How Can I Control Bed Bugs
Do-it-yourself Bed Bug Control
Can you get rid of bed bugs on your own?
Treating bed bugs is complex. Your likelihood of success depends on many factors, including:
- How many bed bugs you have;
- How much clutter is available for hiding places;
- Whether your neighbors have bedbugs; and
- Whether all residents of a house or building will participate.
Getting rid of bed bugs completely can take weeks to months, depending on the nature and extent of the infestation. To be successful, everyone will need to cooperate and do their part.
The following steps will help you begin:
You may have to follow these steps more than once to kill all the bugs and their eggs.
Identify the Problem
- Identify the pest:
- Collect a sample of the pest to show an extension agentExitor other insect expert.
- Extension agents can identify the pest at no cost to you. They are trained in pest control and know your local area.
Develop a Strategy
- Make a schedule for completing the steps below. Be sure to include any personal plans, such as vacations.
- Keep records through the whole process. Note the dates and exact locations where pests are found. This will help you track progress and better know where to target your work.
- Keep checking for at least a year after you’re done to make sure all the bed bugs are gone.
Keep the Infestation from Spreading
- Remove infested items. Place them in a sealed plastic bag and treat them. Learn more about treatment methods in the sections below.
- Items that cannot be treated should be placed in a sealed plastic bag and left there for up to a year to ensure any active bugs are dead.
- Empty the vacuum after each use. Seal the bag as tightly as possible and immediately throw it out in an outdoor trash container.
- Discard furniture responsibly if you can’t safely eliminate the bed bugs. Destroy it so someone else won’t be tempted to bring it into their home. For example:
- Rip covers and remove stuffing from furniture items.
- Use spray paint to mark furniture with "Bed Bugs."
Prepare for Treatment
Preparing for treatment is very important; it will make it easier to monitor for bed bugs that haven’t been eliminated. This preparation should be completed whether you are doing the treatment yourself or hiring a professional.
Kill the Bed Bugs
- Make sure the methods you select are safe, effective and legal. See What’s Legal, What’s Not.
- Considernon-chemical methodsof killing bed bugs. Some will be more useful than others depending on your situation. These and other methods can be helpful, but they might not get rid of the infestation entirely:
- Heat treatment:You can use a clothes dryer on high heat. You can also use black plastic bags in a hot, closed car in the sun, but success depends on your climate and other factors. Do-it-yourself heat treatments might not work. Professionals have access to more intensive and proven methods that can even treat whole houses with heat. You may also purchase a portable heat chamber, which is usually quite effective.
- Cold treatmentcan be successful in the home environment if the freezer is set to 0 o F. You must leave the items in a sealed bag in the freezer at that temperature for four days. Always use a thermometer to check the temperature, since home freezers are not always set to 0 o .
- Steam cleaners(wet or dry) can get into cracks and fabrics to treat carpets, baseboards, bed frames, and other furniture. The steam temperature must be at least 130 o F but should not have a forceful airflow, or it may cause bed bugs to scatter. Use a diffuser to prevent scattering.
Evaluate and Prevent
- Continue to inspect for bed bugs, at least every 7 days, in case any eggs remain. You can use interceptors, traps or other monitoring methods. Interceptors are placed under the legs of furniture to catch bed bugs and keep them from climbing the legs. Commercial and do-it-yourself interceptors are options.
- Continue to protect your home from bed bugs.
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Department of Health
Bed Bugs – What They Are and How to Control Them
Bed bugs have been around for thousands of years. They feed on blood, but are not known to spread any diseases to humans. Some people can be allergic to their bites. Getting rid of a bed bug infestation is not easy, but there are steps you can take to control the problem. There are also steps you can take to avoid bringing bed bugs home.
What are bed bugs?
How can bed bugs get into my home?
- They can come from other infested areas or from used furniture. They can hitch a ride in luggage, purses, backpacks, or other items placed on soft or upholstered surfaces.
- They can travel between rooms in multi-unit buildings, such as apartment complexes and hotels.
How can I avoid bringing bed bugs into my home?
- When staying in a hotel, place your bag on a suitcase stand rather than on the bed or floor. Keep the rack away from walls or furniture. When returning home, wash the clothes from your trip and put them in a hot dryer.
- Inspect new and used furniture before bringing it inside. Look in seams, tufts and under cushions.
How do I know if I have a bed bug problem?
