How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs | Detection, Treatment & Prevention

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

Your guide to killing bed bugs and getting rid of them forever

They are back…hungrier and more prevalent than ever before. The humble bed bug may appear small and innocuous, but these blood sucking critters are prone to breed at a rapid rate taking over homes and even cities all over the United States. And, with bed bug infestations on the increase, once these mini vampires have a foot in the door, they are notoriously difficult to evict.

While there are no quick fix strategies, the good news is that there are a number of effective ways to prevent, control and eradicate bed bugs using chemicals and other non-toxic methods. Here we’ll tell you everything you need to know about bed bugs and the best ways in which to kill them, in this comprehensive guide to getting rid of bed bugs for good.

How to identify bed bugs

Bed bugs are considered a public health pest by the EPA and although they are not known to spread disease, they can cause skin irritations due to their incessant bitting. It is therefore important that we stay vigilant and look out for signs of bed bugs invading our homes.

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are tenacious critters who, as their name suggests, like to feed on us whilst we are fast asleep. Difficult to identify, and a teeny 4-5mm in length, they linger out of sight, waiting for their next feed.

Bed bugs are drawn to us as we offer cosy dwellings in which to reside. At night as the temperature drops, they seek out our warm bodies in order to enjoy a good feast. Like most nocturnal animals, bed bugs have bad eyesight and therefore rely on signals that we give off in order to locate us. Our bodies radiate heat, we breathe out carbon dioxide and release kairomones when we sweat, all of which bring bed bugs running like kids to a candy store.

Most bed bugs feed on average every 3-7 days and require 5-10 minutes of blood sucking time. Once they are adequately full and their bodies have swollen in size, they will scamper off back to their hidey hole – leaving us none the wiser (bar a nasty, itchy rash and a few inconspicuous bite marks). 

Where do bed bugs come from?

Since human creation began it is believed that bed bugs existed. Infestations of these pesky pests were problems we simply endured as these bugs seemed impossible to wipe out. That was until the late 1930’s, when a Swiss chemist discovered an effective chemical solution called DDT which was manufactured for pesticides and proved effective in eradicating bed bugs for good.

For years people used DDT as an efficient means to keep bed bugs at bay, until the 1970’s when it was banned due to its declining benefits and the environmental and toxicological effects it had on wildlife, pets and humans. New insecticides continued to be developed but in 2000, a strain of pesticide-resistant bed bugs began to appear and an epidemic hit America!

Today, the number of bed bug infestations in the United States continues to rise as they invade our homes and businesses. Bed bugs are non-discriminate and don’t care if your home is messy or clean. As long as there are good hiding places and a fresh food source then they are perfectly happy.

You are most likely to be exposed to bed bugs when travelling in areas that have a high turnover of people such as hotels, hostels, apartment buildings, hospitals, laundromats, and nursing homes. But that doesn’t mean that if you visit a convenience store or a gym that you are safe, because you aren’t – bed bugs can infest almost anywhere. And thanks to a boom in international travel, you can now take your little sleeping companions with you, even on a foreign exchange! For we are the pied pipers of the bed bug world and wherever we go, they follow.

What do bed bugs look like?

Bed bugs are tricky to discover at the best of times as the are tiny, reclusive and nocturnal, and once found they are hard to distinguish as their appearance can change. Depending on when they last fed, they can either be flat or inflated, are reddish brown in color and have a long-oval shaped body.

Fully grown adult bugs can grow up to 4-5mm so are more likely to be visible, whereas newly hatched nymphs are around the size and shape of an apple pip (¼ inch long) and will be white or tan in color until they start to feed. Bed bug eggs, however, are around the size of a pinhead and milky white in color. You may also notice an eye spot if you look close enough as these appear if the eggs are more than 5 days old.

Although bed bugs are wingless and can not fly or jump, they do have the vestiges of wings, referred to as wing pads, however they never develop enough to enable them to take flight.

