Pest Management

Bed Bugs

Bed Bug Inspection Process

A thorough inspection is important to determine how widespread the infestation is and the best way to manage bed bugs. Adult bed bugs can hide in any spaces as thin as a piece of paper. Young bed bugs are even smaller. When conducting an inspection, move slowly and avoid disturbing hiding bugs, so they don’t scatter. Keep in mind that in a low infestation, the bed bugs will be concentrated close to sleeping areas. Items away from the sleeping area will be at a low risk of infestation. Prioritize the risk of infestation from high to low to concentrate inspection and treatment time to the most infested areas. Look first before touching to avoid injury from hidden sharp objects.

Photo shows a lighted magnifying glass, screwdriver, and a card, which are useful for inspection purposes.

A lighted magnifying glass, screwdriver, and a card are useful for inspection purposes.
Photo by J. Gangloff-Kaufmann

The recommended inspection tool kit includes:

  • Magnifying glass
  • Strong flashlight
  • Plastic zip-top bags for collecting specimens
  • A probe, such as a “credit card tool”, made by cutting any plastic card into a long triangle, for checking in narrow spaces
  • Pyrethrin or compressed air (for cleaning computers) for flushing bedbugs from cracks and crevices
  • Screwdrivers for removing light switch and electrical plates
  • Other tools (a small tool kit) for disassembling furniture
  • Alcohol, glass-cleaning or baby wipes, for evidence that stains are bed bug droppings
  • Cotton swabs for checking stains in crevices
  • Sticky traps may be useful if placed under the bed and checked regularly
Signs of bed bugs:
  • Live bed bugs of all sizes (poppy seed to apple seed size)
  • Confirm that what you find is a bed bug
  • Droppings in the form of dark colored stains on cloth or bumps on hard surfaces
  • Shed skins
  • Eggs, although very small, will be found among droppings or in crevices where adults hide
Inspecting the bed:

Inspection for bed bugs starts in the place where people sleep and moves out from there to other parts of the room. This should be conducted before room preparation steps are taken.

Mattress inspection
  • Along the top and bottom seams, and along each side of the piping material sewn onto these edges
  • Under mattress handles and along or inside air holes
  • Between the mattress and box spring, platform or frame
  • Inside folds of material and under buttons
  • If mattresses are covered in vinyl plastic, look inside seams and rips in material.
  • Use alcohol or baby wipes to rub suspected bed bug droppings. If the spots dissolve into a reddish brown color, this could indicate bed bug droppings and should be a reason to continue inspecting until a live bed bug is found.

Bed bugs may be found along piping seams, under pillow tops, between the mattress and box spring, inside air holes, or underneath mattress handles. Do not overlook tears in the fabric or stitching holes when inspecting for bed bugs.

Bed bugs may be found along piping seams, under pillow tops, between the mattress and box spring, inside air holes, or underneath mattress handles. Do not overlook tears in the fabric or stitching holes when inspecting for bed bugs. Photos by J. Gangloff-Kaufmann.

Box spring inspection
  • Points where the box spring sits on the bed frame, (lift slowly to avoid scattering bed bugs)
  • The top surface of the box spring, inside folds of material
  •  Along seams and where the material is tacked to the frame
  • Turn over the box spring and remove the thin cloth layer on the underside.
  • Use a flashlight, a hand lens and a crevice tool to check the spaces between box spring frame parts.
  • Look around and beneath furniture staples and tacks.
  • Use a flushing agent to chase bed bugs out of hiding spots.
  • Double faced tape or carpet tape can be placed on the underside of furniture to capture wandering bed bugs. This is a monitoring tool, not a control strategy.
A woman looking for bed bugs between a mattress and box spring.

Check between the mattress and box spring and along every fold of material for signs of bed bugs.
Photo by D. W. Coard.

The bed frame and head board inspection

Wood beds (especially captain’s beds) and head boards (especially wicker) are preferred hiding spots for bed bugs over metal bed frames, but bed bugs will hide in crevices on metal and plastic, or where a mattress touches a metal frame.

  • Visually inspect and use the crevice tool in all joints of the frame where parts meet.
  • Turn the frame over and inspect from the underside.
  • Check screw and nail holes for bed bugs.
  • Take the bed apart to check between parts.
  • Remove the headboard from the bed and check for bed bugs along the joints and on the wall behind it.
  • Wicker furniture provides infinite hiding spots for bed bugs. Anything made of wicker should probably be discarded properly.
Tiny spaces in the bed frame and other furniture, such as a peg hole for a shelf, are ideal hiding spots for bed bugs.

