Dealing with bed bugs is a highly stressful and time-consuming task. It is better to take steps to avoid getting an infestation, but once you have bed bugs in your home, you need to keep up a positive attitude and try every way possible to get those pesky crawlers out of your life. Ignoring a bed bug infestation can cause several problems – bed bugs affect your sleep quality and sleep deprivation can cause all sorts of physical and mental problems. If you are ready to put in some effort, you can eventually get rid of bed bugs and clear an infestation.
The key here is that if you get rid of bed bugs yourself, you can potentially save hundreds to thousands of dollars. Hiring pest control exterminators can be very costly. If you rent, your landlord may not cover a bed bug infestation (regulation in the US, and other countries, is a bit nebulous about who pays). If you own a house or apartment that gets a bed bug infestation, you will have to pay the bill…and it can be expensive.
The good news is that it is possible to treat the bed bug infestation yourself, if you are willing to put the work in and try a combination of different treatment strategies.
Here’s how to do it yourself.
Identifying an Infestation
You can take several steps to ensure that your home is free of bed bugs. Before going any further, it is important to double-check your bed and the area around it to confirm the presence of bed bugs. Most people think they have bed bugs around when they find bed bug bites on their bodies. You cannot take those bites as a reliable way to confirm that you have an infestation. Therefore, you need to get a flashlight and get ready to play detective.
You can see bed bugs with naked eye, but using a flashlight will help make things a lot easier. Make sure to look in all the right places. Bed bugs can be up to 5mm long and usually reddish brown in color. Their abdomen becomes darker when they have fed recently. Females usually have a more tapered abdomen as compared to males. You should look for these bugs underneath your bed. Sometimes, you may not see bed bugs but you may still find molted bed bugs skins. This also indicates an infestation.
You should look for bed bugs and their molted skins along your mattress seams, behind headboards, in wall junctions, inside electrical switches, and around your personal belongings. Keep in mind that it is easier to see adult bed bugs, but nymphs may be harder to locate since they are very small and have translucent whitish-yellow color. Just inspect your room thoroughly to confirm if you have an infestation or not. If it turns out that there are bed bugs around you, get ready to take steps to eliminate them on your own.
Getting Rid of Bed Bugs on Your Own
Now that you have confirmed that you among those unfortunate people who have brought bed bugs home, you have to make a plan of action and get rid of those annoying crawlers. You can try a number of ways actually.
Heat Treat Your Belongings
One of the most effective yet time consuming way to kill bed bugs is to heat-treat your bedding and other infested items. Studies show that exposing bed bugs to high heat (120F or higher) can kill them in a few minutes. You simply need to put your pillows, linens, blankets, comforters, and other infested items in your home clothes dryer for treatment.
For good results, you should place your infested items in a larger tumble dryer and go for the highest setting. You need to run your dryer at least at 120F to kill bed bugs and their eggs. You may have to run your dryer for half an hour for a 7.7lb load. In fact, you can kill about 85% of adult bed bugs and 75% of nymphs simply by exposing your infested items to 120F for 10 minutes. If you do not want to wait for this long, you may want to treat your items at higher temperatures. Studies show that you can get rid of adults, nymphs, and eggs in a few minutes by exposing your infested items at 140F.
When using heat treatment, you should handle your infested items with extreme care. Here are a few things to bear in mind:
- Always put all your infested items including bedding into sealed plastic bags. This ensures that bed bugs do not fall off and spread to other areas in your house.
- Be sure to remove your items carefully from those sealed bags. It is wrong to place your bagged bedding on the floor and then put in the dryer. You should be emptying those bags directly in the dryer.
- Put all those empty bags in another clean plastic bag and seal it.
- Set the temperature to at least 120F and wait for at least half an hour.
- Get unused plastic bags and put your cleaned clothes in them. Seal those bags properly. Never use your old plastic bags even if they seem clean – you might not notice bed bug eggs or nymphs in the bag that could infest your belongings again.
Use a Cold-Water Soak
Just like extreme heat, extreme cold can also help kill bed bugs. You may want to use a cold-soak to get rid of bed bugs because not all household items can be exposed to high heat. For your temperature sensitive fabrics, it is better to soak them in cold water to exterminate bed bugs. You may consider putting those items in your freezer to get rid of bed bugs, but it is better to set temperatures as low as possible. The lower the temperature, the less time you need to free bed bugs to death.
In most cases, you can get good results by exposing bed bugs to a temperature of 0F. At this temperature, bed bugs freeze from the inside and cannot survive. What you need to bear in mind is that you can effectively kill bed bugs in all their life stages only by exposing them to 0F for at least 4 days. You can even use a remote thermometer to ensure that the temperature in your freezer is just perfect. Use the thermometer to check the temperature in the center of the materials you have put in the freezer. Once the temperature is 0F, you should then start counting the 4-day exposure time.
