How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
As kids, almost everyone hears the phrase “don’t let the bed bugs bite.” But it turns out that following that simple command can be complicated. Bed bugs are a nuisance that can create uncomfortable bites, and within your home, an infestation can take hold in numerous parts of your home.
While some people assume that a bed bug infestation means having to toss their mattress and all their furniture, with the proper approach and diligence, you can usually get rid of bed bugs without having to resort to this.
In this guide, we’ll cover all the key things that you need to know about bed bugs — what they are, how they get into your home, how to recognize them, how to prevent them, and how to get rid of them. We’ll also answer many of the frequently-asked questions about these frustrating pests and help connect you to useful resources to learn more.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are a parasitic insect that feeds on human blood. The scientific name for these pests is Cimex lectulariusis. They are oval in shape and are generally flat with a brown or reddish-brown appearance. Their size ranges from 1-6 millimeters.
Bed bugs are nocturnal, which is all the more reason why beds are a near-perfect habitat for them. They are drawn to people by CO2 (from our breath) and body heat. When they bite humans, they grow in size as they take in blood. They usually feed 1-2 times per week but can live a long period without a meal, in some cases up to 3 months. Bed bugs lay eggs in the same place where they feed, and after they lay eggs, it usually takes about 37 days for an egg to hatch and for the bed bug to reach its full size.
How Common Are Bed Bugs?
Unfortunately, bed bugs are a relatively common pest. Almost all exterminators report having handled cases of bed bugs, and the growth in global travel has made it easier for them to spread from one location to another. Orkin, the pest removal company, released a report based on the cities in the U.S. with the most bed bug treatments. The top 5 cities in 2017 were
- Baltimore, Maryland
- Washington, D.C.
- Chicago, Illinois
- Los Angeles, California
- Columbus, Ohio
If you want to see if your city fell somewhere in this list, you can do so at Orkin’s Top 50 Bed Bug Cities List.
Why Do Bed Bugs Matter?
Bed bug bites are the greatest consequence of a bed bug infestation. These bites can resemble mosquito bites and are often itchy and uncomfortable.
Even though bed bugs feed on human blood, they are not disease hosts in the way that other blood-sucking pests (like mosquitos or ticks) are. Thankfully, this limits some of the health consequences of bed bugs.
There are two situations in which bed bug bites can lead to more serious health impacts that may require seeing a medical professional. The first is if you scratch bed bug bites in a way that causes an infection. The second is that some people may have an allergic reaction to a bed bug bite. This is rare, but if you notice signs of an allergic reaction such as significant swelling or redness, contact a doctor.
Bed bugs can also create anxiety when they take hold in a room or in a home. Because it can be hard to know that they have been completely eradicated, some people find it very hard to rest easy with the idea in their head that these pests could be crawling around in their bed. In addition, if a bed bug infestation is severe, it can be costly in requiring a professional exterminator and/or in having to get rid of some household furniture.
How do Bed Bugs Get Into a Home?
Bed bugs can be found in a wide variety of human environments. Any place where people sleep can have bed bugs including homes, apartments, hotels, dorm rooms, hospitals, daycare centers, cruise ships, and temporary shelters. Bed bugs can also be found in places where humans are commonly in transit such as in public transportation or airplanes. They can also be found in movie theaters and offices.
Unsanitary places aren’t necessarily more likely to harbor bed bugs as these pests can survive in even high-end hotels that are cleaned everyday. That said, regular cleaning can often help to prevent them from setting up camp and becoming a more serious infestation.
Bed bugs can get into your home in a number of ways. Some people pick up bed bugs from traveling. They may attach to clothes or luggage and be brought into the home. They can also enter the home from second-hand items like clothes or furniture. Though bed bugs don’t bite pets, they can travel into a home in the fur of a pet like a dog.
How Do You Know if You Have Bed Bugs?
Many people have heard of bed bugs but aren’t sure how they would know if they have bed bugs in their bedroom. There are a few different ways to try to identify a bed bug infestation:
- Bites. One of the first signs is bed bug bites. These bites may appear in a line on the skin and are usually red with a darker center. They can resemble other types of bites, and may be mildly to severely itchy.
