What Attracts Bed Bugs? (And What Doesn’t)

What attracts bed bugs to their host is poorly understood. Read any article and you’ll see things like, the dark, human skin, dirty laundry. etc.

The cold hard fact is this:

The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius L.) (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) uses CO2, heat, and chemical odors admitted across skin in order to locate their host for a blood meal.

In this article, we’ll discuss each one and how they combine to attract bed bugs.

What Attracts Bed Bugs To A Host?

Small and elusive, bed bugs hide throughout the day and can be difficult to locate, even for the pros.

This has made it particularly hard for smart people in white coats with clipboards to develop the tools needed to effectively monitor what attracts bed bugs.

However, there are some studies and they’ve given us a very good understanding of what bed bugs like.

1. Carbon Dioxide

Bed bugs have the ability to detect the additional CO2 in the air around us when we exhale.

A paper in the academic journal Molecules and Cells, states bed bugs developed this ability because insects’ habitats often become saturated with CO2.

And in a study in the Journal of Entomology on bed bug attractants, shows that when only CO2 is present, a high number of bed bugs are caught in their traps.

2. Body Heat

Body heat is thought to be one of the main attractants for bed bugs. In the same study from the Journal of Entomology referenced above, they found heat significantly increased the number of catches.

However, in a study on the role of antennae in heat detection, it was discovered the distal top of the terminal antennal segment is responsible for orienting a bed bug towards a heat source.

It was then uncovered later in the study, after this part of the antennae was removed, approximately 50% of the bed bugs still fed.

What does this mean? Well, it could suggest that the removal of their ability to detect heat may not stop their ability to find their host and feed.

But what is interesting, when using both heat and CO2, more bed bugs were attracted to the source over just CO2 or just heat.

From these studies, you and I can gather heat is playing a role in what attracts bed bugs.

But, is there a particular temperature bed bugs prefer?

This study assessed the effects of targeted temperatures between 23-48°C on bed bug activation, orientation, and feeding.

They found bed bugs feeding responses increased between 38°C and 43°C. Their results suggest bed bugs have a wide range of temperatures that trigger the feeding response.

Another interesting point from this study found when only heat is present (out of CO2, heat, and chemicals) the response is limited to under 3cm. Suggesting heat plays the least important role when attracting a bed bug to feed.

3. Chemical Odors (Human Skin)

One study took human skin swaps and tested a bed bugs response using a two-choice Y-tube.

They found, overall,  >90% of bed bugs had a preference for human odors over blank controls. Giving us strong evidence bed bugs are able to orient themselves towards a human host without other cues (heat and CO2).

What is it about human skin that attracts bed bugs?

Well, in the study, Interactions among Carbon Dioxide, Heat, and Chemical Lures in Attracting the Bed Bug, it was found that nonanal was the most attractive chemical out of nonanal, 1-octen-3-ol, spear mintoil, and coriander Egyptian oil.

Nonanal is also found in odorant profiles of humans.

What Attracts Bed Bugs To Your Home?

It’s a common myth, bed bugs like dirty places. This isn’t true.

Bed bugs don’t discriminate when it comes to finding a blood meal. They’ll stay close to any host they can.

Generally, bed bugs will be picked up on your travels. They may attach themselves to your clothes, suitcase, shoes and end up in your home that way.

What Attracts Bed Bugs to Bite You?

Your blood.

The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius L.) is an obligate hematophagous ectoparasite that solely feeds on blood (which is required to reproduce and molt).

What Attracts Bed Bugs to Mattresses?

Bed bugs like to stay close to their blood host. Being 5-7mm in length and 2.3mm wide, it’s easy for a bed bug to simply slip away into your mattress after a feeding.

Mattresses are common because most people sleep on them and they provide an excellent place for bed bugs to hide during the day and lay their eggs.

What Blood Type Attracts Bed Bugs?

According to BedBugSOS, bed bugs prefer the blood type they’ve been accustomed to. For example, if a bed bug grew up drinking AB blood, that may well be its preference.

Although, there is no scientific study that backs up this hypothesis.

More Are Bed Bugs Attracted To FAQs

Are Bed Bugs Attracted To Light?

No, bed bugs are not attracted to light. They’re mostly active at night, but keeping the light on won’t stop them feeding on you.

In fact, a study on the physiology and activity of the bed bug showed peak activity when the lights were turned on.

Are Bed Bugs Attracted To Food?

No, bed bugs are not attracted to human food. They are attracted to their food: warm blood

Are Bed Bugs Attracted To Water?

No, bed bugs are not attracted to water.

Are Bed Bugs Attracted To Urine?

No. There are no studies that show bed bugs are attracted to urine.

Are Bed Bugs Attracted To Certain Colors?

An interesting question.

Corraine McNeil, who authored the study titled “Behavioral Responses of Nymph and Adult Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) to Colored Harborages” states the following in her study:

  • Red (28.5%) and black (23.4%) harborages are optimal harborage choices for bed bugs.
  • Yellow and green harborages appear to repel bed bugs
  • Color preferences change according to gender, nutritional status, aggregation, and life stage.
  • Female bed bugs prefer harborages with shorter wavelengths (lilac—14.5% and violet—11.5%)
  • Males prefer harborages with longer wavelengths (red—37.5% and black—32%)
  • Orange and violet harborages is stronger when bed bugs are fed
  • Bed bug nymphs have no preference for any color harborage. But, by their 5th instar, 27.5% of nymphs significantly preferred red and black harborages

Are Bed Bugs Attracted To Certain Smells?

Yes, as discussed above in the section “Chemical Odors”, studies suggest bed bugs are attracted to human odors and use this to help them find their meal.

Final Thoughts

So bringing this all down to answer the question “what attracts bed bugs?” We can safely say it’s the combination of CO2, heat, and body odors. With body odors seeming to provide the biggest stimulant.

The best way to avoid bed bugs is to: 

  • Routinely dry your bedding at a high temperature for 30 minutes to kill bed bugs
  • Use mattress, box spring, and pillow encasements
  • Monitor with bed bug monitoring devices to quickly identify infestations