What’s the Difference Between Bed Bugs and Dust Mites?
Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional
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The difference between bed bugs and dust mites is that one is a parasitic insect (bed bug), and the other is a microscopic arthropod (dust mite).
Yet, some similarities do lead to confusion between the two as bed bugs and dust mites both live close to us, and both can trigger allergic reactions. But the main difference is that dust mites do not feed on us but on the dead skin flakes we shed, while bed bugs bite us and feed on our blood.
Both pests behave differently, so understanding their differences will help you avoid a bed bug infestation and get the right treatment early on.
Bed Bugs vs House Dust Mites
Bed bugs are much larger than dust mites, and you can see them crawling around if you look carefully enough. Their bites can cause allergic reactions that can include skin irritation, hives, and eczema. However, a house dust mite allergy can also trigger the same allergic reactions.
Bed Bugs – The Pest Everyone Fears Getting
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are obligate parasites, which means they cannot survive or reproduce without human blood to sustain them, or the blood of other warm-blooded animals.
After biting and sucking your blood, these nocturnal pests return to their harborage areas to digest their blood meal, mate and lay eggs.
Bed bugs like to stay close to where we sleep, so they mainly hide on the bed (mattress, box spring, bed frame, and headboard). But they also hide in nearby furniture and clutter under the bed.
Bed bugs are a global problem. Not only can their bites trigger allergic reactions and secondary infections, but they can also impact our mental health, causing anxiety and insomnia long after elimination.
And this is something I’ve come across where a customer knows the bed bugs are gone, but they still become anxious when they see a bug in their home, especially in the bedroom, or they think they feel something crawling on their skin. This alone is one reason to make sure you identify the bed bugs as soon as possible.
- Unlike dust mites, you can see bed bugs.
- Bed bugs are similar in shape to an apple seed, with six legs, two antennae, and protruding eyes.
- The reddish-brown colored adult grows to 5-7 mm in length, and their engorged body lengthens up to 10 mm when feeding.
- Baby bed bugs which are called nymphs can be difficult to see unless you’re looking for them as they are tiny and semi-translucent. They grow from 1 mm when born to 4.5 mm (approx) when they mature. They go searching for a blood meal after hatching, and they are easier to see when they’ve fed because their abdomens fill with blood and become red.
House Dust Mites (HDM)
Approximately 13 different species of mites live in house dust, and it’s the American house dust mite (Dermatophagoides farinae) and the European house dust mite (D. pteronyssinus) commonly found in our homes that are responsible for causing allergies.
What Are Dust Mites?
- House dust mites, or just dust mites, are tiny mites that feed on dead skin cells that we and our pets shed daily.
- They are a small arachnid species found worldwide, so they have eight legs, but they don’t have eyes or antennae.
- They are 0.1-0.5 mm in size, which is smaller than a grain of salt.
- As well as being microscopic, they are translucent-white, so you can’t see them with the naked eye.
House dust mites DO NOT BITE, but they can cause an allergic reaction if you’re sensitive to dust mite dander, which may produce a ‘dust mite rash’ with small, red itchy lumps such as an eczema flare-up.
Asthma and other allergic reactions occur when house dust mite feces and proteins from its body parts are breathed in through airborne dust.
Is It Bed Bugs or Dust Mites?
You may find yourself asking this question because both, as you know, can cause your skin to react. However, not everyone reacts to a bed bug bite, so bear that in mind. But there are still some key differences that make identifying one type over the other easier.
How Do I Know if I Have Bed Bugs or Dust Mites?
As well as waking up with red welt marks on areas of your skin that are not covered when in bed, bed bugs also leave behind physical evidence that you can look for if you know where bed bugs usually hide.
But the most common places are:
- Mattresses (corners and on the piping)
- Box springs
- Bed frames
- Nearby bedside cabinets
- The couch (if you sleep on it).
When searching for the signs and symptoms of bed bugs, you’ll want to look for small blood stains on the sheets or mattress, fecal stains (looks like coffee grounds), shed skins (looks like a translucent bed bug), and tiny bed bug eggs that these pests leave behind. And, of course, live bed bugs.
