Can Bed Bugs Live and Lay Eggs in Pillows?

By Alesandra Woolley

Jun 14th, 2022

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Just like any other insect and pest, bed bugs will always choose to live close to their food source, which, in their case, is blood. They usually spend their lives hiding from predators and only go out at night to have a meal or few.

The truth is, bed bugs can live in almost any surface that has a host nearby – including pillows. Everything can serve as a home to them.

Because they’re called bed bugs, there’s a common myth that these pests only live in your mattress. But bed bug infestations can also occur in your pillows, among other bedroom furniture and bedding. If you notice red bumps that look like bites or a musty scent from your pillows, you may be sleeping on bed bug eggs.

Bed bugs in pillows

Although bed bug infestations most commonly occur in mattresses, bed bugs can also lay eggs in pillows, sheets, dressers, drawers, and other places in the bedroom. Bed bugs prefer to live somewhere on the surface, close to the host but still hidden from sight and daylight regardless of how firm the surface is.

However, they do what all species do – reproduce.

As primitive as they are, these pests also have to secure their offsprings, and that means finding a place to store the eggs and breed.

In other words, just as for dust mites, pillows are a perfect place for all the important bed bug needs: hiding, breeding, proximity to a blood host and egg storage. If their environment is undergoing pesticide or heat treatment and a mother bed bug has one last chance to lay eggs – a pillow will work just fine.

Can bed bugs live in memory foam pillows?

The answer is: very unlikely, but possible.

Still, if bed bugs gain access and get inside your pillow, they could harbor on the foam or in the seams of your cover.

Some pillows are manufactured with a quilted design, which provides a lot of surface area for bed bugs to live on. If that is the case, you have to make a thorough inspection or just make sure that the person treating your property is aware of this design.

Still, most memory foam mattresses and pillows are completely flat so you should be able to see any bed bug families quite easily.

Signs you may have bed bugs in your pillows

So now that you know where the pests might be hiding, you have to learn how to find them, especially if you already have been bitten. Make sure to thoroughly inspect the mattress as well and basically any other surface you think bed bugs have or might have taken over.

Signs of a bedbug infestation:

According to the pest control professional Freddie Briggs you’ll recognize bed bugs if:

  • A sweet and musky smell is present – you can sense it coming from infested pillows and cases.
  • You find feces and blood – there will be small, dark red spots and stains, easily spotted.
  • You can see eggs, which are the size and color of a white rice grain.
  • You see carcasses, which are dead adult bugs, usually surrounded by feces and blood.
  • You spot sheds of skin – not the whole skin – but particles of it (careful not to confuse with dust mites though).

How to perform a thorough bed bug inspection:

  • With the help of a powerful flashlight and a good magnifying glass, trace all the seams and folds of your pillows and the areas around them. Search places with no direct sunlight.
  • Take the pillowcases and the pillow and shake them really well onto a clean white sheet, spread out on the floor. Then do the same flashlight check again on the new sheet to see if anything fell down.
  • Take your time in performing this inspection but don’t do it for too long. If your eyes get tired, you might miss some important signs. It’s a good idea to get a friend to help you out and have another pair of eyes on the situation.
  • Keep thorough mattress cleaning in mind right after your treatment is complete. Blood and feces tend to leave terrible stains behind.

How to get rid of bed bugs in pillows at home

It’s important to understand that non-professional treatment is not recommended. Even if you are very thorough and do your best, it’s rarely enough to properly take care of an infestation. Always consider calling a professional pest technician first.

Related: Bed Bug Facts

However, if you have decided to take care of the bed bugs on your own, here is what you can do.

Kill bed bugs with heat:

  1. Seal all of the sheets, pillow cases, and any other bedding you have from your beds in plastic bags. Make sure the infested items do not come in contact with any other upholstery you have in your home.
  2. Take the infested bedding to the washing machine and check if their labels allow for a high-temperature washing. Divide the sheets and cases into groups depending on how much heat they can take and wash them on the highest possible setting.
  3. After the washing machine is done, dry them, again on the highest temperature possible.
  4. While the laundry is taken care of, vacuum thoroughly the mattress, the beds and all the room to get rid of any bugs, feces, eggs, and shells. Go through every small crack, fold, and crevice. Though high-end steam cleaners would work better to exterminate bugs, proven domestic products may also help. A steam mop can help to a huge extent with a pillow infestation.
  5. After you are done with the vacuuming, steam clean the areas in a high-pressure setting. Penetrate deep inside the mattresses, the pillows, bed frames, and foot boards.
  6. While everything is drying up from the steam cleaning, spray all the joints of the frames and boards with contact and residual spray. The contact spray works immediately by killing the bed bugs and evaporating right after, while the other spray has a delayed effect and kills the pests in the course of several weeks. Remember to always read the label carefully when working with chemicals.

Get rid of bed bugs by using strong chemicals

You can also try to kill the insects by spraying them with special pest killers. Purchase the one that is most suitable for your level of infestation. Spray all the covers, pillows, sheets, mattresses, the bed frame, and everything around it. Most chemicals kill the bed bugs instantly, so after you are done spraying, vacuum thoroughly.

Spray again after a week to make sure you have all the eggs and any other leftover adults as well. Repeat until the affected areas are bedbug-free.

Be extremely careful when using these types of chemicals. It does not matter what is on the label – there is no such thing as a non-toxic spray for bed bugs. Do your research before using any of them to prevent any potential harm to your family and home.

Will a dryer kill bed bugs in pillows?

Although a popular myth, the temperatures of regular domestic dryers are not sufficient to eradicate bugs from a pillow. Maybe some of the younger nymphs would die but full-grown adults can surely survive.

Professional heat treatment against bed bugs

Heat treatment is one of the most effective and harmless methods on the market. It’s performed by a certified pest technician and works for all stages of infestation. By using special machines he will heat up the affected rooms up to 133°F. This will immediately kill all the adult bed bugs along with their eggs and larvae which require more than 131°F to eliminate.

It’s quick, efficient and completely harmless to your possessions and the whole property.

So if you want to skip all the laundering, drying, looking through a magnifying glass, and every other DIY treatment method, call professionals and let them take care of the infestation. 

So how do you protect your pillows against bed bugs?

If you already have an infestation, there isn’t really much you can do to protect the pillows from becoming the next big bed bug hotel, but there are still certain precautions that will help you to minimize the damage.

  • Wash your sheets and cases every week on a high-temperature setting.
  • Never buy second-hand bedding.
  • Purchase special mattress protectors and pillowcases to serve as another protective layer against bed bugs. Stock up with enough quality mattress encasements with strong stitching and tight zippers to confine an outbreak if even spot a single nymph which means that more are hiding nearby.
  • Have a heat treatment performed once every 3 months to eliminate the risk of leftover eggs.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter where exactly the bed bugs decide to reside. If there is a serious infestation, they will be everywhere. Most of the times they will be under the pillows, hidden in the folds and away from the sunlight. If you find any of them inside a pillow, somehow, it could only mean that the infestation is even more serious than you imagined and it must be taken care of immediately. So don’t waste time and protect your home!