A Comprehensive Guide on How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

By Marilyn Syarto


Finding out you have bed bugs in your furniture and bedding can be a nightmare. Just like head lice, it takes patience to eradicate these little bugs from your life. On the bright side, bed bugs are more annoying than they are dangerous because they don’t carry or spread disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But bed bug bites can itch, leading to scratching and secondary skin infections, or serious allergies that can take a toll on you and your family. The bottom line: Eradicate them, pronto. Luckily, our comprehensive guide will teach you how to get rid of bed bugs for good.

how to get rid of bed bugs

Photo via Shutterstock


What Causes Bed Bugs?

 

Bed bugs hitch a ride on things you bring into your home. And even if you have a spotless home or are staying in a five-star hotel, they can still find their way to you. Here are some common mediums bed bugs can travel on:

 

  • Used furniture (and even some new furniture)
  • Luggage
  • Purses
  • Briefcases
  • Backpacks
  • …or they traveled from other apartments or hotel rooms into your home through ventilation systems.

 

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

 

Bed bugs are tiny, wingless, reddish-brown insects with flat, oval-shaped bodies. Actually, if you see one that’s red, it’s just feasted on someone’s blood. Nymphs (babies) are difficult to see because they are the tiny size of the head of a pin. But adult bed bugs are easier to spot since they are the size of an apple seed.

 

How to Check for Bed Bugs

 

Bed bugs may not be the brightest bugs on the planet, but they sure are sneaky. They are slim enough to fit into slivers of space, especially around mattresses. That’s because they wait for nighttime so they can feed on the blood of whoever is sleeping in the bed. Makes bedtime sound enticing, doesn’t it?

 

You’d be hard-pressed to find a bed bug during the day because that’s when they like to hide. Their favorite hiding places include:

 

  • Mattress seams and tags
  • Box springs
  • Bed frames
  • Crevices in headboards
  • Cracks and joints in tables and other furniture
  • Inside electrical outlets
  • Around clutter near the bed
  • In the folds of drapery or curtains 
  • Between couch cushions
  • In wallpaper seams
  • Under artwork on walls


Bed bugs prefer to live within a few feet of where humans sleep so they can get their meals quickly before scooching back under the covers. 


If you live in the United States and want to confirm you have bed bugs but aren’t ready to hire professionals, secure a bug in a sealed jar. Then you can contact your area’s cooperative extension service at a local university so they can confirm the bug you have in your possession is in fact a bed bug. Extension service specialists are experts in all things gardening, agriculture, pest control, and more. Find them by calling your town hall, local government section, or by visiting the National Pesticide Information Center to find the one closest to you.


If you find a bed bug, put it in a sealed jar with a teaspoon of rubbing alcohol, and take it to a place (pest control/exterminator, entomologist, or extension service) so that they can confirm it’s a bed bug and they’ll offer advice about your next steps. There are plenty of other small bugs, such as fleas, that look the same. 


Pro Tip: Let Your Landlord Know

If you live in a multi-family building like a duplex, condo, or apartment and find bed begs, let your landlord or property company know immediately. Bed bugs can get to your neighbors through vents.

 

When checking for bed bugs, also look for other clues that they may be in your space:

 

  • Bed bug droppings that look like dark spots the size of a penned period
  • Reddish stains on your mattress from crushed bugs
  • Tiny spots of blood on your sheets
  • Small yellow bed bug eggs or shells
  • Yellowy skins that bed bugs shed
  • A musty smell that indicates bed bugs

 

You can also tell if you have bed bugs by their bites. If you’re unsure, visit your doctor or a dermatologist for confirmation. The following are telltale signs of bed bug bites:

 

  • They itch
  • They’re red and bumpy
  • Multiple bites are in a curved shape
  • You’ll find them mostly (but not only) on your arms and legs
  • The bites are topped with small blisters

 

Myths About DIY Methods to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

 

If you’re ready to break out the tea tree oil to combat bed bugs, save it for other problems. Unfortunately, bed bugs are savvy and turn their noses up at most regular household products that some people try to use to kill them. According to pest control company JC Ehrlich, there’s no scientific evidence that using the following products and ingredients will make a dent in your bed bug infestation:


  • Ultrasonic devices
  • Baking soda
  • Mothballs
  • Talcum powder
  • Rubbing alcohol (It may kill bed bugs on contact, but won’t eradicate an infestation. Here’s a recipe if you need a spot treatment ASAP.)
  • Dryer sheets
  • Diatomaceous earth (It may work, but bed bugs tend to crawl around it, plus, it’s not healthy for humans to inhale it, especially if indoors.)
  • Tea tree oil (It may kill on contact but won’t eradicate an infestation.)
how to get bed bugs out of mattress

Photo via Abbie M


How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

 

You’ll need to take multiple steps to control a bed bug infestation. It takes time and patience to eradicate them all on your own and without the help of a pest control service. However, taking these steps quickly can dramatically help the situation until exterminators come to your rescue.

