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How to Avoid Bed Bugs: Prevention Strategies and Tips

We chatted with two pest control experts and a pediatrician to share tips on avoiding bed bugs and some treatment strategies to remember.

How to Avoid Bed Bugs: Prevention Strategies and Tips

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Bed bugs might be tiny, but they can cause major headaches. Once they've taken up residence, getting rid of them can be quite the challenge, and it's not just the itchy bites that can be a pain – the cost of professional treatment can add up and cause a lot of stress. Ugh.

But don't fret; there are ways to prevent a bed bug infestation from becoming a problem. To help you, we chatted with two pest control experts and a pediatrician to share tips on avoiding bed bugs and some treatment strategies to remember.

What are bed bugs?

According to Nicole Carpenter, president of Black Pest Prevention, bed bugs are flat, brown bugs that resemble apple seeds. While bed bugs do not transmit diseases like mosquitoes, they do feed on human blood, which can lead to itchy bites. Bed bugs can survive up to three months without eating and even longer in cold conditions. This is due to the high nutritional value of blood, which keeps them nourished for an extended period.

Dr. Katherine Williamson, a pediatrician with the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) Primary Care Network, says bed bugs can survive up to six months without feeding on a human host. This means that personal belongings, clothing, and even shared items like linens and stuffed animals can be conduits for bed bugs to move from one household to another. Dr. Williamson continues, "Bed bugs can also hitchhike on furniture and luggage, making them particularly prevalent in places with frequent guest turnover, such as hotels and dormitories."

Prevention begins outside the home

Surprisingly, the most common way people get bed bugs in their homes is through traveling, as explained by Carpenter. Therefore, it's essential to be extra cautious and inspect the room carefully when staying or living in a hotel.

"Always check the mattress corners in hotels. Don't set your suitcase on the bed or floor — use a luggage rack, table, or bathtub instead. Keep your clothes in your luggage or hung up, not in hotel drawers," explains Carpenter. "You'll also want to consider changing your clothes and shoes if you were in a home or hotel with bed bugs, as they can easily hide and be hard to detect on your belongings."

Carpenter says bed bugs can sneak into homes by hitching a ride on secondhand furniture and other used items. To prevent them from entering your house this way, she recommends carefully inspecting anything you plan to bring in from a secondhand source. "You can also make sure that bed bugs will not get into your house with secondhand items by steaming on high heat with a clothes steamer," she adds.

magnifying glass being held up to a mattress with fake bed bugs iStock

How to create a bed bug-resistant environment

Bedroom maintenance

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Keeping your home, especially your bedroom, free from clutter and mess is generally a good way to avoid insect problems. Carpenter suggests using a vacuum cleaner to clean your bed, mattress, and furniture once a week. It's important to wash and change your bedding weekly to keep your sleeping environment clean and fresh.

You'll also want to be aware of the areas bed bugs typically choose to hide in your bedroom. According to Carpenter, bed bugs usually hide under the mattress in the corners, so check for bed bug fecal spots — small dots that appear light brown to black. Carpenter continues, "Bed bugs also can hide in crawl spaces like baseboards, power outlets, and furniture. They are also attracted to the scent of the human body on dirty clothes."

Protective Measures

Carpenter also recommends using mattress and box spring encasements to control bed bugs. "Since bed bugs die without food after about three to five months, encasements can trap any existing bed bugs inside, depriving them of their food source and eventually leading to their death," she says.

Sealing cracks and crevices around baseboards, walls, and furniture are also worth considering, according to Kristen Stevens, an associate certified entomologist with Fox Pest Control. "Sealing all cracks and crevices with silicone caulk is important because it helps eliminate all insect entry points," Stevens tells Today's Parent. "Remember: bed bugs typically hitchhike on people's clothing or luggage and get brought into the home. The only cases where bed bugs could spread through shared walls are in hotels or apartment-style settings."

inspector looking at a mattress in a bedroom iStock

How to practice vigilance

To successfully control bed bugs in your home, the most important thing is to recognize the signs of their presence. According to Dr. Williamson, the first step is for parents to educate their family about bed bugs — what they look like, the bites they leave, and where they like to hide (in cracks and crevices in the rooms).

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"Parents should let kids know that bed bugs are common, and it is best not to share hats, sweaters, and other clothes items if they don't want to get itchy bugs in their beds," explains Dr. Williamson. "Bed bug bites cause itchy red bumps, often in rows, on exposed skin. While the bites resemble other insect bites, signs of the bugs, like blood spots, rust-colored stains, and black fecal matter, can be found on bedding and surfaces."

Your family should also routinely check all items coming into the home where bed bugs might hide – like backpacks, lunch boxes, clothing, etc. "You might find bed bugs living on mattress edges, bed frames, or even in books, carpet edges, and electrical outlets," adds Dr. Williamson. "Stress the importance of finding reddish-brown insects the size of an apple seed (about 1/8 inch in size)."

How to travel wisely

While traveling, there are some easy ways to lower your chances of encountering bed bugs. According to Dr. Williamson, you should examine the headboard and mattress edges before unloading your belongings and make sure your luggage is placed on a table or luggage rack away from the wall.

When you return home, you'll want to check your luggage for signs of bed bugs. Dr. Williamson suggests unpacking your clothes as soon as you get home, putting them straight into the washing machine, and washing them in the hottest setting. But if you can't wash your clothes immediately, she recommends putting them in a sealed plastic bag until you can.

How to Avoid Bed Bugs: Prevention Strategies and Tips

How to respond if you suspect bed bugs

If you suspect a bed bug infestation in your home, Carpenter says there are easy techniques that homeowners can use to help kill bed bugs. "In most cases, diatomaceous earth and a steaming heat treatment can help homeowners get rid of bed bugs," she says. "These methods are easy for homeowners to implement themselves."

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However, if these initial methods prove ineffective, Stevens advises homeowners to contact pest management professionals as soon as possible. "Bed bugs reproduce quickly, and a large number of bed bugs can be difficult to manage on your own, so the faster you can get a handle on it, the better," she tells Today's Parent. "Make sure you show the pest professional all the signs of a bed bug infestation, and if you can, collect bed bugs for them to look at. This will help the process more quickly."

Experts

  • Nicole Carpenter, the President of Black Pest Prevention
  • Dr. Katherine Williamson, a pediatrician with the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) Primary Care Network
  • Kristen Stevens, an associate certified entomologist with Fox Pest Control

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