How Soon Bed Bugs Spread
Bedbugs are small insects that often live on furniture or bedding. Their bites can be itchy, but do not usually cause other health problems.
Check if it’s bedbugs
Jeff March / Alamy Stock Photo
Bedbugs can hide in many places, including on bed frames, mattresses, clothing, furniture, behind pictures and under loose wallpaper.
Signs of bedbugs include:
- bites – often on areas exposed while sleeping, like the face, neck and arms
- spots of blood on your bedding – from the bites or from squashing a bedbug
- small brown spots on bedding or furniture (bedbug poo)
Bedbug bites can be red and itchy. They’re often in a line or cluster.
Otto Pleska / Alamy Stock Photo
Some people have a reaction to the bites. They can be very itchy and there may be painful swelling.
How you can treat bedbug bites
Bedbug bites usually clear up on their own in a week or so.
Things you can do include:
- putting something cool, like a clean, damp cloth, on the affected area to help with the itching and any swelling
- keeping the affected area clean
- not scratching the bites to avoid getting an infection
You can ask a pharmacist about:
- using a mild steroid cream like hydrocortisone cream to ease bedbug bites (children under 10 and pregnant women should get advice from a doctor before using hydrocortisone cream)
- antihistamines – these may help if the bites are very itchy and you’re unable to sleep
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- the bites are still very painful, swollen or itchy after trying treatments from a pharmacist
- the redness around the bites is spreading
You may have an infection and need treatment with antibiotics.
Coronavirus update: how to contact a GP
It’s still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:
- visit their website
- use the NHS App
- call them
How to get rid of bedbugs
contact your local council or pest control service – it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get rid of bedbugs yourself because they can be resistant to some insecticides
wash affected bedding and clothing – use a hot wash (60C) or tumble dry on a hot setting for at least 30 minutes
put affected clothing and bedding in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer (-16C) for 4 days (alternative to hot washing)
clean and vacuum regularly – bedbugs are found in both clean and dirty places, but regular cleaning will help you spot them early
do not keep clutter around your bed
do not bring secondhand furniture indoors without carefully checking it first
do not take luggage or clothing indoors without checking it carefully if you have come from somewhere where you know there were bedbugs
Page last reviewed: 21 January 2019
Next review due: 21 January 2022
Bed Bugs FAQs
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and can live several months without a blood meal.
Where are bed bugs found?
Bed bugs are found across the globe from North and South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. Although the presence of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.
Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.
Do bed bugs spread disease?
Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.
What health risks do bed bugs pose?
A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.
What are the signs and symptoms of a bed bug infestation?
One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by the tell-tale bite marks on the face, neck, arms, hands, or any other body parts while sleeping. However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area. These signs include:
- the bed bugs’ exoskeletons after molting,
- bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets,
- rusty–colored blood spots due to their blood-filled fecal material that they excrete on the mattress or nearby furniture, and
- a sweet musty odor.
How do I know if I’ve been bitten by a bed bug?
It is hard to tell if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug unless you find bed bugs or signs of infestation. When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea — a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.
Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may have no reaction and will not develop bite marks or any other visible signs of being bitten. Other people may be allergic to the bed bugs and can react adversely to the bites. These allergic symptoms can include enlarged bite marks, painful swellings at the bite site, and, on rare occasions, anaphylaxis.
How did I get bed bugs?
Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their slim flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and stay there for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel.
Who is at risk for getting bed bugs?
Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.
How are bed bugs treated and prevented?
Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.
This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.
How Do Bed Bugs Spread?
How Bed Bugs Spread
Bed bugs usually like to reside in areas that humans spend a lot of time, such as beds, chairs, and other warm places. Basically, anywhere they can feed off blood! A low level infestation can easily turn into a big infestation if it isn’t dealt with quickly, and it’s so easy for bed bugs to spread from place to place. They can spread to other items of furniture, and even objects like lamps and frames. They can spread from room to room, and you can even bring them home with you from trips away. You can also take them away with you! Bed bugs are notoriously great hitchhikers. Let’s take a more detailed look at how bed bugs are spread:
Some people believe that bed bugs are spread through poor hygiene or attracted to it, when this isn’t the case at all!
The fact is, bed bugs don’t care whether your home is clean or dirty. They’ll hang around because they get unlimited free drinks at the bar (that’s you, by the way). It doesn’t matter whether you live in a slum or a mansion, bed bugs will hitchhike their way into your home if they can. Their goal is world domination!
When Bed Bugs Fly
Some people seem to believe bed bugs fly, but this is one pesky bug that doesn’t have wings. The only way they can spread is if they hitchhike somehow, or crawl. They crawl about 1 metre a minute.
Bed Bugs are Professional Hitchhikers
This is how bed bugs are spread every time. They will hitch a ride in your suitcase, on your clothes, and any other way they can travel. They are professionals when it comes to scoring free trips on airplanes, buses, and trains too. They don’t even care where they are going! You can find bed bugs in places like theatres and taxis, so it isn’t uncommon to pick them up in there with your purse/bag, and then take them somewhere new. They like to be anywhere you’ll find a large number of people. This includes hotels, motels, dorms, apartments, etc. This is why homeowners of single family homes have less chance of getting bed bugs than those who have many people coming and going. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t get them.
One thing you can feel slightly happier about, is that bed bugs prefer not to travel on human bodies. They prefer to be further removed from hair and skin, so at least you’re not the one has the infestation. You’re far more likely to find them on a backpack, on your shoes, or your suitcase.
Bed bugs don’t just feed off humans. They can also feed off animals. This is why you may also find them in bird’s nests and bat’s nests, gardens, and sheds.
Staying in Hostels and Hotels
A common reason bed bugs spread is because people don’t check their hotels and hostels for bed bugs before staying in there or unpacking their things. You should always check to make sure there are no signs of bed bugs before you stay in a hostel or hotel. Leave your luggage out of the way to start with, as this is how many bugs will travel with you. Then use a credit card and a torch if you can to help you check the mattress. Check in every small space, such as seams and even in headboard patterns. They can also reside on bedside tables and underneath the bed, so be thorough with your search. Don’t just look out for the bugs, but for stains that indicate their presence, shed skin, and eggs. If you do find signs, then make sure you tell management immediately. You definitely don’t want to end up sharing a room with them!
Even when you’re finished checking for bugs, it’s a good idea to store your luggage away from the bed and other pieces of furniture, if you can. Some people even like to take the extra precaution of sealing things such as their shoes in plastic bags. It might seem extreme, but you wouldn’t think so if you’ve ever had an infestation before.
Buying Used Clothing
Buying used clothing is brilliant for the environment, not to mention our budgets! Usually, clothes are in perfect condition and we get a bargain deal. However, bringing it home and wearing it or hanging it without washing it first is a huge mistake. You don’t know where it’s been, and whether bugs have taken a fancy to it like you. Always thoroughly wash things before you wear them if second hand.