If you are struggling to locate bed bugs via sight, there is a chance that you might smell them, as a severe infestation can create a musty, yet sweet odor that permeates the room.

What are the differences between bed bug and fleas?

One of the most common signs to look out for of a possible bed bug invasion, are bite marks. However, bed bugs are not the only parasites within the home that are known to enjoy a nibble of human flesh. Fleas, although predominantly associated with pets, aren’t picky and will bite humans in order to get a blood meal. So what are the differences between bed bugs and fleas?

Regardless of which type of parasite you think you may have, it is important to get rid of it straight away!

what do bed bugs look like

What is the lifecycle of a bed bug?

A female bed bug lays between one and five eggs each day and can lay up to as many as 500 eggs in their lifetime. Eggs are laid singly or in groups and are placed inside cracks or crevices and they are difficult to detect as at this point, they are similar in size to just two grains of salt. Within a couple of weeks, the eggs hatch and immature bed bugs begin to emerge.

These young bed bugs are known as nymphs, and they will pass through five molts, shedding their skin each time, before reaching maturity. Smaller in size they are not yet sexually mature. In order to complete a molting stage, each nymph requires a blood feed. The entire process from nymph to adult bed bug, if the temperature is favourable, usually takes around 5 weeks.

Upon reaching maturing an adult bed bug will feed every week. During the blood sucking process their bodies will start to swell as their abdomen grows to accommodate their meal. Having enjoyed a good meal, they will head back to their hidey hole to digest, mate or simply relax.

Most bed bugs live for between four to six months, although it is not uncommon for some to live to over a year without food, by hibernating. During a bed bugs relatively short lifetime, the average bed bug grows a family of over five generations. And, if each bed bugs goes on to successfully achieve the same thing, then you could have hundreds of inbreeding bugs in your property!

This scary rate of population expansion makes it easy to see how an infestation can quickly grow to chronic levels, so it is vital to act fast.

Are bed bugs a threat to our pets?

Just like fleas, bed bugs will feed off anything given the opportunity of a free meal. Although bed bugs prefer their blood without hair, when a human host is not present, they will attach on to the next best thing… pets such as dogs and cats.

The good news is, that bed bugs struggle to move through textures such as hair, so although they might latch on to your pet for a quick suck, they are unlikely to hang around which is why flea collars are ineffective to bed bugs. They are, however, more likely to make themselves at home in your pets bedding or carpet.

If you do suspect your pet has brought bed bugs into your home, then you must act quickly. You should start by bathing your dog in the tub with a bed bug shampoo. Place all bedding on a hot wash and inside a hot dryer, as extreme heat is known to kill bed bugs. Next, make sure that you vacuum your pet’s crate or carrier to suck up any bed bugs or eggs that might be hiding in it. You will need to be thorough to ensure that you do not miss any lurking in the creases and corners.

Once these steps have been taken, it is important that you treat the rest of your house for bed bugs to stop an infestation.

There are many misconceptions surrounding bed bugs but understanding their motives and how they move around could help you banish these persistent pests for good. Take a look at this article to discover the truth about bed bugs.

How to detect bed bugs

Bed bugs mostly enter buildings undetected through luggage, clothing and second-hand furniture as their flattened bodies make it easy to slip through small gaps. But once in the property, bed bugs are challenging to eradicate.

Therefore, the moment you suspect that you have some night time squatters, it is important that you seek them out. As your home offers plenty of places to hide, inspections must be in depth.

Signs that you have bed bugs

They move in the dead of night so bed bugs often go undetected, but there are certain signs and symptoms you should look out for.

Best bed bug interceptors

One of the most useful devices that has been invented for bed bug detecting is the bed bug interceptor. This is a simple device that consist of a plastic dish or cup, large enough to contain a bed leg.

Interceptors have been designed on the principle that bed bugs are not very good at climbing slippery, smooth, vertical surfaces. Therefore, these cups scoop up the bed bugs as the fall back down the bed legs, catching and retaining them for you to see.

