Some factors make it difficult to get a bed bug infestation under control. First is the difficulty detecting them, as they are small and well adapted to hiding in small places. In addition, growing resistance means there is a lack of effective insecticides.
The first step in removing an infestation is detection.
Bed bug bites can be uncomfortable, but the bugs do not spread diseases.
If a person is bitten by a bed bug, they may notice spots of blood on the sheet. Symptoms of a bite includeTrusted Source lesions, wheals on their skin that can reach 5 centimeters (cm) in diameter, and intense itching.
Bites usually happen overnight, because the mattress is infested. Bed bugs tend to hideTrusted Source along the mattress piping and to live within 8 feetTrusted Source of where people sleep.
Bed bugs start as eggs and pass through juvenile to adult stages. They grow from 1 millimeter (mm) to 5 mmTrusted Source in length.
Evidence of various life stages can be found in the piping, along with dark spottingTrusted Source from feces.
Stripping the bed
The first step is to remove the bedding and isolate the bed.
To do this:
- Strip the bed linen directly into a double plastic bag, to reduce the chance of spreading the bugs.
- Wash bedding in hot water for at least 30 minutes and then dry at a high temperature for 30 minutes. Seal and discard the inner plastic bag when you put the linen in the washer.
- Vacuum to remove any remainingTrusted Source bed bugs and eggs as far as possible. This may not remove deeply harbored bed bugs.
- Dispose of the contents of the vacuum cleaner outside, into a sealable plastic bag.
- Ensure the bed frame is free of bugs by spraying it with a pesticide.
The second key element to isolating the bed from bugs is encasement. You encase the box spring and mattress in a fabric that traps the bugs inside and prevents introduction from outside.
Special zippered sheets are used to achieve this. The cost of these commercially available products is lower than the cost of a replacement mattress. Encasement should be left on for at least one year.
Encasement removes hiding areas and makes it easier to spot bed bugs. This helps prevent infestations of new mattresses.
Moat-style traps may be used to isolate the bed and intercept bed bugs between their hiding places and their journey to bite the host.
Sticky pads under the legs of the bed can catch bugs, but they can be messy.
Such “interceptor” devices are available for purchase online, but they can also be made at home.
Scientists from the University of Florida have produced the following video, available on YouTube, explaining how to create home-made moat traps.
Pulling the bed away from the walls and ensuring that bed linen does not touch the floor helps to make the bed an island.
Laundering in hot water is an effective way of killing bed bugs on fabrics.
Bed bugs die when their body temperature is over 45° CelsiusTrusted Source, or 113° Fahrenheit. Exposing the bugs for an hour to temperatures higher than these can kill all stages. At temperatures over 60°C (140°F), all bed bugs are killed rapidly.
Heating a room is unlikely to work, because of the high temperatures needed. It may also spread an infestation, because bed bugs will seek the cooler areas in the room, beyond the reach of the heat.
Bed bugs can be killed by cold temperatures, but it requires temperatures below -18°C (0°F) for at least 4 days in order for the cold to penetrate an object and kill all the bugs and eggs.
Smaller items that may contain bed bugs can be put in a suitably cold freezer and the 4-day period should be counted from when the center of the object reaches -18°C (0°F). This takes longer for bulkier objects.
However, the EPA note that home freezers may not be cold enough to kill bugs, and it can take a long time for this to work.
Gas systems designed for instant freezing are ineffective and may spread an infestation, as the high air pressure can blow the bugs away.
Turning off the heating and leaving windows and doors open is not an effective strategy. The temperature is unlikely to be cool enough.
Leaving a room empty for more than a year can be effectiveTrusted Source for killing bed bugs as this deprives them of sustenance. They may, however, migrate to a nearby property and return later.
Chemicals for home use
Some chemicals are available for purchase online or from hardware stores. These can be hazardous when used indoors.
It is important always to use an approved product and to follow the instructions with care.
pyrethrins and pyrethroids, derived from chrysanthemum flowers
desiccants, such as boric acid and diatomaceous earth, which dry out the protective coating on bugs
biochemicals, specifically cold pressed neem oil
pyrroles, of which cholfenapyr is the only registered product in the U.S.
neocotinoids, a synthetic form of nicotine that affects the bugs’ nervous system
insect-growth regulators, which affect the growth process of bugs
You will find more detail on these below.
When buying a product, you should:
check that it is EPA-registered
make sure bed bugs are mentioned on the label
It is important to follow the instructions carefully when applying the products, so that they make direct contact with the bed bugs.
“Bug bombs,” or total release foggers, are not considered effective. They are unlikely to reach the cracks where bugs hide, and they can be harmful to health. There is also a risk of explosion.
Some products, including those that contain pyrethroids, have a flushing effect. This could spread the infestation.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a search tool that can help you find a suitable registered product.