Attention! Since this FAQ was written (2/2008) many advances have been made in detecting bed bugs using active and passive bed bug monitors. Active bed bug monitors are available which did not exist when forum users suggested the methods below. Canine scent detection (bed bug dogs) are also more common every day. Please read this FAQ for the latest on detection possibilities, and consider that much of the following may be mainly of historical interest. If you want a cheap detection solution, and if the design of your bed permits, BBAlert Passive Monitors or ClimbUp Insect Interceptors may be a much better use of money, time and energy than the “handwarmer method” below. Bed Bug Beacon Active Monitors actively attract bed bugs but in a more powerful way than the handwarmer method, using Co2 emitted over about 5 nights. “Detecting Bed Bugs Using Bed Bug Monitors,” written by Changlu Wang, outlines options for detecting bed bugs, including tips on using ClimbUp Insect Interceptors and instructions on how to implement the active dry ice monitor Wang’s office developed. You can download it for free from the Rutgers website. One person on our forums found the Bed Bug Beacon CO2 monitor to be more economical than the dry ice monitor, and many feel it would be easier and safer.
One of the biggest frustrations with bed bugs is that it is hard to know if you have them. You can be bitten quite badly for a long time before ever finding a bed bug. Bed bugs, bed bug cast skins, fecal spots and fecal specks can all be hard to find.
The best thing to do if you suspect bed bugs is to have a qualified pest control operator (PCO) search your home for them, carefully. You may have a PCO who searches and finds nothing. I assume you have already had a doctor rule out scabies, folliculitis, and other medical causes) and that your PCO has ruled out fleas and other biting pests.
While I do not recommend self-treatment for bed bugs, I do recommend trying to locate a sample yourself, especially if a pest control operator has looked but has not yet found evidence, or if the PCO wants to treat without evidence (this may seem great to you at the time, but you really should find out if bed bugs are the cause of your troubles before sinking in your money and time into getting rid of them).
We now have some ideas for bed bug traps to detect a problem. A few caveats:
- These methods are not foolproof. They could take time and having more traps out more frequently increases your odds of catching a culprit.
- This does not significantly reduce your problem, not by a long shot, and is not in itself a treatment option. But detection is the first step in solving your bed bug problem.
- This is not about capturing a live bed bug, but one for identification purposes. Live bed bug sampling can be done with what the British call a pooter, but you have to find a bed bug first. To read about these methods, see this forum thread.
The following are some do-it-yourself methods for getting a bed bug sample.
First, many Pest Control Operators will suggest or use glue traps, designed for mice, to catch bed bugs. Yes, bed bugs will be caught if they walk across them. But getting them to walk across such a trap is tricky. They could walk around it. And you may have no idea what routes they travel.
In a forum thread, PCO/Entomologist Sean, of the Bed Bug Resource, suggested adding an activated hand warmer to the center of the trap:
Take a mouse glue board (sold by pest professionals) and place an activated hot shot (hand warmer) in the centre. There are several brands of hot shots out there and to my knowledge they all should work. These give off both heat and carbon dioxide.
These are NOT 100% effective in every case.
I have never had it not work in a badly infested area, but surely there is the possibility that it may not work in a light infestation.
Keep in mind that bed bugs feed about once per week. Hot shots last about 12 hours. This means that you may have to put one out every night for a week before catching anything. Obviously multiple locations increases your odds.
Putting these traps in the room you think you’re being bitten in, at night, when you’re not (yet) there sleeping, might be good. Doing it when you are away for some reason might be even better (though we don’t recommend you sleep elsewhere in another room or building, as a general rule, since it can spread bed bugs). Remember to put them where pets can’t go, or to keep pets out of the room–they really are very, very sticky.
Hand warmers are sold under many brand names and used by outdoorspeople and people with medical problems (which should give you some idea where to find them). Glue traps are in the pest control section of a home store or available online. These are examples of glue traps and air activated hand warmers:
air-activated hand warmers:
Fourt, in another forum thread, described a rigged-up trap that worked:
I am setting up a crazy little trap up tonight. It’s really not a trap but rather a thing to lure them from returning to their hiding spaces. I have 2 pieces of old wood, not very large, I have drilled several shallow holes on one. Then Im going to cover the holes with the other piece of wood. Placing it close to the head of the bed. My theroy is they will check it out on their way back to where ever they are living. And decide this looks like a nice place to hang out and lay eggs. Then when they least expect it, I will lift off the top peice of wood and get them with my handy dandy garment steamer. My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I tell him to catch a bed bug you need to think like one. I will let you guys know how this works. I know I will not get rid of a infestation this way. But it may work as a monitoring tool.
And here’s the follow-up:
Well, my little wood trap worked. Found an almost mature bug bed in one of the holes. I steamed it with my garment steamer. It died in a instant. I steamed all of the wood incase there were eggs on it. I have set it up again and will wait and see what else happens.
And some tips:
The bed bug trap worked very well to catch them if they were around. If I was to do the trap all over again I would have used a slightly larger drill bit. One last thing regarding the trap. You must use real wood not plywood or MDF. Place the wood near the bed and see what happens. Make sure you have a way to catch them when checking the wood for BB. They can trot at a good clip.
Fourt’s trap reminded me of this trap idea hopelessnomo found. I was impressed by Fourt’s ingenuity, and happy it worked, though I have to stress that I think that luck plays more of a role in this method than Sean’s. There’s nothing to attract the bed bug in this case, except that it’s a form of wooden clutter with holes for hiding out, and it’s in the bed (no doubt to some degree appealing to bed bugs).
The bottom line is that Sean also has experience with his trap working again and again, and if I had to rig up a trap, I would try his glue trap/hand warmer method (and try it a number of times).
Another method of detecting (but not trapping per se) gets around the fact that bed bugs may be less likely to come towards you in bed with the lights on, and involves using red LED light to see bed bugs at night. NotSoSnug, resident “Cimex Hunter,” had great results with this. You can read about his methods here. They are effective, though their effectiveness depends on your ability to stay up (possibly most of the night) as well as your level of infestation. If you are not being bitten by lots of bed bugs, or being bitten elsewhere than the bed, or you simply would like to sleep, this is not such a great method. Since NotSoSnug was not able to sleep during this period, and did appear to have lots of bed bugs, it was very effective for him.
A red LED light was part of NotSoSnug’s toolkit for detecting bed bugs at night in bed. They can be quite useful. Here’s a thread about this (including advice about obtaining useful red LED lights).
I welcome reports in the comments below from those who use one of these methods and find it successful.
Future prospects for bed bug traps?
My understanding is that a glue trap involving bed bug aggregate pheromones is in the works, but has been for years, and we should not hold our breath.
Simple glue traps are beginning to be marketed as bed bug traps. Don’t get excited at the simple mention of a bed bug trap for sale.
John F. Anderson at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven is working with a rigged-together bed bug trap that is not commercially available. You can see glimpses of it near the end of this WTNH News 8 video Paula shared in the forums. We can hope something like it–or the plans for how to make one– is soon available to all of us.
Remember, too, that bed bug dogs are an option as an aid to finding a bed bug or detecting their presence. Dogs and their handlers cannot always help you find an actual sample, so if you do go this route, discuss with your landlord/PCO the necessity of a visible bed bug sample (and whether they will take the word of the bed bug dog handler), and discuss with your bed bug dog handler before hiring him/her the possibility of locating one if needed.