Let’s face it: There’s really nothing pretty about bed bugs. They are unwelcome (and yucky) intruders in mattresses, bedding and furniture all across the country. Getting rid of bed bugs can be tricky and the treatment for these critters is usually best left to a professional pest control technician. If you think you have these bugs in your home, here are some things to look for and actions you can take to help get rid of them.
Do I Have Bed Bugs In My Home? Bug Detection
It is common for a person to have the physical symptoms of bed bugs without ever actually seeing a bug. Unfortunately, just having bites on the skin is not a good indicator of an infestation. In many cases, bed bug bites look very similar to other insect bites or skin conditions (like eczema or hives). Making matters more complex, some people that are being bit will not have any visible reaction to the bites at all. An undiagnosed case of bed bugs can give the insects time to feed, breed, and spread from one area of your home to furniture and other areas throughout your house.
Here are some signs to look for if you think you have a bed bug infestation:
- Live bugs around your mattress, bedding or couch cushions
- Eggs and casings (eggshells)
- Excrement – dark spots on your sheets that will typically bleed into fabric
- Skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger
- Signs of dead bugs – either dead bugs or reddish stains on bed sheets from crushed bugs
Where should you look for bed bugs in your home?
- On your mattress or box springs around seams and tags
- On your mattress in cracks on the bed frame and headboard
- In the seams of chair and couch cushions
- Between curtain folds
Treatment for Bed Bug Infestations
There is no quick fix for treating infestations. Keep in mind that controlling an infestation can take time. The two ways to treat a bed bug infestation are with or without chemicals.
While both non-chemical and chemical solutions have been shown to be effective when properly used, I recommend an integrated approach of using both chemical and non-chemical (heat) techniques. Experience has proven that the integrated approach offers efficiency and effectiveness when you need it most.
Recommended Steps for Treating an Identified Bug Infestation
- Clean all items in or near a bug infested living space
- Remove any excess items where bugs might hide (like storage boxes and clutter)
- Eliminate bed bug habitats
- Physically remove bed bugs through cleaning and vacuuming affected areas
- Try non-chemical methods
- Follow up non-chemical methods — take care to only use pesticides according to the manufacturer suggestions or hire a pest control company
- Be consistent with post-treatment inspections and re-treatments
Non-Chemical Bed Bug Treatments
- Wash and dry bedding and clothing at high temperatures. However, just washing bedding or clothing is generally not enough to kill the bugs. Drying at high temperatures is the key.
- Heat infested areas to at least 118 ºF for 1 hour. The higher the temperature, the less time is required to kill the bugs.
- Cold treatments below 0ºF for at least 5 days (or 120 hours) can eliminate some infestations with the colder the temperature the less time required to kill the bed bug infestation. However, your home freezer is generally not cold enough to effectively kill them.
There are dozens of chemical products on the market that are registered with the EPA to kill or repel the bugs. Unfortunately, many of the over-the-counter products simply do not work. Therefore, many homeowners will unknowingly waste time and money trying to treat their homes without professional assistance. We have found that most DIY homeowners will either over-apply or misapply the chemicals they purchase. This can cause bugs to spread throughout the home or cause increased skin irritations from pesticides.
It would be difficult to provide you with a complete list of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the DIY chemicals, so I always recommend contacting the manufacturer of each product directly (because most local pest control professionals will not be able to consult you on which DIY chemical they’d recommend for your situation.)
How to Keep Them Out of Your Home
The creatures are very adept at hitchhiking from one infested site to another. A key reason for their success at spreading from location to location is due to their ability to survive extended periods time without feeding. The bugs feed on blood from humans or animals usually every five to ten days. Some bugs can survive up to 12 months without feeding.
There are a few precautions that you can help keep your home safe from an infestation:
- Use protective covers to encase mattresses, box springs and furniture to eliminate hiding spots
- Remove clutter from your home that might be prone for hiding places
- Avoid bringing used furniture into your home without a comprehensive inspection
To prevent bed bugs from coming home with you when you’re on a trip or staying at a hotel or motel:
- Perform a thorough search of your hotel room for signs of bugs
- Use luggage racks for suitcases and reduce the contact between your clothing and the bed or carpet
- Perform a thorough inspection of your luggage and clothing when you return home and limit the contact between travel clothing and mattresses, box springs and furniture
Bed bugs aren’t fun, but if you are knowledgeable about what to look for and consult with a pest solutions technician to find the best solution, you can beat bed bugs.