Bed bug interceptors can be bought online, with the most popular manufacturers being ClimbUp® and Blackout™ bed bug interceptors which can be purchased here:

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How do you know if bites are from bed bugs?

Bed bugs usually bite people at night while they are blissfully unaware in the land of nod. That is not to say that they don’t feed during the day, because they do. Hungry bed bugs will feed anytime the thirst takes them.

Bed bugs feed by piercing the skin with their elongated beaks, which then act like a straw, allowing them to suck up your blood. Engorgement of the bed bug takes roughly three to 10 minutes and because the bite is painless, most people sleep right through.

Bed bugs do not live on us like headlice or fleas might, instead preferring to head straight back to their hiding place once they have had a good feed.

Depending on the person, symptoms of bed bug bites vary. Some might develop an itchy red welt within a day or so of the bite, whilst others will have little or no reaction at all. Sometimes the reaction can be delayed for days or even weeks making it difficult to determine when, how or where the bites came from.

Unlike flea and mosquito bites, which mainly occur around the lower legs and ankle areas, bed bugs feed on exposed skin. This tends to be the face, neck, shoulders, arms and feet when sleeping. For this reason, infestations often go undetected, with people misattributing their bites to other causes – such as mosquitos.

So, if you wake for a restless night’s slumber with new itchy lumps and bumps, then you should investigate where these came from further.

pictures of bed bug bites

Pictures of bed bug bites:

How to treat bed bugs

Bed bugs are infamously persistent, so it is important that you use the correct treatment in order to exterminate them.

More people than ever before are up for the challenge of controlling bed bugs using do-it-yourself methods and off the shelf products in order to avoid the expense of hiring a professional pest control service. Below I provide a summary of the best methods of treatments for tackling bed bugs safely and effectively.

Natural oils and remedies for bed bugs

As we all become more aware of the impact of toxins and chemicals on the environment and wildlife, we are constantly seeking alternative solutions to solving our bed bug problems.

Although pesticide-free products are available on the market I personally believe that they are not an effective stand-alone method for riding your property of bed bugs. That said, essential oils are good for treating bed bug bites and have even been known to repel bed bugs from biting, however as bed bugs can live for up to a year without feeding, this is not a long-term solution.

Essential oils that repel bed bugs

Also referred to as aromatherapy oils, essential oils are thick, strongly scented liquids that are made from parts of natural substances like flowers, fruits, leaves, bark or spices. 

Certain essential oils such as tea tree oil and lavender, have been proven to repel other biting insects, however there is no conclusive evidence to back this up when it comes to bed bugs.

essential oils for bed bugs

The myth of vinegar and baking soda

Using vinegar and baking soda is another myth when it comes to killing bed bugs. Although it has been proven to kill roaches, it does not have the same poisonous effect on bed bugs. The same can be said for bleach which can be added to laundry, which can kill bed bugs eventually through drowning, but should never be considered as a stand-alone solution.

Getting rid of bed bugs requires a multi-faceted plan, and whilst essential oils and the cleaning of sheets and clothes regularly all help to prevent bed bugs, they will not eradicate them for good. If you are keen to use non-toxic methods, then we would strongly suggest that you look at natural sprays, steamers, vacuums, mattress encasements and interceptors as these have been proven to be much more effective in the fight against bed bugs.

Bed bug sprays

If you have tried the non-toxic methods with little or no success, it may be time to bite back against bed bugs and bring in the sprays.

Bed bug sprays tend to come in two different forms – contact and residual. A contact spray does exactly what it does on the tin! Once sprayed directly on to the bed bug itself, it will die within a matter of minutes. This is great for those active bed bugs you see wandering around but will have little effect on those that you can’t – including bed bug larvae and eggs. A residual bed bug spray, however, tends to work more effectively as it continues to kill post application.

