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A student sits on her bed reading a book.

The College Student’s Guide to Bed Bugs


Traditional college housing options like dorms and apartments are excellent breeding and feeding grounds for bed bugs. The shared furniture and spaces, along with all of the nooks and crannies provide the perfect opportunity for them to thrive and spread, and a welcoming committee of pests is not the most pleasant greeting to adulthood. Bed bugs are a college experience you don’t want to have, and there are many simple ways to identify them and intuitive methods for preventing them. 

What Are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed on blood. Though they were nearly eradicated in the United States several decades ago, bed bugs have made a modern comeback. Their name is not misleading; bed bugs prefer to feed on people while they are sleeping, and therefore tend to infest beds and couches. 

How to Identify Bed Bug Bites

Bed bug bites are often unnoticeable while the insects are feeding, but with time the bite will usually turn into an itchy red bump, similar to a mosquito bite, which they are commonly mistaken for. Unlike other types of bug bites, the red irritation is generally uniform in color, and the bites are not more likely to be found in particular parts of the body in preference over others. However, it is impossible to absolutely confirm a bed bug bite without finding the bugs themselves.

How Big Are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are very physically distinctive. They are small, brown, and flat, roughly the size of an apple seed. When they are first born, they are as small as a pinhead. Bed bugs are visible to the naked eye (although their eggs often are not), however, the shape of their body allows them to hide very effectively from scrutiny. 

How to Avoid a Bed Bug Infestation 

If a bed bug infestation is suspected, it is vital to investigate the situation immediately. If they are allowed to multiply, they will eventually spread beyond the initial infestation area, sometimes into completely different rooms or parts of the building.

Check Anything Secondhand or Shared

Used furniture, particularly mattresses and couches, could very well harbor some stowaways. It is a common mistake to think that a few days without a host will starve out the pests, however, bed bugs can actually live for up to 400 days without feeding. A mattress could sit in a thrift store for a year and still be infested, and in fact, it could have picked bed bugs up while waiting in the store. It is prudent to check the seams and springs of secondhand furniture for signs of bed bugs: reddish brown stains, shed skins, or the bugs themselves. 


Bed bugs’ longevity is also important to keep in mind when it comes to shared furniture—a common arrangement in college life. An unwitting roommate may accidentally bring some visitors with them to your new home. 

Clean and Reduce Clutter

Although the cleanliness of a space doesn’t seem to increase the likelihood of a bed bug infestation, a messy living space can provide camouflage that will allow the infestation to flourish. Some thorough cleaning and tidying can make an infestation more easily identifiable, or facilitate the monitoring of one. However, eliminating an established infestation will require more intensive measures than cleaning. 

Use Protective Coverings

Barriers such as mattress covers can be very useful for preventing a bed bug infestation by obstructing their ability to establish themselves in their favored living and breeding areas. Additionally, using protective coverings can prevent an infestation from spreading, and thus make the extermination process easier to manage. 

How to Not Bring Bed Bugs Home

It is important to note that unlike ticks, bed bugs do not prefer to remain on the body of a host when they are not actively feeding, and are therefore more likely to hitch a ride in luggage than on a person. If you suspect you may have picked up bed bugs during your time away at school, the primary thing you should not do is bring your luggage or travel bag into your home. Temporarily leave it outside, or put it into storage away from the house. Any clothing or other washable items should be brought inside and put through the washer and dryer (preferably on hotter settings) in order to kill any bed bugs. Then, you should carefully inspect any other items in the luggage, as well as the bags and/or suitcases themselves. 

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

First and foremost, if you suspect a bed bug infestation and you live in a rented area such as an apartment or dormitory, alert the management immediately. Ask for regular updates on the situation and take note of the date and time of your call.

It is generally advised that the best method of eradicating a bed bug infestation is a variety of methods; no single (legal) method is highly effective. There are pesticides that can be used on bed bugs, but these pesticides are often limited in their results, especially as it concerns bed bug eggs. Therefore, pesticides should be used in addition to other methods of elimination, such as treating potentially infested items with heat or cold and cleaning the area (remember to empty vacuum contents into an outdoor receptacle). Bed bugs breed quickly, so it is vital to tackle the issue as soon as it comes to your attention, and to continue to keep a wary eye out for the pests long after they appear to have been dealt with.

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