If you suspect a bed bug infestation in your home, it's natural to feel disgusted and alarmed. Bed bugs aren't caused by bad habits or filth as they usually hitch a ride into your home when you travel. Because bed bugs are resistant to many pesticides, natural remedies can help you conquer a bed bug infestation in your home.
There are many ways to get rid of bed bugs naturally. Natural home remedies to get rid of bed bugs can include:
- Mattress encasements
- Heat treatment
- Washing linens
- Interceptors and traps
- Sprays and oil repellents
- DE powder
How to Identify Bed Bugs
A bed bug infestation can be frightening and overwhelming. Before you panic, make sure you actually have bed bugs and not fleas or even mosquitoes. While similar, the bites from bed bugs are distinctive in several ways and bed bugs leave behind fairly obvious clues when you know what to look for.
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?
Bed bugs are incredibly small, ranging from just 1.5mm to 5mm in length. They have a reddish-brown color with a distinctive flat, seed- or oval-shaped body. Adult bed bugs may be brown in color if they haven't been fed. Newly hatched bed bug nymphs are very tiny, or about the size of the head of a pin, with a tan or white color until they have fed.
When you are looking for signs of a bed bug problem, you may not see live bed bugs because they are nocturnal and come out from their hiding places at night to eat. If they are visible, they are usually found on the seams of the mattress while they are digesting a meal. You are more likely to spot the signs they leave behind such as rust-colored stains on the mattress or sheets when the bugs are crushed and bed bugs “dust” or feces.
Bed Bug Bites & Symptoms
Bed bug bites can be very distinctive from flea bites. While flea bites usually occur randomly and in clusters, bed bugs bite very strategically. Most bed bug bites are in a straight line with three or four bites. Flea bites look similar to mosquito bites with a hard, swollen, and red bite. If you are allergic to fleas, you may develop a rash, hives, or even blisters. Bed bug bites are usually very small with a dark red spot with a raised area. Flea bites can become swollen soon after the bite and begin to itch very persistently and immediately. Bed bug bites may not show up for days and the itching starts gradually as the anesthetic in the saliva wears off.
Fleas usually bite the lower half of the body and moist areas like the bends of knees and elbows. Bed bugs are more likely to bite anywhere exposed during sleep, such as the face, neck, arms, and legs. Most bed bug bites are on the upper part of the body.
Signs of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs typically infest bedrooms but they can also be found in upholstered furniture, carpet, and baseboards. Because they are small, flat, and nocturnal, they are excellent at hiding in even the tiniest crevices during the day.
The first place to look for a bed bug infestation is around the bed. Bed bugs are most often found in the seams of the mattress and inside the box springs. You may also find them in baseboards, bedroom carpeting, inside nightstand drawers, or behind light switch covers. You do not need to find a bed bug to confirm a bed bug infestation, either. They leave behind excrement or bed bug dust with black or brown stains or smears on your mattress, sheets, or linens. These dark spots may bleed onto fabric like a permanent marker. You may also see rust-colored blood stains if bed bugs have been crushed.
While looking for bed bug hiding areas, remember that these bugs are just the width of a credit card. If a credit card can fit into a crack, it can hide a bed bug.
Some people even notice an unpleasant, musty aroma like a wet towel in the presence of a bed bug infestation. Bed bugs release pheromones that can be detected when the bugs are present in large numbers. If your bedroom smells like a stinky locker room, it may be caused by bugs.
Here are some places to inspect to look for evidence of bed bugs:
- Mattress and box springs
- Headboard and footboard
- Crevices and creases near the bed such as baseboards, bedside tables, and personal belongings near the bed
- Wood paneling and lose wallpaper
- Junctions of the ceiling and wall or wall and floor
- Light switch covers
- Carpet and rugs
- Upholstered furniture
12 Natural Home Remedies to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
Addressing a bed bug infestation requires a multi-faceted plan to treat the areas the bed bugs are hiding, prevent them from escaping or spreading, killing them at all life stages, and preventing them from returning. There are several natural bed bug killers you can use to treat the problem safely and without pesticides. For a serious bed bug infestation, however, it will probably be best to contact a licensed pest control company.
Here are 12 nontoxic bed bug killers you can try, listed in general order of effectiveness and convenience.
#1. Wash Laundry
The first thing to do to kill bed bugs is washing all of your bed linens, clothes, and fabrics, including blankets, curtains, mattress protectors, and clothing that has been near the bed. To avoid re-contaminating your bedroom or clothing, sort your clothing while in the bedroom, placing each pile into a disposable plastic bag. Seal the bags to make sure bed bugs can't escape on the way to the laundry room.
Tip the bag of the laundry directly into the washing machine then place the empty plastic bag into a new, clean bag, sealing it and disposing of it. Wash and dry your fabrics in the highest possible setting because heat is the most effective natural bed, bug killer. Dry clean only clothing can at least be tumbled in the dryer for 30 minutes to kill the bugs.
Once the clothes are out of the dryer, place them in a new, sealed plastic bag to prevent re-infection. Keep the clothing sealed until you are positive you have stopped the infestation and your bedroom is sanitized.
To truly stop a bed bug infestation, you must stop it at all life cycles, killing not only adults but also eggs and nymphs. Vacuuming everything is an effective way to get adults, eggs, and nymphs off of surfaces that can't be washed or even treated easily, including crevices along the walls and furniture.
TheÂ best vacuum cleaner for bed bugs should be fairly powerful to suck eggs, nymphs, and adults out of carpet as well as baseboards, drawers, and mattress seams. If you need to buy a new vacuum, keep in mind the best vacuum cleaner for bed bugs will also have a crevice tool to reach where the bug bugs are hiding during the day.
To vacuum your home for bed bugs, start with the mattress. Use a stiff brush and scrub the stitching, mattress seams, around the tag, and any crevices. This helps loosen bed bugs and eggs. Use a crevice attachment to vacuum the entire mattress, focusing on edges, seams, stitching, and indentions.
Next, vacuum all edges, crevices, cracks, and surfaces of your headboard and the bed. Don't forget to lift the mattress to vacuum the base and bedsprings. Carefully spread away from the bed to vacuum your entire floor, especially under the bed and around the feet of the bed. Don't overlook every surface of your nightstand table, including inside the drawers, light switches, baseboards, and corners.
When you are done, make sure you remove the vacuum bag. Contain any bed bugs and eggs by placing the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag and disposing of it outside the home right away.
Once the mattress is thoroughly vacuumed, it's definitely a good idea to add mattress, bedspring, and pillow encasements. These encasements work by blocking not only bed bugs but also fluids and allergens from moving into or out of your mattress. If there are any bugs, eggs, or nymphs still hiding in your mattress, an encasement prevents them from escaping.
Make sure you choose an encasement designed specifically for bed bugs that will be escape-proof and bite-proof. Here are the five best bed bug mattress encasements you can consider. Leave it in place for at least one year. Consider the encasement as the new exterior of your box spring or mattress and use a mattress protection pad to protect the encasement from stains and damage. This ensures any remaining bed bugs in your mattress are dead. Once installed, the smooth encasement exterior also prevents additional bed bugs from getting into your mattress and box spring while making detection easy.
#4. Heat Treatment
Heat is the ultimate safe and nontoxic bed bug killer. Heat is by far the most effective way to directly kill bed bugs, nymphs, and eggs but it must be done correctly. It isn't enough to turn up the thermostat or simply leave infested belongings under the hot sun. Adult bed bugs die at a constant 119 degrees F for at least 20 minutes but eggs are more resistant to heat and require a temperature of at least 125 degrees F.
Heat isn't just effective at killing bed bugs; it can be used in different ways to kill bed bugs in furniture, hiding in baseboards, or lurking in clothes and mattresses. Heat chambers can be used for furniture, hot dryers for household items, steam for carpeting, and professional heating systems for an entire room.
The biggest challenge with any bed bug infestation is treating everything the bugs can infest. Your dryer is a great way for treating clothes as well as toys, shoes, and items that can't be washed. Loosely fill your dryer and run it on the high setting for at least 30 minutes to kill bed bugs at all life stages.
Professional bed bug treatment often involves heat treatment to heat the entire room or home to at least 119 degrees for an extended period of time. While very effective at killing bed bugs at all life stages no matter where they are hiding, this treatment can be costly. You may want to try a high-grade steamer yourself before turning to the professionals.
#5. Steam Cleaning
Similar to hot heat methods, steam is an effective treatment for a bed bug problem. Still, it must be done correctly at the right temperature and for the minimum amount of time. To treat your carpet, a rented steam carpet cleaner simply won't heat the carpet enough. A professional-grade steamer with a large head can be used to heat baseboards, furniture, carpet, and more bypassing the steamer head slowly enough to maintain the target temperature of 160 to 180 degrees F over every inch of every surface.