Second Hand Books
Another great way to save money and be good to the environment, but also another great way to spread bugs, is through used books. They love to hide, and the bindings make the perfect hide and seek spot. Check over second hand books before purchasing them.
Bringing Second-Hand Furniture Home
Whether you buy the furniture second hand, have been given it, or find it lurking by a bin somewhere is irrelevant. It’s more than possible to bring bed bugs home with second-hand furniture. Mattresses, chairs, and all kinds of other items can carry bed bugs. Knowing what to look for and checking things over before you bring a piece of furniture home is really important. In some cases, the bed bugs might not be so obvious, which is why you must be careful if taking used items home with you.
Other Ways of Spreading
There are a few other ways bed bugs can spread to place to place. They may sometimes go through cracks in walls, doorframes, ceilings, and anywhere else they can fit their blood-swollen bodies. If they lay eggs in furniture and you move your furniture to another location, you’ll help them to infest even more rooms in your home. If a room hasn’t had anybody in it for a while, they may even migrate to another room in search of blood to suck on. Bed bugs can even spread through use of commercial laundry machines, and vacuums used for multiple rooms.
Bed bugs may be indifferent about hygiene, but they love clutter. Your home doesn’t need to be dirty for them to stick around and spread like wildfire, just cluttered. The more clutter you have, the more places they have to hide. This makes it even harder for you to get rid of them. They’ll hide inside switchplates, under baseboards, in clothing piles, laundry rooms, and just about anywhere else you can think of.
Dealing with bed bugs as quickly as possible is crucial to prevent them from spreading. While they don’t reproduce all that quickly compared to other bugs (the common housefly lays up to 500 eggs over 3 days, while bed bugs produce 1 per day), it’s still important to get the problem dealt with as soon as you can. In cold climates, bed bugs can live up to a year without feeding. This means it doesn’t even matter if your property is uninhabited for a while. They won’t just die out!
You can’t expect to get rid of bed bugs by simply getting rid of your furniture. You could inadvertently end up spreading the bugs to somebody else’s home, if you’re not careful. Using homemade bed bug treatments and chemicals yourself isn’t recommended either, as it could be dangerous. Getting a professional to come and check out your problem, before recommending the best treatment for your situation is the best way to do it.
Learn About Bed Bug Infestations So You Will Be Better Equipped to Fight Yours!
A bed bug infestation is a big deal. It can disrupt your sleep/life, and you may have no idea what is happening to you or how to stop it. Bed bugs are different from most other household insect pests and are much more difficult to live with and to get rid of.
Bed bugs are keen to find a way into your house, and you have to be aware of their “migration tactics” in order to thwart them. You need to know how they move from house to house and room to room, how fast they can spread, where they are likely to hide, and what options you have for killing them.
Make no mistake. A bed bug infested home means your home has just become a war zone. You can’t let the enemy sneak by unnoticed under your radar, and knowing the facts about bed bugs is winning half the battle.
Table of Contents
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?
Bed bugs are quite willing to enter your premises uninvited, take up permanent residence, and help themselves to a blood feast. But where do they come from to begin with?
The fact is, bed bugs live primarily in human habitations all over the world, be it in mattresses, box springs, carpeting, picture frames, cracks in floor, furniture, or a host of other locales.
Of course, bed bugs ultimately hail from the great outdoors, and you may find some still living there in tall grasses, but they are overwhelmingly an “indoor insect.”
Transferred from Person to Person
Unlike fleas and lice, bed bugs do not tend to live permanently on human beings or animals. Instead, they will generally hide is some hard to reach nook or cranny and come out at night to feed. That’s why they like to live in or near beds and other places people sleep or sit for long periods.
But, it is still possible for bed bugs to be transferred from person to person.
- They can get into your clothes, purse, laptop bag, jacket, or anything else you wear or carry about.
- From there, they can get onto clothes of others you are in close contact with.
Their eggs can also be found on clothes sometimes, and if egg-infested clothes of yours touched someone else’s clothes, even the eggs could get transferred.
So, while it’s not very likely, it is possible for bed bugs to move from person to person.
Spread From House to House
Bed bugs, as clever as they are, do not generally walk long distances between buildings. They have other ways of getting into your house.
These stealthy home-invasion strategies include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Hitch a ride on your laundry, luggage, or other possessions that you bring back from a bed-bug-infested hotel room.
- Your pet might pick up a bed bug while visiting another house (or even outdoors) and then bring it back to your place.
- Bed bugs may be hiding in furniture in one house, but the owner may sell it at a garage sale or put it on the curb to dispose of it. Then, you take that old bed-bug-ridden piece of furniture into your house, thinking it’s a great find.
- You sleep over at a friend’s house where bed bugs live. Bed bugs get into your stuff or on your person, and you unknowingly transport them home with you.
- If you live in a multi-unit home or apartment complex, these bugs can crawl down the hall, through vents, and through cracks in the walls to get into your living quarters.
Spread from Room to Room
You may, perhaps, imagine that bed bugs can’t get around too fast. It’s true they have small legs and can’t hop or skip, but they can walk up to 100 feet in a single night. They just “keep going till they get there.”
Bed Bug Hiding Spots
And bed bugs are known to move through the inside of walls, which they will access via outlets if not through cracks. They can run inside of in-wall piping for a quicker move from room to room. It really doesn’t take more than a single night for them to migrate to a new room. And they can even get into your vacuum cleaner so that you are helping them spread quicker as you clean the carpet.
It could be a matter of days before your entire house is infested, given you have enough of a bed bug population and your bed bugs are motivated to look for food/water/blood somewhere other than where they are at the moment.
I found a bed bug, you say, so where should I look for more? Can I map out the infestation so I can map out an eradication plan?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to be sure of all the nooks and crannies your unwelcome guests may be hiding in, and they may even move around from night to night. All you can do is know the likely spots and apply bed bug killer.
I Have One Bed Bug. Does It Mean an Infestation?
A single bed bug may or may not indicate you already have a true infestation.
But if you do find a bed bug, here are some things to keep in mind:
- A single impregnated female can produce a whole population. She will lay the eggs and then breed with her own offspring.
- The odds are in favor of your not having found the only bed bug in your house. Where there’s one, there are probably more.
- Bed bugs can go 6 months or more without a blood meal, and many individual bugs may not feed more than once a week on average. Thus, you won’t see them all out searching for food at the same time.
- Is the bed bug red-bodied? Then it was feeding. If they’re feeding, chances are they’re breeding.
Once in your bedroom, bed bugs will have no trouble finding your bed. They are attracted to carbon dioxide such as warm-blooded animals exhale and to your body heat. As soon as they sense CO2 and heat at night, they will go to your bed because you, their target, are lying on it.
