Division of Environmental Health

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our Environmental Health Services office at 10777 Main Street in Fairfax is open during regular business hours 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday - Friday. Clinic services are not offered at this location.

703-246-2201
TTY 711

10777 Main Street
Fairfax, VA 22030

Pieter A. Sheehan, REHS,
Director, Division of Environmental Health

Bed Bugs: Your Residential Reference Guide

What Are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are flat, wingless, blood-sucking insects less than ¼” long. They range in color from light brown to reddish-brown. Bed bugs are considered a nuisance pest only and are not known to spread disease. However an adult bedbug can lay up to 540 eggs in a lifetime, and each baby bedbug can be ready to reproduce in only 21 days, if it has had a blood meal. This makes it important to find and treat bedbug infestations in a timely manner.

Where Do Bed Bugs Hide?

Bed bugs are most often found in the following places:

  • Flooring: inside floor cracks; under carpets; or under baseboards.
  • Walls: behind loose wallpaper; in plaster cracks; in or under mounted light fixtures; and in or under pictures/posters/shelves or other hung items.
  • Wall Voids: (the area between the walls) behind electric sockets and light switch coverings; behind phone and cable jacks; behind service panels; and inside wall penetrations for electrical, plumbing, and ventilation.
  • Beds: in tufts, seams and mattress folds; inside box springs; in or on bed covers, linens, pillowcases and pillowcase covers; in bed frame seams; underneath bed frame legs; behind headboards; and pet bedding.
  • Other Furniture: in seams of furniture; underneath furniture legs; under drawer linings and in drawer tracts; behind furniture backs; underneath or inside cushions and cushion covers; and inside upholstery where it is stapled to the frame.
  • Clothing: attached to linings and folds of clothing in hampers and other laundry placement areas.
  • Other: in or under home furnishings (radios, clocks, lamps, phones, etc.); in or under personal electronics (computers, stereos, TVs, etc.); and any other item that provides a dark, undisturbed hiding spot.

How Do I Control Bed Bugs?

If you have bed bugs, do not panic. Bed bugs can be contained and eliminated from your home with the proper course of action, including the following steps:

  • Do not move new items into an infested room or take items from an infested room. Because bed bugs do not move long distances by themselves, a population can be contained if they are not moved by other means. When items must be removed, they should be stored in trash bags and washed immediately or thrown away outside away from the structure. All items should be taken off the walls, and all furnishings should be moved to the center of the room. This reduces many potential hiding areas and maximizes the distance between the furniture and the walls. If bed bugs do not make it to the insides of the walls, they are more quickly controlled.
  • Remove and immediately wash all laundry and linens, such as bed clothes, mattress covers, pillowcases, curtains, dust-ruffles, throw rugs, and tablecloths. Items should be washed with a strong detergent in the hottest temperature setting possible and stored away from the infested room until the bed bugs are controlled.
  • Throw away old mattresses. If mattresses are new or in good condition, they can be vacuumed, placed into direct sunlight for a few hours on a warm day, and then zipped inside a plastic mattress cover. Tape should then be placed over the zipper so that bedbugs cannot crawl through.

Bed Bug Pest Control

It is recommended you hire a pest management company to locate all bed bug hiding areas and apply a treatment that will effectively eliminate the pests. Pest control companies have access to pesticides that are restricted from use by unlicensed individuals.

Pest control methods you can do yourself to control bedbugs:

  • Limit their access to where you sleep by pulling beds away from the wall and other furniture. Remove dust ruffles and keep any bedding from touching the floor that would allow them a way to crawl onto the bed. (If you take naps on a sofa or recliner, you must do the same as for the bed.)
    • Place a trap under each bedpost or support to keep them from crawling up to the bed.
    • Check the trap daily. If you see bed bugs then vacuum them out with a canister-type vacuum cleaner. Then immediately dump the canister in the toilet and flush. (If you use a vacuum cleaner with a bag, then immediately after vacuuming up the bed bugs you must discard the bag outside in a closed trash container.)
  • Vacuum up any bedbugs you see on your bed or anywhere in your home with a canister vacuum cleaner.

How Do Bed Bugs Spread Through a House?

Bedbugs are "lazy" insects. They do not fly or jump and they prefer not to travel long distances on their own. In fact, they may stay in the same location without food for four months! When they move, it is usually because they have hitched a ride on clothing, furniture or other items that have been moved from one place to another. Note: A laundry room in a different part of the house, could become a prime transfer location, as clothing from an infested room comes into contact with clothing going to other rooms.

Where Did Bed Bugs Come From?

Decades ago bed bugs were eliminated in the United States by certain pesticides, such as DDT, which have since been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. Recently, with increased traveling, domestic and international, bed bug activity also began to resurge in this country as people moved around more. Although more environmental-friendly pesticides are on the market, some bed bug populations are becoming resistant to these chemicals. Until an effective pest management strategy can be developed, bed bugs are on the rise.

Bed bugs may crawl into or attach themselves to clothing, luggage, furniture, or any other item a person leaves in an infested area. Wherever this newly infested item is moved, bed bugs can make a new home and stay.

How Do I Know If I Have Bed Bugs?

Multiple red, itchy bite marks on your body when you wake up can be an indication of a bed bug infestation. Other signs to look for:

  • Tiny blood stains or smears appear on the sheets.
  • Bed bugs are seen clinging to furniture, mattresses, or any other hiding spot.
  • A large amount of red-black fecal material is found where bed bugs live.
  • The infested room has a sweet, musty odor that cannot be explained.

How Can I Properly Use Pesticides?

Bed bugs live indoors but there are relatively few pesticides labeled for bed bug control. It is important to use pesticides appropriately and to carefully follow the label instructions, especially when using approved pesticides indoors because people (particularly children) and pets have a greater risk of exposure. Outdoor pesticides should not be used indoors under any circumstances. For more information on safe pesticide use for bed bug treatment, see the following:

To report a possible pesticide misuse in Virginia, contact a Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Pesticide Investigator.

Fact or Fiction?

Myth: Bed bugs are associated with filth. Truthfully, it does not matter to a bedbug how clean your house is. They are bloodsucking insects and are not attracted to food products.

Fact: Bed bugs do not carry disease. To date, there has been no proof that bedbugs carry disease pathogens or are able to transmit blood related disorders.

Myth: Bed bugs chew their way into your mattress or bore their way into your furniture.

Fact: Bedbugs cannot chew at all. They have mouthparts much like that of a mosquito. Therefore, they will only be found on the outside of your mattress, provided there are no holes. They also can squeeze in between furniture seams, where two pieces are joined together.

Where Can I Learn More About Bed Bugs?

If you have an established problem with bed bugs in your home or establishment, you should contact a qualified pest management company or consult the following resources: