How do we repel bed bugs and evict them from our homes? As a pest control expert, I have spent years testing out every solution going from natural remedies to chemical repellents, and here I will share with you what works and what doesn’t.
Don’t let the bed bugs bite
In the early 20th century there was an epidemic of bed bugs sweeping through the United States. People would travel from place to place, well prepared to repel these blood-sucking fiends. Searching in every nook and cranny they would scour unfamiliar surroundings for sightings of these creepy bed hopping pests. Thankfully the introduction of powerful pesticides meant that these mini vampires were banished from our bedrooms for good, and at last America could rest easy and enjoy a good night’s sleep.
But fast forward a century and the bed bug is back – more persistent and resistant than ever before. Over the past 10 years, these parasites have made a resurgence and can now be seen taking over our homes, hotel bedrooms and hitching rides across cities and states. In fact, Washington D.C, Chicago, New York and LA all feature in the top 10 most infested cities for bed bugs. What’s worst, is that the once potent insecticides used to previously eradicate them have now been banned, and modern-day versions are proving a lot less effective.
What attracts bed bugs?
Before we get to the bottom of how to repel these little critters and what actually attracts bed bugs, we need to understand what attracts these parasites into our home.
We have all heard the common phrase “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” and that’s because bed bugs live on human blood, enjoying a good feast whilst you enjoy a good night’s slumber. From five-star hotels to studio apartments, it doesn’t matter how clean your environment is, there is always the threat of a bed bug invasion.
But how do bed bugs know when to come out? Well, there are many signals that we give off that alert bed bugs to our existence. Take for example breathing. With every breath we take, we let out a stream of carbon dioxide that floats just above our inactive bodies, letting these creepy crawlers know where their next meal lies. As we snuggle down beneath our duvets anticipating a good night’s sleep, our body temperatures become nice and toasty, and for a bed bug that means that we are “cooked to perfection”.
Other signs that may forewarn these pests of our existence include the color of our sheets, what we wear in bed, and even our smell, so simple everyday changes to our bedtime routine could help to deter a nighttime attack.
What smells do bed bugs hate?
If you are looking for sweet relief from the constant biting from bed bugs, then there are a number of essential oils that you can try that claim to provide you with a reprieve. Lavender, lemongrass, tea tree, and thyme are often used to aid relaxation, but you can now buy bed bug sprays, oils, and powders that contain these fragrant extracts.
Lavender (in particular) is thought to be a strong repellent for stopping bed bugs from visiting. How effective these sprays are, is still up for debate, but I would suggest adding a lavender scent to your washing, ironing, and moisturizers if only to enjoy the de-stressing benefits of this pungent aroma.
Cinnamon is a spice with a strong smell even for human senses, so just imagine what it does to a bed bug! Thought to be a deterrent, cinnamon powder is also good for bites thanks to its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that soothe and heal the skin.
Dracula hated garlic, so it stands to reason that these mini-vampires should too, right? The thought process behind this being, that if bed bugs are attracted to us by our breath then why not disguise it with a strong-smelling odor? This is also the theory behind peppermint, however, given the choice between the two, I would rather chew gum than a clove of garlic before getting into bed.
Whilst I am the first to admit that essential oils can provide many healing benefits for medical problems, I do not believe they hold the answer to getting rid of a bed bug infestation. Still, most of them smell divine and they definitely have their advantages over other chemical solutions.
Other natural remedies for bed bugs
We know that certain smells can repel bed bugs and therefore you could try covering yourself in essential oils before you get into bed, but there are some other well-known remedies that have been known to reduce the number of bed bugs in your home.
Bed bugs prefer to be inconspicuous in their approach, hiding in shadows and waiting until it is dark to come out. Therefore, changing the color of your sheets from black or red to green, yellow or white not only makes bed bugs more visible to the naked eye but can be off-putting for them to crawl across. You should also try to ensure that sheets are not left overhanging, as this provides an easy access route straight to the source.
Another way of preventing bed bugs from finding their way to you is to purchase a mattress bedbug-proof encasement. These work by sealing off the mattress and suffocating any bed bugs that may be in there.
I have mentioned previously how vacuuming and steaming your mattress, carpets, and couch can be an efficient way of reducing the number of bed bugs you have, but it is not a 100% effective method for eradicating them.
For that, you would need to invest in a cleaner that is specifically designed to treat bed bugs. Click here for my buyer's guide to the best steamers and vacuum cleaners.
- Best bed bug steamers and vacuums – Reviews and Buyers’ Guide
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- Bed bug mattress encasements
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- CrossFire kills bed bugs and eggs
Wearing long sleeves at bedtime will ultimately make it harder for a bed bug to feed but be aware that it may just result in other areas that are more accessible (such as your face and hands) being left exposed.
If you have an inkling that you have bed bugs but are struggling to find them, then you could try placing interceptors on the legs of your bed. These will encourage the bed bugs in but prevent them from climbing out.
I remain skeptical as to whether all of these natural remedies work in the long-term as a bed bug is able to survive for up to a year without feeding. Therefore, unless you are prepared to be continuously cleaning, changing sheets, and lathering yourself in sweet-smelling potions to ward off bed bugs for good, I would seriously suggest investing in some off-the-shelf solutions.
Off the shelf bed bug solutions
To fully eradicate bed bugs from your home, you need to look for a more permanent method of pest control, and for that, I would recommend a pesticide powder or spray.
Powders and sprays generally fall within two categories – (1) residual powders – these continue to kill long after the treatment has been applied (often up to 12 weeks) (2) contact sprays – these require you to directly target the bug itself. Whilst residual powders take longer to work, they tend to be more effective long term. For optimal results, I always recommend using a combination of both.
I tend to use a spray first to get into cracks and crevices and then apply a powder over the affected areas. But be warned, bed bugs are clever and will steer clear of substances that look suspicious, so resist the temptation to liberally throw insecticides around. As always, if you have pets or children in the house, I would check the ingredients on the packaging to ensure that what you are using is non-toxic and unlikely to cause harm.
Notoriously difficult to eradicate, it is little wonder that most people turn to pricey pest control companies for a fast and effective bed bug solution. However, I firmly believe that by making small differences to our environment, and by using a powerful pesticide to kill off the bugs, eggs, and larvae, you can banish these persistent pests for good yourself.