How to Prevent Dorm Bed Bugs In College

By: Ryan Poppie Reading Time: 8 minutes

College Students in Dorm Room
Reading Time: 8 minutes

You’ve run through the first-year checklist. You’ve preloaded the meal cards. And you’re finally ready for your son or daughter to start their first year in college. But there’s one thing you probably haven’t considered yet— dorm bed bugs.

It’s a problem even the most meticulous college parents don’t plan for. But when you take a step back and think about it, it’s not surprising that college dorms are a breeding ground for bed bugs.

With students from all over the country hauling in their belongings from home or recent travels, the pesky creatures have to hitch a ride on a backpack or suitcase and make themselves home.

Plus, a lot of dorms furnish rooms with used mattresses. And that can spell serious bed bug problems for some students.

So, how do you deal with dorm bed bugs? What ways prevent them from breaking out in the first place? And how can you equip your first-year student with everything they need to stay safe and healthy against this pest problem?

This guide covers all that and more. So, let’s jump right in!

Table of Contents

First and foremost, What Are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs—the name alone fascinates new students, travelers, and hotel owners. But what are they?

Bed bugs (or Cimex lectularius) are minor parasitic bugs that tend to feed on the blood of larger sleeping animals. They’re not very big—just 1-7mm—and reddish brown.

According to the CDC, they’re found on almost every continent, including North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Though visible to the naked eye, these tiny bugs are so annoying that they typically hide throughout the day.

Bed bugs will emerge from the cracks and crevices of beds, box springs, headboards, and bed frames as night falls. And once the sleeper has drifted off, these insects will use small bites to suck the blood from their hosts.

How Common Are Dorm Bed Bugs?

Dorm RoomUnfortunately, bed bugs are pretty common in dorm rooms. The National Pest Management Association found dorms are the seventh most common place to find these annoying insects.

Here’s why.

Bed bugs are commonly seen in places with high occupant turnovers, such as hotels, apartment complexes, and (of course) dorm rooms. They are likely to be carried in on luggage or used furniture, which residents in these living quarters often have.

There are a few things that make bed bugs such great travelers.

  1. They’re tiny—the typical bed bug size is no bigger than Abe Lincoln’s head on a penny.
  2. They’re resilient—they can live for months without having a meal.
  3. They’re excellent hiders—infestations can go entirely unnoticed for weeks.
  4. They’re slow to hatch—it takes at least seven weeks for a bed bug to grow from an egg to an adult.

An innerspring mattress is one of the most frequently infested pieces of furniture since bed bugs can live in coils and fabric. But bed bugs can live in any bed frame, dorm mattress topper, or even clothes and suitcases.

Health Concerns with Dorm Bed Bugs

So, why care about bed bugs at all?

Besides the apparent gross factor, dorm bed bugs are a severe nuisance. They’re notoriously hard to get rid of, often go undetected until it’s too late, and tend to quickly go “just a few” to “completely overrun.”

Beyond all that, there are also health concerns to consider.

Physical Health Concerns

Now, bed bugs aren’t known to spread disease. So, even if you do get an infestation, you won’t need to worry about catching anything serious.

However, all bed bugs (including dorm bed bugs) are biters. They survive by drinking the blood of their hosts. And to get to that blood, they need to break through the skin by biting into it.

You won’t feel the bites immediately because of the anesthetic and anticoagulant the bugs inject. But eventually, the skin becomes inflamed, and the itching begins.

Depending on the individual, the itchiness of a dorm bed bug bite will range from barely noticeable to maddening.

Plus, bed bugs tend to bite multiple times. And when your mattress is infested with hundreds or even thousands, it isn’t hard for your body to become completely covered with tiny, itchy welts.

Beyond that, some people may experience an allergic reaction to several bites. And that may require medical attention to fix. It’s also possible to get an infection at the bite site itself.

Mental Health Concerns

Beyond the physical problems that dorm bed bugs can cause, there are also mental health concerns often exacerbated by physical problems.

For instance, constant itchiness isn’t just uncomfortable. It can also make it difficult to concentrate during a lecture, study before a test, or even live stress-free in your dorm room. And all that can lead to dropping grades, poor social life, and an overall wrong time in college.

There’s also sleep quality to consider. If you’re up all night itching the welts left behind by these pests, you’ll not get the quality sleep and REM sleep you need to be at your best.

Combine that with all the other common causes of sleep deprivation in college students, and you have a recipe for a complete college disaster.

How to Prevent Dorm Bed Bugs When Heading Off to School

College Students in Dorm RoomThe best way to prevent dorm bed bugs in college dorms is to take some precautions before you pack your belongings.

Follow these tips, and you’ll do your part to avoid infesting your dorm with these tiny bugs in the bed.

  • Prepare for Bed Bugs While You’re Packing: Place your clothing, bedding, and other personal belongings in plastic bags. Until you get there, you won’t know what kind of critters lurking in your dorm room until you get there. You’ll also want to pack a bug-proof mattress cover to cover your bed.
  • Wash All Your Clothes & Sheets Before Leaving: Clean and wash all your clothes and sheets before packing them. Use the “hygiene” or “sanitize” setting on your washer to eradicate any hiding bed bugs.
  • Encase Your Mattress: Cover the mattress in a bed bug-proof liner or mattress protector to prevent the tiny bugs from nesting. These mattress protectors are made from materials that prevent liquids, allergens, bed bugs, and more from penetrating your bed. And that means you’re less likely to sleep in a home for these pests.
  • Be Careful with Secondhand Furniture: Mattresses aren’t the only hiding place for bed bugs. Infestations can also come from chairs, couches, and even decorative materials. Be sure to check where the furniture came from and why it’s being given away/sold in the first place. And if it’s bed bugs, run.

