How to Deal With Bed Bugs in Seven Easy Steps
It’s no secret by now that there’s a huge, massive bed bug epidemic raging in the United States & Canada. It’s so massive that not a day goes by when a victim isn’t tossing out beloved possessions in despair, frantically begging for help on an internet forum, recounting a horror story online, or writing a scathing review against a hotel chain.
How can this little bug, cimex lectularius, wreak so much havoc? It looks harmless enough. To some, it might even look cute.
Well, there are several reasons. One, even though it’s tiny, an infestation of this particular insect can be particularly nasty. This is because unlike mosquitoes and fleas, bed bugs are voracious. Whereas with a mosquito, victims may wake up one morning with one or two bites, a bed bug victim may wake up several days straight with dozens of fresh new itchy welts all over their arms, legs, and back.
Another reason why bed bugs are so irksome is that they’re very hard to kill off once a major infestation takes hold. Because of their flat bodies, they can easily creep into crevices and escape detection. In addition, bed bugs can live up to a year without feeding.
Lastly, bed bugs have become immune to common household pesticides, so not even a can of insect spray will faze them. Since bed bugs are so hard to get rid of, victims of a major infestation often have to go through the emotional and financial wringer before eradicating these pests for good.
If you have begun seeing the early signs of a bed bug infestation in your home, you no doubt will be in a panic at this point, imagining yourself meeting the same fate of so many other victims. But contrary to conventional wisdom, it is very possible to eradicate a bed bug problem, provided you catch it early and you’re not in a situation in which an infestation is likely to happen again.
So before you call the exterminator or movers, try out this seven step guide to clear your home of bed bugs. By following it to a T and being extremely vigilant about preventing new infestations from occurring, you can avoid the frustration and financial burdens that so many other victims have faced.
Step #1: Spring clean
If you suspect a bed bug problem, how can you know for sure? Inspect your surroundings, especially your bed frame, mattress, sheets, and pillow cases. If you see little brown flat bugs, eggs, and signs of fecal matter anywhere (which looks like black dots or streaks), then you know you’ve got a bed bug problem.
So what’s next? It’s time to do some major house cleaning. Get out your supplies and scrub, vacuum, and sweep the area as much as possible, especially paying attention to your bed frame and the space underneath it.
Be very careful, however, to not do anything that might spread the infestation throughout the rest of your house. For example, when you clean out your vacuum canister, immediately place the contents into a plastic bag, then tie it up before tossing it the trash. Do the same for any dirt you’ve swept onto your dust pan. By keeping the dirt in this bag as you travel from the infested room to the kitchen or back door where you keep your trash can, you’re ensuring that no eggs or bugs you’ve swept up are accidentally being introduced to other areas of the house.
In the act of cleaning, you may be tempted to get a can of Raid and start blasting areas with insecticide. Don’t waste your time, as bed bugs are resistant to them. You can instead do what some bed bug fighters have done, and that is fill a spray bottle with pure rubbing alcohol. This will kill any of the insects and their spawn instantly. Don’t stop there, either. Start spraying crevices, corners, and cracks in the walls closest to your bed, even if you don’t see signs of any insects in them.
Keep in mind that simple housecleaning won’t be curing your bed bug problem overnight. What it’ll be doing is radically reducing the population as much as possible, so you won’t have the type of full blown infestation that has you spending hundreds of dollars in extermination fees or finding a new place to stay.
Also, clearing out bed bugs will help reduce the number of bites you get every night. This is especially important to do if you or someone else suffers from a severe allergic reaction, since such bites can result in an unbearable rash, a terrible skin infection, or even a trip to the emergency room. Even if no one in your household is allergic to bed bugs, house cleaning will still go a long way in making everyone’s lives a lot less miserable as you fight off the infestation.
Step #2: Place mattress and pillows inside of vinyl covers
The next step in your fight against bed bugs is to purchase specially made vinyl pillow cases and mattress covers, preferably ones that come with a zipper. These are readily available in any department store, and they’re surprisingly inexpensive. The idea of using one of these covers sounds very uncomfortable, but they’re usually made of a soft, breathable vinyl that mimics fabric, so you don’t feel as though you’re sleeping on cold, hard plastic.
Why get vinyl covers? Because they’ll trap any existing bed bugs or eggs that are hiding inside of your mattress and pillows, thus preventing the infestation from spreading. Don’t just zip them up, though. For extra protection, seal the zippers with tape to prevent them from opening. Don’t forget to get a cover for your box spring as well, as these are also a common hiding place for bed bugs.
Step #3: Wash and dry everything using heat, then store
Now we’re onto the next important step of eradicating bed bugs. Take every stitch of fabric in the area of the infestation — be it bed sheets, blankets, pillow cases, or curtains — and immediately wash and dry them on the hottest settings to kill any eggs. Don’t forget to include the nightwear you and your loved ones have been wearing for the past several days, as they too may be harboring eggs.
When everything is dry, do not reuse them just yet. Store all items in plastic storage bags or containers for the time being, making sure they’re tightly sealed. The point of doing this is to not infest your bedroom again in case laundering didn’t kill all the eggs.