 

Step 1: Wash and Dry Clothing and Bedding


A study by Rutgers University and discussed by Texas A&M Extension Services shows how bed bugs in different life stages respond to laundry treatments. This means you might try a multi-pronged approach to your laundry to kill the bugs. Here are some takeaways from the research and then what you’ll need to tackle laundry yourself:


  • Soaking clothes in cold water for 24 hours (without detergent) killed all adults and nymphs but did not kill eggs.
  • Washing clothes in water that’s 140 degrees Fahrenheit on a 30-minute cycle may kill 100 percent of all life stages (including eggs).
  • Washing clothes in water that’s 100 degrees F on a 30-minute cycle may kill all adults and nymphs, but only 25 percent of eggs.
  • Only 75 percent of nymphs and 85 percent of adults are killed during a hot 10-minute tumble dry.
  • Cool drying cycles will not kill bed bugs.
  • Dry cleaning kills all life stages of bed bugs.


See the following steps for using your washer and dryer to kill off bed bugs. Although there are no hard rules on how many times you need to do your laundry like this, we suggest washing bedding every other day or few days in the first three weeks after you’ve started treating the area to eliminate bed bugs. If you have gone three weeks without any sign of a bed bug, your infestation is likely gone, and you can greatly reduce the frequency of washing bedding in hot water and hot dryer settings.


Tools and Materials Needed: 

  • Sealable plastic bags
  • Washing machine
  • Hot water
  • Clothing detergent
  • Dryer

 

Directions for Laundry:

  1. Sort laundry in the infested area.
  2. Put piles of sorted laundry in a sealable plastic bag (for transport without spreading bugs throughout your home). Put dry-cleanable clothing in a separate bag. Do not wash them, but they can be put in the dryer at a medium-high or high temperature for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Tip the bag of clothing into the washing machine.
  4. Close the bag and put that bag into another sealable plastic bag to be thrown outdoors in a garbage bin.
  5. Wash clothing at the hottest temperature the items can withstand.
  6. Transfer clothing to the dryer.
  7. Put the dryer on the hottest setting possible and leave it running for at least 30 minutes.

 

Step 2: Vacuum Everywhere


Do not dig too hard or aggressively when vacuuming for bed bugs or you will not capture them—instead, you will only flick them to another place or on the floor. Bed bug eggs, however, glue themselves to surfaces so they can be tough to displace by vacuuming.


Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Vacuum
  • Crevice tool
  • Tape
  • Sealable plastic bags
  • Liquid dish detergent
  • Hot water
  • Blow dryer

Directions for Vacuuming: 

  1. Attach a crevice tool to a vacuum with strong suction.
  2. Vacuum up bed bug-infested areas and concentrate on cracks, crevices, and folds of bedding and furniture.
  3. When finished with a section of your home, remove the vacuum bag and seal it up with tape.
  4. Place the sealed vacuum bag in another plastic bag and seal that bag up.
  5. Discard the bags in an outdoor garbage can.
  6. If your vacuum is bagless, go outdoors and remove the contents in the bin into a sealable plastic bag.
  7. Seal that bag and put it into another sealable bag to discard in an outdoor garbage can.
  8. When finished, wash the vacuum container in hot soapy water to kill any remaining bugs.
  9. Remove vacuum filter and either wash, freeze, or replace.
  10. Remove the vacuum’s hose and clean with hot soapy water, then dry using a hot blow dryer.
  11. Place tape over the nozzles or any other openings of the vacuum to prevent any living bugs from escaping.
  12. Repeat this process daily to control the bugs.

 

Step 3: Freeze Bed Bugs Away


Freezing bed bugs causes ice to form inside their bodies, which leads to their death. If it’s winter and the temperature is below zero outside, do not put items outdoors to kill bugs. The outdoor temperatures are not consistent enough to form ice inside the bugs, which is how they are killed. Instead, use these steps with your freezer at home to guarantee bed bug eradication.


Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Plastic bags with zippered closures
  • Freezer (a chest freezer is best for this process)

 

 Directions for Killing Bed Bugs by Freezing:

  1. Put affected items in a plastic bag and close it up. You can freeze items like shoes, clothing, jewelry, books, stuffed animals, and small toys. Do not put electronics or devices with screens, or frail antique items in the freezer, as condensation can ruin these items.
  2. Set your freezer so it is below 0 degrees F.
  3. Keep the bag in the freezer for at least four days.
  4. Remove items from the freezer, go outdoors, remove items from the bag. Shake each item out. Reseal the bag and throw it into an outdoor garbage can.

 

Pro Tip: Non-freezable Items

The EPA suggests leaving items that cannot be frozen (such as larger toys) in a sealed plastic bag for up to a year since bed bugs can live without eating for up to a year. Experts also say that beds (mattresses and box springs) should stay encased in plastic covers for at least a year, even if the area has been professionally treated.


Step 4: Using Steam to Kill Bugs


Steam cleaning surfaces can kill many bed bugs. The EPA suggests using a steam cleaner to treat carpets, baseboards, bed frames, and other furnishings. A steam cleaner should be able to reach about 8 inches deep into a crevice. We’ve outlined some guidelines on how hot to keep a steamer to kill bed bugs.


Tools and Materials Needed:

  

Guidelines for Using Steam to Kill Bed Bugs:

  • The steam’s temperature must be kept to a minimum of at least 130 degrees F.
  • Use a gentle flow of steam pressure, not a forceful one, or bugs on open surfaces may scatter. For crevices, BugLord.com suggests using a minimum of 40 PSI (pounds per square inch), but preferably 60 PSI.

 

Step 5: Using Pesticides for Temporary Help


Every country has its own pesticide controls and regulations. In the United States, the EPA has registered about 300 products for use in eradicating bed bugs, most of which can be used by consumers, but others that need to be used by professionals. Pesticides are divided into various chemical classes that kill bed bugs using specific processes. The EPA warns that some bed bugs develop resistance. If you prefer to try over-the-counter pesticides, here are three bed bug sprays to try: 

 

how to prevent bed bugs

Photo via Wendy at myfrenchtwist.com


How to Prevent Bed Bugs

 

Stop the problem before it starts by taking a few steps in bed bug prevention. Here are three main steps to take in and out of your home.

 

Don’t Take Bed Bugs Home

 

If you’re traveling, there are many ways to protect yourself if you stay in a hotel. Here’s what to do:


  • Place your luggage/bags on the hotel room’s suitcase stand—not on the floor or bed.
  • Keep the luggage rack away from walls and furniture.
  • Wash clothes and dry them in a hot dryer as soon as you return from a trip.


Make Your Home Unwelcoming to Bed Bugs

If you want to prevent an infestation in your home, take these steps:

 

  • Inspect any new or used furniture before bringing it into your home.
  • Clean and get rid of clutter in your home, especially around your bed where bed bugs can nest.
  • Move your bed away from walls and other furniture.


Take Care of Your Bedding

Here’s how to handle your bedding to prevent bed bugs from sleeping there:

 

  • Vacuum your mattress and box spring weekly and throw the vacuum bag or contents in a sealed bag.
  • Deep clean your mattress every six months or more frequently if you are monitoring a previous bed bug infestation.
  • Cover your mattress with mattress covers designed to keep out bed bugs and dust mites. Protect zipper heads by putting duct tape over them so bugs can’t get inside.
  • Encase your box spring with a cover.
  • Dry your bedding in a hot dryer once a month.
  • Wash your pillow and dry it in a hot dryer every six months.

 

Tips for Difficult Cases

 

Getting rid of bed bugs is tricky. You may think using pesticides is the best way to handle a bed bug infestation, but many pesticides are toxic and harmful, especially if sprayed in your bedroom or used the wrong way. The best way to control a bed bug infestation is to hire a pest control service. Although bed bug control takes about two or three visits, it can be well worth the money. 


Make certain that a pest control service has experience eliminating bed bugs and that is registered and employs fully licensed applicators. They should follow the steps of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which many countries use, along with any pesticide application. That means they will use pesticides only when necessary and in ways that will minimize harm to humans.

 

These are sound reasons to call in pest management for a bed bug infestation:

 

  • Some services have specially trained dogs to sniff out the bugs.
  • They have formulated bed bug treatments, such as spot-freezing, that are not available to consumers. (Professional spot-freezing equipment kills bed bugs and eggs on contact, but won’t protect you from bugs hidden deep in materials or that tolerate lower temperatures, according to PestOut, a pest control company.)
  • They have access to chemicals that stay in the furniture long-term to kill bed bugs. (Bed bugs can live up to a year without a meal!) 
  • Pest control services use whole-room heat treatments that consumers can’t use. (Special equipment heats up a whole room to about 145 degrees F to kill the bugs.)

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