How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
19–22 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
We’ve all heard the saying “Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite.” That simple childhood rhyme has a basis in truth.
These tiny pests have a taste for human blood that draws them into dwellings such as homes, apartments, and hotels.
Fortunately, the risk of illness and disease from bed bugs to humans is minimal. Simple skin irritations appear to be the worst they can inflict on people, even when they draw blood. Yet that doesn’t mean an infestation should be taken lightly. If you encounter a number of what appear to be bed bugs, it’s helpful to know exactly what you’re seeing.
Fleas Versus Ticks Versus Bed Bugs
Given how difficult it is to tell these pests apart, it’s useful to know a few facts about each:
Fleas and bed bugs are both classified as insects, yet ticks are part of the arachnid family.
While bed bugs pose no threat to carry disease, fleas and ticks can spread a range of serious and even life-threatening illnesses.
While bed bugs are quite small (often less than 1/4 inch long), fleas are even tinier at about 1/10 inch. Adult ticks top out at roughly 2/5 inch.
Characteristics of Bed Bugs
To continue cycles of mating and egg production, males and females must feed (consume a bloodmeal) once every 14 days. With regular feeding, a female can lay 1-3 eggs daily and 200-500 eggs in her lifetime. Should a bed bug’s regular feeding be interrupted, however, it can still survive for several months on one meal.
Bed bugs are not known to travel large distances on their own. However, they will attach themselves to movable objects such as bedding, boxes, clothing, and furniture. Besides residences, bed bugs are known to inhabit a variety of interior settings like offices, stores, hotels, and gyms.
- About 3/16 – ¼ inch long (nearly the size of an apple seed)
- Brown coloration with a flat, oval body (unfed); balloon-like and longer after feeding
- Found throughout the U.S.
- Mainly active at night – but will seek a host during daytime, if hungry
- Produces a musty, yet sweet, odor — especially when found in large groups
- Prefers to feed on the blood of humans
- Susceptible to temperature extremes; will die when heat reaches 113 degrees
- May be eliminated with DIY methods
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Gather the Tools You’ll Need
a good flashlight
credit card (or similar thin object)
Step 1: Determine the Severity of the Problem
Most bed bugs are found within eight feet of a place where a human is resting. But as their population grows, so does their footprint in your home. That’s why it’s important to check the following areas:
- Mattresses, box springs, and bedding
- In curtains and behind peeling wallpaper
- Under carpet
- Cracks in furniture and in hardwood floors
- Piles of clothing
With your flashlight and credit card, search and probe crevices to check for bed bugs. If you see these pests moving, capture them with adhesive tape. Wipe the area with soapy water to clean away any dead bed bugs, droppings, eggs, and shed skins. Also consider vacuuming the area for an even deeper cleaning.
If you have one or more rooms with substantial clutter or items strewn about, you’re providing bed bugs with a haven. The simple act of reducing clutter deprives these pests of breeding areas. But if you can see bed bugs, black or brown stains that indicate droppings, or if you experience bites, you’re likely dealing with an infestation.
Step 2: Build a Plan to Stop Further Infestation
With their ability to hide, their tiny size, and their frequent reproduction, you may find it challenging to remove bed bugs from your home. Making matters worse, the egg stage of a bed bug’s life is actually quite resistant to many forms of treatment. Recognize that ridding your home of these pests make take a number of steps.
Step 3: Take Action to Eliminate the Bed Bugs
Your DIY tactics will play an important role in evicting pests. Experts suggest the following tasks to clean rooms, wipe out bed bug homes, and discourage their spread:
- De-clutter rooms of your house or apartment
- Buy a mattress encasement to protect your mattress and box spring
- Vacuum multiple times each week as you fend off the pests
- Wash and dry your clothes at the hottest setting (at least 120 degrees) to kill any bed bugs
- Apply caulk to cracks and crevices seen in walls and door frames
- Contact a pest control specialist if signs of infestation continue
Step 4: Check Your Results
Give your efforts a full week to take effect. This should be enough time in case any eggs were missed during cleaning. If the results are not to your liking, contact a pest control specialist. The infestation may require an insecticide, which is best handled and deployed by a professional.
Bed Bugs and Humans
Remember that bed bugs are not known to carry diseases to humans. But our exposed areas of skin – the hands, neck, face, leg, and arms – are open targets to bed bugs when we sleep.