Bed bugs can get into your bedroom on your dirty clothes, on the clothes you are wearing, or by hiding in suitcases, hand bags, boxes, furniture, or anything else you bring into your room that offers them good cover.
Do bed bugs live in walls? The answer is: sometimes. Walls are not necessarily their number one or preferred hideout, as with cockroaches, but when no better shelter exists near their feeding zone, they’ll be quick to reside inside wall cavities.
Of course, there has to be an entry point for them to get into the wall. So if your walls have cracks or small holes in them, caulking it up, painting over it, or otherwise sealing it off may deny your bed bugs a hideout.
Yes, bed bugs can live inside wood flooring. They can even crawl along inside the seams between wood planks, even when those seams are rather tight.
The pancake-flat bodies and small size of bed bugs allow the to get into and live in even the most inaccessible areas. There are few wood floors, if any, that are so tightly put together that bed bugs couldn’t get into them.
You may be wondering what to do if you have bed bugs, and how long you have before they overrun you. You may be waking up at night, staring at the clock, and wondering, “How long do I have?”
How Long Does It Take for Bed Bugs to Infest?
Here are four facts you should know that will give you an idea as to how long it takes for a bed bug infestation to get started and to get into “full swing:”
- Female bed bugs can lay from one to five eggs per day and ultimately 200 or 250 eggs in a lifetime.
- Eggs will hatch in five to 10 days’ time, and the emergent nymphs will immediately begin looking for a blood meal.
- It takes around four or five weeks for a bed bug to reach maturity, going through five molts along the way.
- Bed bugs will live around four to 10 months, but life spans may vary quite a bit based on conditions (and on your extermination efforts!)
The Life Cycle of a Bed Bug
Conclusion: an infestation can get rolling in less than a week, become unbearable in one to two months, and reach peak population levels in six months to a year, given the right conditions and plenty of blood.
What You Should Know
You may be wondering, “Do bed bugs go away if I just leave them alone a while?” Wishful thinking may have its merits, perhaps, but no, they normally won’t just go away on their own.
My Apartment Is Infested With Bed Bugs. Now What?
If your apartment definitely has a bed bug infestation, what can you do about it? You’ll need to learn how to kill bed bugs and how to keep them from coming back.
Here are Five Key Steps you can take to eradicate your blossoming bed bug population:
- Clear away all the clutter from your bedroom or other infested area. In fact, clean and organize your whole house like you were getting ready for white glove at college.
- Wash and dry all your clothes and linens that could possibly have gotten exposed to bed bugs or their eggs. Use the high-heat setting.
- Spray bed bug killer along the baseboards, into cracks and crevices, onto mattresses, box springs, upholstered furniture, and anywhere else it’s safe to spray it. Also apply diatomaceous earth under and around your bed, set up CO2 bed bug traps, and use rubbing alcohol to protect your exposed skin at night.
- Use a one-two punch bed bug fogger bomb approach. The first bombs will kill off adults mostly. Wait two weeks so the surviving eggs can hatch, and then bomb to wipe out the hatchlings before they mature and repopulate.
- You can repeat the four steps above several times, but if the problem persists, call in a professional who can safely heat your home to 118 degrees Fahrenheit to kill every bed bug.
Three Steps to be Bed-Bug-Free
Can They Come Back After Treatment?
Bed bugs can return the same way they got into your home to begin with, even after you totally eradicate them.
Thus, you need to think about how they may have gotten in. Stop bringing in garage sale or curbside furniture, routinely sprinkle diatomaceous earth along your door’s bottom if you live in an apartment complex, or change whatever else it takes to keep them out!
Learn how bed bugs spread into and throughout houses and how their population explodes. Take measures accordingly without delay to kill them and prevent a return. Knowing the facts about your bed bug infestation will help you end it!
You can find further details of Bed Bugs Control here.
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Bed Bug FAQs
Some fast bed bug facts…
A little more…
A bed bug has 6 legs. Its antennae point forward and are about half as long as the body—not longer. Its head is broadly attached to its body and it has no wings. Eight legs indicate a tick or mite. Six legs and long antennae with two spikes coming off the back (cerci) might be a roach nymph. Carpet beetle larvae have hairs all over their bodies. Carpet beetle adults have two hard wings.
A “drop of blood with legs” is probably a recently fed bed bug. It will be red, plump, and oval. After it digests its meal, it’ll be mahogany-colored, round, and flat. Unfed nymphs are tan. Eggs are oval, white, and stick to whatever they’re laid on.
You can see the adults—they’re about 1/4” long. The trick is finding their hiding spots. They can wedge themselves into any crack or crevice. If the edge of a credit card can fit, so can a bed bug. Eggs and just-hatched nymphs are tiny: 1/16” (1mm) long—the size of the “R” in “LIBERTY” on a penny. They’ll plump up after feeding—just like a mosquito.
Bed bugs crawl—scurrying into dark, tight spaces to hide—they move as fast as an ant. They can’t jump or fly and you’ll never find them burrowing into your skin. If the insect you have came out on its own accord at night when the lights were out near the bed or a couch, it was probably a bed bug looking for a meal. Bed bugs aren’t social insects like ants, so they don’t need a colony. But while they group together in good hiding spots, loners could be hiding elsewhere.
More on bed bug biology (and yes, it matters): they have an odd way of making babies. It’s called traumatic insemination. Males simply stab females in the side with their reproductive organ and inject their sperm, which makes its way to her eggs. Females recover from one mating, but several matings increase the chance of infection and death. Females may try to get away from groups of males and go off and hide alone to avoid being stabbed to death. If you don’t find those females, they’ll keep laying eggs and could restart an infestation: a good reason to get a pest management professional (PMP) involved. Good PMPs know how to find them and how to target every hiding place without harming people.
If the bugs you think are bed bugs come in the spring but go away during the summer they might be bat bugs. Bats in attics hibernate elsewhere during the winter. Bat bugs that are left behind and chill out for the winter, literally, but if warm weather comes before the bats return, they may seek another host to tide them over. In this scenario, inspect the attic and external wall voids for bat guano and bugs in cracks and crevices. Have a professional treat these roosts as well as the rooms bed bugs were found in. To prevent bat re-entry, repair all holes 1/4” or larger that lead to the outside.
Bed bugs are also known as: Cimex lectularius, chinches de camas, chintzes or chinches, mahogany flats, red coats, crimson ramblers, wall lice, the bug that nobody knows, lentils on legs, animated blood drops.
To translate this page, see the link on the left below the list of pests.
Got a question that you think should be here? E-mail us and we’ll get it posted ASAP. If it’s urgent, try bedbugger.com.
