Aside from cockroaches, fleas and lice, one of the greatest fears for many homeowners is a bed bug infestation. Hopefully it never happens to you, but if you find yourself with these pests, here’s how to identify and get rid of bed bugs.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat and wingless insects that have six legs and two antennas. Adult bed bugs are reddish-brown and about the size of an apple seed. After feeding, they change their shape and appear more elongated and swollen. Young bed bugs, called nymphs, are not always visible to the naked eye, as they are smaller and paler.
What They Eat
Bed bugs feed exclusively on blood, so they often live near humans or animals to ensure a regular supply of meals. These bugs are hardwired to find a host and do so by the carbon dioxide we breathe out. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), bed bugs can travel 100 feet to get a blood meal, but they prefer to live within 8 feet of their host.
How They Reproduce
Bed bugs have six life stages in their life cycle, starting and ending with an egg. The whole cycle takes 5 weeks, but it can take fewer weeks in favorable conditions. Each new stage requires a meal and molting of their skin. Bed bugs can lay eggs for 6-12 months, during which both the male and female will need to eat every 14 days. During her egg-laying stage, a female can lay 1-3 eggs each day for a total of 200-500 in her lifetime.
Where Do They Come From?
While bed bugs have been around for thousands of years, it’s likely that your bed bugs originated from other infested areas. These pests are excellent hitchhikers and often travel by animals, luggage, clothes and furniture. They can also move from room to room through electrical outlets.
Bed bugs can live anywhere there are large groups of people, such as schools, stores, buses, and offices. However, they are especially problematic for large apartment complexes or hotels.
Common Signs Of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are hard to spot during the day because they are often hiding in small crevices in your bedding. Also, bed bugs don’t need to eat every day, making them somewhat elusive. Here are some signs that you have bed bugs:
- Blood on your sheets: Before you realize you have a bed bug problem, you may wake up with small blood stains on your sheets.
- Bites on your arms and legs: Although you won’t feel bed bug bites, many people experience an allergic reaction to their saliva, resulting in small, itchy welts, rashes, and hives on their arms and legs. Unfortunately, it takes a few days for bite marks to appear, and not everyone experiences the same allergic reaction. So by the time you realize you have bed bugs, they have had time to multiply.
- Molting sheds: Bed bugs molt their skin every time they enter a new stage. You may find these empty skin shells near or on your mattress.
- Eggs: Another dead giveaway for bugs is finding eggs. Bed bug eggs look a little bit like swollen grains of rice.
- Fecal Spots: Because bed bugs feed exclusively on blood, their excrement resembles dried blood. You can identify fecal markings by clusters of tiny rust-colored spots about the size of a dot from a marker.
How To Control Bed Bug Infestations
Bed bugs are some of the most difficult pests to get rid of. Luckily, however, it is impossible. Here is a step-by-step guide to rid your home of these unwanted bugs once and for all.
1. Verify The Culprit
As mentioned earlier, not everyone reacts to bed bug bites. Even worse, there are multiple pests that leave a similar mark when they bite. Therefore, bites are not enough to prove you have a bed bug infestation. Instead, you’ll need to find the actual bug, shed skin, or eggs. Many pest control companies will help identify your pest if you bring them a sample of your findings.
2. Let People Know
Now that you’ve verified that you’re dealing with bed bugs, it’s time to make a plan. If you live in a rental, let your landlord know about the problem. An increasing number of states name the landlord responsible for treating bed bugs, but some states have requirements about how long you can wait to notify them, so don’t wait on this step.
During this step, you’ll also want to check in with friends and neighbors (especially if you live in an apartment complex) to see if anyone else is experiencing the same problem. It won’t do you any good to treat your home if more bed bugs are going to come again in a few days.
3. Take Inventory Of Your Problem
If you decide to treat your infestation yourself, you’re going to need thorough notes about where you found bed bugs. Even after you’ve completed treatment, you should plan on checking on these areas routinely for the next year to prevent future infestations.