If you find after doing all this that things are getting significantly better after a few days, don’t be complacent. As long as you’re getting bites, you have a bed bug problem. So repeat the process all over again as many times as necessary. Wash everything in hot water, dry, seal it all up in bags or containers, and change your bedding and nightwear. Some people might think it’s a bit excessive to wash bedding and clothing more than once or twice a week, but remember that bed bugs are tenacious. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Don’t just do this for your bedding and nightwear, either. If you recently caught bed bugs and you know that they’re not coming from the neighbors or visitors, chances are that you may have brought them in from outside your home. Because of this, it’s very important that you also wash any casual or work clothes you wore during the day at least a week before the infestation. If you don’t do this and it winds up that they’re harboring bed bugs and their eggs, you’ll get an infestation all over again.
Step #4: Swap out wooden furniture for metal or plastic
Even though they’re called bed bugs, these insects don’t just live in your mattress. They also live in the crevices and spaces of wooden furniture. So if you have a bed frame or any other type of bedroom furniture made of wood that has signs of an infestation (again, look for black dots and streaks if you don’t actually see any bugs), chuck it immediately and replace it with either metal or plastic. Don’t try to rescue it. It’s not worth it.
What if you can’t see any bed bugs to speak of at all on your furniture no matter how hard you look? Well, remember: bed bugs, because of their flat bodies, can become virtually invisible by hiding in the tiniest cracks. So chances are that if you keep getting bites every night yet don’t see any bugs, that they’re hiding in the nooks and crannies of your bed frame or other piece of furniture. The only way to know this for sure is to disassemble it, if possible. If as soon as you start taking it apart you start seeing bugs scurrying everywhere, you’ve hit pay dirt.
Before dumping any piece of furniture out on the curb, make sure that it’s completely dismantled and wrapped in plastic even before you bring it outside. Not only will this prevent the infestation from spreading as you haul it through the house, it’ll discourage scavengers from picking it up once you’ve dumped it outside. The last thing you want is a next door neighbor or, worse yet, someone in your apartment complex bringing it back inside to infest you and everyone else.
Step #5: Keep everything off the floor and away from walls
When you’ve completed the previous steps, it’s time to take some extra measures to make life harder for your pesky visitors to use you and your loved ones as their personal all-you-can-eat buffet.
Pull your bed away from any walls, and make sure that no bedding touches the floor. Do not by any means add a bed skirt, either, which bed bugs can use to climb onto your bed. This is just asking for trouble.
If there are storage boxes, trunks, or other large items under your bed, make sure that they’re not touching any part of your bed frame or mattress. Otherwise, bed bugs will use them as a way to get to you come feeding time.
Step #6: Set traps
Besides positioning your bed to prevent bug bites, you can also set traps. One way you can do this is place sticky traps around the perimeter of your bed, or stick double-sided tape up and down the legs. Another way you can trap bed bugs is to place the feet of your bed in small containers of water.
One of the more clever traps that some people have come up with uses CO2, or carbon dioxide, as bait. Why CO2? Because this gas, which people exhale, is what bed bugs use to locate victims at night. The trap works by placing something that gives off CO2 (such as dry ice) in the middle of a container of water. When the bed bugs scramble towards the CO2 and crawl into the container, they drown.
As intimidating and expensive as it sounds, a CO2 trap is very easy to set up, and in most cases, all you really need are common household items to make one. There are many different ways of setting up this trap, instructions which can easily be found online at various sites, such as Lifehacker and YouTube. Some setups work better than others, so feel free to try out different ones and experiment.
Step #7: Use Diatomaceous Earth
One of the reasons why bed bugs are so hard to kill off, as mentioned earlier, is their resistance to pesticides. Because of this, fighting them off seems to be a hopeless cause. However, some people have found that these pesky insects have at least one Achilles heel — diatomaceous earth.
What is diatomaceous earth, you ask? This is a very fine powder ground from a rock sediment that’s made out of the fossils of tiny aquatic creatures called diatoms. It’s becoming a pesticide of choice for many people because of its non-toxic nature and effectiveness in killing insects, especially bed bugs. Though it sounds exotic and hard to find, diatomaceous earth is readily available for cheap in many places that sell insecticides, and can even be bought online.
To use diatomaceous earth, first, it’s best to apply it in affected areas with a duster, and in a very thin layer. The reason why is that if you spray too thick a layer, the bed bugs will simply walk around it instead of through it, defeating the purpose of using DE in the first place.
Secondly, it’s important when applying DE that you wear a mask. Although it’s not toxic, when inhaled, it can cause irritation and discomfort. Lastly, in dusting, don’t forget to spray it into large cracks and crevices in your walls and floors, as these are the perfect places for bed bugs to hide undetected and lay their spawn.
Don’t let the bed bugs get you down
It is true that once a major bed bug infestation takes place in a home, victims are all but helpless to do anything about it. But just because you start seeing bed bugs yourself, it doesn’t mean all is lost and that you should throw your hands up in defeat.
As long as an infestation is in its earliest stages, you have a fighting chance against it. It may be discouraging to deal with in the beginning, since it’ll takes some time before you see any results. However, don’t give up. Provided that you’re extremely diligent and have patience, you should be able to rid your house of bed bugs in due time.
Just make sure, though, that you do everything you can to not introduce another infestation during this period. Otherwise, you’ll have to start the long, arduous process of getting rid of these pests all over again.