If you ever heard that nursery rhyme "Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” you know these critters bite in the night. But most of us never heard of them in real life until now.
What Bed Bugs Are And What They Do
How to Find Bed Bugs
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
How to Deal With Bed Bugs
1. What can bed bugs do to me?
The serious negative effects of bed bugs are more mental than physical, but the itchy bites can’t be ignored either.
The mental effects are stress and lack of sleep. (And then there’s delusory parasitosis—meaning the bugs really are gone, but you can’t shake the feeling that they’re still there.) Even if the thought of sleeping with bed bugs doesn’t keep you up at night, the time and money it takes to get rid of them can stress you out.
Bed bugs can be a public relations nightmare. You’d hope customers would respect a proactive hotel, motel, or landlord who tried to educate them before a problem came in, but that’s rarely the case. Simply the mention of bed bugs can deter customers.
And householders worry what friends, family, and neighbors will say if their problem becomes known. Bed bugs aren’t associated with filth or social status, but many people think they are.
Bed bugs aren’t known to transmit disease. And some people don’t even get marks when bit. But scratching bites can lead to a secondary infection. Resist the urge to scratch. People with health problems and children are more at risk for infection because their immune systems are compromised or they can’t stop scratching.
2. What does a bed bug bite look like?
You can’t describe the bites as looking only one way. Some look and feel like mosquito or flea bites. Some people don’t react at all. On the opposite extreme, others get big itchy welts that take two or more weeks to heal. There’s a myth that bed bug bites occur in threes (“breakfast, lunch, and dinner”), but it’s not true. Bites can occur singly, in clumps, or in a line. Bites can show up within hours—or two weeks later. Confirming an infestation on bites alone is impossible. You need evidence: a bed bug.
Bed bugs usually feed while people sleep, about an hour before dawn. But if they’re hungry and given the opportunity, they feed anytime. Feeding itself is painless—the bed bug’s saliva numbs the skin and makes the blood easier to drink. But later, many people react to the saliva, getting itchy bumps or rashes. After feeding for about five minutes, drawing only a drop or two of blood, bugs return to their hiding places. Although bed bugs can live for over a year without feeding, they typically seek blood every five to ten days.
The only way to know for sure what bit you is to find a bug and get it identified.
Bed bugs live off only blood—like mosquitoes do. They probably prefer to feed on people. But if people move out, bed bugs can survive by feeding on rats or mice—so control these pests, too. They’re attracted by warmth and the presence of carbon dioxide—what we animals breathe out. They usually feed about an hour before dawn, but given the opportunity, they may feed at other times of day or night.
Remember—not everyone reacts to bed bug bites. (Not everyone reacts to poison ivy, either.) You could get an itchy rash while your home companion gets—nothing.
If you think bed bugs bit you, have a PMP do a thorough inspection to determine whether an arthropod is in your living space, or send samples to a diagnostic lab.
3. Where did bed bugs come from?
Bed bugs may have evolved when a close relative, the bat bug, switched to feeding off cave-dwelling humans. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans wrote about them. They were part of many peoples’ lives in the U.S. and around the world before World War II.
Then DDT came along. DDT seemed wonderful at the time. Unlike most of the insecticides sold in stores today, DDT had a lasting effect—a long residual effect. Insects died when they crawled where DDT was used, even if it had been there for weeks. Though most homeowners used DDT for large pests like cockroaches, it did the bed bugs in too. When the bed bugs came out to feed, there was something there to kill them.
Modern furnishings and appliances helped too. Bed bugs don’t care if a home is clean or messy. They just like good hiding spots—and food. When modern furniture came into style they had fewer hiding spots. Home appliances such as washing machines and vacuums helped keep them at bay. Bed bugs were a rarity in the US from the early 1950’s through the late 1990’s. A whole generation of people grew up who’d never seen one.
By the mid 1970’s insecticides like DDT, which were blamed for environmental problems, were on the outs. The pest control industry began to use the environmentally friendly approaches common today. Using noninsecticide traps and monitors, blocking entry into homes, and using pest-specific, least-toxic insecticides became the staples of an integrated pest management approach.
Bed bugs had been off the radar for so long they were almost forgotten. By the time anyone noticed, they were back in a big way. Right now there are no traps or monitors proven to detect a population when it’s still small. And since bed bugs travel on things such as luggage, souvenirs, and furniture we bring into our homes, it’s hard to block their entry.
Fortunately, some modern insecticides work well. Because these insecticides break down quickly—making them safer for humans—they may not be around to kill the bed bugs that hatch from eggs laid before the insecticide was applied. Two or more carefully targeted applications are the best way to eliminate bed bugs. Leave insecticides to the professionals—even the right ones, used incorrectly, can scatter bed bugs to other rooms. It would take an extremely capable and dedicated person to learn and do everything necessary to get rid of bed bugs on their own.
How to Find Bed Bugs
4. Where do bed bugs live?
Any place with a high turnover of people spending the night—hostels, hotels near airports, and resorts—are most at risk. But the list continues… apartments, barracks, buses, cabins, churches, community centers, cruise ships, dormitories, dressing rooms, health clubs, homes, hospitals, jets, laundromats, motels, motor homes, moving vans, nursing homes, office buildings, resorts, restaurants, schools, subways, theaters, trains, used furniture outlets…. Bed bugs don’t prefer locations based on sanitation or people’s hygiene. If there’s blood, they’re happy.
Bed bugs and their relatives occur nearly worldwide. They became relatively scarce during the latter part of the 20th century, but their populations have resurged in recent years, particularly throughout parts of North America, Europe, and Australia.
What about in your home? Most stay near where people sleep, hiding near the bed, a couch or armchair (if that’s where you snooze)—even cribs and playpens. Their flat bodies allow them to hide in cracks and crevices around the room and in furniture joints. Hiding sites include mattress seams, bed frames, nearby furniture, or baseboards. Clutter offers more places to hide and makes it harder to get rid of them. Bed bugs can be found alone but more often congregate in groups. They’re not social insects, though, and don’t build nests.
How infestations spread through a home or within an apartment building differs from case to case. Inspect all adjacent rooms. Bed bugs travel easily along pipes and wires and the insides of walls can harbor them.
Before treating, you need to confirm that you have bed bugs. The only way to do that is to find a bug and get it identified.
Look in the most likely places first. We tell you how. If you find one, freeze it for identification or put it in a sealed jar with a 1 tsp. of rubbing alcohol. Then stop looking—you don’t want to disrupt the bugs—and call a professional.