Start with a 15-20 foot radius surrounding your beds, paying special attention to your mattress, box springs, headboard, and bed frame. Other common bed bug hiding places include trim, outlets, windows & window coverings, walls, and decorations.
Some tools to help your efforts include:
- A flashlight
- A vacuum cleaner with a handheld attachment
- Something to scoop up eggs, such as a playing card or putty knife
- Paper towels
After you’re done with the bedroom, you’ll also want to look in multiple rooms and do thorough checks on couches, closets, dressers, and drawers. Keep in mind that bed bugs are about as wide as a credit card. So, if you can squeeze a credit card somewhere, a bed bug may be there.
4. Remove Infested Materials
As you begin to look for bed bugs, you may just begin to find some. As you do, be sure to remove any debris thoroughly. Make a call to your local trash company and arrange pick up of contaminated furniture before you begin.
If you find debris on an item, put it in a sealed container and throw it in your outdoor trash can. Be sure your bag is sealed and marked so that you don’t spread your bed bugs.
If you throw out furniture, be sure to mark it accordingly, so no one unknowingly brings it into their house. In addition to destroying the piece, spray paint “bed bugs” so everyone knows.
5. Apply the Treatment:
There are a number of ways to get rid of bed bugs, but you will do best if you choose more than one option below.
Heat is one of the most effective ways to kill bed bugs. These pests won’t survive temperatures of 113℉. Instead of cranking up your thermostat, you can apply heat in a variety of ways. For clothes and bedding, 30 minutes on high heat in the dryer will kill off any lingering bed bug, and a hairdryer may do the job for hard-to-reach areas like mattress seams. (Be sure to store any clean items in a sealable container, so you don’t risk recontamination.)
A steam cleaner is another great way to get into cracks or on furniture. Just be sure to set your machine’s temperature to at least 130℉ and avoid forced airflow that will just send the bugs scattering. Instead, use a diffuser attachment.
For a comprehensive job, you may be better off investing in an electric bed bug heater, which is designed specifically for infestations. A heater will set you back a pretty penny, but it will save you hours with a hairdryer and the question of whether or not you really got all of them.
Just like bed bugs can’t live in extremely high temperatures, they can’t live in cold temps under 0℉ either. Unfortunately, it’s harder to kill bed bugs with cold, so you will want to reserve this option for items that fit in a freezer. Simply place your bed bug-infested item in a sealed ziplock bag and put it in your freezer. It will take a few days, but they should be dead after day 3 or 4. Be sure to test the temperature of your freezer to make sure it reaches 0℉.
Pesticides are another option to tackle your bed bug problem. While there are a variety of pesticides on the market, be sure to look for the right kind of treatment. For example, while a bottle that says “kills on contact” sounds great, it can actually be difficult to use. A spray that kills on contact is only effective if it’s applied directly to a live bed bug. Once it dries, the potency dies. Instead, look for a spray that offers residual protection, like this eco-friendly bed bug killer. Another popular option is diatomaceous earth. If you go this route, be sure to apply a very small amount. Because bed bugs are tiny, large dust piles are easily identifiable and avoidable.
Also, if you decide to use a steam cleaner for upholstery or cracks, be sure to apply the pesticide after you are finished; otherwise, you will lose your pesticide.
Bed Bug traps
Bed Bug interceptors are chemical-free and safe for kids and pets. Simply put one under your furniture legs to keep them from crawling up. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from putting pesticides in the trap for some added protection.
Some things are just left to the professionals. Remember, just a few bed bugs left behind could turn into another infestation later on. If you don’t feel comfortable tackling the scale of your problem, consider hiring a professional. Although not the cheapest option on our list, experts will get the job done and save you a lot of hours of hassle.
Things to Avoid
Although desiccants (drying chemicals) can be effective, they take several months to get the job done. Also, avoid the temptation to reach for rubbing alcohol or other flammable chemicals. Another thing to avoid is sticky traps. While they may work for spiders, roaches, and other insects, they won’t help your bed bug problem. Finally, save foggers/ bed bug bombs for the professionals. Because of the potency and scale of a bug bomb, it’s best to leave this one to the experts. Also, bed bug bombs aren’t as effective as some of the other treatment options, and they have done poorly in independent studies.