When looking for bed bug sprays we recommend choosing one that contains deltamethrin, as you can apply it liberally to your couches, chairs, carpets and mattresses without the worry of damaging or staining your soft furnishings.

Do bed bug sprays actually work?

The main ingredient in most bed bug insecticides is deltamethrin, a chemical that works by attacking the nervous system of the bed bug by paralyzing it. However, there has been some debate as to whether bed bugs are becoming resistant to the chemicals used within sprays and the research conducted appears to support this claim. For this reason, and based on the dramatic rise in bed bugs over the past few years, we would strongly advise using bed bug sprays in combination with other treatments such as liquid insecticides and powders to stop them from spreading. Also, by using a variety of sprays, helps to avoid the problem of bed bugs building up chemical resistance.

Things to consider when buying bed bug sprays

There is very rarely one bed bug spray that can be used in every area of your home. For example, some insecticides come in cannisters and have nozzles for those hard to reach cracks and crevice’s, whilst others have been specifically produced to be sprayed near electrical outlets or are safe to be squirted around children and pets. You should consider how and where you will use a bed bug spray before purchasing. Below we list our top three.

Recommended bed bug sprays available to buy

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Bed bug powders

Just like bed bug sprays, powders are one of the most commonly used methods for pest control.

Bed bug powders work by having a residual effect. The powder, when sprinkled, clings to the waxy exoskeleton of the bed bug itself, absorbing the nutrient-rich oils on their skin and causing them to dehydrate. 

One of the biggest drawbacks to using bed bug powders, however, is that they are only effective on adult bed bugs and will not kill nymphs or eggs.

Powders do not work instantly, and it could take a number of days before you start to see any results.

How to apply bed bug powders

Resist the temptation to liberally throw the powder around, hoping to cover as much of the ground, carpet and soft furnishings as possible. This is just a waste of powder and will be less effective than focussing your efforts in hidey holes, crack and crevices where the bed bugs are much more likely to be lurking.

Places like door frames, furniture, headboards and the meeting points between carpets, walls and floors are good examples of access points for bed bugs and powder is well suited here since it can settle deep down into the fibres and joints in a way that sprays can’t. Some powders can even be applied in electrical outlets and around light switches, although make sure you check the instructions first. Find out more about how to use bed bug powders.

Diatomaceous Earth – a natural solution

Like most treatments, Diatomaceous earth won’t work on its own but it’s an important tool in your armoury to stopping bed bugs for good.

Diatomaceous earth is a powder made from natural soft sedimentary rock. We recommend that you purchase the Food Grade version as this is manufactured to be used like talcum powder and any inhalation is no worse than dust to humans. It should be dusted over furniture and carpet as well as sprinkled into cracks and crevasses.

This substance is used to control insects because it’s abrasive, feels uncomfortable to walk over, and strips the lipid layer from insects’ exoskeletons. This constant barrier helps prevent bed bugs from spreading and slowly helps to kill adult bed bugs. Because it only affects adult bed bugs, however, this is not a short-term solution as you must continue to use it regularly in order to attack the eggs and nymphs that are immune until they reach adulthood. It also takes a good 2 days before it starts to work, so it is important that you build this into your timeframe!

Recommended bed bug powders available to buy

In addition to diatomaceous earth, there are a number of bed bug powders available to use at home. Below we list our 3 best recommendations:

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Bed bug heat treatments

If you have ever been in a sauna then you’ll know just how extreme heat can be. Heat treatment for bed bugs works by raising the temperature within the affected areas to such intense temperatures, that the bed bugs either dry out and die or find an escape route to flee the property. Either way, you should be left bed bug free. Click here for a full review of these bed bug heat treatment products and many more.

Things to consider when using heat treatment

The most important things to consider when choosing to use heat treatment to tackle your bed bug problem are (1) how air tight is your property and (2) are you able to vacate the property whilst the treatment takes place?

