How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

Bed Bug

Bed bugs are tiny bloodsucking beasts, but how can you get rid of these pests? If you keep waking up covered in itchy bumps, you can either call a pest control company or learn how to get rid of bed bugs on your own with our tips and tricks. 

First, though, you have to determine if what’s biting you are bed bugs. Then you face a choice: Go it alone with DIY methods to heat, freeze, steam, trap, or apply dusts or hire a bed bug exterminator to solve your bed bug problem.

Most homeowners opt not to go the DIY route but to call in a pro instead.

In this article we’ll cover:

Step 1: Inspect and Identify
Signs of Bed Bugs
What Bed Bugs Look Like
Step 2: Deep Clean
Step 3: Choose and Extermination Method
Heat
Cold
Steam
Traps
Dusts
Step 4: Prevent Future Infestations
When to Call a Bed Bug Exterminator
FAQ About Bed Bug Control

Step 1: Inspect and Identify 

First, you have to make sure the pests you’re dealing with are actually bed bugs and not something else. 

Check for signs of bed bugs in their most likely haunts first: bedding, mattresses, headboards, footboards, and box springs. Then, check your flooring, baseboards, window coverings, clothing, bags, stuffed animals, and furniture throughout your house. Just because they’re called bed bugs doesn’t mean they’re confined to the bedroom.  

Signs of Bed Bugs

These are the signs you’re looking for:

  • Small blood stains in your bed
  • Brown or black spots on the bedding, mattress, floor, or wall 
  • Shed skins and egg shells strewn around the floor or bed
  • Musty odor around the bed or other potentially infested areas 

What Bed Bugs Look Like

While you’re on the hunt, you might spot some of the bugs themselves, alive or dead. Adult bed bugs are tiny, up to 1/4-inch long (about the size of an apple seed). They have round, flat bodies that are brown or reddish-brown in color. See our other article for more details about what bed bugs look like

It’s easy to mistake other bugs for bed bugs, so take the time to familiarize yourself with these bed bug look-alikes and how to tell them apart from the real thing.

Vacuuming under dresser - Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
Photo Credit: Liliana Drew / Pexels

Step 2: Deep Clean

Once you’re sure you have bed bugs, prevent them from spreading and multiplying with a deep clean. Remember, bed bugs could be lurking in any nook and cranny of your home, so you need to clean the whole house. 

Some helpful tips for cleaning out bed bugs:

  • Scrub surfaces like your bed, other furniture, walls, and floors with a stiff brush to remove any tiny, unseen eggs.
  • Vacuum every inch of your home you possibly can to remove any live bed bugs. When you’re done, immediately dispose of the vacuum bag outdoors, away from your home, so the bugs don’t end up right back where you vacuumed them up inside.
  • Take apart bed frames, remove drawers, lift up couch cushions, and flip over furniture during your cleaning. Vacuum and scrub every possible surface in your home. Don’t forget about your pets’ bedding and toys. 
  • Wash all your clothes in hot water then dry them on high heat in case bed bugs have infested your closet or dresser.
  • Seal infested bedding, stuffed animals, clothes, or anything else you’ve seen bed bugs on, in an airtight bag before moving them from one place to another. As you carry infested items through the house, bed bugs could drop off and spread to new places. After bagging the items, either put them in the laundry immediately and wash them with hot water or dispose of them in an outdoor trash can.
  • Throw out any heavily infested furniture, even if it’s an expensive couch you don’t want to bid farewell. Is keeping the couch worth the constant fear of bed bugs returning? That’s up to you.
  • Cover your mattress with a mattress cover to suffocate the bed bugs already inside and prevent more bugs from getting in. Bed bugs can live up to a year without food, so don’t remove the cover for at least one full year.
  • Repeat your thorough inspection and cleaning once per week. Bed bugs reproduce quickly, and it’s easy to miss their eggs, so totally getting rid of them can take months. 
Jiří Humpolíček / CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Step 3: Choose an Extermination Method

Cleaning on its own isn’t enough to wipe out bed bugs completely. They’re tiny enough and wily enough to hide anywhere, including deep inside your furniture where your scrub brush and vacuum could never reach. 

If you still don’t want to call a pest control professional, try one (or more) of these DIY bed bug extermination methods. 

Heat

As we touched on briefly above, you can turn your washer and dryer into bed bug killing machines. 

Launder clothes, rugs, curtains, bedding, shoes, cushions, and any other washable materials in hot water for at least 20 minutes. Follow that up with a dryer cycle set to medium-high or high, so the inside of the dryer reaches more than 122 degrees.

Cold

Extreme cold can kill bed bugs, too. The key is to expose infested items to temperatures of zero degrees or below for at least three days straight. Store the objects in your freezer or set larger items, such as furniture, outside on a winter day.

Note: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that freezing bed bugs only works if temperatures remain at zero degrees or below for the full three days. Check your freezer’s temperature with a thermometer to ensure it gets cold enough, or keep an eye on the weather to make sure outside temperatures don’t rise above zero at any time during the three-day period. 

Steam

Steam cleaning is great for treating flooring, hard-to-reach areas around baseboards, and cracks in furniture. Steam carpets, wood flooring, and upholstered furniture at 130 degrees with low airflow, so as not to spread bed bugs farther. 

Traps

There are a few ways to make DIY bed bug traps. Keep in mind, though, that traps can only eliminate the bed bugs they come in direct contact with. There might be more bed bugs hiding deep inside your furniture, floor, or walls. Traps can be one piece of a successful bed bug control plan, but you’ll need more than just traps to eliminate an infestation. 

