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How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs: Elimination and Prevention Tips

How to get rid of bed bugs, what to look for as signs of an infestation and what to anticipate before and after the exterminator arrives on the scene

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs: Elimination and Prevention Tips

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Once you've spotted a bed bug in your house, your mind can go in many directions. You may wonder: How on earth did these pesky insects get in the first place? Should you grab the rubbing alcohol out of the medicine cabinet and place everything you own in plastic bags? And above all, is this something you should tackle on your own, or is it better to call in the experts immediately?

While you have many questions, the good news is that we have answers. We asked two professional exterminators and a pediatrician to share tips on how to get rid of bed bugs, including what to look for as signs of an infestation and what to anticipate before and after the exterminator arrives on the scene.

What are bed bugs?

So, what are bed bugs? According to Kristen Stevens, an associate certified entomologist at Fox Pest Control based in Utah, bed bugs are considered true bugs in the field of entomology because they belong to the insect order Hemiptera. "These insects are typically reddish-brown in color, about the size of an apple seed, and as flat as a sheet of paper," she explains to Today's Parent.

Bed bugs are not harmful to human health, but like mosquitoes, they draw blood, which can lead to itchy bites. Because of their small size, Stevens says that bed bugs also possess the remarkable ability to hide. However, given their name, she explains that they are typically found around beds because they are attracted to the carbon dioxide that our bodies produce, which tells them where their blood meal is.

Depending on the size of the infestation, bed bugs can be found anywhere beyond the bedroom. "That would include nightstands, dressers, inside small parts of electronics, near or behind baseboards, behind headboards, wall hangings, under lamps, in couches, upholstered chairs, carpets, etc.," adds Stevens.

Recognizing the signs of infestation

Before trying to get rid of bed bugs, ensuring you have an infestation is essential. To do this, look for signs of bed bugs, advises Dr. Katherine Williamson, a California-based pediatrician with the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) Primary Care Network.

"Look in areas where bed bugs might hide, which include mattress edges, bed frames, or even in books, carpet edges, and electrical outlets, Dr. Williamson tells Today's Parent. "Also, be on the lookout for reddish-brown insects the size of an apple seed (about 1/8 inch in size)."

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Bed bug bites are another clear sign of a bed bug problem in your home. Dr. Williamson says these bites look like mosquito bites or other insect bites. However, bed bug bites are usually found on the face, neck, arms, and hands, often appearing at night. "Often, the bites will have a red dot in the middle, and they may occur in a row," she explains. "These bites usually clear up in one to two weeks, and you can use calamine lotion, anti-itch creams such as topical hydrocortisone, ice packs, and cool baths to reduce itching and swelling."

Dr. Williamson advises you to take 30 minutes to an hour to carefully check your bedroom for signs of bed bugs. "Bed bugs often leave behind specks of blood or rust-colored spots from crushed bugs or black spots from insect feces," she says. These can be found on sheets, bedding crevices, and loose wallpaper.

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

How to get rid of bed bugs

DIY treatment methods

According to Nicole Carpenter, president of Black Pest Prevention in South Carolina, homeowners can try DIY (do-it-yourself) methods before hiring professional pest control experts to deal with bed bugs. Two DIY methods include steaming and using food-grade diatomaceous earth made of aquatic organisms called diatoms.

Carpenter explains to Today's Parent, "When bed bugs come into contact with diatomaceous earth, it penetrates their exoskeletons and absorbs the moisture and oils, and bed bugs die from dehydration. However, make sure you spread diatomaceous earth in a thin, even layer rather than creating piles, as bed bugs can avoid piles but may not notice a light dusting."

Carpenter adds that steaming is another highly effective method for removing bed bugs. "All you need to do is steam bed bug-infested areas with a clothing steamer at 120 degrees or wash items in high water temperatures to kill bed bugs."

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While the above methods can be helpful, Stevens warns that they may not completely solve the bed bug problem. "Therefore, it is important to be ready to seek professional help to ensure the bed bugs are completely removed from your home," she tells Today's Parent.

