Buying a second-hand sofa, or picking one up off the street, is a high-risk activity. That’s the bottom line. Upholstered furniture like couches and sofas are more likely to harbor those nasty little vampires known as bed bugs.
And if you’re someone looking to replace your couch on the cheap, you need to know how to check a couch for bed bugs.
- Grab a flashlight and magnifying glass.
- Bed bugs can live either on the frame or on the upholstery. You need to check everywhere!
- Check all fabric seams, nooks and crannies in the fabric and frame, ledges, holes for fasteners, etc.
- Look for bed bug feces and discarded husks from bed bug molting.
In this article, we’re going to go over how to check a couch for bed bugs and what you’ll be looking for. We’ll also discuss other places bed bugs may hide out, and what to do if you discover you’re infested.
How to Check a Couch for Bed Bugs
There are several places to check when hunting for bed bugs on your couch. If you skip just one location, you might miss the entire infestation.
Before You Begin
You may be investigating a couch at a secondhand store, someone’s home who is selling a couch, or maybe you’ve got a street couch that looks pretty good.
Before you bring the couch to your home, give it a thorough hunt for any potential bed bugs. You’ll need a spacious, well-lit area, a flashlight, and a magnifying glass if you can get your hands on one.
What Are You Looking For?
There are two main things you’re going to be looking for when you search a sofa for bed bugs. Those are bed bug feces and discarded bed bug shells from molting.
1. Bed Bug Feces
Bed bug feces are one of the most obvious signs of an active infestation. Even though these insects only consume blood, they create and leave excrement in their wake like all other animals. Their feces are a reddish-dark brown when first produced, and will smear if touched.
Bed bug feces harden in place over time. If left for even just a matter of days, you’ll need to chip them off to clean them away. Regardless, seeing those rusty red stains of bed bug feces means that you’re dealing with bed bugs.
The feces look like small droplets, and you’ll likely find them in the corners and gaps of your couch’s wooden frame. Bed bugs leave them near their hiding places to serve as a marker they can smell from a long way off.
2. Bed Bug Husks
Throughout the bed bug life cycle, the nymphs molt 5 times as they grow to adulthood. They leave these shells and casings behind.
Adult bed bugs, both male and female, look very similar in size and scale to an apple seed. If you find a bunch of little apple seed bug carcasses, these are a husks, and a major sign of infestation (at some point).
3. Dead Bed Bugs
Of course not all infestations are active, it’s possible that what you’re finding is old. However, if you’re coming across lots of dead bed bugs mixed in with the casings and husks, that’s a good sign that an infestation is still active.
Checking a Sofa for Bed Bugs
It’s important to prepare the area before you check it for bed bug infestation. If there is an infestation, then you’re going to disturb them during the search. This might cause them to spread elsewhere!
Here’s how you can prevent that from happening:
- Move the couch – Moving your couch away from the wall will allow you to spot any bed bugs that are escaping. It’s rare to see bed bugs during the day, but if they’re threatened, they may scurry away. Placing it in the middle of the room works best.
- Use a repellent spray on exits – In addition to sealing any exit points in your house, spray these areas with bug spray to prevent the bugs from escaping.
- Seal the room – Block cracks in the walls or underneath doors to prevent the bugs from spreading.
Before you begin hunting bugs, taking these measures will stop them from escaping and spreading to other parts of your house.
1. Check Underneath the Couch
The underside of your couch is the first place you should look.
If any significant infestation is present, it is most likely to be contained there. Bed bugs can produce eggs, hide in peace underneath your couch, and spread to its cushions.
If you can do so without ruining the couch, remove the fabric upholstery covering the bottom of your couch. At the very least, give the underside a thorough, close examination, particularly the joints.
Check for any holes in the fabric. If there are any holes, you’ll need to check for signs of infestation inside them.
Flip over any folds in the fabric, and hunt for any hidden areas.
2. Check the Couch Frame
It doesn’t matter if the frame is upholstered, wooden, or metal. Bed bugs will happily infest any of these materials.
Bed bugs prefer wooden frames because of their joints, ledges, and nooks, There are often small cracks where they can hide securely.
Search the frame, legs, armrests, etc. for any cracks and nooks where bed bugs might hide. These could be holes for fasteners, ledges on woodwork, cracks due to age or damage, etc. Anyplace hidden that doesn’t get disturbed often is an ideal bed bug hiding spot.
