Bed bugs were once one of the most common household pests in the world. This is where the old bedtime rhyme came from. The issue declined massively throughout the 20th century. However, in more recent times we’ve seen a dramatic, international resurgence, supposedly as bed bugs have developed a resistance to modern pesticide products. To make things worse, bed bugs are great at international travel compared to other pests, due to their knack for getting into clothing, luggage, bedding and other things. There are a lot of methods for getting rid of these pests, but if you want to go about it the right way you need to act upon the very first signs of infestation, thinking about prevention, sanitation and chemical treatment. These pests are horribly persistent, and persistence is the key to eliminating them. Here’s a complete guide to getting rid of your bed bug problem.
One of the most common and well-known signs of a bedbug infestation is a small, sore rash resembling a mosquito bite. These usually occur at night, which makes it even easier for them to be mistaken for mosquito bites. Don’t make this mistake and neglect the infestation! Unlike mosquito bites, bed bug bites are prone to swell and spread out over the skin. Again, unlike mosquito bites, they can also occur in lines, and create an irritating burning sensation. If you’re unsure about bites that are appearing on your skin or your family’s, look up some comparison pictures to make sure.
If you’re lucky enough not to get any bites, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a bedbug problem. It’s important to stay vigilant for various other signs of these pests. Find some pictures of bed bugs themselves, and keep an eye out for them. The light-brown skins of bed bug nymphs are pretty easy to pick out against the white of a bedsheet. Spots of dried blood (bed bug excrement) on your mattress, or wherever the bugs happen to be living, is another common sign to be aware of. If you see these, lean down and smell them. If you pick up the scent of gone-off raspberries, this is one more sign that you could have a bed bug infestation in your home.
When you’re looking for signs of a bed bug infestation, don’t be fooled by the name and restrict your search to the beds in your home. These little terrors can be found pretty much anywhere where humans rest or lounge. They reside under desks, chairs and benches, computers, curtains and even walls. Carpets are also a favourite hiding place for this kind of pest. If you’re seeing the signs we covered earlier in your home, be a little careful with any kind of cleaning you’re thinking of doing. Bed bugs are great at clinging to fabrics. It’s pretty common for people to use a feather duster in one place, and then use it to unwittingly spread the infestation to several different parts of the home. On the subject of cleanliness, don’t buy into the myth that a home needs to be dirty for it to get bed bugs. These insects feed primarily off the blood of other animals, and they’ll go wherever they can find it!
Finding the Bed Bugs
If you’ve picked up on enough signs to believe you have a bed bug infestation, then it’s time to start looking for the darn things. While bed bugs can be found in many places other than beds, these are usually a good place to start. If anyone’s been bitten, dismantle their bed and stand all the parts on their ends. With a lot of beds, you may need to remove the gauze fabric under the box spring to properly inspect it. If the bed has a wooden frame, be sure to check all the little cracks and crevices in it. Bed bugs are found more commonly on wood than metal, and due to their minuscule size they can get into some tiny gaps. If you establish that the mattresses and box springs of the bed are infested, you may need to discard some of these. Successful treatment can be very challenging, and it’s often quicker to simply substitute them for clean pieces. Obviously, you may not be all that happy about throwing away an expensive and otherwise perfectly good mattress. An alternative to throwing it out is putting a bed bug proof mattress cover over an infested mattress, trapping the bugs and starving them. Here’s something you probably didn’t know: bed bugs can go up to 400 days without food, so make sure the cover remains sealed for at least this long!
As I mentioned earlier, bed bugs aren’t necessarily going to be in a bed, so do a sweep of some other common hiding places in your home. Nightstands and dressers are a big one you should check. Clear out the drawers and shelves, examine them closely inside and out, and then turn them upside down to check the woodwork underneath. Make sure you’re not leaving out any cracks, crevices and little recesses. Sofas and upholstered chairs should also be a part of your sweep. As you give these the once-over, be sure to pay close attention to any seams, crevices between cushions, and tufts. If you’ve got a teenager who’s prone to falling asleep on the sofa, then it can certainly be a hotspot for bed bugs! Lift up the edges of any wall-to-wall carpets, especially when they’re behind beds and upholstered furniture, and the cracks in ceiling-wall junctures or wooden molding. If you’ve already found a group of bed bugs in another area, then you’ve probably already located the bulk of them. However, it’s still possible to find an individual bug or a few eggs scattered around other places. Wherever you look for bed bugs in your home, make sure to use a flashlight. This will not only make them easier to see, but can startle them into sudden, obvious movement.