Professional extermination

You might be thinking about getting rid of bed bugs, but be prepared — it's not easy. Bed bugs can multiply quickly, making them hard to eliminate. Because of this, Stevens recommends hiring professional pest control companies to handle the problem. "A pest professional will be able to help ID and provide the appropriate protocol for treatment," she explains to Today's Parent.

Regarding professional extermination, Stevens suggests that many companies use different approaches to bed bug treatment. "There are chemicals in that market that are specifically labeled and sold to a registered pest control company, that are available in the forms of liquid, dust, and aerosols or bug bombs," says Stevens. Along with the chemical treatments, additional steps will need to be taken to make sure all bed bugs are treated as they emerge because the chemicals usually can't get through to the bed bug eggs.

Adds Stevens, heat and steam treatments can also eliminate bed bugs. "If done correctly, they are 100% effective against all stages of bed bugs. "However, remember that not all companies will do this, as it is expensive and labor-intensive.

someone holding up a mattress and shining a flashlight showing fake bed bugs iStock

How to prepare for treatment

Pest professionals can effectively eliminate bed bugs using chemical and heat treatments. However, according to Stevens, the steps needed before each type of treatment are slightly different.

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"For heat treatments, it's best to keep items spread out as much as possible to allow the heat to penetrate thoroughly," Stevens says. "Do not take anything but clean bed bug-free clothes, and remove anything that could melt or cannot withstand high heat (120°F). If you're unsure what to do, always ask your pest control professional — they can tell you which items you should move or leave behind."

Preparing for chemical treatments is similar. "With chemical treatments, it's sort of the same idea — we don't want to move or disturb potential bed bug hiding spots," explains Stevens. "However, don't seal any cracks or crevices because we want to be treating behind them."

After receiving chemical treatments from a professional, Stevens suggests washing clothes in hot water and drying them on high heat while avoiding cleaning other items. She continues, "You don't want to accidentally remove any of the treatment that the pest control professional has applied. So, wait until they have finished all the initial and follow-up treatments before you start cleaning or washing anything else."

How to prevent bed bugs from coming back

Once you've successfully eliminated a bed bug infestation with the help of a professional, your next goal is to keep them from coming back, says Stevens. "The best way to do this is to closely follow all the recommendations provided by your pest control expert, she tells Today's Parent. "By closely following their advice, you can help ensure the bed bugs stay away for good."

Even after professional treatments, watching for signs of bed bugs around your home is important. This means carefully checking bed frames, mattresses, and box springs for blood marks, actual bed bugs, and discarded skin. If you notice any of these signs, Stevens suggests contacting your professional exterminator is best. "They can confirm the problem and help you determine the next steps to fully eliminate the bed bugs," she adds.

inspector looking at a mattress for bed bugs iStock

FAQs

How do you deal with laundry items that are infested by bed bugs?

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To get rid of bed bugs from clothing, Carpenter recommends either washing the clothes in hot water or using a steamer to steam them. "The water temperature for washing should be 120°F, and the washing cycle should last at least 20 minutes," she explains to Today's Parent. "When using a steamer, the steam should be at least 160 to 180°F and directed at the bugs."

You can also use a clothes dryer to kill bed bugs and their eggs. "Run a dryer at 120°F for 30 minutes and steam the bed to target hidden spots," adds Carpenter.

How long does it typically take to eliminate a bed bug problem?

To eliminate a mild bed bug infection within two to three weeks, Carpenter recommends using a clothes steamer or clothes drying machine for infested items, washing clothes at high temperatures, spreading diatomaceous earth in a thin layer around rooms, and vacuuming regularly.

However, for severe infestations that have gone unaddressed for a long time, she suggests considering hiring professionals. "Professionals who utilize whole-house heating methods to eliminate bed bugs and their eggs typically require around eight hours to complete the process," says Carpenter.

How can you prevent bed bugs from spreading to other rooms or areas of your home?

Carpenter suggests changing your clothes and shoes after leaving a room with bed bugs to prevent them from moving to other parts of your house. "Before wearing them again, wash or steam your clothes and shoes," she continues.

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It's also important to keep the door to the infested room shut to stop bed bugs from going to other rooms, says Carpenter. "For prevention, regularly vacuum your home at least twice a week," she advises. "This includes the floors, furniture, spaces near baseboards, and around electrical outlets."

Experts

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

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