A quality bed bug steamer may not be cheap but it can be a very effective means of eradicating a bed bug problem for good without an even more expensive pest control service call. Here's a look at theÂ best steamers and vacuums for killing bed bugs.
Recommended: Vapamore MR-100 Steam Cleaner Review
#6. Interceptors and Traps
Bed bug interceptors are great for preventing bed bugs as well as helping to control a current problem. You can even use interceptors just to confirm bed bugs are present and get a rough idea of the number in your home. They can be used in single-family homes as well as multi-family dwellings where there is a risk of bed bugs spreading from one unit to the next.
An interceptor is essentially a cup that has a dish large enough for your bedpost with a moat that catches and traps bed bugs. These simple devices work because bed bugs aren't very good at climbing, especially on vertical and slippery surfaces.
These devices are also easy to use. Place the interceptors under your bed posts, ensuring the bed isn't touching other furniture or the wall. Remove the dust ruffle and any bedding that can touch the floor or the interceptors won't work. You can even use interceptors on furniture with legs, especially a sofa or upholstered chair.
You will need at least 12 interceptors for a 2-bedroom home. When the trap has bed bugs, they can be dumped into the hot, soapy water and disposed of outdoors. You can enhance the effectiveness of the trap by using some type of carbon dioxide source like dry ice.
The most popular brand of bed bug interceptor is ClimbUp, which comes in a 12-pack. This trap has a two-wall design that allows you to see which way the bed bugs are moving: from the bed or to the bed.
Many people recommend using thick and tacky double-sided tape to trap bed bugs but, unfortunately, this doesn't work. Many types of tape have been tried but bed bugs are very clever and test the ground before they move forward. Bed bugs usually avoid walking on tape completely but they can and will walk over the tape without being stuck if they must to get to a meal. Double-sided tape usually encourages bed bugs to move to another area and potentially spread the infestation.
Tape can be effective in a few ways, though. It can be applied at the entryway to an apartment to help prevent bed bugs from literally walking in the front door from a neighboring unit. It can also keep bed bugs from spreading outside of the bedroom area. It can be wrapped around the feet of bookcases and furniture that are bed bug-free and hopefully discourage bugs from finding a new hiding place.
#7. Freezing Temperatures
Much like bed bugs are sensitive to extreme heat, they can also be killed with extremely cold temperatures. Still, bed bugs do have a high tolerance for cold and they will remain active even in temperatures as low as 46 degrees F. It takes a much colder temperature to actually kill them. Bed bugs can survive in the cold for days by lowering the freezing point of the fluids in their body.
According to some research, bed bugs may survive short exposure to very extreme cold as low as -13 degrees F but exposure to cold temperatures below 0 degrees F for several days is enough to kill them. It takes exposure to 32 degrees F for at least 80 hours to freeze a bed bug. The lower the temperature at which they are exposed, the faster they will die.
Freezing can be an effective way to exterminate bed bugs, nymphs, and eggs but it takes sustained very low temperatures or extreme temperatures for a short period of time to do the job. Even your freezer at home may not be cold enough for this solution unless you are willing to leave belongings in a freezer for days. If you want to try freezing the bugs, place contaminated items like bedding in a freezer. Use a remote thermometer and make sure the temperature is at least 0 degrees F. The items can be considered safe once the center of the item has been at least 0 degrees for at least 4 days.
As effective as freezing can be, heat is an easier and more effective tool because it's easier to control and use in your home.
When professionals use freezing to kill bed bugs, they do it differently. Specialized equipment can generate tiny “snow” particles from carbon dioxide. These particles do not leave any residue on your belongings or sensitive items but they kill bed bugs on impact.
#8. Natural Bed Bug Spray
While essential oil sprays are basically useless against bed bugs, there are still natural sprays that are effective against an infestation. This breakdown of theÂ best bed bug spraysÂ includes some natural solutions. According to a Rutgers study, of 11 products tested that are based on plant-based materials, two are effective: EcoRaider and Bed Bug Patrol.
EcoRaider killed 87% of bed bug eggs with direct contact and a mortality rate of more than 90% on bed bug nymphs. Bed Bug Patrol also achieved excellent results in a lab setting with a mortality rate of 83% within 30 minutes and 98% within 4 hours.