You may not even be aware of a bed bug bite since these are not known to be painful. In fact, hours or days may pass before you notice signs like swelling, bleeding, or secondary infection at the site(s) on your skin if the bites are not cleaned. This reaction is more likely in small children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
Weather and Seasonal Behavior of Bed Bugs
Higher temperatures are a bed bug’s ally for a few reasons. First, heat quickens the pest’s life cycle. In everything from feeding to the maturing of eggs to general movement, hotter days are a bed bug’s comfort zone.
This means that your home is potentially a prime habitat for bed bugs throughout the year. Because winter temperatures are extremely uncomfortable to bed bugs – and sends them into a dormant state called diapause – they will always seek a warmer environment. The controlled climate of your home provides a setting where they can be active all year. If the clothes we wear carry these pests, then we help them reach new sites for infestation. This means that controlling and eliminating bed bugs can be done at any time on the calendar.
If you’re concerned about bed bugs biting during your sleep, there are a few ways to protect yourself.
Apply double-sided tape to the legs of your bed. This captures any pests as they attempt to climb.
Keep your bed off the floor. The added height makes the bug’s journey more difficult.
Consider purchasing interceptors. These devices are small dishes to be placed under the legs of your bed, but your bed must be moved away from walls. Interceptors can catch up to hundreds of bed bugs, allowing you to enjoy more peaceful rest.
You’ve heard it a million times: Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite! But while this common refrain harks back to most Americans’ childhoods, many of us don’t realize just how common these insects are — even upscale hotels and condominiums have been infested by blood-sucking bed bugs. If this pest is affecting your property, it’s important to properly inspect and identify them before attempting to treat them.
If you are facing a bed bug infestation (or are hoping to head one off), there are many ways that you can control their spread.
On the other hand, bed bugs have many ways of spreading undetected. They travel on clothing stored in boxes or suitcases, backpacks, and shoes.
Blankets, pillows and other bedding are especially at risk. Bed bugs may also set up in areas outside the bedroom, oftentimes places you wouldn’t expect at all. They hide behind wallpaper, within cracks in plaster, inside picture frames, under switch plates for lights and electrical sockets, in drawers and even under screw heads, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If your environment remains conducive to bed bugs after treating them, they will likely return.
You can, however, control the spread of bed bugs by using natural or chemical agents to treat your home. But because this task is so difficult, you may need to employ these strategies more than once.
1. Set Up a Clean Zone
Your bed bug control regimen starts with setting up a clean zone — an area where you can place items once they’ve been rid of bed bugs or after you determine that they do not have bed bugs. This prevents further infestations or contamination as you work through your home. This could mean your garage, a closet, or another room that you know hasn’t been affected. Once you’ve set up a clean zone, make sure to protect it. Use plastic bags to transport potentially infected items through it, if necessary.
To create a clean zone:
- Start along one wall and clean the area. You can vacuum a carpeted area or use a wet cloth to clean hard floors. Use a card or similar item to determine if you have spaces in your bed frame, between your baseboards and walls or other cracks and crevices where the insects may hide. Pay attention to any movement and vacuum the insects when you find them.
- Repeat this process on paintings, artwork or other items on your walls, or anywhere your home environment creates crevices or other hiding places.
- When you have a clean wall and open space, move on to other areas of the room. Move furniture into the clean zone as you eliminate the bed bugs or determine that items do not have bed bugs.
- Work your way through the room from one side to the other as you expand your clean zone.
2. Vacuum the Furniture
As you work through your room, vacuum each item to remove bed bugs. An ordinary vacuum cleaner can pick up any bed bugs on the surfaces of your bedding and cushions, and it will allow you to remove the insects from the area.
Use it on your mattress, couch, box spring, bed frame, or any other furniture. You can also vacuum carpets, wood and other areas with potential cracks and crevices where the insects may hide. This will pull up most of the bed bugs.
If you are vacuuming a tight space, use an attachment with a reasonable degree of power to pull the insects out of cracks and crevices. This may not pick up the bed bugs hidden deep in your mattress, box spring or other items. The goal of vacuuming is only to remove most of the insects from the surface of your furniture.
3. Encase Your Furniture
When you have completed the process of vacuuming your furniture and laundering the fabrics in an infested area, you’ll want to use separate encasements to cover your mattress and box spring. These prevent the insects from getting out and infesting other areas of your home. They are designed to zip over your mattress or bed spring, trapping bed bugs inside.
