Bed Bugs

How to Make Sure the Bed Bugs Don’t Bite in Your Apartment

Published on September 4th, 2012
By Jennifer Oppriecht

Over the past five years, bed bugs outbreaks have been reported in places ranging from metropolitan areas such as New York City, to colleges campuses such as the University of New Orleans.  Could Madison experience a similar outbreak? And if so, what would we do?

The fine folks here at Smarter Renter are not ones to yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater.  However, educating our renters and making the public aware about the threat of bed bugs is critical to preventing outbreaks. In this post, we’d like to delve into what bed bugs are, how they can be repelled if there is an outbreak, and important ways you can be vigilant about this rather annoying pest.

What is a bed bug and can it hurt me?

According to a terrific post on bed bugs from Texas A&M, “bed bugs are tiny insects that live by feeding on human blood, usually at night.  They are secretive, hiding in cracks and crevices during the day, and coming out at night to feed.” The bite of a bug tends to be painless, and it may or may not leave a red mark or itchiness. According to the US Environmental Protection Agencies website, “Bed bug bites can be misidentified, which gives the bed bugs time to spread to other areas of the house.

Bed bug bites can look like bites from other insects (such as mosquitoes or spiders), rashes (such as eczema or fungal infection), or even hives.  Some people do not react to bed bug bites at all.” Bed bug bites are not known to carry diseases to humans, but you may experience irritation or allergic reactions. While they don’t pose any significant physical threats, they are disgusting, and they can be a source of stress and concern if they’re in your apartment. Even if this video is a bit on the sensational side, its got some good info.  Check it out – we particularly like the exterminator who seems to get a little too excited about his job.

How can I tell if I have bed bugs?


According to the EPA, the accurate way to identify bed bugs is not from bites, but from physical signs in your apartment.  When your cleaning, changing bedding, or even visiting a friend’s place, be on the lookout for:

  • Dark spots (about this size: •) which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would
  • Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and white
  • Skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger
  • Live bed bugs
  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed
Where do I find bed bugs and what do they look like?

When they’re not looking for a meal, bed bugs like to hang out (sorry to tell you this) around the bed.  They can be found near the piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, and in cracks on the bed frame and headboard. But hey, why shouldn’t bed bugs have the run of the apartment?  In a heavily infested apartment, you can find them in the seams of chairs, couches, between cushions, in the folds of cushions.  They can even be on the head of a screw. This is a great photo that shows the bed bugs through their various stages of life, including their size.

bed_bugs-resized-600 How do bed bugs spread?

The reason why we’re posting this article is that Madison, like any large city, has the potential for a bed bug outbreak.  The main ways bed bugs can enter an apartment is through:

  • Used mattresses or recycled furniture
  • Luggage that has come from an infested hotel or hostel

With so many people traveling in to the UW from out of state, and with such a wide range of second-hand furniture entering our apartments, we need to be vigilant of any signs of bed bugs.  Why? Because unfortunately, once a bed bug is introduced to an apartment building, it can spread rapidly from one apartment to another.

In recent years, the University of New Orleans experienced a bed bug outbreak.  Indiana University is also sensitive to the issue, and has posted an entire webpage teaching students how to protect themselves.

What should you do if you see a bed bug?

As we noted earlier, we’re not posting this to create a panic.  You’re undoubtedly experiencing the sensation of phantom bed bugs crawling up your leg as you’re reading this.  Heck, I felt it when I was writing it. But we do need to know how what to do in the event we spot a bed bug.  Here are the critical steps:

1. Look for signs, and capture a bed bug.  We’ve mentioned telltale signs of bed bug earlier in the article.  If you suspect bed bugs, try and capture one if at all possible.  Place it in a small container, with just a bit of rubbing alcohol, and bring it to your apartment manager for confirmation.

2. Don’t try and solve the problem yourself.  Bed bugs are a serious problem, especially in an apartment building.  If you do have them in your apartment, you run the risk of them spreading to other units if you don’t notify your landlord.  Report them as soon as possible! While your landlord should bring professionals to help with the problem, you can assist in the process.  Scroll to the bottom of this post from Texas A&M post for details on what you should do if you encounter an infestation and your apartment needs to be treated.

How Can You Prevent Bed Bug Infestations?

Getting rid of these buggers is not easy task.  They hitchhike from location to location quite easily, and boy, are they resilient.  The EPA notes they are capable of surviving several months to a year without feeding. So what can you do to prevent infestations?  Here are the recommendations from the EPA:

  • Check secondhand furniture, beds, and couches for any signs of bed bug infestation, as described above before bringing them home.  Avoid “Dumpster Diving” or picking up second-hand furniture.
  • Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs and eliminates many hiding spots. The light color of the encasement makes bed bugs easier to see. Be sure to purchase a high quality encasement that will resist tearing and check the encasements regularly for holes.
  • Reduce clutter in your apartment to reduce hiding places for bed bugs.

If your parents are visiting or you’re traveling, remember these tips:

  • In hotel rooms, use luggage racks to hold your luggage when packing or unpacking rather than setting your luggage on the bed or floor.
  • Check the mattress and headboard before sleeping.
  • Upon returning home, unpack directly into a washing machine and inspect your luggage carefully.
  • If your parents are visiting and staying in a nearby hotel, make sure they check bed bug registries to see if outbreaks have been reported.

The EPA has also published a number of common bed bug myths, which we’ve touched on in this post:

Myth: You can’t see a bed bug.
Reality: You should be able to see adult bed bugs, nymphs and eggs with your naked eye.

Myth: Bed bugs live in dirty places.
Reality: Bed bugs are not attracted to dirt and grime; they are attracted to warmth, blood and carbon dioxide. However, clutter offers more hiding spots.

Myth: Bed bugs transmit diseases.
Reality: There have been no cases or studies that indicate bed bugs pass diseases from one host to another.

Myth: Bed bugs won’t come out if the room is brightly lit.
Reality: While bed bugs prefer darkness, keeping the light on at night won’t deter these pests from biting you.

Myth: Pesticide applications alone will easily eliminate bed bug infestations.
Reality: Bed bug control can only be maintained through a treatment strategy that includes a variety of techniques plus careful attention to monitoring. Proper use of pesticides may be part of the strategy, but will not by itself eliminate bed bugs. In addition, bed bug populations in different areas of the country have developed resistance to the ways many pesticides work to kill pests. If you’re dealing with a resistant population, some products and application methods may only make the problem worse. It is a good idea to consult a qualified pest management professional (PMP) if you have bed bugs in your home.

The Bottom Line – Let us Know if You Spot Bed bugs!

Once again, time is of the essence with bed bugs.  If you spot a bed bug or see indications that they’re in your apartment, contact your landlord immediately. In our case, you’ll want to contact Steve Brown Apartments main office at 608-255-7100. With bed bugs, we are all in this together.

Please share this post with your social network to help keep Madison informed.

Follow us on Social Media

Get updates, ideas, news and more


Learn More

Get Full Access to our Renter Resources!

Sign up for our monthly newsletter and you’ll also get full access to all Steve Brown Apartments renter resources, including our Subletter Guide and New Lease checklist!

You have Successfully Subscribed!