These natural bed bug sprays should be combined with other DIY methods, including mattress encasement, thorough vacuuming, and careful cleaning of your clothing and linens. After washing bedding and curtains and vacuuming the floor and around the bed, treat your mattress, bed springs, and headboard with the natural spray. You can follow this with bed bug traps and interceptors then follow up with another treatment in two weeks.
#9. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth or DE is a naturally occurring and soft sedimentary rock that easily crumbles into a soft talc-like powder. DE is commonly used as a natural form of pest control because it has an abrasive texture to small insects and the powder absorbs lipids from the exoskeletons of insects. By stripping this layer of lipids, water evaporates quickly from the insects' bodies and causes dehydration and death.
DE is usually considered a last resort because it's messy and takes a while to kill bed bugs and stop the life cycle. It only affects adult bed bugs and may take months to actually work. It shouldn't be used alone as research shows thatÂ bed bugs are better able to resist desiccationÂ than other insect pests. If you do decide to try diatomaceous earth, start by pulling furniture and items away from the walls. Sprinkle DE over your floor, working it into crevices where the floor meets the wall and behind baseboards. You can also apply DE to your mattress, box springs, and upholstered furniture.
DE can also work as a natural repellent for bed bugs if it's applied as a barrier around the legs of the bed. Bed bugs won't want to crawl through the powder to get to the mattress.
You will also need to be careful when you vacuum up the powder because it's very fine and quickly clogs your vacuum filter. Your filter will need to be cleaned frequently to avoid damage to your motor.
Related: Harris Bed Bug Killer
Alcohol is a frequently recommended nontoxic bed bug killer but it turns out it isn't nearly as effective as many believe. If you're asking yourself, does alcohol kill bed bugs, and can it be that easy, the answer is no. According to a recent study, spraying bed bugs with rubbing alcohol only kills about half of the insects.
Does alcohol kill bed bugs? Yes, about half of them. Should you try it? Probably not. In addition to its low efficacy rate, there has been a string of people across the country who have accidentally burned their homes while attempting to kill bed bugs with alcohol.
#11. Essential Oil Bed Bug Spray
Essential oils are a popular solution for a wide variety of problems, from minor health complaints and home cleaning to their use as a natural repellent for bed bugs. While an essential oil bed bug spray recipe can make your home smell wonderful, the research shows it probably won't do much to help a bed bug infestation. Two of the most common oils used for pest control are tea tree oil and lavender oil for bed bugs.
So, does tea tree oil repel bed bugs? Not really. It can kill bed bugs but only by direct contact with the undiluted tea tree oil. Lavender oil for bed bugs is also ineffective. An essential oil bed bug spray recipe can still be effective but only when it includes paraffin and silicone oils as well. According to a fairly comprehensive test, blood orange oil is the most effective essential oil against bed bugs. When combined with paraffin and silicone oils, the spray likely suffocates the bed bugs and prevents them from breathing.
#12. Dryer Sheets
Dryer sheets are perhaps the least effective solution for treating bed bugs. In fact, Procter & Gamble (P&G), which produces Bounce dryer sheets, has even issued a statement stating that its research and development team has found no evidence that dryer sheets can harm bed bugs and they do not recommend the practice. Dryer sheets are often used in an attempt to repel, not kill, bed bugs but you are better off with effective techniques like interceptors.
When to Call a Bed Bug Exterminator
Natural bed bug killers can be effective when used on your own but sometimes you need to hire a professional. You may be dealing with an infestation that has simply grown too large and spread throughout your home, which should be treated with a professional-grade whole-home heat system. You may simply struggle to stay on top of multiple treatment methods or preventing contaminated items from spreading the problem.
Unfortunately, bed bugs are notorious for hiding very well, even inside box springs, in cracks in wood furniture, and even inside switch plate covers. If you miss even a single pregnant female or a few eggs, the problem can return very quickly. Trying to get rid of a bed bug infestation on your own is a big task. In fact, even pest control experts struggle with effective bed bug treatment strategies because these pests have become so prevalent and are now mostly pesticide-resistant.
If you handle the infestation on your own, make sure you give it everything you have, using as many nontoxic bed bug killer methods as possible, including heat treatments, mattress encapsulation, and interceptor traps to stay on top of the bed bugs. You will also need to monitor whether the infestation has been controlled by checking for bites, live bed bugs, and eggs frequently.
If you do not see any evidence of bed bugs after a couple of months, and your interceptor traps remain empty, you can consider your DIY bed bug extermination a success. If you are struggling and continue to see evidence of bugs, it's time to call in a professional.