- You can see the bed bugs themselves, their shed skins, or their droppings in mattress seams and other items in the bedroom.
- There may also be blood stains on sheets.
How do I control a bed bug problem in my home?
It can be done, but it usually requires what is called an "integrated pest management" (IPM) approach. This combines techniques that pose the lowest risk to your health and the environment. Try these strategies:
- Clean and get rid of clutter, especially in your bedroom.
- Move your bed away from walls or furniture.
- Vacuum molding, windows and floors every day. Vacuum sides and seams of mattresses, box springs and furniture. Empty the vacuum or the bag immediately and dispose of outside in a sealed container or bag.
- Wash sheets, pillow cases, blankets and bed skirts and put them in a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes. Consider using mattress and box spring covers –the kind used for dust mite control–and put duct tape over the zippers.
- Seal cracks and crevices and any openings where pipes or wires come into the home.
Should I also try pesticides?
Pesticides may not be effective and can be dangerous if used improperly. If you decide to use pesticides, follow these rules:
- Only use pesticides that are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (look for the U.S. EPA Registration Number on the label) and make sure they are labeled to control bed bugs.
- Do not apply pesticides directly to your body (there are no repellents registered to control bed bugs that can be used on the human body).
- Do not use outdoor pesticides indoors.
- If you decide to hire a pest control company, make sure they have experience with bed bugs. They should follow the steps of IPM, along with any pesticide application. Use a company that is registered and employs licensed applicators. The Department of Environmental Conservation has a list of registered companies.
It takes time and persistence to get rid of bed bugs, and in some cases, the cooperation of landlords, neighbors and others. It can be physically and emotionally exhausting. It can also be expensive when pest control companies are called in. Just remember – bed bugs are more of a nuisance than a health concern and, with vigilance, you can avoid or deal with infestations.
See the following for more information on bed bug biology and control measures:
Photo courtesy of Dr. Harold Harlan, Armed Forces Pest Management Board Image Library
Top Ten Tips to Prevent or Control Bed Bugs
1. Make sure you really have bed bugs, not fleas, ticks or other insects.
You can compare your insect to the pictures on our Identifying bed bugs Web page or show it to your local extension agent.Exit (Extension agents are trained in pest control issues and know your local area.)
2. Don’t panic!
3. Think through your treatment options — Don’t immediately reach for the spray can.
Be comprehensive in your approach. Try other things first. Integrated pest management (IPM) techniques may reduce the number of bed bugs and limit your contact with pesticides. If pesticides are needed, always follow label directions or hire a professional. There is help available to learn about treatment options. (4 pp, 480 K, About PDF)
4. Reduce the number of hiding places — Clean up the clutter.
A cluttered home provides more places for bed bugs to hide and makes locating and treating them harder. If bed bugs are in your mattress, using special bed bug covers (encasements) on your mattress and box springs makes it harder for bed bugs to get to you while you sleep. Leave the encasements on for a year. Be sure to buy a product that has been tested for bed bugs and is strong enough to last for the full year without tearing.
5. Regularly wash and heat-dry your bed sheets, blankets, bedspreads and any clothing that touches the floor.
This reduces the number of bed bugs. Bed bugs and their eggs can hide in laundry containers/hampers Remember to clean them when you do the laundry.
6. Do-it-yourself freezing may not be a reliable method for bed bug control.
While freezing can kill bed bugs, temperatures must remain very low for a long time. Home freezers may not be cold enough to kill bed bugs; always use a thermometer to accurately check the temperature. Putting things outside in freezing temperatures could kill bed bugs, but there are many factors that can affect the success of this method.
7. Kill bed bugs with heat, but be very careful.
Raising the indoor temperature with the thermostat or space heaters won’t do the job. Special equipment and very high temperatures are necessary for successful heat treatment. Black plastic bags in the sun might work to kill bed bugs in luggage or small items, if the contents become hot enough. Bed bugs die when their body temperatures reaches 45°C (113°F). To kill bed bugs with heat, the room or container must be even hotter to ensure sustained heat reaches the bugs no matter where they are hiding
8. Don’t pass your bed bugs on to others.
Bed bugs are good hitchhikers. If you throw out a mattress or furniture that has bed bugs in it, you should slash or in some way destroy it so that no one else takes it and gets bed bugs.