When selecting and using mattress encasements or box spring encasements, pay attention to the details. Make sure you select the appropriate size based on your bed and the size of your furniture. We’ve already outlined some of the best bed protectors as well as the best mattress covers so you don’t have to do all the research. Leave the mattress encasement on for a full year to ensure that all of the bed bugs die, and you won’t have to worry about the infestation returning.
4. Evaluation and Ongoing Prevention
When you’ve finished your initial prevention treatments, you’ll want to make sure they’ve been effective. Even if you haven’t experienced an infestation, remain vigilant in order to prevent any in the future (particularly if you hear of any bed bug infestations in your neighborhood or apartment building). Prevention means making a habit of some of the same strategies that can end an infestation. This additional effort is worth it to ensure that these tenacious pests don’t get a foothold in your home in the future. For the most effective prevention, work the following activities into your ordinary cleaning, buying, and travel routines:
5. Inspect New Furniture
Before bringing new furniture or a new mattress into your home, inspect it for signs of an infestation. Especially if you’ve bought second-hand furniture, be certain that the furniture does not have any damage that may stem from bed bugs. If you are unsure, do not bring it home. And even if you don’t see signs of infestation, spray it thoroughly with a repellent and consider using a mattress cover.
6. Vacuum and Clean Regularly
Limit clutter in your home to prevent the insects from hiding around your property. Vacuuming regularly will help get rid of any hitchhiking bed bugs that end up in your home after traveling. Consider caulking or painting over cracks in your floor or crevices in your walls and molding so that you can eliminate the bugs’ ideal hiding spaces.
7. Launder Your Clothes Regularly
Wash your clothes and other fabrics in hot water, and dry them on a high heat setting. Always launder clothes you travel with before you put them back in your room or drawer, even if they were previously cleaned. Hotels may have infestations and the insects can enter your home on your clothes, in your bags, or on other items you travel with. Laundering with heat prevents hitchhiking insects from infesting your home. You can also use a hair dryer to treat suitcases, purses or other bags and items you are not able to launder when traveling.
8. Inspect After Traveling
Especially after you’ve just returned home, but also on an ongoing basis, go on bed bug patrol: Check the following places for signs of blood or excrement spots, and keep a flashlight on hand so you can perform inspections in dark crevices and under furniture:
- Box springs
- Bed Frame
- Pet beds (don’t forget – bed bugs like your pets as much as they like you.)
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Initial Steps for Treatment
A bed bug infestation is notoriously difficult to eradicate, even if you’ve followed all of the above prevention methods.
Adept at hiding in beds, furniture, and the various cracks and crevices that appear in any home, these pests reproduce at lightning speed and lay eggs that resist most types of treatment. This usually means several rounds of treatment to get rid of the current population as well as concerted efforts to update your environment and make it far less bed bug-friendly.
The fastest way to end your bed bug problem is to take these initial steps:
1. Inspect Hiding Places
Bed bugs love to hide inside your mattress, box springs and bed frame as well as other furniture and the cracks and crevices in your floors and walls. Examine these areas regularly with a flashlight. Thoroughly inspecting your entire home helps you keep track of where the bed bugs are forming or thriving.
2. Clear Clutter
A cluttered house provides more places for bed bugs to hide, and it fosters the type of an environment that makes it hard to find the bugs and eradicate them.
3. Ask For Help
If you’re dealing with bed bugs around your home and you haven’t traveled recently, someone may have brought the pests in or the infestation could be coming from a neighbors’ house. Ask your friends and neighbors if they’re experiencing signs of bed bugs as well, so you can eradicate the problem together and completely get rid of the source.
The good news is that if you can make your environment less hospitable to bed bugs, you’ll make it easier to get rid of them, and greatly reduce the chances of their return—even without engaging a pest management professional.
There are several options for getting rid of bed bugs, including both natural and chemical methods. These methods are easy to use and relatively inexpensive as well.
Bed Bug Coaster Traps
These offer the simplest and most easily applied non-chemical approach.
The coaster traps can be placed underneath each post of the bed. They’re designed with rough outer faces to help bed bugs climb in, but smooth inner walls to keep them there. The bed bugs will then die inside and can easily be disposed of. This method is also helpful for ongoing prevention, because it will allow you to see which items of furniture still might have an infestation.
Essential oils like neem oil and tea tree oil aren’t bed bug killers. You can’t rely on them alone to end an infestation, but they do discourage the insects from infesting your mattress, box springs, couch or other furniture. If you’ve noticed bed bugs in one part of your house or on certain pieces of furniture, you can apply the oils to other furniture in order to mitigate the infestation and keep it contained.
