     When staying in hostels or short term rentals.
  • 53%     When buying used furniture.
  • 44%     When moving into a new home.
  • 44%     When you return from travel.
  • 37%     When staying at a friend or relative’s house.
  • 37%     Regularly in your own home.
  • 1%       Other.

Whether analyzing the responses by gender (male/female), generation (Millenials, Gen X, Boomers), region (Northeast, South, Midwest, East) or area (urban, rural, suburban), all respondents were more likely to check for bed bugs when staying in a hotel, hostel, or short-term rental than they were if staying at the home of a friend or relative.

And, on average, all were least likely to regularly check their own home for bed bugs. The one statistical difference to this statement were residents of the Midwest – as an overall average, only 37% of respondents regularly check their homes for bed bugs, but 43% of Midwesterners were likely to. Additionally, more urbanites (41%) regularly checks their homes than did suburbanites (34%) or rural residents (37%).

When they did check for bed bugs while traveling, where did respondents look for bed bugs? The greatest frequency was in the bed – that is, in the bed or mattress itself (75%), under the sheets (70%), or on/in the pillows or pillowcases (64%). Additionally:

  • 52% check in or on other furniture (couches, chairs, etc.).
  • 43% looked under the bed.
  • 43% inspected their clothing.
  • 39% checked in their luggage.
  • 38% looked behind the headboard.
  • 21% inspected the walls.
  • 14% looked behind picture frames.
  • 14% checked in electrical outlet plugs.

About one-sixth of the respondents never check for bed bugs at all, with 17% stating that they don't check any of the situations, and 15% not checking any of the places listed in the two questions above.


Bed Bug Fact or Myth?

In addition to the multiple choice and preference questions, the survey sought to determine how accurate Americans knowledge is about bed bugs. Following are the True or False questions included in the poll. Test yourself: How would you answer the questions? Then read on to the next section to find out if you were right or wrong, how you compare with survey respondents answers, and explanations of each.

True or False:

  1. Bed bug infestations are almost always successfully treated with just one professional treatment.
  2. Dirt in the home increases the risk of bed bugs
  3. Bed bugs live primarily in warm weather climates
  4. Bed bug bites can cause an allergic reaction
  5. Bug bombs and foggers are effective ways to kill bed bugs
  6. Bed bugs only bite during the nighttime


Correct Answers to the Bed Bug Questions

Following are the percentages of respondents who answered True or False, and the correct answer, with explanation.

  1. Bed bug infestations are almost always successfully treated with just one professional treatment.  (True: 26%; False: 74%)
    False. Most professionals will need multiple visits to eradicate a bed bug infestation. The trick for an effective treatment is to place the insecticide where the bugs will encounter the poison. (For more information, see Answers to Your Bed Bug ID, Prevention and Extermination Questions.)
  2. Dirt in the home increases the risk of bed bugs. (True: 54%; False: 46%)
    False. Although bed bugs are no more likely to occur in insanitary, unclean, or unhealthy environments, there is a social stigma attached to bed bug infestations and the cost to eliminate a bed bug infestation is one of the most expensive and time-consuming of all pest control services. Because of this, although low-income housing does not have a higher attraction for the bed bugs, residents are less likely to be able to afford control, and the problem is more likely to spread quickly, especially in multi-unit housing. (Read more about this at Bed Bug Facts and the Social Stigma.) 

    3.Bed bugs live primarily in warm weather climates.  (True: 56%; False: 44%)
    False. Some of the most northern big cities of the U.S. consistently top the list of those with the greatest bed bug problem. Chicago has ranked at #1 for four years in a row; New York City is currently #4, and three Ohio areas appear in the top 15. (See the full 2016 list at Is Your City on This Year's Bedbug List?)

    1. Bed bug bites can cause an allergic reaction. (True: 92%; False: 8%)
      True. If you have been bitten by bed bugs you may have red, itchy spots on areas of your body that don't have much hair. The bites often appear in a line or cluster near each other, formed as the bugs feed from multiple sites. People who are particularly sensitive or allergic to the bed bug saliva may have some reaction to the bites, with the area becoming inflamed and itchy, but a serious reaction is rare. (Visit Controlling the Biting Bed Bug to learn more.)
    2. Bug bombs and foggers are effective ways to kill bed bugs. (True: 40%; False: 60%)
      False. A 2012 study by Dr. Susan Jones, associate professor of entomology at The Ohio State University, showed that over-the-counter bug bombs and foggers had little effect on bed bugs – even if directly expose to the chemical for two hours. The total-release aerosolized pyrethroids did kill some species with long exposures – but only if directly contacted by the pesticide. Even a thin layer of cloth (e.g., a sheet) protected the bed bugs from the aerosol. Because bed bugs tend to hide in sheltered areas when they are not feeding, it is very unlikely that the aerosol from a bug bomb or fogger would reach them, and even less likely that the low concentration of pesticide would be in contact long enough to kill them. Additionally, many bed bug species are resistant to pyrethroids, so when a pyrethroid product does penetrate a harborage, it is more likely to cause the bed bugs to scatter, making the problem even worse. (Read more about this at Do's and Don'ts of Bed Bug Control.)
    1. Bed bugs only bite during the nighttime. (True: 21%; False: 79%)
      False. Bedbugs are nocturnal, so they do indeed bite at night when a person lays down on a bed (or couch or chair … where the bedbugs is hiding – See #9.). But this doesn't mean they won't bite during the daytime; lights will not keep bedbugs from bite -- if they're hungry, they'll feed! (Click here to read all 11 Reasons You Can't Wait to Get Rid of Bedbugs.)


    Have Bed Bugs or Eat Cockroaches?

    Adding a bit of fun to the survey, one of Raid's final questions was: Would you rather have a bed bug infestation in your home or eat 10 live cockroaches? The response was nearly 50-50, with 52% preferring the bed bug infestation and 48% saying they would rather eat 10 live cockroaches. (I, personally, would find it to be a very tough call!)

    Bringing it back to general pest control, the final question asking if respondents would rather have a bed bug or a cockroach infestation in their home brought an overwhelming majority standing on the side of cockroaches (66%), with only 35% preferring bed bugs instead.


    The 2015 Bug Survey

    This wasn't the first survey that Raid conducted -- or that was written about in About Pest Control. In 2015, the company wanted to find out how American adults feel about pests. That survey, which questioned 1,000 American adults uncovered a number of fun, interesting, and shareable insights about bugs and pesticide products. While it also included questions about bed bugs, it focused on the bigger picture of bugs in general. Are you more likely to take control with DIY pest control - or call in a professional? Would you buy a home with bugs? What is the worst bug to see in your home, and where would you least like to see it?

    Find out how your thoughts, feelings, and bug knowledge compare to other U.S. adults at How Much Do You Know about Bugs?


    About the 2016 survey. Edelman Intelligence conducted Raid’s Bed Bug Myth Busting Survey, a 5-minute, online survey among a representative sample of N=1,001 U.S. adults ages 18-64. The margin of error for this sample is +/- 3.09% at the 95% confidence level. The survey was fielded between March 22 and March 28, 2016.