You will need to make sure that you home is air tight so that the heat does not escape. Therefore, you should ensure that you seal all of the cracks and holes around your home and check that doors and windows can close securely. As it takes a while for the heat to permeate each room, you should set aside enough time to not only carry out the treatment, but to evacuate the property as the temperature will not only be unbearable for bed bugs but for people and pets too.

how to get rid of bed bugs with heat treatment

Recommended heat treatment machines

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Bed bug steamers and vacuums

As mentioned above, the best way to eradicate bed bugs is through either heat or steam as these extreme temperatures will not only kill bed bugs on contact but will also destroy all eggs and larvae.

Although a vacuum cleaner or steamer may be considered to be a costly purchase – especially when compared to other pest control solutions – they are effective methods for combating bed bugs long term.

To find out more about the different types of bed bug steamers and vacuum cleaners available to buy check out our post on the best ones.

Recommended bed bug steamers available to buy

Whilst a steam cleaner will get rid of bed bugs by exposing them to extremely hot temperatures, just like a heat treatment machine, it allows you the flexibility to target specific areas. Able to penetrate through fabric and linen you can direct steam into the hardest of hiding places.

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Recommended bed bug vacuum cleaners

Vacuuming allows you to suck up live bed bugs before sealing and disposing of them accordingly, and most machines often come with additional attachments. This allows you to rub down infected areas whilst scrubbing and loosening eggs and larvae.

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Mattresses and box springs encasements to protect against bed bugs

If you have discovered that you have been sharing your bed with bed bugs, it may be tempting to throw your mattress out, but this can be costly and won’t necessarily solve the situation.

How do mattress encasements work?

Whether you have discovered bed bugs in your home, or you are looking for preventative solutions, we recommend purchasing a bed bug proof, mattress encasement. This super smooth cover can be placed over the mattress and box springs to prevent bed bugs from getting in or out, whilst starving them of blood in the long run.

Although mattress encasements are effective for killing bed bugs that are located on or around your sleeping area, they will not resolve the situation for good as chances are there are more lurking in the headboard, fibres of your pillow and within furniture nearby. Therefore, we always recommend you use other methods of pest control in conjunction with mattress encasements to eradicate bed bugs for good.

“One size does not fit all” and this is the certainly the case when it comes to mattress encasements, which can vary due to their protection level, noise sensitivity and whether it is waterproof or not. In order to help you select the best one for your bed bug problem, I have listed our top 3 recommendations.

protect mattress from bed bugs with an encasement

3 recommended bed bug mattress encasements available to buy

To find out more about the different types of mattress encasements to protect against bed bugs, how they work and how to use them, please read our informative post on the top 5 available to buy.

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How to prevent bed bugs

When you consider just how time-consuming and costly it can be to kill bed bugs, it’s important that you take precautions to avoid an infestation even starting. A bed bug infestation is difficult to treat once bought into the home but much easier to prevent. Remember that bed bugs are hitch hikers and will seek a lift through furniture, bedding, boxes, clothing and luggage.

When to call in professional pest control for bed bugs

There are many natural circumstances that may lead to bed bugs entering your property, and it is important that you fix and repair the cause as well as treating the problem, in order to stop the situation from re-occurring. But sometimes, the problem can prove to be too overwhelming or persistent, and if this is the case, and DIY products have failed to work, then it is time to call in help in the form of professional pest control.

A pest control expert will know and understand your bed bug habits and use this knowledge to apply the most effective form of killing control for your property. If you are a business, it is important that you seek assistance straight away, as the implications of bed bugs on your reputation could be detrimental.

Bottom line

Bed bugs are back in a big way and they are one of, if not THE hardest pests to get rid of. Encounter them once and there is a good chance you’ll remain friends for a very long time, seeing each other regularly. But, if you are unwilling to put up with sharing your bed with these mini vampires any longer, then it’s time to kill your bed bugs off for good. Why not try these simple but effective DIY solutions for yourself or if you feel your infestation is too established, seek advice from an accredited pest control expert.
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