Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Fabric?

Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional

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We all know these pests have an appetite for human blood and wait to feed on you when you’re asleep at night, but can bed bugs bite you or eat through your clothes, bedding, or other fabrics?  Or can they only bite you when they have direct contact with your bare skin?

Let’s find out.   

Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Clothes?

No, bed bugs cannot bite through your clothes. A bed bug is only 5-7mm long, and its proboscis is not even half that length, so you can see why it is not long enough to penetrate your clothes, whether that’s leggings, socks, your pajamas, or anything else you wear. 

Image of bed bug on fingernail showing how small bed bugs are and cannot bite through fabric.

Although they cannot bite through your clothes, they can be brought into your home on an item of clothing.  If you use public transport, for example, they can crawl onto your coat, or hide in your luggage if you stay in a hotel that has bed bugs.  

Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Bedsheets and Blankets?

No, just as bed bugs cannot bite through your clothes, they also cannot bite through your bedsheets or blankets. They cannot chew their way through them either; however, they can pass through any small holes or tears so inspect your sheets carefully.

If you are finding blood spots or smears on your sheets, this isn’t because these pests are biting you through them. Instead, they are coming out of their harborage areas on your bed to bite your exposed skin and take a blood meal. 

Related reading: Where Do Bed Bugs Hide?  

How Do Bed Bugs Eat?

If they can’t bite through your clothing, then how exactly do bed bugs feed? They pierce your skin and suck up your blood by inserting their proboscis (pro-boss-kiss) that looks like a thin, sharp beak that becomes elongated when they feed and stays tucked under the body when they have finished.

Can bed bugs bite through clothing?  Bed bug mouthparts under an electron microscope
Credit: Janice Harney Carr, CDC [Public domain]

The proboscis is small and rigid and can only pierce your skin as bed bugs do not have mouthparts that are capable of chewing or eating through fabric.  

Can Bed Bugs Get Inside Your Clothes?

When you wear loose-fitting nightwear or pajamas in bed or other areas where you rest for long periods, bed bugs may be able to crawl inside and bite you under your clothes.  However, it is more likely they will look for exposed areas of skin first. 

In heavy infestations, bed bugs have to find other hiding places away from the bed as it becomes overpopulated so they can be found on and inside your clothes. 

This then brings up another popular question…

Can Bed Bugs Bite Your Private Areas?

Yes, bed bugs can bite your private parts if not covered by underwear or the duvet in bed, just like they can bite any other part of your body that isn’t covered.  In general, bed bugs don’t target this area, and you’re more likely to find bites on your shoulders, arms, legs, back, and face since these are usually exposed when sleeping, as you can see in these pictures of bed bug bites.

It is important to note that these pests won’t hide inside your private areas.  After feeding, they return to their harborage areas as bed bugs do not live on or in your body.

exterminators

Can Bed Bugs Bite Through Plastic?

No, bed bugs are unable to bite through plastic items.  This is why when trying to eliminate bed bugs yourself or using a pest control company, you’ll put the items you want to keep into plastic bags or plastic boxes for later inspection.

Plastic poses two problems for bed bugs:  the first is as you know their mouthparts are not adapted to chew through fabrics or plastics, and the second is that they cannot climb smooth surfaces.  This is why they are unable to climb out of the bed bug interceptor traps that you place under each leg of your bed to prevent them from crawling up and feeding on you. 

Despite this, if there are any tiny holes in the plastic, or if the bags have not been tightened and sealed enough then they can escape. 

The same thing applies to bedbug-proof mattress encasements.  These usually have a polyurethane backing which makes it impossible for the bed bugs to bite you through it when they are trapped inside. 

Head over to the best bed bug proof mattress encasements page and find out why I use and recommend the Saferest covers. 

Alternatively, take a look at the range encasements on Amazon for sale, but always read the reviews first before buying one.

What Bug Can Bite Through Clothing?

Mosquitoes will easily bite you through your clothes. With six elongated mouthparts, their proboscis can penetrate fabrics and suck your blood with ease through a T-shirt for instance.

Although they no doubt prefer your skin to be exposed, they will happily bite through your clothing if it allows them access.

Fleas are another household pest that bite you leaving you with itchy welts.  However, just like bed bugs, their mouthparts are not capable of biting you through your clothes and can only bite your bare skin.  

Can’t Find Bed Bugs but Have Bites?

Bed bug bites look the same as flea bites and other insect bites so there’s no way of telling for sure if they are caused by these blood-sucking pests or some of these bugs that look like bed bugs.  Allergic reactions can also look similar so you need to be sure that you have bed bugs.   

If you’re waking up and finding bites on exposed parts of your body, then it’s time to carry out a thorough inspection of your bed as an estimated 70–85%[1] of bed bug infestations are found here, more specifically on mattress seams, box spring, and bed frame.  This is because they like to stay close to you for an easy blood meal.

Among the other signs that you can read about on our how to tell if you have bed bugs page, bed bug evidence generally includes bloodstains on bedding, eggs, cast skins, dark fecal spots, and of course, live bed bugs.

Bed bugs have flat bodies that are as thin as a credit card so they can fit into the smallest folds in your mattress or cracks in your bed frame so take your time to look carefully.

Although they cannot bite you through your clothes, they’ll still find other areas of your body to take a blood meal from such as your face or neck.  If you find any signs of them, then you have to get rid of bed bugs fast whether you do this yourself or use a professional pest control service which is always the best option.  

[1] http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7454.html

I’ve been in the pest control industry helping people get rid of their unwanted pests for over 20 years, both in the UK and Canada.

As a licensed pest management professional, I’ve seen and treated just about every common household pest, insect, or rodent, you can think of. I’ve seen the damage caused when an infestation has been left too long and has become hard to get rid of.

For this reason, peststopsolutions.com was created. By having honest advice and the right guidance to hand, along with scientific evidence to back up claims, you are given information on the best eradication methods, as well as how to get rid of most pests yourself.