5. How do I find out if I have bed bugs?
Have these on hand during the inspection:
- magnifier or hand lens
- a vial, pill bottle, or ziplock bag to hold specimens for identification
- tweezers or sticky tape to help grab the bugs
- gloves (vinyl, latex, etc.—or even a plastic bag over your hand)
- knife, index card, or credit card for swiping bed bugs out of cracks
- trash bags and tape for bagging infested items
- vacuum cleaner (just in case you find a large group): keep a few for identification and suck up the rest. Since the vacuum bag will have live bugs in it, take out the bag right away. Seal it in a plastic bag and throw it away.
Look for bed bugs in all their life stages: eggs, nymphs and adults. Also look for cast skins and blood spots. But note: blood spots, hatched eggs, and cast skins may be from an infestation that’s been dealt with already. Live bed bugs are the only confirming evidence. Use a flashlight—even if the area is well lit—and work systematically. A magnifying glass will help you zoom in on hard to see spots. Start with one corner of the mattress and work around the piping, down the sides, and underneath. Do the same with the box spring. If you own the bed, slowly remove the dust cover (ticking) on the bottom of the box spring and seal in a trash bag. Next, inspect the bed frame. If you can take it apart, do so. Bed bugs could be hiding in the joints.
No bed bugs yet? Work out from the bed in a systematic way (clockwise or counter-clockwise) to the walls of the room. Look in the pleats of curtains, beneath loose pieces of wallpaper near the bed, the corners and drawers of desks and dressers, within spaces of wicker furniture, behind door, window, and baseboard trim, and in laundry or other items on the floor or around the room such as cardboard boxes. Inspect everything. Any crack, crevice, or joint a credit card edge could fit in could hide adult bed bugs. This routine gives you a systematic approach and increases the chance you’ll find evidence early on.
One last way to inspect—about an hour before dawn, lift the sheets and turn on a flashlight. It might lead to a discovery, but this method can also be unsettling.
If you don’t find bed bugs but bites continue or you find blood spots on bedding, contact a professional with bed bug experience and have them inspect.
Professional inspection may be done by a person or by a bed bug-sniffing dog and its handler. Dogs have a powerful sense of smell and can be trained to find bed bugs (which do give off an odor). They’re best used to find infestations. If used to tell whether bed bugs are gone, they may find old evidence rather than fresh. If you hire a handler and dog, be sure they’re accredited.
If you find bed bugs at home, it’s best to keep sleeping in the bed—or try to find someone who will sleep there. Packing up to spend time elsewhere could bring bugs to an uninfested area. And the bugs could move to neighboring rooms in search of a meal.
6. How do I have specimens identified?
Put specimens in small, break-resistant containers such as a plastic pill bottle or a zipper-lock bag with 1 tsp of rubbing alcohol in it. Or tape them to a sheet of white paper with clear tape.
First, look at pictures on university websites. If you think it’s a bed bug, package it carefully to prevent damage and send to an expert for positive identification. Bed bugs have close relatives: poultry bugs, barn swallow bugs, bat bugs, and tropical bed bugs— to name a few. They too can feed on humans and act like bed bugs do. For accurate identification, send a sample—preferably several adults—to a Cooperative Extension diagnostic lab.
If the critter is, for example, a bat bug, call a professional wildlife control operator to find and remove bats, then prevent their re-entry.
7. How did I get bed bugs in the first place?
Bed bugs come in as stowaways in luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes, and more when these are moved between dwellings. Moving out won’t solve the problem, since bed bugs will just come with you. In fact, while dealing with bed bugs it’s best not to sleep away from home. Used furniture, particularly bed frames and mattresses, are most likely to harbor bed bugs. Watch out for items found on the curb! Because they survive for many months without food, bed bugs could already be present in clean, vacant apartments.
In a few cases, bats or birds could introduce and maintain bed bugs and their close relatives—usually bat bugs and bird bugs.
The source of the infestation determines where your inspection should start. Look through these scenarios and see which fits:
- Only one bedroom: inspect that room first.
- People watch TV or snooze on a couch: check it after inspecting the bedroom.
- A traveler returned home: insects can hide in luggage and then crawl out when it’s dark and peaceful—begin where luggage was placed upon returning home.
- A used bed or piece of furniture (bought or from the curb) was brought into the house: inspect it first.
- The problem began after a visitor stayed overnight: inspect the beds that they slept in and where their luggage was placed. Next, inspect the nearest place where people sleep.
- An infestation persists after several treatments by a professional: bed bugs may come through the wall from a neighboring apartment. Inspect rooms that share a wall with a neighbor. (This scenario happens in large apartment complexes and hotels where management didn’t get adjacent rooms treated.)
- If the building has a laundry room, inspect it too.
- Home health aides come in frequently: bed bugs may have hitched a ride on their bags.
- Backpacks go to and from school: could have bed bugs. Inspect the bed or couch nearest the spot where backpacks are kept.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
8. Can I prevent bed bugs with insecticides?
Insecticidal dusts will remain effective if not covered by other dust. As part of the IPM approach, routine spraying of insecticides is strongly discouraged. Bed bugs do not spread disease, but insecticides do pose risks. Only use them when the pest insect is confirmed and the least-toxic steps have been tried. As a preventative measure alternative to insecticides, inspect and clean regularly, keeping bed bug-hiding spots in mind.
9. How can I avoid bed bugs when traveling?
Every traveler should learn about bed bugs. Always inspect before settling into any room. Pack a flashlight (even the keychain LED variety) and gloves to aid in your inspection. The inspection should focus around the bed. Start with the headboard, which is usually held on the wall with brackets—lift up 1 – 2 inches, then lean the top away from the wall to gain access to the back. If you’re traveling alone, someone on staff should help. After checking the headboard, check sheets and pillows for blood spots. Next, pull back the sheets. Check the piping of the mattress and box spring. Finally, look in and under the drawer of the bedside table. If all these places are clear, enjoy the night. The next morning, look for blood spots on the sheets—bed bugs poop soon after they feed.
If you find evidence, but no live bed bugs, the evidence may be old and doesn’t mean that the hotel is dirty. Tell the front desk discreetly what you found and ask for another room—one that doesn’t share a wall with the room you just vacated. Bed bugs are a PR nightmare for the hospitality industry. If you run to a competitor (who’s just as likely to have bed bugs) it makes it less likely that the industry will become more open about this issue. Communication is key. Ideally hotels and motels would pride themselves on their bed bug programs and show customers how to inspect to keep all parties bed bug free.
If you can avoid it, don’t unpack into drawers and keep luggage closed on a luggage rack pulled away from the wall. Never set luggage on the bed.
Download and print a copy of NYS IPM’s travelers’ cards.
10. What can I do if I just got back from a place where there might have been bed bugs?
Launder your clothes before or as soon as these items are brought back into the home. If you found bed bugs after moving into a hotel room, you could ask the hotel to pay for laundering—and for steam-cleaning your luggage. The hotel may refuse, but it’s worth asking. Regardless, once home you should unpack on a floor that will allow you to see bed bugs—stay off carpets! Unpack directly into plastic bags for taking clothes to the laundry. Suitcases should be carefully inspected and vacuumed—freeze if possible.