3. Check the Cushions and Upholstery
Bed bugs prefer hiding in small, dark spaces. Couch cushions provide the perfect hiding places, so be sure to pull the cushions out and check the following locations:
- Inside the cushion
- Underneath any piping on the corners and sides of the cushions
- Beneath the zip handle and along the zipper run
Once you’ve examined the cushions themselves, check underneath where the cushion actually sits. The fabric here might be loose, so pull it taught to get a better look. Creases and folds are excellent hiding spots for bed bugs.
4. Examine The Back of the Couch
The final place to investigate is the back panel of the couch. Usually this is pretty easy to investigate, since it is commonly just a flat sheet of fabric. Still, there could be piping and various spots where the fabric is folded over. Thoroughly search all those areas.
Why Do Bed Bugs Infest Couches?
Bed bugs love mattresses, bedding, box springs, bed frames, etc. It’s in the name, after all! Bed bugs love to feed on human blood while you’re sleeping in your bed, so their first choice is to nest near the bed.
But bed bugs don’t just live in and around beds!
They can live anywhere near the bed where they can easily hide out, and on couches and other furniture as well.
As an infestation expands, bed bugs can live further away, spreading to other bedrooms and even to living room furniture and curtains. When females are ready to lay their tiny rice-grain-shaped eggs, they will move away from their current home to spread their young to other parts of your home and furniture.
This egg-laying venture is the point at which bed bugs are more likely to inhabit your couch. However, they can make their way there quicker if you enjoy napping on your couch!
Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
If you’ve confirmed that you are dealing with a bed bug infestation, you should thank yourself that you investigated before you brought the sofa into your house (we hope!).
Do not bring an item with signs of bed bug infestation into your house! If you really must have the piece, contact a professional to take a look at it and confirm whether the signs of infestation are active or not.
If you have an active infestation, it’s certainly best to hire a pro to help you. Bed bug infestations are a nightmare! You won’t know where to sleep. You will be terrified you’ll spread the infestation to your friends just by visiting. It’s terrible!
If you want to try to remedy an infestation by yourself, here are the basics of what treatment looks like.
Washing and Drying on High Heat
Gather any washable items and put them in your washing machine. A thorough wash with some hot water, then a good dry on high heat will kill bed bugs no matter their development stage.
Any items that you can’t put in the washer can be vacuumed. Be sure to make a pass over every crevice and surface, including the underside of your furniture.
Use the highest setting on your vacuum possible so as to suck up as many of the bugs and their eggs as you can.
As for the frame of your couch, you’re obviously not going to be able to wash that, but you can steam it to kill bed bugs and their eggs.
Your steamer will need to be able to reach temperatures of 120°F and above to kill the insects. It should also have a large water container to sustain steam for longer periods.
Bed bugs have a nasty habit of lingering in curtains, carpets, and even in the seams of your wallpaper. So, you may need to use an insecticide to treat the infestation. Residual sprays work best, as they provide weeks of protection.
Unfortunately, bed bugs can live as long as a year without food.
After you have sprayed, steamed, washed, and vacuumed, there’s one more way that you can prevent bed bugs from reaching the comfortable depths of your couches: plastic bed bug interceptors.
These can be installed underneath each leg of your couch. Essentially, they are plastic cups with a slick coating that prevent bed bugs from crawling up the legs into the cushions of your couch. Bed bugs can’t jump or fly, so if they aren’t able to crawl, they can’t infest.
Bed bug interceptors also work as good measuring devices, allowing you to see how many bugs you capture daily. Consider keeping them in place for up to a year for the most thorough results.
Using bed bug traps is another way that you can prevent these insects from getting in or out of your couch. These traps lure bugs in, making it easy to climb inside and impossible to leave. Here’s a brief breakdown of the different kinds of traps:
- Interceptors: These are the slippery plastic devices we mentioned above.
- Lures: Bed bug lures contain chemicals that draw bugs in, then trap them inside, where they meet their demise.
- Glue traps: Glue traps are not the most popular kind of trap, though they are effective. They’re sticky little devices that work similarly to interceptors, though they keep the bug in place.
Traps can be an effective way to determine if you are dealing with a bed bug infestation. You can set a few up if you’re still trying to find out if you have bed bugs, and then come back to them the next day to see if they captured any critters.