Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are found around the globe wherever humans live. The best way to completely rid your home of bed bugs is to hire a reputable pest control company, but professional treatments can be quite expensive. Many homeowners wish to take care of the pests themselves. There are a few steps you can take to kill bed bugs, but many home remedies simply reduce bed bug numbers and stop the spread of infestation rather than wipe out the entire pest population. Combining various methods will typically give you the best results.
Signs of Bed Bugs
Although elusive, you might spot live bed bugs moving around. Their oval, rust-red bodies reach about 1/5 inch in length. Many people have topical reactions -- including redness and swelling -- to their bites, which look similar to mosquito and flea bites.
Also look for little, dark flecks of bed bug feces, red smears where bugs have been squished and light yellow pieces of shed shells. Severe infestations can cause a nasty, rotting smell in a room.
The University of California Statewide IPM Program reports that about 85 percent of bed bugs are found on or near beds, so your inspection should start there. The other 15 percent of infestations typically occur in upholstered furniture, beneath loose pieces of wallpaper and behind baseboards, pictures and wall hangings.
Professional exterminators know where to find the pests and have an assortment of special tools and insecticides that consumers can't purchase. These companies also follow up to make sure they've eliminated the infestation.
The pros often use supplemental heaters that put out a dry heat reaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit -- the temperature necessary to kill bed bugs and their eggs. The dry heat should eliminate the pests in just one day without damaging your belongings.
The most effective bed bug insecticides are only available to commercial exterminators. Many pest control companies offer fumigation services. You, your family members and pets will need to leave the premises for a few days if you choose this method.
Heat treatments can work on small bed bug-infested items. Wash all bedding, pillows, clothing and other machine washable fabrics in hot water. The temperature of the water must reach at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit to work. Allow the items to wash for 30 minutes. Then dry them for 30 minutes on the hottest setting. Place laundered items in a sealed plastic container or bag, and leave them there until the bed bug infestation is under control.
Put things that cannot be cleaned in your washing machine in the dryer, set on the highest temperature setting, and let it run for 20 minutes.
Put things that cannot be washed or tumble dried in black plastic garbage bags and place them in direct sunlight for at least one day.
Steam can effectively kill all stages of bed bugs if you use it properly. Rent a commercial steamer rather than use a carpet-cleaning machine, because the latter doesn't reach high enough temperatures to kill the bugs. The surface temperature of an item must fall between 160 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit right after treatment for the bugs to die. Anything lower, and the bed bugs may live. Anything higher, and you risk damaging your possessions. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and safety precautions on the steamer.
Placing infested items in a deep freezer might kill the bed bugs, but the temperature needs to remain below 32 degrees Fahrenheit and you must leave the items in the freezer for at least two weeks for the cold treatment to work.
You can freeze many different household items, including:
- Electronics without LCD panels
- Clothing and other fabric items
- Shoes and accessories
- Newer books
- Non-electronic toys
Very cold temperatures can damage some items, however, so don't freeze:
- Antique books and old papers
- Old glass
- Moisture-sensitive items
- Cracked wooden objects
- Items containing liquids or with high moisture content
- Electronics with LCD panels.
Placing things outside in freezing weather sometimes kills bed bugs, but temperature variations, sunshine and humidity levels affect the level of success.
Treating infested areas with an alcohol-based spray can kill pests with which it makes direct contact. Simply pour undiluted isopropyl alcohol in a handheld spray bottle and apply it where you've spotted the pests.
According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, no pesticides available to homeowners are known to really eradicate bed bugs. However, commercial pesticides might help kill the little buggers if you manage to get the spray or dust into their hiding spots. Use EPA-registered insecticides only, and make sure bed bugs are listed on the manufacturer's label. As always, follow the instructions and safety precautions listed on the label.
Vacuum all flooring and furniture, using the appropriate attachments. Place the contents or vacuum bag in a sealed baggie and throw it away outside. The pests can survive being sucked up, so you've got to get the contents out of your house immediately. Although vacuuming won't kill all of the bugs or get the eggs, it gets rid of some of them before you use other treatment methods. Thoroughly clean your vacuum after use.
Because it can be expensive and time-consuming to kill bed bugs, take preventative steps to head off infestations. In most cases, individuals inadvertently bring bed bugs into their homes in infested luggage, furniture or fabric items. Inspect hotel room beds, headboards and sheets before sleeping on them. Inspect your suitcases and travel bags before taking them inside after traveling. If you use them frequently, store luggage in the garage. Examine used household items carefully for signs of bed bugs, particularly secondhand beds and sofas, and take steps to protect your mattress.
A Few Final Words
Many home remedies abound, including those involving vinegar, disinfectants and various medicines and herbs, but those claims have no research to back them up. Unlike other parasitic insects, bed bugs don't actually live on the human body. There's no need to treat yourself with anything, and using insecticides or disinfectants on your skin will undoubtedly do you far more harm than good.