11. Will bed bugs actually travel on me?
It’s unlikely that a bed bug would travel on you or the clothes you are wearing. You move too much to be a good hiding place. Bed bugs are more likely to be spread via luggage, backpacks, briefcases, mattresses, and used furniture.
12. What should everyone know about bed bugs
YOU CAN STOP THEIR SPREAD
Adults are ¼”, reddish-brown and flat. You can see them without magnification.
They like to hide in cracks and crevices.
Inspect sleeping areas—if you find a bed bug, STOP looking and contact a professional.
Do-it-yourself pest control could make bed bugs to spread. Launder and freeze when possible.
Live bugs or eggs may drop off while moving things from one place to another—items with bed bugs should be sealed in a bag before moving them.
Avoid used furniture and items left on the curb—they might have bed bugs!
Tell your friends! Not warning others robs them of the chance to avoid bringing bed bugs into their homes and businesses.
How to Deal With Bed Bugs
13. I have bed bugs. What do I do?
Step back a minute. Because several different kinds of insects resemble bed bugs, specimens should be carefully compared with good reference images and sent to a professional entomologist.
Next: make a plan. We’ll tell you how. You want to get rid of bed bugs, limit your exposure to insecticides, and minimize costs. Don’t get rid of stuff and don’t treat unless you have a plan. A big part of your plan: hire an experienced professional. Trust us, it’ll save you time and money in the long run. You’ll still have a lot to do—just leave the insecticides to the pros. Working as a team with a professional is the quickest way to get bed bugs out of your life.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the way to go for pest control. It’s cost-effective, it works, and it lessens reliance on insecticides. Note: IPM doesn’t mean no insecticides. You should call a professional dedicated to IPM so the least amount of insecticides can be used and still work.
Here are the basics of bed bug IPM:
Inspection: ALWAYS inspect. Proper identification helps you know what to do and where to target your efforts. Along with looking, you should write down what you do and see. Use this reporting form to track what you’ve done. Having a history will help if more people become involved.
Educate yourself: find out about bed bug biology and behavior to become even more effective.
Cultural and Mechanical Control: This makes your home unwelcoming to bed bugs, blocks them from feeding, or at least makes finding them easier. Don’t skip these steps and go straight to insecticides. Examples:
- Choose furniture of plain design. A metal chair offers fewer places for a bed bug to hide than a wicker one.
- Don’t buy or pick up used furniture.
- Choose light-colored bedding—easier to see insects and blood spots.
- Don’t store things under beds. In fact, get rid of clutter anywhere near the bed.
- Use tightly fitting, zippered, bed-bug proof mattress and box spring encasements. Putting them in place ahead of time (proactively) makes bed bugs easier to see since encasements have no piping or tags and they’re light-colored. Putting them on during an infestation means no need to throw away the mattress and box spring. But … check periodically to be sure they haven’t torn.
- Vacuum regularly. Use an attachment to get in cracks and crevices.
- Maintain a gap between the walls and your bedroom and living room furniture.
- Seal cracks in wooden floors.
- Repair peeling wallpaper.
- Keep bedding and dust ruffles from touching the floor. Better yet, remove the ruffles.
- When returning from a trip, unpack on a light-colored, bare-wood or vinyl floor keeping an eye out for bed bugs. Put everything that traveled in a warm dryer for an hour or a hot dryer for 60 minutes. Put things that can’t be heated in a freezer for two weeks. Everything else … inspect carefully!
- When you travel, inspect rooms, keep luggage closed and use luggage racks away from the wall—don’t leave things on the bed! Take along a traveler’s card to guide your inspection.
- See non-insecticidal control for more ideas.
Biological Control:No known biological control agents target bed bugs well enough to keep them at bay.
Chemical Control:Insecticides supplement but don’t replace your work. Get a pest management professional (PMP) involved. Licensed PMPs know what products, in what formulations, should be used—and where. PMPs know how to be selective and effective—fewer insecticides used and best results. Any insecticide used should be labeled for the pest and location where it is being used. Many products are not labeled for mattresses.
Hire only professional pest control companies with licensed PMPs who are affiliated with a state or national association. This helps ensure that the company stays up-to-date on the current practices and only uses legal insecticides. PMPs are trained for sensitive situations: people who are ill, children, pregnant women, pets, and more. They know how to properly apply insecticides. They also know best how to find bed bugs. PMPs will not use illegal insecticides. If you use insecticides but they don’t work and then you still have to call in a professional, overall insecticide use will be higher. Plus, what you used could drive bed bugs into new areas—making removal a longer and pricier process.
Monitoring:This involves inspecting regularly to be sure:
- Control is working.
- Bed bugs haven’t been brought back in.
- Encasements haven’t torn.
- There isn’t any way you could improve your cultural or mechanical control.
- Use the reporting form every time you inspect.
14. What are the legal repercussions of bed bugs?
The question, “Who’s responsible for a bed bug infestation?” has no clear answer. It’s hard even to identify who’s technically at fault because bed bugs can enter a space in so many ways. Landlords and property owners do have legal obligations to provide safe and habitable accommodations for tenants. Bed bugs may be an unacceptable condition. Tenants have an obligation to cooperate with owners and landlords. This includes preparing the apartment so the pest management professional can easily inspect rooms and treat if necessary.
You are legally liable if you misapply an insecticide or apply it without a license to the property of others—including common spaces in apartment buildings. In most cases, landlords, owners and building managers cannot legally apply insecticides unless they are licensed to do so.
Laws are changing and every situation is different. Local health departments and law offices have the best answers to legal questions. The only thing that’s for sure is that bed bug problems won’t just work themselves out. Left untreated, they will spread. The best way to cover all bases is to inform all who are potentially involved early on—managers, neighbors, friends…
And take steps to solve the problem:
- Call the local health department to find out what regulations apply.
- Call a professional pest control company.
- Document everything.
Landlords and tenants should make sure bed bug work is specified in their lease. For example, an agreement that requires tenants to do thorough preparation for bed bug treatment and to leave the living space while a pest management professional (PMP) works can go a long way if bed bugs arrive. The PMP should visit all rooms or units that share a wall (including directly above and below). Everyone needs to cooperate. Having a plan ready can save time, frustration, and money.
If you are a landlord, inspection should be done often with the permission of the tenant. Some tenants will not view bed bugs as a problem. It can get ugly if their infestation spreads to other units and unhappy tenants report that they have bed bugs. Inspect often to find infestations before they spread.