9. Reduce the number of bed bugs to reduce bites.
Thorough vacuuming can get rid of some of your bed bugs. Carefully vacuum rugs, floors, upholstered furniture, bed frames, under beds, around bed legs, and all cracks and crevices around the room. Change the bag after each use so the bed bugs can’t escape. Place the used bag in a tightly sealed plastic bag and in an outside garbage bin.
10. Turn to the professionals, if needed.
Hiring an experienced, responsible pest control professional can increase your chance of success in getting rid of bed bugs. If you hire an expert, be sure it’s a company with a good reputation and request that it use an IPM approach. Contact your state pesticide agency for guidance about hiring professional pest control companies. Also, EPA’s Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety provides information about IPM approaches, how to choose a pest control company, safe handling of pesticides, and emergency information.
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Bed Bug Control in Residences
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When trying to control bed bugs in your home:
- DO NOTuse pesticides meant for garden or agricultural use.
- DO NOTuse products that appear to be “homemade” or “custom formulated” or products purchased from someone without a license.
The most effective way to control bed bugs in your home is through a combination of chemical measures and heat treatments applied by a Pest Management Professional (PMP). Unfortunately, the service of a PMP can be costly. So we are providing information on how to control a bed bug infestation on your own.
Controlling bed bugs by yourself is very difficult and time consuming. It involves moving furniture, household goods and personal items. Plan how you want to treat each room. Set up a “clean zone”.
Killing bed bugs by handis not 100% effective. You can capture and squash them or capture them on sticky tape and remove. This may reduce the number of bugs if done over and over again.
Tools for hunting and destroying bed bugs: Flashlight, old credit card (or similar) clear tape, plastic bags, and hot soapy water.
Steps: Use the flashlight and credit card to search out bed bugs by moving the card along cracks and crevices to push out the bugs. Use the sticky tape to trap the bugs. Use the hot soapy water to wipe up infestations, the bugs, blood stains, droppings, eggs and shed skins.
Vacuuminghelps to quickly capture and contain bed bugs. Vacuum crevices around baseboards, electronic items (such as TVs and stereos) and any other likely hiding places, such as beds, couches, bedframes, and dressers. If using a canister vacuum, immediately empty the contents into a plastic bag, seal and throw away. Clean the vacuum thoroughly. If using a vacuum with a bag, immediately remove the bag and seal in plastic for disposal. Check the vacuum for any remaining bugs and kill them to avoid spreading the bed bugs further.
Launderingis a very effective method to treat items that can be placed in the washing machine or dryer. Collect linens and dirty clothes and seal in plastic bags until they can be washed to decrease the chance of spreading bed bugs. Use the highest temperature the fabric can withstand for washing and drying. If an item cannot be washed, dry it for 30 minutes at the highest temperature the item can withstand.
Steamis a very effective method, if done correctly. Use a commercial steamer with a minimum capacity of 1 gallon, preferably with a volume control. A floor or upholstery attachment allows steam to penetrate the fabric of furniture or drapes. To effectively kill bed bugs, the surface temperature of the object being treated should be 160-180°F immediately after the steam brush has passed. Use an infrared thermometer to monitor the temperature. Use care because steam can cause burns.
Freezingitems that are infested is an easy way to kill bed bugs. All you need is a freezer and some time. When freezing items to kill bed bugs you will need to leave the items in the freezer for at least 4 days, at a temperature that is at or lower than 0°F. Be careful about what you freeze as freezing may cause damage.
Mattress coversprevent bed bugs from hiding in the mattress, a prime location for the bugs and difficult to treat. If a mattress is infested, cover it to contain the bed bugs which will start to die after 2 weeks but leave the cover on for at least 18 months. In addition, mattress covers can easily be cleaned if a new infestation occurs. Purchase a mattress cover that is labeled specifically for bed bugs as covers designed only to reduce allergens may not stop bed bugs.
Dry heat treatmentis an effective method of controlling bed bugs. This treatment is only conducted by a Pest Management Professional in order to ensure that infested items and rooms reach the required temperature for effective pest control. Do not attempt a heat treatment by yourself.
Insecticidesare an important part of bed bug control as it is common for individual bed bugs to move away from the main infestation site to another site. Use all insecticides carefully and according to the label. It is highly recommended that you hire a Pest Management Professional to apply the appropriate insecticides. Do not try to treat a bed bug infestation with insecticides labeled for other insects which can cause the bed bugs to disperse and increase the area infested.
