How can you tell if you have bed bugs? The top 5 signs of bed bugs in your home

The top 5 signs of bed bugs – this is how you can tell the pests have infiltrated your home

Bed bug
(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Bed bug infestations are no joke. These creepy crawlies are vicious and incredibly difficult to get rid of. Not to mention hard to spot. But there are several signs of bed bugs you can look out for to determine whether you’re dealing with these nocturnal pests.

As apparently another bed bug epidemic is heading for the UK (or perhaps it’s already here), it’s never been more important to be able to tell if you have bed bugs, as well as knowing how to get rid of them.

So we turned to our pest experts to learn more about what exactly we should be looking out for when trying to establish if bed bugs have invaded our home. Fingers crossed they haven’t and won’t.

5 signs of bed bugs

Bed bug

(Image credit: Getty Images/dblight)

According to Dr. Jonathan Kirby, pest expert at NOPE!, the company’s research ‘revealed that over one-third (36%) of Brits say they aren’t confident they’re able to identify bed bugs.’ So there is clearly some room of improvement when it comes to the nation’s education on the matter of bed bugs.

And even if your home is spotless, that doesn’t mean you’re immune to bed bugs. ‘It’s false to assume that someone has a bed bug infestation because of a dirty property,’ says Mihail Velev, pest technician at Fantastic Pest Control. ‘Many luxurious hotels have also been infested by these pests, and the issue has nothing to do with the level of cleanliness. You’re as likely to come across them in immaculately maintained homes and hotels as you’re in dirty ones.’

So nobody’s safe. We’ve narrowed it down to five of the most common signs that bed bugs have infiltrated your best mattress or anywhere in your home.

1. Bites

A pink bedroom with a turquoise velvet headboard on a bed

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Wreford)

Bed bugs are blood-thirsty pests, which is why they usually set up camp in your bed or somewhere near it. They bite people at night to feed on their blood so one of the clearest signs of bed bugs are these bites. 

‘When identifying bed bugs, you’ll probably not notice the bugs themselves, but the bites on your skin will indicate their presence. The bites are usually painless but later turn into itchy welts that can become red and swollen,’ Mihail says. 

Unlike mosquito or spider bites, bed bug bites appear in clusters rather than as singular marks. ‘Generally, the first sign is someone having a reaction to the bites, or the anaesthetic the bedbug injects into you before taking your blood,’ explains Sarah Beck, operations manager at The Pest Master.

Dr. Jonathan points out that the pests attack any exposed skin and recommends covering up if you suspect you might have bed bugs.

2. Stains

A bedroom with a bed with colourful bedding

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

There are two types of stains that you might encounter if bed bugs are in your headboard, mattress or bed frame. The first are blood stains. ‘If you're a restless sleeper, you'll see blood spots on your bedding or mattress because of bed bugs being crushed during the night,’ Mihail says.

The other and more prevalent are dark, rusty-looking stains. ‘Bed bugs also leave dark, rusty stains behind them, similar to a felt pen mark, that may bleed into the fabric. These are actually droppings,’ Mihail explains. The reddish, rusty undertone of these stains are due to the bugs’ bloody diet.

3. Eggs and cast skins

Bedroom with a bed and hanging ladder

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

If you don’t spot the bed bugs themselves, you might notice signs of them, such as their cast skins, eggs or egg shells.

Bed bug cast skins ‘are left behind when baby bed bugs turn into adults. They may repeat this process up to five times before they reach full maturity. The cast skins look like coloured empty bed bug shells, and you’re most likely to find them in crevices and corners, rather than on the bedding,’ Mihail says.

A single female bed bug can lay up to 500 eggs over a two-month period, which is why infestations develop so rapidly and why you might spot these eggs or their shells. ‘Bed bug egg shells are only about 1mm in length, but you can see them with an unaided eye. They are similar to dried-out cast skins but flatter and less shiny.’

‘On the other hand, bed bug eggs are shiny and translucent and are typically found away from the main population. They have a sticky film that adheres to surfaces,’ Mihail describes.

Dr. Jonathan Kirby
Dr. Jonathan Kirby

Jonathan is a developmental chemist and pest expert at NOPE!. From pest control to masonry protection, he has dedicated himself to helping protect UK housing stock through the development of new and innovative products. 

4. Odour

One thing that you might (or might not) notice is a different and unpleasant smell in your bedroom, which might be a sign of bed bugs. It is described as a musty or mouldy odour.

‘The odour that bed bugs leave behind is sweet and musty, and it is more obvious in heavier infestations or when the pests have been disturbed,’ Mihail advises.

5. Crawling bed bugs

Bedroom with a bed with yellow bedding

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

If you’re ‘lucky’, you might catch the bugs red handed as they make their way across your mattress or bedding. But let’s face it, no one with bed bugs in their home is lucky per se. 

‘Bed bugs are nocturnal, so try looking at night if you want to catch them crawling across your mattress,’ Dr. Jonathan recommends.

How can I tell if we have bed bugs?

There are several signs of bed bugs you can look out for. We’ve narrowed it down to seeing clusters of itchy bites on your skin, rust-coloured stains, change in odour, spotting cast skins, eggs or even crawling bugs on your bed.

What do bed bugs look like early on?

‘Bed bugs are tiny, oval, brown insects with flat bodies that are about the size of an apple seed. They have a pair of front wings but they can't fly. Their movement, however, is extremely fast over walls, floors, and ceilings,’ Mihail explains.

We hope that you will never have to check for these as facing the possibility of a bed bug presence in your home is not a pleasant experience. But if you do, we hope these tips will make the process all the less difficult for you.

News Writer

Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home decor and interiors, as well as trend-led pieces, shopping round-ups and more. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors, working with the likes of 91 Magazine and copywriting for luxury bed linen brand Yves Delorme among others. She feels that fashion and interiors are intrinsically connected – if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.