It is important to bear in mind that it is hard to differentiate a bed bug bite from a mosquito bite just by how it looks. As a result, bites alone are not enough to know that you have bed bugs in your home, but these bites can be a reason that you should look closely for some of these other signs:
- Bed bug feces in your bed. If you see very small dark red to black spots on your sheets, this can be the fecal matter from bed bugs.
- Blood stains. You may see small drops of blood — the remnants from a bed bug’s blood meal — on your clothes or your sheets.
- Shedded exoskeletons. Bed bugs molt and shed their exoskeletons. These are generally very small, oval in shape, and translucent. You may find these whole or in fragments in your bed.
- Actual bed bugs. Seeing actual bed bugs in your bed or bedding is obviously a tell-tale sign that you are dealing with a bed bug issue.
- Bed bug eggs. Harder to spot, these tiny white eggs, about 1mm in size, are another clear indicator of the presence of bed bugs.
How Can Bed Bug Infestations be Prevented?
Because bed bug infestations can be a real pain to clean up, your best bet is to prevent bed bug infestations from the get-go. There are a few different ways to try to prevent bed bugs from setting up camp.
Preventing Bed Bugs At Home
In your home and bedroom, these steps can help stop bed bug infestations:
- Keep things tidy. By limiting clutter in your bedroom, including under and around your bed, you can help reduce potential hiding places for bed bugs. Vacuuming often can also help in this process.
- Clean your mattress. A routine of regular cleaning of your mattress can make your bed less attractive to bed bugs and can also help make sure that you find any infestations early. For more about mattress maintenance, see our guide, How to Clean Your Mattress.
- Consider a mattress protector. A mattress protector, distinct from a mattress pad, completely encases your mattress to prevent bed bugs from getting into it. While these won’t eliminate the possibility of getting bed bugs in your sheets or bedding, they can make resolving that situation much easier by giving peace of mind that bed bugs are not in the mattress itself. If you go this route, look for a mattress protector that specifically states that it prevents penetration by bed bugs.
- Use interceptor traps. Traps called interceptor traps are shallow, cup-like traps that can catch bed bugs as they try to move around your bed frame. You generally place these traps at the legs of your bed.
- Use glue traps. These are another type of trap that prevent bed bugs from moving around your home. These are most effective when placed near places where bed bugs may try to find safe harbor, such as near cracks or crevices in your house.
- Seal cracks in your walls. Bed bugs can use cracks and crevasses as safe harbor, and these spaces can also make bed bugs harder to find and kill. By sealing these up with caulk, you can help prevent bed bugs from finding a place to hide out.
- Inspect and wash second-hand goods. If you buy clothes, furniture, or other household items from Craig’s List or a thrift store, make sure to inspect them carefully for any indications of bed bugs. It also is a good policy to thoroughly wash and dry these items using high heat as soon as you can after buying them.
- Act fast at any sign of an infestation. The more that bed bugs take hold, the harder they are to manage. This can be especially true if they are able to travel to other parts of your home and infest other rooms or furniture. For this reason, do not wait if you notice signs of bed bugs — act quickly and decisively.
Preventing Bed Bugs When Traveling
Many bed bugs are first introduced to a home via a person’s travels. These steps can help prevent picking up bed bugs when you’re on the road.
- Inspect your hotel rooms or Airbnb rentals. Look carefully at the bed and sheets and around the bed frame. It is also wise to look around the closets or other furniture for bed bugs or their eggs.
- Keep your clothes and luggage safe. Bed bugs can attach to your suitcase and your clothes, so a good rule is to never put these items on the bed itself. Instead, use the luggage rack and hangers in the closet.
- Wash and dry clothes when you get home. Use high heat to wash and dry your clothes once you are home, which can prevent any bed bugs that you might have picked up from surviving in your house.
How Can You Get Rid of a Bed Bug Infestation?
Ridding your home of bed bugs involves concerted effort and following a number of steps to address bed bugs in your bed itself, in your bedroom, and in other parts of your home. Following all of these steps is important in order to prevent a reinfestation.
Getting Bed Bugs Out of Your Mattress
An important first step is to address the immediate place where you know these bugs exist — in your bed.
- Remove all linens and bedding from your bed and place them in a heavy-duty trash bag. Use this bag to transport bedding directly to laundry, where everything should be washed and dried using high heat.