Safety is always the #1 priority. Bed bugs aren’t known to spread disease. Don’t put yourself or PMPs in danger on account of bed bugs. Anyone who inspects apartments must be cautious of sharp objects or weapons under mattresses or in furniture. Always look with a flashlight before touching.
Document ALL prevention and control in a unit. This helps prove you took precautions and helps PMPs evaluate the situation.
15. What shouldn’t I do when trying to eliminate bed bugs?
Don’t panic. Although bed bugs can be annoying, you can get rid of them if you adopt a well-considered strategy.
Don’t put the legs of the bed frame in kerosene or coat them with petroleum jelly. Bed bugs have been known to climb on the ceiling and drop down onto the bed. Plus kerosene is a fire hazard.
Don’t depend on thyme oil. Thyme oil may discourage bed bugs, but it won’t kill them. Chances are it’ll spread, not fix, the problem.
Don’t leave the home unoccupied through a winter as a control measure. Bed bugs have adapted to the unpredictable habits of humans. If given time to go dormant—for example, in a vacation cabin that slowly gets cooler, then cold over fall and winter—bed bugs can survive, living without a meal for many months while waiting for humans to return. The quick penetration of killing cold (or heat) is the key to any temperature treatment.
Don’t turn up the heat. Exposing bed bugs to 120 ºF or more an hour will kill all life stages—and whole-structure or “container heat treatments” do work. But the caution is similar to using cold. High heat must be maintained at every point in the building: the outer walls, deep in the sofa, etc. for the full hour. Professionals enclose the structure, using tools to guarantee that it reaches the right temperature. If you go with a full-structure heat treatment, consider if the heat could damage furniture, appliances, and belongings.
Don’t sleep with a light on. Bed bugs feed when hosts are inactive. Usually that’s when it’s dark—but they’ll feed under lights if they’re hungry.
Don’t sleep in a different room. Bed bugs will move to a neighboring room if they can’t find food. And they can live months between meals. Sleeping in a different room, staying at a hotel, or moving in with friends won’t solve the problem. And the chances of carrying the bugs to a new place are good. Keep sleeping in your bed. If you have awful reactions to the bites, try to get someone to sleep in the bed.
Don’t throw a bed bug-infested mattress away and buy a new mattress. Buying a new mattress won’t solve the problem. Bed bugs hide in more than just mattresses. New mattresses might be transported in the same trucks that pick up used and possibly contaminated ones. If you need a new mattress, wait until the infestation is eliminated before buying a new one. (Remember: A bed bug-proof mattress and box-spring encasement kept in place for 1 ½ years will starve them to death. Inspect often for torn spots in the encasement (and evidence of bed bugs).
Don’t dispose of good furniture. Infested furniture can be cleaned and treated. Placing infested furniture (particularly mattresses) into common areas or on the street could spread bed bugs to other peoples’ homes. If you’re getting rid of infested furniture, deface it: make it less attractive to other people. Paint a picture of a bug on it and write “bed bugs” or “chinches.” Building managers should make sure disposed furniture is in a dumpster or taken to a landfill or waste facility right away.
Don’t wrap items in black plastic and leave them in the sun: it needs to get hotter than that to kill bed bugs, and heat needs to evenly penetrate the entire item.
Don’t move infested items out of the room without wrapping them in plastic. Bed bugs or eggs could be knocked off into an uninfested area.
Don’t apply insecticides unless you fully understand what you are applying and the risks involved. You are legally liable if you misapply an insecticide or apply it without a license to the property of others—including common spaces in apartment buildings. In most cases, landlords, owners and building managers cannot legally apply insecticides unless they are licensed to do so.
16. What do I do with my pets if I have bed bugs?
Pest management professionals (PMPs) have seen bed bugs feeding on pets, but no one knows if they prefer pets. The bugs might get caught in a pet’s hair, but they won’t live on pets the way fleas do. Still, a pet could carry a bed bug from one room to another.
Since bed bugs rarely feed for more than 10 minutes and their feet don’t grip onto hair, Twenty minutes of grooming outside lets you rest at ease. All bedding and cage items should be inspected and washed and dried (60 minutes on hot) or frozen (for 2 weeks). Inspect furniture, floors, and walls near the pets’ areas.
17. How long does it take to get rid of bed bugs?
It will take at least three weeks to be rid of bed bugs. Here’s why:
- Preparation usually takes about a week
- Two weeks in a freezer kills the crawling bed bugs
- Insecticides don’t kill the eggs, which take about two weeks to hatch—the pest management professional (PMP) should reinspect and apply more insecticides if needed two full weeks after the first treatment.
- The fastest IPM fix relies on the team effort of a PMP and the owner. The owner must do the necessary preparation and do the cultural and mechanical control work while the PMP handles the insecticides.
- Fumigation and full-structure heat treatments work after one treatment, but are very costly. Fumigation is not the same thing as fogging.
18. What should a pest control company do for me—and vice versa?
Pest Management Professionals (PMPs) should be knowledgeable about bed bugs, educating you so you understand why time-consuming and thorough preparation is so important. If the company doesn’t require you to do prep work, call the next company on your list.
PMPs may ask you to launder all clothing, bedding, and draperies; buy resealable bags for all possessions in drawers, closets, etc.; clean rooms thoroughly; and vacate rooms on all treatment days. One thing that differs by pest control company is whether callers should do anything to the bed ahead of time. There’s no right way. Still, the company should be able to explain the why behind their methods.
The time and money it takes to battle bed bugs will be easier to grasp if you understand:
Clutter makes it harder for PMPs to find and treat all likely hiding spots of loner females that could restart an infestation.
Bed bugs aren’t found just in beds. Any space a credit card edge could slide in is a possible hiding spot. PMPs need to treat baseboards, picture frames, bed frames, dressers, drawers, and tables. Because preparation will disturb the bugs, you should choose a pest control company and learn their operating procedure before doing much to the room.
Remember: Insecticides don’t penetrate the eggs, which take up to two weeks to hatch. The follow-up treatment is usually scheduled two or three weeks after the first treatment to get those newly hatched nymphs. You want to get them before they become adults and lay more eggs. Prepare the same as for the first treatment. You can save time and money by unpacking only a few essentials until the follow-up is done.
Bed bug jobs take time and expertise. The service is justifiably costly. Prices vary by region and the type of contract. Call around to get an idea of prices in your region. $500 or more for the first visit and treatment and $250 for the follow-up aren’t unreasonable. It might even be cheap for an area. If you shop around and find a company that offers service at a much lower price, chances are they’re less thorough.
Technicians who inspect and treat should be able to answer questions about bed bug biology and behavior as well as explain their plans. Even if someone has already come to inspect and quote the job (some companies will quote over the phone, others inspect first and quote at that visit), technicians should always inspect before treating. At the very least, they should use a flashlight when inspecting. Proper inspection takes time and shouldn’t be rushed.
