What Attracts Bedbugs to Human Environments?

They hitchhike into new locations and then are drawn to people

Bed bug feeding
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Once considered a pest of the past, bedbugs now make regular headlines as they infest homes, hotels, and dormitories worldwide. As bedbugs spread, more people worry about them and want to know what causes a bedbug infestation.

Though it might seem as if bedbug infestations are on the rise, historical context indicates that bedbugs and other bloodsucking parasites have been associated with humans for thousands of years. Throughout that history, people have endured them feeding on their blood. Bedbugs all but disappeared when people started using DDT and other pesticides to keep insects out of their homes. Although news headlines suggest bedbugs are conquering the world, the reality is that bedbug infestations are still at historically low numbers.

Why are they called bedbugs? Once they settle into your home, they congregate where you spend a lot of sedentary time: chairs, couches, and especially beds. They are attracted to you by the carbon dioxide in the air you breathe out, and you do a lot of breathing over the hours you're in bed. Then they feed on your blood.

Bedbugs Don't Care If You're Clean or Dirty

Contrary to popular belief, there is no association between bedbugs and filth. They feed on human and animal blood, and as long as a source of blood is available to them, they will happily take up residence in even the most pristine home.

Being poor doesn't put you at greater risk for bedbugs, and having wealth doesn't immunize you from a bedbug infestation. Although poverty doesn't cause bedbugs, impoverished communities may lack the resources needed to control infestations, making them more persistent and pervasive in such areas.

Bedbugs Are Excellent Hitchhikers

For bedbugs to infest your home, they have to hitch a ride on someone or something. They don't usually stay on their human hosts after feeding, but they might hide in clothing and inadvertently go along for the ride to a new location. Most often, bedbugs travel in luggage after someone has stayed in an infested hotel room. Bedbugs may even infest theaters and other public spaces and spread to new locations via purses, backpacks, coats, or hats.

Bedbugs Go Where the Action Is

Because bedbugs travel by hitchhiking, infestations are more common in places with high rates of turnover in the human population: apartment buildings, dormitories, homeless shelters, hotels and motels, and military barracks. Any time you have a lot of people coming and going, there's an increased risk that someone will carry a few bedbugs into the building. In general, owners of single-family homes have a lower risk of getting bedbugs.

Bedbugs Hide in Clutter

Once in your home, bedbugs scurry quickly to select a new hiding place: in beds and other furniture, behind baseboards, under wallpaper, or inside switch plates. Then it's just a matter of time before they begin multiplying. A single female may arrive at your doorstep already carrying enough eggs to produce hundreds of offspring. While filth does not benefit bedbugs, clutter does. The more cluttered your home is, the more hiding places there are for bedbugs and the harder it will be to get rid of them.