When we think of bed bugs, we usually think of them infesting beds, but they are also found hiding in less obvious places such as books. The likelihood of finding bed bugs hiding in books is low, but it does happen.
How Do Bed Bugs Get In Books?
Bed bugs like to be close to where we sleep and will usually have harborage areas on our bed and within 3 to 6 feet of the bed (they will also infest your couch if you sleep there).
Most of us have a bedside cabinet and lots of us tend to read a few pages of a book before turning off the light at night. We put the book on the cabinet and it can be there with other books and pieces of paper for months at a time.
If you’ve got bed bugs on your bed and you’re finding them in books then you’ve got an established infestation that needs to be dealt with immediately, either by yourself or by a pest control professional as the infestation is growing and spreading.
If on the other hand, you’ve bought books from a thrift store or borrowed them from the public library, then there’s a possibility, although a small one, that bed bugs could be brought into your home on books that way.
Finding bed bugs in library books isn’t common but it can happen and there have been several cases such as the one in Vancouver, Canada, where three library branches had to close temporarily due to these pests being found in books.
Thankfully most libraries now have a system in place where they check and isolate any books that show evidence of having bed bugs limiting the chances of you coming into contact with an infested book.
But there are some clues of bed bug activity on a book that you can look for.
First, Make Sure It’s a Bed Bug
Let’s get a quick overview of what a bed bug looks like, so we can be sure it isn’t a case of mistaken identity.
- Bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed with flat, oval-shaped bodies that are around 5-7mm (3/16 inch) in length.
- If the bed bug has recently had a blood meal then it will be a dark, reddish-brown color, but it will be a lighter brown color if unfed.
- You will still be able to see any nymphs (baby bed bugs) even though they are much smaller.
For a more detailed description, click here to see what bed bugs look like.
How Can You Tell If a Book Has Bed Bugs?
Books can provide harborage areas in both paperback and hardback books (especially in the spine of hardback books), so before you bring any used books home from the library or thrift store, give them a quick check for any signs of bed bugs by looking:
- along all three edges of the books when closed
- along the spine
- between the pages
- inside the front and back covers
- inside any plastic covers
Look for any of the following:
- Live or dead bugs. You are looking for bugs that fit the description above.
- Rusty, reddish-brown colored stains left behind when a bed bug gets squashed inside the book.
- Bed bug eggs which are a translucent-white color and about the size of a grain of sand.
- Fecal droppings that look like small dots from a dark-colored pen ink, will most likely be visible on the edges.
- Shed/cast skins that are the exoskeletons left behind after the bed bug molts and grow toward adulthood. These look the same as live or dead bugs but are more translucent.
Do Bed Bugs Ruin Books?
Yes, when a bed bug is squashed inside the book it leaves a stain as its blood gets smeared into the pages. Also, the dark-colored dots on the page edges is poop which is the digested blood of a person or animal the bed bug has fed on.
Unfortunately, blood stains are nearly impossible to get out of most materials and fabrics that can be cleaned, but as you can’t clean paper then the bloodstains are in the book for good. This is definitely not something you want, especially if the book is of value.
How To Save Books From Bed Bugs
If you think you’ve found evidence of these pests in any books in your home then the best way to inspect them is to put the books on a white sheet or in a light-colored bathtub and carefully look for signs of the above.
Have a vacuum ready to suck up any bugs that crawl out of the books and throw out the contents of the vacuum immediately into a plastic bag and seal it and take it outside for garbage collection.
Place the book or books into a plastic bag and make sure it is completely sealed. If it’s a library book, contact them immediately to find out what their bed bug protocol is for returning it.
If the book or books are your own, I’m not going to tell you to put them in the oven or microwave to try and use heat to kill the bugs like other sites do because:
a) you run the risk of the book catching fire or discoloring and ruining the pages, and
b) if bed bugs are in your books then you more than likely have an infestation problem that is growing and needs treating immediately.
If the books are valuable or you really want to keep them then place them in a plastic bag and seal the bag so they cannot escape, then put the bag into a plastic container with a lid and keep it in there which will ensure they cannot get out.
How Long Can Bed Bugs Live In Books?
As you know, bed bugs need a host to survive but they will enter a state of dormancy called diapause (a bit like hibernation) without one. This means that depending on temperature and humidity conditions then both adults and nymphs can live without a blood meal for up to 6 months.
However, studies have shown that they can live a year or more waiting for their next blood meal if the temperature drops to 55F or less. To be safe, your books should be kept inside a plastic bag and container for at least a year, unless a pest control professional is treating your home and tells you otherwise.
On the other hand, if you don’t need the books, then throw them out. Then, again, put the books into a plastic bag and seal them completely before putting them out for trash collection.
If you’ve just brought the infested book or books into your home, then you’ll need to be extra vigilant and keep an eye out for any evidence of bed bugs over the coming weeks. Find out what bed bug symptoms to look out for here.
Bed bugs are excellent at hiding in the tiniest of spaces, so if you find any indication that bed bugs might have taken up residence in your home, then you can try and get rid of them yourself with this guide, but it’s always best to get a pest control professional in to treat them before you’ve got a bed bug infestation on your hands.
If you go the pest control company route, then be sure to read my guide on how to choose the right pest control company.