Protect Your Mattress
Yet another way to kill bed bugs on your own is to encase your mattress and box spring. The idea is to keep bed bugs from getting a blood meal. Interestingly, bed bugs can live up to a year without any food. Still, it makes sense to use bed bug covers and wrap your mattress in them to confirm you have bed bugs and to kill them eventually.
By using mattress covers, you can also protect yourself from bed bug bites. It means that even if there are bed bugs in your mattress, you no longer need to worry about them at night. They will not bother you and eventually die without any food. The effectiveness of this method depends heavily on the mattress covers you have selected. Look for the one with breathable membranes and guaranteed protection against bed bugs.
When using encasements, you should ensure that you also encase your box spring along with your mattress. This provides better protection. Once you have covered your mattress and box spring, leave the cover on for at least 18 months to ensure no active bed bugs are there in it.
Treat Your Bed Frame and Headboard
Using encasements is a great way to protect your bedding and mattress, but you should also do something to protect your bed frame and headboard. You can try different treatments depending on the types of materials you have. You can easily vacuum the entire frame if it is made out of metal or wood. Be sure to check all crevices when using a vacuum.
It is important to mention that sometimes it is not practical to treat headboards. You may not be able to heat-treat them if they are upholstered with fabric. In this case, it is better to avoid using a headboard because it may have so many hiding places for bed bugs that you will never be able to clean it yourself. Even rigorous vacuuming might not eliminate all bed bugs and their eggs. Similarly, you may want to discard a headboard with lots of crevices. You just cannot tell that vacuuming has effectively removed bed bugs from every nook and cranny. Heat-treatment is an effective choice, but it is better to avoid using a headboard if it is old and worn out.
Use Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
DE is a powder-like substance from the fossil remains of aquatic organisms. It contains silica, iron, sodium, and other substances that help kill bed bugs when they touch it. DE is an effective way to kill bed bugs because it dehydrates them by absorbing oils and fat from their bodies. While diatomaceous earth can kill bed bugs, how effective it really proves depends on how and where you use it. You have to apply it in all those areas where you suspect an infestation. You should apply it along molding, in your drawers, especially the ones around your bed, behind your appliances, and in cracks and crevices. You can also apply it on headboards after treating them.
Keep in mind that using diatomaceous earth is a safe and effective choice to kill bed bugs, but it proves effective only when bed bugs actually make contact with it. In fact, they have to cross it many times to experience any effects. It means that you may not be able to kill all bed bugs using DE, especially when cannot find all of their hiding spots. This is why you have to try other remedies along with using DE for better results.
Other Ways to Kill Bed Bugs
Heat-treating your belongings is probably the safest option to get rid of bed bugs. You can find many pesticides as well, but many of those products are highly toxic and bed bugs have actually developed resistance against those products. It is therefore not a wise idea to try pesticides to kill bed bugs. You can however try some other natural remedies to get rid of a bed bug infestation. For instance:
- Use Kidney Bean Leaves: Take some kidney bean leaves and spread them on the floor to trap bed bugs. The method works because these leaves have microscopic hooked hairs that impale the feet of bed bugs and keep them from running away.
- Use Pyrethrum: Obtained from the perennial plants of C. coccineum and Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium, pyrethrum acts as a natural insecticide. It works by attacking the nervous systems of bed bugs.
- Use Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil can effectively eliminate bed bugs from your home when used properly. Add a few drops of tea tree oil when laundering your bedding and clothing. You can also spray diluted tea tree oil in your home to kill bed bugs.
- Try Lavender Oil: Lavender, as well as eucalyptus, tea tree, and peppermint essential oils are all effective against bug and mite infestations. Their strong scent helps keep bed bugs away. You can spray lavender oil in your room or add a few drops across the corners of your bed frame to keep bed bugs at bay.
- Try Isopropyl Alcohol: You can use rubbing alcohols to deal with a bed bug infestation. Simply spray it in your home to make it difficult for bed bugs to thrive. Try it with other methods to get better results.
The fact of the matter is that it is hard to get rid of bed bugs, but you should try everything possible to clear an infestation. Be sure to wash your bedding thoroughly, vacuum your room including the mattress and box spring, use traps under bed legs, and apply diatomaceous earth around bed bug hiding points. Also, do not forget to take advantage of natural remedies.
But, if, after trying everything possible, you still have a bed bug infestation, it is time to call a professional. You may have a re-infestation when you fail to heat-treat your items properly or use other methods incorrectly. Professionals have the equipment and experience needed to clear large infestations. They do not just treat your room but they also identify the root cause of trouble and fix it. So, do not ignore the bed bug problem; get it fixed quickly!