Once you’ve thoroughly inspected your house, removed contaminated items, and applied the treatment of your choice, it’s time to monitor your progress. You’ll need to continue examining the infected areas for up to a few weeks, making notes of any new eggs or skin sheds. If you continue to find evidence of bed bugs, you’ll need to continue treatment.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
Keeping bed bugs from setting up camp in your home is infinitely easier than trying to break up a giant house party. Here are some tips to keep bed bugs at bay.
- Keep Things Clean: You may have heard that bed bugs only inhabit dirty homes. Unfortunately, that is a myth. Bed bugs can live in any setting, clean or not. That’s not to say there isn’t a benefit to a clean space, however. Bed bugs are easily disguised in clutter, giving them more time to reproduce and become a problem before you notice them.
- Wrap Your Mattress: Sealed mattress covers not only keep bed bugs out, but if you have them, they will kill any currently hiding in your seams. Just be sure the mattress cover seals completely. While you are at it, cleaning your mattress and rotating it regularly could help you spot any unwelcome invaders early on.
- Seal Cracks: Bed bugs love to hide in gaps in your trim work. Spend an afternoon reapplying any loose or cracked caulking to limit bed bug real estate.
- Vacuum: Vacuuming is a great way to kill bed bugs and eggs. Regularly vacuuming your house and furniture will also reduce the chances of an infestation.
- Know The Signs: In addition to regular cleaning, make sure you know the signs of bed bugs. If you begin to see fecal marks, blood stains, skin sheds or eggs, you’ll be able to put an end to the problem before it becomes an infestation.
Bed bugs can be a frightening issue. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions to take some of the guesswork out of these pests.
Where do bed bugs live?
Bed bugs are always on the lookout for their next blood meal. Therefore, they love to inhabit bedrooms or other places that provide regular access to their food source—a human or animal. While bed bugs can be in any room in the house, they are especially prone to setting up camp in and around a bed. Bed bugs can also live in schools, offices, libraries, and on public transportation.
How do I know if I have bed bugs?
Bed bugs are hard to spot during the day because they are often hiding in small crevices in your mattress seams, box springs, headboards and bed frames. However, some sure tell signs that you have a bed bug problem include bed bug excrement, their shed skins or waking up to small blood stains on your sheets.
Do bed bugs fly?
Although they have wing pads, they don’t have wings and can’t fly. However, they crawl very fast and can travel up to 100 feet each night to find a blood meal.
How do I prevent bed bugs?
Always check furniture and other items thoroughly before bringing them into your home, especially if it is free or deeply discounted. Similarly, do a quick scan at your hotel to see if there are any signs of bed bugs. If there are, notify the front desk and switch rooms immediately. Finally, keep your area free of clutter and have regular cleaning rhythms to limit bed bug hiding places and give yourself a chance to find them early on.
Do bed bugs cause illnesses?
While bed bugs feed exclusively on blood, they don’t carry diseases. If you are bitten, you may experience an allergic reaction in which you get a rash of tiny, itchy hives.
How do I get rid of bed bugs?
There are a few major ways to combat a bed bug infestation. First, you need to decide if you’re going to tackle the issue yourself or hire a professional. While hiring a professional will cost you more, it could save you hours of stress and anxiety. If that’s not an option, you can kill bed bugs through heat, pesticides, steamers, and vacuuming.
Bye Bye, Bed Bugs
No one likes to think about the possibility of bed bugs. However, these tiny pests can wreak havoc on any home—big, small, clean, or dirty. They are also adept travelers and can navigate through electrical outlets to find a new food source. While there’s nothing that can guarantee bed bugs won’t come into your home, keeping your home free from clutter and having regularly deep-cleaning rhythms will prevent them from growing into a major problem. And if you do find that you have a bed bug infestation, a few simple steps done consistently will help get you back on track. Finally, don’t be afraid to call a professional for advice, identification or treatment options, especially if it will relieve you of anxiety.
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