- Scour your mattress for any bed bugs. Look on all sides and examine any tears or creases in the mattress. A flashlight or headlamp may help in looking into any place where they may be hiding. If you find any, vacuum them up immediately.
- Carefully inspect your bed frame, including any places where different parts come together and create cracks that could house bed bugs. Vacuum up any that you find.
- Vacuum your mattress. Do not use a brush attachment because bed bugs could get caught in the bristles.
- Place traps near the corners of your bed. Before you place the traps, make sure your bed is not up against the wall.
Eliminating Bed Bugs from the Bedroom
After you’ve addressed your mattress, you’ll want to search out and destroy any bed bugs elsewhere in your bedroom.
- De-clutter your bedroom. Any items that are no longer needed should be placed into a trash bag and disposed of immediately.
- Place any items that may be washable into a different trash bag. Take these items to the laundry and wash and dry using high heat.
- Place any non-washable items into another trash bag and seal it tightly. This includes items like alarm clocks, books, items you keep on your nightstand, etc. These items may benefit from being treated with a chemical product as discussed in the section below.
- Check all furniture for bed bugs using a flashlight or headlamp. Look in any crevasses or corners where furniture pieces connect. Vacuum up any bed bugs that you find.
- Look for cracks in floors, walls, or windows where bed bugs may be hiding. Vacuum up any bed bugs and seal these cracks.
- Vacuum your bedroom, and make sure to empty the vacuum contents into a trash bag. If you can, steam clean your bedroom, including the floors (if you have carpet), furniture, and mattress.
Seek and Destroy Bed Bugs Elsewhere in Your Home
After you’ve cleaned up your bedroom, you’ll want to do your best to make sure that there are no bed bugs in other parts of your home that might be able to cause a reinfestation of the bedroom.
- As you did in your bedroom, inspect all furniture carefully with a flashlight. Look closely into any nooks and crannies where a bed bug could be hiding.
- De-clutter your living spaces and vacuum.
- Seal any cracks in doors, windows, or walls that could harbor bed bugs.
Heat and Cold to Kill Bed Bugs
Bed bugs do best in more typical room-temperature environments. Both heat and cold can kill bed bugs, but it can take more extreme temperatures to reliably kill all of them. The heat from your washer and dryer is typically sufficient. If you live in a warm climate, you may be able to place items outside for them to get hot enough to kill bed bugs, and this may work best if the items are in a black plastic bag that is placed directly in the sun. But still, this kind of heat is not a sure fire solution.
Cold temperatures can also kill bed bugs. If you have a freezer that can be set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, then you can place a sealed bag in that freezer for at least four days to kill all the bed bugs.
In general, while these non-chemical approaches can work, with the exception of the washer and dryer on high heat, they usually do not offer assurances that all bed bugs have been killed.
Chemical Treatment (Pesticides) to Kill Bed Bugs
In many cases, it is necessary to utilize chemical treatments, also known as pesticides, to kill bed bugs. Before we mention some specific chemicals that are available, it is important to address some key safety issues.
- Don’t use any products that are not registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA regulation helps protect both people and the environment.
- Do not use general rubbing alcohol to kill bed bugs. It is flammable, and because it vaporizes very quickly, has been the cause of some house fires.
- Only use chemicals as directed. Do not over-apply or use in any way that is contrary to the stated instructions on the bottle or box. This includes not using outdoor pesticides inside your home.
- Look for products that are specifically labeled for bed bugs. With such a broad range of pesticides on the market, the safest and smartest option is to choose one optimized for killing these particular pests.
There are several types of pesticides that you can use to try to kill bed bugs. In many cases, using more than one of these in combination is the most effective way to overcome bed bug resistance to chemicals.
- Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids: pyrethrins are insecticides derived from chrysanthemums, and pyrethroids are synthetic chemicals that mimic pyrethrins. Many bed bugs can be killed by these common pesticides, but some bed bugs are resistant. Resistant bed bugs won’t die when exposed, they’ll just seek out new hiding places.
- Desiccants: desiccants cause bed bugs to dehydrate and die. The desiccants slowly destroy the bug’s outermost coating, which leads to its ultimate demise. These are long-lasting chemicals that bed bugs are not able to develop resistance to, but they may not work as quickly as other pesticides. It is important to only use desiccants specifically designed as pesticides as opposed to those that are designed for other household uses.