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Bedbugs are small, oval, brownish insects that live on the blood of animals or humans. Adult bedbugs have flat bodies about the size of an apple seed. After feeding, however, their bodies swell and are a reddish color.
Bedbugs do not fly, but they can move quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings. Female bedbugs may lay hundreds of eggs, each of which is about the size of a speck of dust, over a lifetime.
Immature bedbugs, called nymphs, shed their skins five times before reaching maturity and require a meal of blood before each shedding. Under favorable conditions the bugs can develop fully in as little as a month and produce three or more generations per year.
Although they are a nuisance, they are not thought to transmit diseases.
Where Bed Bugs Hide
Bedbugs may enter your home undetected through luggage, clothing, used beds and couches, and other items. Their flattened bodies make it possible for them to fit into tiny spaces, about the width of a credit card. Bedbugs do not have nests like ants or bees, but tend to live in groups in hiding places. Their initial hiding places are typically in mattresses, box springs, bed frames, and headboards where they have easy access to people to bite in the night.
Over time, however, they may scatter through the bedroom, moving into any crevice or protected location. They may also spread to nearby rooms or apartments.
Because bedbugs live solely on blood, having them in your home is not a sign of dirtiness. You are as likely to find them in immaculate homes and hotel rooms as in filthy ones.
When Bedbugs Bite
Bedbugs are active mainly at night and usually bite people while they are sleeping. They feed by piercing the skin and withdrawing blood through an elongated beak. The bugs feed from three to 10 minutes to become engorged and then crawl away unnoticed.
Most bedbug bites are painless at first, but later turn into itchy welts. Unlike flea bites that are mainly around the ankles, bedbug bites are on any area of skin exposed while sleeping. Also, the bites do not have a red spot in the center like flea bites do.
People who don’t realize they have a bedbug infestation may attribute the itching and welts to other causes, such as mosquitoes. To confirm bedbug bites, you must find and identify the bugs themselves.
Signs of Infestation
If you wake up with itchy areas you didn’t have when you went to sleep, you may have bedbugs, particularly if you got a used bed or other used furniture around the time the bites started. Other signs that you have bedbugs include:
- Blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases
- Dark or rusty spots of bedbug excrement on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls
- Bedbug fecal spots, egg shells, or shed skins in areas where bedbugs hide
- An offensive, musty odor from the bugs’ scent glands
If you suspect an infestation, remove all bedding and check it carefully for signs of the bugs or their excrement. Remove the dust cover over the bottom of the box springs and examine the seams in the wood framing. Peel back the fabric where it is stapled to the wood frame.
Also, check the area around the bed, including inside books, telephones or radios, the edge of the carpet, and even in electrical outlets. Check your closet, because bedbugs can attach to clothing. If you are uncertain about signs of bedbugs, call an exterminator, who will know what to look for.
If you find signs of infestation, begin steps to get rid of the bugs and prevent their return.
Getting rid of bedbugs begins with cleaning up the places where bedbugs live. This should include the following:
- Clean bedding, linens, curtains, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest dryer setting. Place stuffed animals, shoes, and other items that can’t be washed in the dryer and run on high for 30 minutes.
- Use a stiff brush to scrub mattress seams to remove bedbugs and their eggs before vacuuming.
- Vacuum your bed and surrounding area frequently. After vacuuming, immediately place the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic bag and place in garbage can outdoors.
- Encase mattress and box springs with a tightly woven, zippered cover to keep bedbugs from entering or escaping. Bedbugs may live up to a year without feeding, so keep the cover on your mattress for at least a year to make sure all bugs in the mattress are dead.
- Repair cracks in plaster and glue down peeling wallpaper to get rid of places bedbugs can hide.
- Get rid of clutter around the bed.
If your mattress is infested, you may want to get rid of it and get a new one, but take care to rid the rest of your home of bedbugs or they will infest your new mattress.
While cleaning up infested areas will be helpful in controlling bedbugs, getting rid of them usually requires chemical treatments. Because treating your bed and bedroom with insecticides can be harmful, it is important to use products that can be used safely in bedrooms. Do not treat mattresses and bedding unless the label specifically says you can use them on bedding.
Generally it is safest and most effective to hire an experienced pest control professional for bedbug extermination.
University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: "Bed Bugs."
Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet: "Bed Bugs."
The New York City Department of Heath and Mental Hygiene: "Stop Bed Bugs Safely."
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Lancaster County: "Managing Bed Bugs."