Tiny spaces in the bed frame and other furniture, such as a peg hole for a shelf, are ideal hiding spots for bed bugs.
Photos by J. Gangloff-Kaufmann.

Inspecting other furniture and storage areas:
Bed bugs hiding in a screw on an office chair.

Bed bugs hiding in the screw hole of an office chair.
Photo by L. Sorkin.

Furniture, such as night stands, will be likely places to find bed bugs, since they can easily crawl to distant hiding spots. As the bed bug population grows, overcrowding may cause them to wander. Furniture near the bed can become infested and infestation can quickly spread away from the bed if no control measures are taken.

  • Empty drawers and shelves of the furniture closest to the bed.
  • Place items into plastic bags to be inspected and cleaned.
  • Pull out drawers and inspect every corner and the undersides, using the crevice tool to check under the metal drawer guide.
  • Use the crevice tool to inspect gaps wherever the tool will fit, such as between the shelf and bookcase frame.
  • Turn over all furniture to inspect the underside.
  • Be sure to inspect screw and nail holes.
  • Plastic and metal furniture may harbor bed bugs, follow the same inspection procedures.
  • Electronics, such as lamps, remote controls, alarm clocks, and radios should be placed into plastic bags for further inspection. If bed bugs are found in the frame of the furniture where the radio or clock sits, further inspections of those items and possible treatment are warranted.
  • Office-style chairs should be inspected by turning them over and looking under seams where fabric attaches to the frame. Also check screw holes.

Plush furniture, such as a couch, will harbor bed bugs, even if residents are not sleeping there. In these cases, inspection will be more difficult due to the many inaccessible hiding spots.

Bed bugs and debris on the underside of an upholstered chair where bedbugs might hide.

Bed bugs and debris on the underside of an upholstered chair.
Photo by L. Sorkin.

  • Inspect pillows and cushions, particularly the seams and the folds around zippers.
  • Look at and under legs of chairs and couches.
  • Turn over the furniture and remove the thin cloth backing under each piece.
  • Pay special attention to staples and where material is stapled to the frame.
  • Look inside at all wood parts of the frame.
  • If the piece is highly infested, consider disposing of it in a proper manner (see below for furniture disposal guidelines).
Inspecting the room perimeter:
Bed bugs and debris on the underside of an upholstered chair.

Base molding next to the wood leg of a bed.
Photo by J. Gangloff-Kaufmann.

Once established, bed bugs will spread toward the perimeter of the room, including walls, moldings, and rugs.

  • Look at moldings or the joint between the floor and wall closest to the bed.
  • Use the crevice tool to check behind moldings. The tool will chase bed bugs out of hiding if used in a sweeping upward motion.
  • Fold back the edges of wall-to-wall carpets to inspect for signs of bed bugs.
  • Pay attention to the tack strip of carpets.
  • Look under the edges of area rugs.
  • Using a screwdriver, remove electrical switch and outlet, and phone jack plates to inspect. If bed bugs are hiding in these areas, signs may be evident along the edges and on the back of the plate.
  • Inspect everything hanging on the walls. If framed art or photos are present and there is evidence of bed bugs nearby, open the frame to inspect inside or under the paper backing.
  • Check under loose wallpaper and areas of peeling paint.
Phone jack next to a bed with spaces where bed bugs might hide.

Phone jack next to the bed.
Photo by J. Gangloff-Kaufmann.

  • Take down curtain rods and inspect inside them and underneath hardware on the walls.
  • Look at closet, bathroom and other door frames, along hinges, and in the bore hole for the latch on each door.
  • Make a note if bed bugs are found on walls.
  • Ceiling lights and fixtures with bed bugs could indicate that they are moving from the upper floor unit.
  • If bed bugs are on walls, they may hide under ceiling moldings and in smoke detectors.
Inspecting unusual locations:

Bed bugs may turn up in unexpected places in moderate and large infestations. If the infestation is large, every object in the affected area should be carefully inspected.

Bed bugs have been found in such locations as:

Bed bugs hiding in the tab of a dictionary.

Bed bugs hiding in the tab of a dictionary.
Photo by P. Stravino.

  • Television and other remote controls, in the battery compartment
  • Telephones, cell and cordless phones
  • Lamps and alarm clocks
  • Computers and other electronics
  • Cardboard boxes in closets and under the bed
  • Children’s toys and stuffed animals
  • Jewelry boxes
  • Brick walls and “popcorn” or other textured ceilings
  • Books, magazines, newspapers, and files
  • Inside hollow doors
  • Ceiling light fixtures, smoke detectors
  • Heating units, air conditioners and ducts
  • Wheelchairs