Other natural oils that may help with bed bugs include:
- Neem oil
- Lavender oil
- Peppermint oil
- Rosemary oil
Mix any of these essential oils together with water to make your own home-made bed bug repellent spray.
DIY Tea Tree Oil Spray
- 12 oz of water
- 20-25 drops of tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a natural insect repellent and insecticide. Be sure to mix this spray well by shaking the bottle before each use. Spray the mixture into corners, crevices and areas where the insects may get into your home. You can also spray your mattress, box springs, bed frame, or other furniture to repel the insects and prevent bed bugs from moving onto them in the future.
Other natural bed bug repellents include:
Rubbing alcohol and lemon grass powder work in similar ways by repelling bed bugs and preventing the insects from moving onto a mattress or piece of furniture. Some natural remedy experts recommend baking soda as well.
Diatomaceous earth is another highly-recommended substance – a powder made up of silica that damages bed bugs’ exoskeletons and eventually causes them to dehydrate. The best way to use diatomaceous earth is to sprinkle it in affected areas and then vacuum it up before sleeping in that area. Remove bedding before using it on a bed, then replace the bedding afterward. Avoid the type used as a purification agent for swimming pools, which can harm people if inhaled. Food-grade diatomaceous earth used as a dietary supplement is less harmful for your family and pets.
Steam and Heat
Bed bugs cannot withstand high temperatures. High heat eliminates kills off the insects and neutralizing their eggs, and is as effective, if not more effective, than many insecticides.
So you or an exterminator can eliminate the bugs by using a high-powered steamer or other heating solutions to treat your furniture or other infested areas.
How you pursue a heat treatment should depend on your situation and what areas of your home have become infested. A steam cleaner will kill the insects at every stage of life in hard-to-reach areas like carpets, floor cracks, or crevices between your baseboards and the floor. Ideally, you want to use a commercial grade steam cleaner or dry steamer for your heat treatment.
To Perform a Heat Treatment:
- Remove blankets, sheets and other bedding.
- Place every fabric item from the infested area in a washing machine and set the water temperature to high.
- Use hot water for every fabric item that’s been near the infested bed, couch or other furniture.
- Apply heat to unwashable items where bed bugs might have hidden or laid eggs, such as pillows or cushions. You can use a steam cleaner for this process.
- After you’ve stripped off your bedding and made your mattress, box spring, and bed frames easily accessible, use the dry steamer or steam cleaner on every inch of surface (including the seams).
- Hold the nozzle close to the surface and ensure that the temperature reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to kill off the insects and prevent eggs from hatching.
If you feel uncomfortable applying a heat treatment personally, consider professional services using heat and steam.
If you don’t already have a steamer, there are several on the market specifically made for bed bug steaming that also include a vacuum. There are also simple bed bug heaters that you can buy to place inside an infected room. Just remember: bed bugs move from space to space by getting onto other fabrics. Killing them in your mattress, box springs, furniture and throughout your property, prevents them from moving and continuing to cause health risks for your family. Remember to de-clutter so they won’t find other places to hide.
While natural methods can be very helpful and may be sufficient to stave off some infestations, it is not always possible to eliminate bed bugs without pesticides. The most common chemical bed bug treatment is bed bug spray, which you can either spray on affected areas or use in a fogger. Some bed bug sprays on the market better and faster than others. While foggers, or bed bug bombs, have a mixed reputation, and the EPA does not guarantee their effectiveness, you can use them to fumigate an entire room or area of the house. If you choose to utilize a fogger — or any other insecticide — be sure to understand how they work and read all instructions on using them properly. Not all bed bug spray is FDA-approved or safe for your family, so we’ve put together a list of some of the best bed bug bombs that are proven to work. Check all chemicals before using them to ensure that they are tested and legal.
If an infestation continues for weeks or months, and if repeated treatments fail to be effective, it’s time to call in an exterminator. Furthermore, you should always call experts if you and your family are finding copious bites. An expert pest control company can help you rid your home of bed bugs once and for all, and they are trained in the use of insecticides, repellents, sprays, heat, and other methods. They can also offer you specific tips that will help you keep your home bed bug free now and in the future.
Fortunately, bed bugs are more a nuisance to you and your family than anything else. They’re nevertheless some of the most unwelcome guests you can have in your home, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of time-consuming treatment.
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