How to Spot Dorm Bed Bugs

As with any problem, the key to solving a dorm bed bug infestation is identifying it in the first place. Only then can you inform your university and resolve the problem.

So, what signs of dorm bed bugs should you look for when first moving in?

  • Look for Bugs: First, check for these nasty bugs outright. The apple-seed-sized bugs have small, flat, oval-shaped bodies and are wingless. They’re brown unless recently feasted on blood, at which point they turn red.
  • Look for Clues: If you don’t see any bed bugs, check for what the bugs leave behind. You may find tiny droppings (dark lumps the size of a pencil tip), eggs (look like small uncooked grains of rice), molted skins (minor, hollow bugs), or blood spots on the mattress itself.
  • Look for Hiding Spots: Dorm bed bugs love hiding (which makes them so hard to spot at first glance). So when you first move into your dorm, look all over the mattress, including corners and every crevice – you may even want to use a flashlight. Also, check the headboard, nightstand, and even curtains if there are any.
  • Ask Your Roommate: Bed bugs in dorm rooms don’t just make a home on one side of your space. If you have a roommate, now’s the time to ask them to check their mattress, dorm mattress topper, and belongings for the little buggers.
  • Report Your Findings: Now isn’t the time to shut your mouth. True, there are some things you can do to eradicate the dorm bed bug problem yourself. However, an infestation is a severe problem for the entire building. So be sure to report to your RA if you find any evidence of bed bugs—your dorm mates will thank you.

How to Prevent College Bed Bugs Once the Year Begins

Washing SheetsEven when you’ve determined that your room is bug-free, you should keep your guard up for the rest of the semester. In addition to cleaning your mattress frequently, there are a few other steps you should take to keep the bed bugs away:

  • Minimize Clutter & Vacuum Often: Keep floors clear so you can vacuum rugs or carpets where dorm bed bugs can hide.
  • Wash Bedding & Clothing Frequently: Sheets and comforters make bed bugs cozy. Washing them frequently in hot water and drying them for 90 minutes on high heat will kill bugs. And since bed bugs from other students can hitchhike on your clothing, wash everything you wear often.
  • Be Sure to Wash Toppers Too: Mattress toppers add much more comfort and support to even the worst dorm mattresses. But it would be best if you were sure to give your mattress topper a good cleaning now and then. And that goes double for rooms you think are infested with dorm bed bugs.
  • Get a Mattress Protector: Have you considered a mattress pad to protect you from bed bugs in your dorm room? Our dorm mattress protectors offer you the ultimate protection and comfort. With various options, these protectors help wick moisture, prevent stains, and protect against pesky bed bugs, making a home out of your mattress. It’s one of the best ways to prevent infestations and sleep with better peace of mind. And be sure to clean it at least once a month.
  • Keep Clothing Sealed: If there’s room in your dorm, keep your clothes in plastic tubs with tight lids. Bed bugs are much less likely to live there than in drawers or closets.

Dorm Bed Bugs Don’t Have to Ruin Your College Experience

Dorm bed bugs can be a major hassle, especially for students trying to get the most from their college experience. But because dorm bed bugs are a reality for some doesn’t mean they have to ruin your university years.

By taking the proper precautions, knowing how to spot the signs, and acting appropriately to fix the problem, you and your child can make dorm bed bugs a thing of the past.

And be sure to consider our college mattress topper for the best in dorm bed bug prevention!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about dorm bed bugs.

What keeps away bed bugs?

You can keep dorm bed bugs away by combining both preventative and reactive measures like:

  • Packing clothes and items in plastic bags before moving in
  • Washing all materials before leaving
  • Encasing your mattress with a mattress protector
  • Using secondhand furniture sparingly
  • Knowing how to spot signs of dorm bed bugs
  • Asking your roommate to check their section of the dorm room
  • Minimizing clutter and vacuuming often
  • Washing bedding and clothing frequently
  • Using and cleaning mattress toppers and protectors
  • Keeping clothing sealed in bins

How do you prevent bed bugs naturally?

It can be hard to know you have a dorm bed bug problem until well after prevention methods won’t do much to help.

However, you can do a few things to prevent dorm bed bugs naturally.

  • Prevent the spread of bed bugs by washing all your materials thoroughly before heading to college.
  • Use a mattress protector to prevent bed bugs from setting home in your bedding.
  • Wash clothes and bedding frequently and at high heat.
  • Minimize your clutter, and be sure to vacuum regularly.
  • Don’t bring secondhand furniture into your dorm unless you know where it originated.
  • Keep your clothing in sealed containers where bed bugs can’t get in.
  • Use natural home remedies like essential oils, petroleum jelly, peppermint, and diatomaceous earth.

What can I put on my mattress to prevent bed bugs?

Mattress protectors are the best material for your mattress to prevent bed bugs. These protectors create a rigid, non-permeable barrier around your bedding that liquids, molds, allergens, and parasites typically can’t get through. As such, bugs can’t set up a home inside your mattress, and exterminating the pests will be much easier.

What keeps bed bugs off you at night?

One way to prevent dorm bed bugs from biting is to sleep with as little exposed skin as possible. Long-sleeved pajamas, pants, and socks are essential here.

You can also use a variety of preventative measures to ensure your sleeping environment is free of bed bugs. These measures include using a mattress protector, regularly washing bedding and clothing, and periodically cleaning/vacuuming your dorm.

About Ryan Poppie

Ryan Poppie, President and Chief Bedmaker at The Beloit Mattress Company. He's not just a mattress maker but a true expert in sleep. Leading a 4th generation family business, Ryan uses his deep sleep knowledge to ensure every mattress made gives his customers the best rest possible. Each custom mattress is handcrafted to show his love for sleep and how it can improve our lives. With his team, Ryan's passion is to improve your quality of life through a better night's sleep.

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