What to Do If a Friend's Home Has Bed Bugs

Two bedbugs on a bed sheet.
Roger Eritja / Getty Images

Learning that your friends are struggling with a bedbug problem in their home can elicit all sorts of different responses, from shrugging it off and ignoring the problem altogether, to severing all ties with your friends. The logical response is somewhere in between. A bed bug infestation is nothing to take lightly.

The Truth About Bed Bugs

A bed bug infestation can become anyone's problem. All it takes is a visit to a hotel, bed-and-breakfast, or relative's home where a single bedbug hops a ride in luggage or on clothing and makes its way back to your own home.

Bed bugs include two tiny insects in the Cimex genus: Cimex lecutlarious and Cimex hemipterus. These minuscule insects spend most of their time in dark areas, and it is rare that you see them at all. Like mosquitoes, these are biting, blood-sucking insects, but unlike mosquitoes, bed bug bites are often not felt at all at the time of the bite. The red, itchy welts sometimes do not appear for several days afterward.

There is little evidence that bed bugs carry disease in the same way that mosquitoes and ticks do. But bed bugs are very tenacious insects, capable of living as much as a year between feedings, and ridding them from a home can be very difficult. Bed bugs can thrive in any climate, and the common bedbug is found in all 50 U.S. states. However, there is one problematic tropical species, Cimex hemipterus, that is found only in tropical and subtropical climates.

A Clean Home Still Can Have Bedbugs

If you think that simply because you keep your home clean, it can't have bed bugs...think again. Infestations of bed bugs begin when the insects are carried in on a person's clothing or possessions. A hotel, a movie theater, a restaurant—or a friend's home—are all potential sources from which bed bugs can hitch a ride into your own home. It's true that piles of clothing or other messy conditions can give the insects places to hide and breed once they arrive; but unlike some other pests, such as fliescockroaches, and rodents, bedbugs are not attracted by food. Keeping a meticulously clean house does not necessarily prevent an infestation.

Quarantining Your Home

It may not seem very hospitable to withhold social invitations to friends who have bed bug problems, but it is actually a very logical reaction and one that may help keep your home free of the insects. You need not ban your friends from your home forever or disassociate with them completely, but it's wise to avoid visiting one another's homes until the infestation is completely eliminated. If your friends have done their homework, they will completely understand your reluctance and not want to put your home at risk. If you do want to meet up with friends who have a bed bug problem, meet them at a coffee house or restaurant rather than at either home.

If, after friends have visited your home, you discover that they are dealing with a bed bug infestation, take precautions and inspect for any sign of bed bugs. These biting insects can be present in a home long before they announce their presence, so your friends may have delivered the bugs to your home without even realizing they were facing their own infestation. And the bed bugs you find today may have been there for months before you realize it—don't assume the most recent guests are the source of your infestation.

To ensure safety when you have social parties, it's best to put guest coats and bags in a closet instead of on a bed. Alternatively, cover the bed with plastic sheeting that can be discarded outdoors, or a sheet that can be immediately laundered in hot water afterward.

Avoid Locations Known to Have Bedbugs

Temporarily declining invitations to visit any home (or any other building) that has a bed bug problem is simply smart. Bed bugs earn their common name because they are frequently found on bed mattresses, but they can also be found on sofas and other upholstered furniture—especially if the building has faced an extensive infestation, or if the furniture comes from a second-hand store without being inspected and treated for possible bed bugs. Bed bugs are extremely mobile and can easily move between pieces of furniture or into nearby suitcases, backpacks, or clothing left on the floor or draped over an infested chair or couch. It is remarkably easy to transport bedbugs into your home without knowing it.

Upon returning home after traveling, it's a good idea to immediately empty luggage, backpacks, and other objects, check them for any signs of bedbugs and immediately wash all clothing in hot water.

Calling in a Pro

Simply overhearing a conversation about bedbugs in another home isn't a cause to worry about your own home. Nor do you automatically need to worry if you have visited a home that has bed bugs. However, if those friends have recently spent time at your home—especially if they stayed overnight or have carried in possessions such as purses, backpacks, or suitcases—it makes sense to have your home inspected. Likewise, if you have stayed overnight in a home with bed bugs, precautions are in order. Remember that just because your home is clean does not necessarily mean it is free of bedbugs.

If you do suspect that the insects have found their way into your home by one means or another, immediately call a pest control professional. While many pests can be controlled by homeowners themselves, bedbugs are so difficult to find and to eliminate that professional service is recommended. Many products that are available to homeowners, such as bug bombs and foggers, are not only ineffective for bedbugs, but they can make the problem worse by further dispersing the bugs and causing them to burrow deeper into crevices.

Additionally, if the bedbug infestation is not eliminated—including all eggs—the infestation is likely to rebound. If you do decide to hire a professional, it can be helpful to understand what is expected of you, including common requests or recommendations made by pest control operators. If you do decide to use any over-the-counter pest control products yourself, read and follow all label directions and safe-use guidelines.

Education Is the Best Defense

Bad information regarding bed bugs is rampant, and it's wise to question much of the information found online or passed from person to person. Get your information from authorized sources, such as university extension services, pest-control specialists, or government EPA sources. These biting insects can be a serious long-term nuisance if an infestation takes hold in your house.