“Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” There’s a good chance you’ve said this to your children on countless occasions as you wish them goodnight. However, many people say it without even knowing that bedbugs exist – or without any real knowledge of what they are or what they look like.

While it’s probably not a great idea to tell your kids that bedbugs are real, it is definitely worth having a basic understanding of these pesky bed-dwelling critters, and how to deal with them should they make their way into your bed.

What are bedbugs?

Bedbugs are small, wingless insects that feed on the blood of humans and animals. The bodies of adult bedbugs are brown, flat and roughly the same size as an apple seed, but they swell and become red after feeding. Although bedbugs can’t fly, they tend to move quickly over floors, ceilings and walls.

Female bedbugs can lay hundreds of eggs, which are as small as a speck of dust, over their lifetimes. Immature bedbugs, commonly known as nymphs, shed their skin five times before reaching maturity and need to feed before every shedding. In the right conditions, bedbugs can develop fully within a month and produce three or more generations every year.

Despite their name, bedbugs can hide in a number of places, including sofas, furniture, and behind pictures. They may enter a house undetected on clothing, luggage, used beds or other items, before eventually settling in a bed frame, mattress or headboard, allowing them to bite people during the night.

How do I know I have bedbugs?

Unfortunately, bedbug bites are difficult to distinguish from other insect bites, such as mosquitoes. To determine whether bedbugs are really the cause of your itchiness, there are a few other things you’ll need to check:

Blood stains – Although bedbugs themselves are quite difficult to spot, they will often leave some telltale signs behind after feeding, including the blood they have extracted while feeding. Take a close look at your pillows and bedding; if you see any blood stains, it’s a good indication you may have bedbugs.

Bedbug excrement – It’s not the nicest thing to think about, but just like any animal, bedbugs tend to excrete their fair share of waste. Bedbug excrement tends to be dark brown or black in colour, and will resemble a smear or stain. Make sure to inspect all the places a bedbug could hide, including the bedframe, all areas around the bed, clothing, and even other items such as books and phones.

Shells or molted skin – Because bedbugs shed their skin multiple times while maturing, there’s a good chance you’ll find evidence of this if you have a bedbug infestation. Empty bedbug “shells” can number in their hundreds or thousands, depending on the size of the infestation. The shells resemble bedbugs themselves but are translucent rather than brown or red, and will vary in size according to life stage.

How to treat bedbug bites

According to the NHS, bedbug bites tend to clear up on their own in a week or so. However, they can be quite irritable. There are a few things you can do to treat them, including:

  • Regularly washing the affected area with soap and water to reduce itchiness and prevent infection.
  • Placing something cool on the bites, such as a clean, damp cloth to reduce any swelling around the area.
  • Not scratching the bites as this could lead to infection.
  • Applying a mild steroid cream such as hydrocortisone, or taking antihistamines if the bites are very itchy and affecting your sleep.

Should the bites become infected, or you suffer an allergic reaction, you will need to see your doctor or seek emergency treatment as soon as possible.

How to get rid of bedbugs

Because bedbugs multiply rapidly, getting rid of them can be quite a thorough process. Here are some of the most effective ways of ridding your house of bedbugs:

  • Clean your bedding, clothing and curtains on a hot wash (60C) and dry them for at least 30 minutes on the highest setting.
  • Alternatively, put all the affected materials in a plastic bag and put in the freezer at -16C for four days.
  • Thoroughly clean and vacuum your bed and surrounding areas, making sure to place the vacuum bag in a plastic bag and dispose of it immediately after vacuuming.
  • Dispose of any clutter around your bed which could attract bedbugs.
  • Consider contacting your local council or pest control service to ensure all bedbugs have been eliminated.

Regularly changing your bedding and mattress can help keep your bedroom free of bedbugs, insects and even pollen. Take a look at our guide on selecting the right mattress, or have a browse of our bed sheet range today. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch or visit us in store if you need any additional guidance, or would like to ‘comfort test’ a mattress.