Different types of bed bug traps include:

  • Duct tape: Stick double-sided duct tape on the floor around the edge of your bed, furniture, and along your baseboards. Wrap the legs of your bed and furniture in more duct tape. Basically, stick the stuff on any hard surface where you might expect to find bed bugs.
  • Fly paper: Similar to the duct tape plan, place sticky fly paper anywhere you might expect to find bed bugs.
  • Dry ice trap: To create your own dry ice trap, fill a thermos with dry ice, leaving it slightly ajar. The carbon dioxide will attract bed bugs. Set the thermos on top of an upside-down pet feeding dish. Tape a piece of fabric to the outside of the dish to help bed bugs climb up, and cover the inside of the inverted dish with a thin layer of talc powder. The talc powder will trap the insects.
  • Bed bug interceptor: A bed bug interceptor is a small, circular device that fits under bed posts and catches these invaders before they can reach your mattress. You can purchase bed bug interceptors or make your own with a few Tupperware containers, some tape, and a hot glue gun. 

See this video from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences for a walkthrough of how to make a bed bug interceptor:

Safety warning: Bed bug traps may not be safe around pets or small children. 

Dusts

Desiccant dusts such as silica gel or diatomaceous earth (DE) are low-risk to humans but lethal to insects. These dusts work by absorbing the oils and fats from an insect’s body, completely drying it out and killing it via dehydration.

Both silica gel and DE are registered for use against bed bugs, but silica gel seems to be more effective at killing bed bugs. Whichever kind of dust you decide to use, spread it around your baseboards, the legs of your furniture, and anywhere else you’ve found bed bugs. 

Safety warning: Desiccant dusts can be harmful if ingested. Don’t use them if you have pets or small children in your home who might try a taste. 

Photo Credit: Jean van der Meulen / Pexels

Step 4: Prevent Future Infestations 

Once you get over your first bout of bed bugs, you’ll never want to see them again.

These tips will help you prevent future bed bug infestations: 

  • Don’t keep anything under your bed, especially anything you bought or received secondhand.
  • Store items in airtight storage containers or plastic bags.
  • Don’t let laundry pile up on the floor for bed bugs to infest.
  • Clean your clothes and luggage with hot water after traveling.
  • Never pick up furniture from the side of the road. You never know what might be full of bed bugs. 

When you’re tidy and careful about where you get your household items, there’s a much lower chance you’ll get bed bugs. Just in case, though, you should inspect the cracks and crevices of your home for signs of bed bugs every few months. 

When to Call a Bed Bug Exterminator 

As you can see, bed bugs are extremely difficult to get rid of. DIY methods take a lot of time and effort, and they’re still hit-or-miss. The best way to deal with these peskiest of pests is to call an exterminator for help at the first sign of infestation. Pros have the expertise needed to get rid of bed bugs fast, and they have access to products only available for licensed professionals. 

FAQ About Bed Bug Control

Can you use foggers to get rid of bed bugs?

No. Foggers are not considered effective against bed bugs and are not recommended by experts. Why? The poison contained inside is shot into the air, while bed bugs remain on surfaces and concealed in hiding places closer to the ground.

Plus, bed bug foggers can be dangerous. The droplets of insecticide are flammable, can irritate people with asthma and other respiratory issues, and can contaminate you or your pets’ food with harmful poison. 

Do pest control sprays work for bed bugs?

Sprays aren’t effective against a bed bug infestation. No matter what kind of spray you use, it would have to come in contact with every single live bed bug to work. It’s extremely unlikely that you would be able to spray them all in their hiding places, and once the spray dries on a surface, it loses its killing power. 

How much does it cost to get rid of bed bugs?

Professional bed bug treatments cost around $1,000 to $2,000 for your whole home, and often involve multiple treatment sessions. You might spend more or less than that range, though, depending on your specific infestation. The only way to get an accurate idea of what you’ll spend is to get a price quote from local exterminators.

Where do bed bugs come from?

Bed bug bites are small, red bumps that look like pimples — and often are mistaken for mosquito bites. Bed bug bites most often appear in groups of three or more, in a straight line. You’ll usually find bed bug bites on yourself first thing in the morning when you get out of bed.

Do bed bugs transmit diseases?

According to the CDC, bed bugs are not known to spread disease

Should I throw away my old mattress once my home has been treated for bed bugs?

No. In fact, moving your mattress and box spring at all can spread the bed bugs to other parts of your home. Instead, remove all bedding and linens and wash them in hot water. 

Have a bed bug exterminator treat your mattress to kill the bed bugs or try these DIY methods of cleansing your mattress:

Steam your mattress at a temperature of at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 
Vacuum the mattress, box spring, and surrounding area with the vacuum hose and dispose of the bag in an outdoor trash can. Repeat as necessary until you no longer find any signs of bed bugs. 
Take the bed frame apart and thoroughly scrub every nook and cranny with a stiff brush and soapy water. 
Put a cover on your mattress and box spring to smother bed bugs and keep them from spreading. Don’t remove the cover for at least a full year. 

Pest Gnome senior blog writer Jordan Ardoin contributed to this article.

Main Photo Credit: Gilles San Martin / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Andréa Butler

Andréa Butler has a passion for writing and editing — but a phobia of bees and wasps. Living near the woods, she's dealt with her fair share of mice, skinks, and other outside critters that sometimes find their way inside. Besides learning new ways to keep homes pest-free, she also enjoys singing, reading, and binge-watching just about every show that ever existed.

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