What is the main cause of bedbugs? Experts advise on how to avoid bringing pest guests home

Experts share the most common ways these household pests make their way into our homes

bed bug on fabric
(Image credit: Alamy)

Bedbugs are common pests that cause huge irritation despite their small size. There are various measures you can take to get rid of bedbugs if dealing with an infestation, and it's helpful to understand the main causes to help ward them off in the future.

We turned to professionals in the pest control industry to find out where these resilient bugs come from. 

Because if we know the main causes of bedbugs, we can reduce the chances of them from hitchhiking their way into our homes in the first place.

The main cause of bedbugs explained

Below, specialists share several common sources of these pests which first came to the US via ships arriving from Europe in the 18th Century.

bed bug

(Image credit: Alamy)

'It is contamination from other bedbug-infested environments that primarily causes a home to have bedbugs,' says pest control professional Allan Bossel of Michigan Bed Bug Specialists. 'When you are exposed to items or homes with bedbugs, you unknowingly become a means for them to spread to new locations.'

expert image
Allan Bossel

Allan Bossel is the owner and operator of Michigan Bed Bug Specialists. He has over a decade of insect and pest control experience, with a background in professional pest extermination and lab work. In addition to his skill set in operating state-of-the-art pest control machinery, Allan is licensed by the State of Michigan as a commercial pesticide applicator in general insect control and mosquitoes and has received thorough continued training in his field. 

  • Travel – Bedbugs may find their way onto luggage in hotels and motels with a high number of occupants. If you have stayed at a hotel or other home recently, leave bags and clothes in the garage or somewhere far from upholstered surfaces, suggests Allan Bossel, to avoid unintentionally transporting them to your home. Ensuring your suitcase is on the stand, not the floor, and that clothing isn't discarded on to the bed unnecessarily (and definitely not the floor) will reduce the chances of them infesting your luggage.
  • Second-hand furniture – Bringing in used furniture, particularly mattresses or upholstered items, could introduce bedbugs into your living space, so be sure to thoroughly inspect anything picked up from thrift stores and garage sales.
  • Schools and colleges – 'When students live in dorms or attend classes, they can easily pick up bedbugs from other students. This is why it's important to be vigilant about cleanliness,' says Vinvent Luca, owner of On Demand Pest Control.
  • Ordering online packages – Bad news if you love to shop from your couch, Megan Wede from Done Right Pest Solutions says lots of deliveries could increase the chances of a bedbug infestation.
  • Shared spaces – Bedbugs can move between apartments or houses through shared walls, vents or electrical conduits, and Zahid Adnan from The Plant Bible 
  • Guests – Visitors who unknowingly have had a bedbug infestation can inadvertently transfer them into your home, Zahid adds.

hotel room with luggage rack and bed

(Image credit: Getty images / chendongshan)

To prevent future problems, declutter your bedroom and invest in one of the best mattress protectors for bedbugs. A zippered mattress protector for bedbugs, at Amazon, gives peace of mind and helps you sleep without worrying about bites. 

From vacuuming regularly to washing sheets at a higher temperature, tips for banishing bedbugs also apply to getting rid of dust mites and get rid of carpet beetle larvae.

Are bedbugs caused by poor hygiene?

'Bedbugs do not care about your lifestyle, cleanliness or lack thereof. Bedbugs simply spread,' says Megan Wede. 'There are things you can do to prevent bedbugs, there are warning signs you can pick up on quicker in order to minimize the process of getting rid of them. 

'But there is nothing wrong with you if you accidentally picked up bedbugs somehow or some way.'


What should you do if you have slept in a bed with bedbugs?

The best thing you can do is to learn what to look for when returning to your own home. Learn the warning signs, says Megan Wade, pest control expert. 'Know what bedbugs look like, what their skin casings look like, what their droppings on mattresses look like,' she advises. 

'Inspect your luggage upon arrival for any intruders. Understand how they function, what their bites look like on your skin as compared to a mosquito bite or spider bite. Then, if you notice any of these things, contact a pest control company and get a chemical treatment.'

It's a good idea to inspect your items and isolate anything in a sealed plastic bag before cleaning or treating them.

Given that bedbugs are attracted to carbon dioxide, warmth, and human scent, infestations can easily happen. Plus, they often spread through the dividing walls of adjacent apartments and semi-detached homes, so there is sometimes little you can do to prevent them.

'Blaming poor hygiene or poor home organization and cleanliness for having bedbugs is almost the same as blaming your diet every time you get sick. In reality, there are a lot of factors that can contribute to an illness’s development, just as there are other factors that can set off a bedbug infestation,' says Allan Bossel.

Millie Hurst
Section Editor

Millie Hurst is a freelance lifestyle writer with over six years of experience in digital journalism. Having previously worked as Solved Section Editor at Homes & Gardens and Senior SEO Editor at News UK in London and New York, Millie has written for an array of homes brands including Livingetc and Real Homes and was formerly Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home. She has written and edited countless features on home organization, decluttering and interior design and always hopes to inspire readers with new ways to enjoy their homes. She lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and loves to weave nature-inspired decor and nods to time spent in Italy into her own home.