Getting Rid of Them
The first step in getting rid of your bedbug infestation should be bagging up and laundering any items you know to be infested, at a minimum temperature of 50 degrees Celsius. If you’ve got any smaller items which you can’t launder, leaving them on a radiator turned to its highest setting can often be enough to get rid of any young bed bugs or eggs. To be extra safe though, I’d recommend wrapping your individual items and placing them in a hot, sunny location for a few days at least. Bed bugs will also die in temperatures below freezing, but this can take a few weeks, and you’ll probably want to use the freezer space! After carrying out this treatment on the things which are definitely infested, you should make plans for treating the rest of the linen in your home just to be safe. Machine wash it on a hot setting, and if you have a tumble drier use this on a hot setting too. Steam is great for killing bed bugs. You may be able to find a laundrette or drycleaners which offer specialised bed bug killing services, too. Obviously, you’re going to have certain things which can’t be washed like a valuable leather handbag, or discarded like your child’s favourite soft toy. With these items, simply spray them with a non-toxic insecticide, then seal them in a plastic bag and leave it for a month or two.
Though your clothes and bedding might be bed bug free after all that, the infestation can still be present in other areas of the home. Use a steam cleaner on the carpets, or make a makeshift one using a kettle and a flexible tube. Make sure you’re hitting all the seams and corners to ensure none of the bugs are getting away. Vacuuming your whole house is another important step to take when you’re trying to get your home bed bug free. This not only goes for your carpet, but also your walls, furniture and other surfaces. Again, make sure you’re paying particular attention to the seams, tufts, and edges in the carpet, and any little gaps and crevices where bed bugs could be hiding. The perimeter of wall to wall carpets, as always, is an important area to cover. After you’re done with the vacuum sweep, be sure to throw the contents out in a sealed bag.
Insecticides, provided that they’re safe for the home, can also be a very effective method of treatment. These can be applied as spot treatments to cracks and holes where bed bugs may be hiding. To make sure the spray you’re using is penetrating as deep as possible, clear out the dirt and debris from cracks using a vacuum cleaner first. Following a good sweep of the whole house with a residual product, all the bed bugs should have died out within two weeks. If you’re still seeing signs after this, be sure to work backwards re-applying the product, and making sure you haven’t missed any potential hiding places. It can often be easy to overlook the tiny little holes where there could be unhatched eggs. While there are good products in pretty much every category, the one thing I’d advise you to avoid is insecticide “programs”. First and foremost, these require repeat sweeps which can get pretty annoying pretty quickly. Aside from that, they can be messy, toxic, expensive and not all that potent. Of course, sometimes everything you can throw at bed bugs with a DIY approach isn’t going to be enough. If you try all the things listed here, and you or someone in your family is still getting bit, consider forking out for a professional exterminator service.
Making Sure They Don’t Come Back
After all this work, I’m sure you don’t want to have to put up with the ordeal of treating your house for bed bugs again. Fortunately, there are various methods you can use to prevent another infestation in the future. The next time you’re buying new mattresses, be sure to pick up some bed bug proof covers for them as well. These will not only stop bed bugs nesting in the mattress, but will also kill any that are already there on the off chance that they made it into the bed store. Next, get into the habit of checking out beds and headboards any time you’re travelling or staying at someone else’s house. One of the most common ways for bedbugs to enter homes is by clinging to clothes and other fabrics. It’s also a good travelling practice to keep all your luggage elevated and away from any kind of fabric, or switching your fabric-covered suitcases for hard ones. Fortunately, laws in a lot of countries now require all hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts to use bed bug covers on their mattresses and box springs. However, this isn’t the case everywhere, and even in countries where it is there are going to be businesses that disregard the law.
A general vigilance is also a good way of preventing bed bugs from re-entering your home. Whenever you bring something new home that may be a haven for bed bugs, or you’ve spent a long time where an infestation is a definite possibility, make sure you’re checking yourself thoroughly the minute you walk through the door. Another, less hands-on tactic for reducing the chances of future infestation is to take action against littering and illegal dumping in your local area. Bed bugs are attracted to a lot of things found in household trash, and if there’s any near your home it can be surprisingly easy for them to find their way inside. Aside from that, litter and illegal dumping is extremely unsightly, and reflects badly on the whole community!
I hope this guide helps you see the end of your bed bug problem. Having any kind of infestation is unpleasant, and pests as small and tenacious as these can be especially frustrating. However, follow these tips, take preventative measures in the future, and you won’t have to worry about the little terrors for a long time!