In contrast, dust mites are more difficult to identify since they cannot be seen and do not leave any trace of their existence. They generally live unnoticed alongside us unless you’re an allergy sufferer.
The allergens predominantly found are in dust mite feces, and as a result of skin exposure or inhaling their body parts, dust mites can cause allergic reactions, of which symptoms include:
- a stuffy nose all year round (perennial rhinitis), asthma, and/or eczema (atopic dermatitis), and other issues such as severe respiratory issues.
- Dust mites can cause a rash with red and itchy skin, which can and has been mistaken for bed bug bites, especially when a person sees the rash when they wake up.
- Just like bed bugs, house dust mites also like to live close to us. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, most dust mites live in our bedrooms than any other room in the home. 
- They thrive on dead skin cells that accumulate on such things as carpets, furniture, mattresses, pillows, blankets, carpets, drapes, rugs, clothing, stuffed toys – you get the idea!
Can You Have Bed Bugs AND Dust Mites?
Yes, you can have bed bugs and dust mites in your home at the same time. Nearly every household has dust mites, and dust mite exposure is almost impossible to avoid.
However, you’ll only know you have dust mites if you are allergic to them. Other than that, they don’t cause any problems and live invisibly alongside us.
While bed bugs, on the other hand, are a growing household pest that is usually brought into our homes by traveling, staying in hotels, and second-hand furniture. So being aware of how to prevent these bugs from getting into your home will help reduce the chances of an infestation.
Unfortunately, unlike dust mites, you cannot live alongside bed bugs, and you will soon know they are there. Unless treated, their population levels will keep increasing, and the infestation will grow, as will the number of bites on your body.
How to Treat Them Both
Ways to Keep Dust Mite Levels Down
It’s impossible to have a home that is 100% dust-free, and pest control companies don’t typically deal with dust mites.
But there are several ways you can reduce dust and the dust mites themselves, so the following will be helpful:
- Encase your mattress, box spring, and pillows in hypo-allergenic bedbug-proof and dust mite-proof encasements. These are made from materials tested to prevent bed bugs from escaping or entering and to prevent dust mites from getting through.
You can read about the best mattress protectors for dust mites and bed bugs to get some tips on which one to choose and what to look for when buying them.
- Vacuum upholstery and carpets daily with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter to prevent allergens from becoming airborne. Although this will remove some dust mites, there is still likely to be a large number of them deep inside the cushions, etc.
- If it’s within your budget, it’s a good idea to replace carpets with wood or other hardwood floorings; remove curtains/drapes and replace them with wood or similar type blinds.
- Wash your bedding every week at a temperature of between 130-140°F minimum to kill dust mites.
Both dust mites and bed bugs like our warm, humid homes and dust mites thrive in temperatures of 75-80°F and prefer 70-80% humidity, so by reducing humidity below 55% in your home with a dehumidifier, you will ensure they do not survive.
Dealing With the Blood-Sucking Bugs
You can live with dust mites, and as said above, unless you have an allergy to them, you’ll never know they’re there.
However, bed bugs are a different pest to deal with altogether and can be extremely hard and expensive to treat if the infestation isn’t caught early enough.
I briefly mentioned above what to look for and where, but what do you do if you find them?
Well, you might decide to treat them yourself if you’re at the early stages of an infestation, or you might find it difficult paying a pest control company, so read my step-by-step, detailed guide on how to get rid of bed bugs on a tight budget, which covers what you need to do, such as:
- Clearing all clutter from the room
- Remove and wash the bedding, clothes, and drapes
- Steam clean the mattress
- Vacuuming the whole room
- Applying silica gel to cracks and crevices
- Encasing mattresses, box springs, and pillows in bed bug proof protectors
- Installing bed bug interceptor traps under each leg of the bed
Overall, it’s vital you know the difference between bed bugs and dust mites as the treatments for both will be very different.
You can’t get rid of dust mites completely but can them control them yourself by carrying out the options above. But you can get rid of bed bugs completely and it is always best to get bed bugs treated by a pest control professional.
But make sure you research the company you are going to choose. Read how to choose a pest control company for expert tips. Find one that has experience in treating bed bug infestations.
It can be expensive to treat bed bugs, and some companies will charge more than others. So shop around and get a few free quotes before making your decision.