And what’s their plan for treatment? If it’s to treat least-infested areas first, working toward most-infested areas, the plan is good. PMPs should use a range of formulations and methods, both liquids and dusts. The PMP should target cracks, crevices, and behind electrical sockets. Not every company uses a vacuum or steamer—that might be your job. Vacuuming just before the PMP arrives will get dirt out of cracks so the insecticide can get in. The PMP must take care not to spread the problem. Anything that needs to be removed from the treatment area should be covered with plastic. Once an area has been treated, only treated items should be moved back in.
If people or pets are present, they should be in a different room. Don’t enter a room that has been treated with an insecticide for at least 4 hours—or whatever the insecticide label states, whichever is longer. Children’s and sick people’s mattresses shouldn’t be treated.
Count on at least one follow up treatment. Bed bugs should be gone after 2 – 3 visits. Unless the structure is fumigated (this is different from bombing!), one visit won’t get rid of bed bugs. Follow up treatments should still include a full inspection, followed by insecticide if bed bugs are found.
Because complete elimination is hard to achieve for any pest, most bed bug contracts don’t guarantee it. Bed bugs can be reintroduced. Companies with a good business sense can’t guarantee bed bug work for a long period of time. This doesn’t mean the company won’t go to great lengths to help you. And yes, it is possible to eliminate bed bugs from a home.
19. How do I kill bed bugs without insecticides?
Cleaning: Thoroughly clean infested rooms as well as others in the residence. Scrub infested surfaces with a stiff brush to dislodge eggs and use a powerful vacuum to remove bed bugs from cracks and crevices. This won’t ensure that you’ve got all the eggs since they can be cemented deep in cracks. But it will help. Dismantle bed frames to expose additional hiding sites. Remove drawers from desks and dressers and turn furniture over, if possible, to inspect and clean all hiding spots.
Vacuuming: A vacuum is not a stand-alone solution. But it will suck up some bed bugs and, used frequently, help keep their numbers down. The narrowest attachment should be used along seams, cracks, and crevices. There’s no guarantee it’ll suck all bed bugs out of hiding. Immediately after, the bag or canister should be removed. Bed bugs in that bag will still be alive! Put the bag or canister contents into a plastic bag, freeze for two weeks, then dispose of properly. Wash the canister—be sure it’s unplugged! Inspect the vacuum to be sure no bugs remain inside.
Steam: Research is underway on how well steamers work. A good steamer will kill eggs, nymphs, and adults on contact. But we’re not sure how deeply killing heat penetrates wood and fabrics. And it offers no defense against reintroducing bed bugs. When using a steamer, move extremely slowly (1 foot in 15 seconds) and methodically. Don’t use a small nozzle that blows bed bugs away from the treatment area—they will survive. The heat needed to kill bed bugs will burn skin. Manufacturer’s instructions take priority over anything that anyone tells you. Afterward, let things dry completely. This prevents moisture or mold damage. Steam can carry electricity. Stay away from switch plates, electrical outlets, and plugged in appliances.
Heat: Extreme heat will kill bed bugs. 60 minutes on the hottest setting in a dryer kills eggs and insects. If taking belongings to a laundromat sort at home and put loads in a bag—dispose of the bag once empty. Don’t use the same bag to bring clothes back. Dry cleaning kills bed bugs, but tell them that the item might be contaminated. If the clothes won’t be damaged by heat and stains won’t set, put them in a dryer before going to the dry cleaner. Blankets, pillows, some shoes, children’s plush toys, curtains, rugs, seat cushions, and fabric bags—if the item can survive heat and tumbling and it won’t damage the dryer, it can go in a dryer. Check the lint filter for bed bugs afterwards. It’s another way to confirm their presence.
Freezing: More research is needed on how well freezing works. Quickly expose items to 32 ºF or below and leave them there for at least two weeks. All crawling life stages will die. To kill the eggs, 30 days is needed.
Mattress Encasements: Mattresses and box springs can be permanently encased within bed bug proof zippered mattress encasements. They must stay on for a full year and a half. Inspect them often to be sure they don’t have rips. If you find holes or tears, seal these completely with permanent tape or buy a new bag. Any bugs trapped within these sealed bags will eventually die.
20. How do I kill bed bugs with insecticides?
Unless you have a pesticide applicator’s license, you shouldn’t apply insecticides to treat bed bugs. Why? If you try to get rid of the bed bugs on your own and it doesn’t work, then you call a pest control company and … Even more insecticides get used.
The bed bugs will be in new hiding spots, making it harder for pest management professionals (PMPs) to target them.
If, despite our warning, you try over-the-counter products, READ THE LABEL of any product you use. If it isn’t labeled for indoor use, don’t use it. If it isn’t labeled for use on a mattress, don’t use it on a mattress. Keep records of everything you do—the date, location, and insecticide or tool used.
You have the right to know what’s being applied in your home and at what concentration. The EPA registration number (EPA Reg. No.) is on the label. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are available online for the active ingredient for all products. (Your pest control company might have them too). If you’re worried about children, the elderly, pregnancy, ill people, or pets, a doctor or veterinarian can use the EPA Reg. No. and MSDS to tell them what precautions to take. If the label doesn’t have an EPA Reg. No., don’t buy it! For more info on pesticides, call the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at 800-858-7378, or go online at npic.orst.edu. Ask your pest control company about their standard operating procedures for sensitive cases. Generally, it is best to leave your things in your home or apartment when it’s treated. All food, plates, silverware, etc. should be protected from insecticides.
Insecticides used to treat bed bug infestations consist mainly of:
- Insecticidal dusts, such as finely ground silica powder, which abrade an insect’s waxy coat and cause it to dry out and die quickly. Some dusts are mixed with other dry insecticides. These dusts are applied in or behind permanent fixtures—walls, light switches, and the like. Piles of dust won’t work. If you can see the dust, it’s not being used right. Read the label!
- Contact insecticides kill the bugs shortly after they come into direct contact with the product or its residue. These products tend to knock down bugs that wander over or otherwise contact the insecticide. BUT some repel bed bugs. Use the wrong product, and bed bugs could survive the pesticide and spread to other rooms.
- Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) affect the development and reproduction of insects. Although they can work well, they don’t kill bugs quickly. PMPs often use these products to supplement other insecticides.
21. How do I kill bed bug eggs?
Eggs keep unborn bed bugs safe from insecticides. Sixty minutes in a hot dryer heat will kill bed bug eggs, and freezing (below 32°F) for 30 days will too. Fumigation (not the same as foggers or “bombs”) also kills eggs. Steam is another option as long as the nozzle is moved slowly and the steamed item is given time to dry. Bed bug eggs hatch in about two weeks. A follow up inspection after two weeks is necessary to confirm that they’re gone.