Managing Bed Bugs
How do I get rid of bed bugs?
Get professional help if you can.
If you have the means, hire a licensed professional to inspect for bed bugs, define the extent of the problem and make an integrated plan, with multiple strategies, that works for you. This will still require efforts on your part. Bed bugs cannot be treated with a single technique or a one-step application of pesticides. Many things in the home cannot be treated with pesticides and must be handled differently.
If you do not hire a professional there are steps that can be taken to minimize and possibly eliminate bed bugs, but it is difficult to do it alone. Cleaning, organizing (pdf), constant monitoring, repeat visits from a pest professional and some type of insecticide are usually required. Other options include steam and heat that kill bed bugs and their eggs. Bed bug control takes time.
With Perseverance, It Can Be Done.
Whether or not you hire a professional, you will need to clean and organize the places where bed bugs have been found. The best approach to bed bug control uses the following steps:
- Make sure you actually have bed bugs (link to identification page)
- Do a bed bug Inspection
- Clean and organize
- Manage an existing bed bug problem
Inspecting for Bedbugs
You will need to do a thorough inspection to see which areas or rooms are affected. Start with bedrooms, focusing on the mattress, box spring and frame. Have a vacuum handy to capture anything that moves. Next check the living room furniture or any place where people lounge. If you find bed bugs, avoid the area while preparing next steps.
Vacuuming with a brush tool is an effective way to remove live and dead bed bugs and the cast skins they leave behind (it works for many other insects, too). To manage bed bug infestations, it’s best to vacuum each area thoroughly, every day. Tilt the mattress, box spring, and furniture upside down so you can reach all sides. Concentrate on seams, creases, folds, and around any tufts or buttons using a crevice tool. Vacuum the furniture, the bed frame, the floor, and baseboards—wherever your inspection revealed the presence of bed bugs. Empty the vacuum immediately. If your vacuum has a bag, you can enclose the bag in a plastic bag that is sealed and discarded. If you have a bagless vacuum dispose of the contents in a plastic bag that is sealed and immediately discarded. Wash the dust canister with soapy water. Note that vacuuming may not pick up all bed bugs and will not usually remove bed bug eggs, which are glued to the surface where they are laid. Further cleaning or treatment will be required.
Bed bugs are sensitive to extreme temperatures in all of their life stages; the young are more vulnerable than the adults. So toss your sheets, pillows, pillowcases, bed skirt, and blankets into a hot (125°F) dryer for 20 minutes to kill bed bugs. Steam cleaning is another option if it is done thoroughly at a high temperature (over 125°F).
You don’t have to throw out your bedding. Both extreme heat and freezing can also be used to kill bed bugs on clothing and other objects that can withstand such temperatures. Freezing is less reliable and must be maintained for 2 weeks or more.
It is possible to get a night of sleep, even if you have discovered bed bugs in your home. The key to comfort is being thorough. First, enclose your mattress and box spring in a bed bug-proof zippered encasement, which can be purchased at furniture or bed and bath stores. This gives you a clean, simple surface for sleeping and also seals in any bed bugs that were on the mattress or box spring. They will not be able to escape or bite through the material. Wash down the bed frame with soapy water and a scrub brush. Keep your bed away from the wall. Wash and dry all linens, bed skirts and blankets and/or throw pillows and linens into a hot dryer for 30 minutes to rid them of bed bugs. Replace and make sure the linens, bed skirt, and blanket don’t touch the floor. This will make it harder for the bed bugs to crawl into your bed. They don’t fly or jump, so crawling is their only option. To prevent bed bugs from climbing the bed legs, use traps that capture bed bugs in a well or moat—there are several brands available. Keep sleeping clothes on the bed and your regular clothes away from the bed. Don’t cross-contaminate. This should provide some relief for sleeping while the bed bug issue is being resolved. When done thoroughly, these steps create a bed bug-free area for sleeping
Do your best to eliminate their shelter by sealing the crevices you found during the inspection. Silicone caulk will work well in many areas, such as around window sills or along baseboards, but if you need to fill cracks in the floorboards, furniture, or the bed frame, you may wish to consult with a furniture maker (there are removable caulks that may be appropriate). Repair or remove peeling wallpaper, and tighten any loose light switch and electric outlet covers. Varnishing wood floors can also eliminate hiding spots. And while you’re at it, take the time to try to prevent future invasions if you live in a multi-unit building. That’s critical, because you don’t want more bed bugs to enter your home from a neighboring area! Bed bugs travel along routes created by pipes and electrical conduits. So seal any openings where pipes or wires or other utilities come into your home. Pay special attention to walls that are shared with other apartments.
You do not need to throw away everything you own. Each item can be inspected, cleaned and/or stored for a period of time long enough to kill off any bed bugs. Inspect carefully with a hand lens, loo king for live insects or eggs. Wash items with soapy water and dry by hand. For items that cannot be washed store them carefully. Use airtight zippered storage bags for small items that are hard to treat, such as books, artwork, delicate items and anything else that fits inside. Leave the bags in a warm place for 3-6 months. If you see no activity in the bags after a few months, the items are clean.
Heat is an extremely effective tool against all life stages of bed bugs. Temperatures over 125° F will kill bed bugs and their eggs instantly. Thermal remediation is a technique where the home and all its contents are heated to over 135° F to kill bed bugs. This can be expensive but very effective if done correctly. During a treatment, thermometers are hidden in the cool spots to verify that lethal temperatures are reached throughout the home. Less preparation is necessary for heat treatment but clutter can inhibit the effectiveness by preventing the flow of hot air. Consult with a licensed professional for more information about thermal remediation
Many pest professionals now offer canine scent detection to inspect for the presence of bed bugs or verify the effectiveness of a treatment. Canines are dogs especially trained to alert to the smell of a live bed bug or egg. Training and effectiveness varies for canine “teams”. False positive results happen when a dog falsely alerts to bed bugs. Dogs may also miss the presence of bed bugs. Most well-trained canine teams are reliable, although the only way to absolutely confirm the presence of bed bugs is to find a live bed bug.
Pesticides are another option for killing bed bugs, but as early as 1958 there were reports of bed bugs that were resistant to DDT; such resistance complicates efforts to manage populations using pesticides. Some bed bugs can tolerate lethal doses of common pesticides. Luckily, several types of less toxic products for killing bed bugs are now available, and because some of these products work in different ways, bed bugs also won’t be able to develop resistance to them as easily.
For example, diatomaceous earth dust works by absorbing the outer waxy cuticle of an insect, causing it to lose water and die. Silica gel is another desiccant dust that is sometimes combined with pyrethrins, which are toxic to insects. They’re often used in wall voids and inaccessible places around the home.
Other insecticides include botanical oil products that repel and kill insects; even some cleaning products are labeled for use against bed bugs. Today the standard insecticides used for bed bug control are pyrethroids, which come in a variety of formulas and products. One application system, the total release fogger (“bug bomb”), is specifically NOT recommended for several reasons. Foggers put pesticides where they shouldn’t be, they are ineffective for bed bug control and can cause bed bugs to move to new areas. Additionally, some chemicals have come to the market, but remain tools for the professional pest management industry.
Contact your local Cooperative Extension office to learn about insecticides that are registered for use against bed bugs in your state. In New York, contact Cornell University’s Pesticide Safetly Education Program at (607) 255-1866.