- DDVP: dichlorvos (also known as DDVP) is a chemical that is on a strip that can be placed inside a sealed bag with other items and that can kill bed bugs after a period of time enclosed in the bag.
- Pyrroles: there is only one type of this class of pesticide on the market, and it is called chlorfenapyr. The presence of this chemical can cause a domino effect, creating a new chemical that is toxic to bed bugs.
- Neem oil: cold-pressed neem oil is a natural compound from the Neem tree that can kill bed bugs as well as their larvae and eggs.
- Neonicotinoids: these chemical compounds are synthetic nicotine that overactivates the nervous system of bed bugs leading to their death.
- Insect growth regulators: these compounds interrupt the normal signals for growth and development in insects, causing them to either grow too quickly or too slowly in order to continue surviving.
Foggers or Bug Bombs
Some people may be quick to want to use a bug bomb, also known as a fogger, that fills up the house with insecticide. However, in most cases, these products are of limited utility against bed bugs. Because bed bugs have a propensity to hide out in crevasses and cracks, the fogger’s chemicals often will not reach enough bed bugs to wipe out an infestation.
Disposing of Extremely-Infested Items
If you have items that are simply so overwrought with bed bugs that they can’t be salvaged, you’ll want to make sure to dispose of them properly.
If they are smaller items, make sure they are placed in a sealed trash bag and taken directly to a trash receptacle outside your home.
If they are larger items, like furniture, damage the furniture — such as ripping cushions — so that no one attempts to reuse the item. It is also advised that you spray paint “Bed Bugs” on the furniture item as a warning to anyone who may try to find junked furniture to reuse.
When Should You Call For Professional Help?
While often a do-it-yourself approach to bed bug eradication works, these are circumstances in which you may need to contact a professional for help:
Rampant infestation. If you find that you have a truly abundant bed bug infestation that is affecting multiple parts of your home, a professional may be most able to resolve the situation in a way that is least likely to allow for a reinfestation.
Resistant infestation. If you’ve already tried all the steps above and find that the bed bugs are returning and that the infestation appears to be resistant to your efforts, it is probably time to bring in a professional exterminator.
Can’t DIY diligently. There are many reasons why you might not be able to take a DIY approach. For example, you may not have the time or focus to be able to carefully follow all the steps above. Or maybe you’re uncomfortable handling pesticides and using them without guidance. If any of these things describe you, or if for any reason you’re not able to follow-through on the specifics of the DIY approach, call in a professional.
How long do bed bugs live?
The estimated lifespan for a bed bug is up to 9 months. This includes their transition through a lifecycle starting as an egg and proceeding through several stages of growth to become a full-sized adult.
Do bed bugs fly?
Despite having wings, bed bugs do not fly. They are able to crawl and can cover a distance of about 100 feet in a day. They travel longer distances by attaching themselves to other things like clothes, luggage, or animals.
Do bed bugs only survive in dirty homes?
Bed bugs do not need to be in dirty environments to survive or thrive. Clutter may give them more places to reside, but it isn’t a requirement for them.
Do bed bugs stay in bedrooms?
No. While bed bugs often reside mostly in rooms where people sleep, they can travel and live in other parts of your house.
Do bed bugs avoid artificial light?
No. Studies have not shown that sleeping with the lights on has any effect on bed bugs.
How are bed bug bites treated?
Most bed bug bites require no treatment and stop itching within a few days. The most important thing is to not aggressively scratch these bites as that can lead to open wounds and infection. Over-the-counter creams and lotions can help reduce itching, and if you have any questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
Should I go to work if I have bed bugs in my home?
Because you can carry bed bugs from your home into your office, the respectful thing to do is to avoid going into your office until you can be sure that your clothes and anything else you bring into the office (a bag or purse) are completely free of bed bugs.
What should I do if I live in an apartment and find bed bugs?
Anyone who lives in an apartment or condo or other shared living environment should talk to their property manager as soon as possible after finding bed bugs. In some cases, the property may help in eradicating bed bugs. They can also help to make sure that bed bugs do not infest common areas, which could allow them to spread to other apartments or to re-infest your apartment once you’ve eradicated them.
The following pages can help provide further information about bed bugs and both preventing and treating infestations.