Looking to learn how to get rid of bed bugs…
Well then, you’re in the right place!
In this guide you’ll learn:
- How other people have beaten bed bugs with a bed bug success story
- How to prevent them in the first place
- How to identify bed bugs
- The do’s and don’ts of bed bug removal (super important)
- And some frequently asked questions all answered
If trying to exterminate bed bugs on your own becomes too challenging, we recommend Orkin, Terminix, and Aptive. These exterminators have some of the best trained professionals that are able to use traps, baits, and other chemically treated solutions that are often more effective than standard DIY methods.
Bed bugs are quite possible one of the most psychologically disturbing insects on the planet, and should not be taken lightly if you see one crawling about.
In this guide, we’ll be covering bed bug prevention, identification, bed bug bite treatment, and then finally extermination.
There’s a lot of information to cover, so let’s get started!
Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!
Table of Contents
Can Bed Bugs Be Beaten?
For the introduction of this guide, I wanted to write a couple words on the emotional toll bed bugs will take on your mental state and provide comfort in the fact that these bugs can be beaten.
Like I mentioned, bed bugs are psychologically, one of the worst bugs that you might ever come across, causing anxiety, sleepless nights, and increased overall stress.
Female bed bugs reproduce at about 1 egg per day, which take 10 days to hatch and 5 more weeks to grow into an adult. Left unattended, bed bugs can quickly infest your bed or nearby fixtures. What’s worse is that bed bugs can infest nearby apartments or floors, which may result in an infestation you never created!
Three Of The Biggest Reasons For Bed Bug Infestations:
- Bad advice from the internet
- Incompetent exterminators
- Resistance to bed bug bites (thus you don’t know you have a problem until it’s to late)
Despite the inherent difficulty in removing these terrible insects, there are proven ways to kill bed bugs without an exterminator. At certain infestation levels you will need to call an exterminator, and we’ll cover later in this guide how to vet your exterminator before having them come out.
That being said, below I’ve listed a bed bug removal success story to provide that glimmer of hope some of you might need.
A Bed Bug Success Story
DETAILS: This is a story of with a mother with an ex-husband who has bed bugs and her son who brought them over.
THE STORY: The son had come home one day from the ex-husband’s house with bug bites around his midsection. At the time, the mother thought the bed bug bites were mosquito bites, perhaps fleas, but not bed bugs. The ex-husband had cats, so it could have also been just an allergic reaction to the the dander right?
Fast forward a couple weeks, and the son was still getting “allergic reactions”, so things started to get suspicious. Eventually the mother spotted a mysterious bug on her own bed, killed it, and promptly searched Google for images.
Confirmed. Bed bugs.
The next morning, she called an exterminator out to evaluate the situation. They had a team of 6 exterminators inspect the entire house, check every crack, crevice, and crawl space a bed bug might go.
The exterminators found that the couch in den where the son slept was the only point of infestation.
With This In Mind The Mom Had Two Options:
- Treat room and furniture
- Treat room and throw away furniture
The couch was old so mom went with option #2 tossing both the infested couch, the love seat next to it, and the area rug (good decision).
Once the furniture was removed, the exterminators removed all the baseboards and sprayed Bedlam insecticide on all the cracks and crevices in the room. They then took off all the face plates in the room and used a duster to apply insecticide powder.
After the room was treated, the exterminators instructed mom to leave the room bare until the follow-up appointment in 2 weeks.
During the follow-up, the exterminators re-checked the room for signs of bed bugs.
No bed bugs… victory…?
…Not so fast.
A couple weeks after the follow-up, mom noticed one bed bug crawling on the living room couch. The fight was not over.
Through her own research, she decided to go out and buy CimeXa (a “green” insecticide), a duster (extremely important), brushes for application, and mattress encasements for all the beds. Mom dusted the entire house and then had a relative assist with the encasements. During the encasement installation, mom noticed 3 dead nymphs on the box spring desiccated (dried up) due to the use of the dusting. During an inspection of her living room, mom also noticed a dried up adult bed bug under the chair.
OVERALL: It took an initial extermination to remove the majority of the bed bugs, then the use of insecticide, dusters, and mattress encasements to finish the job about a month later.
How To Prevent Bed Bugs?
In order to keep bed bugs out of your life, as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Taking a few key steps to prevent bed bugs from ever coming into your life can potentially save you thousands of dollars and significant emotional stress.
1. Travel light and inspect your room upon arrival
If bed bugs are going to come into your life, the most likely of scenarios involves you traveling somewhere and bringing them back in your luggage.
Bed bugs don’t typically hitchhike on your physical body due to their aversion to warmth, but will take refuge on your clothes or assorted belongings in your bags.
Entomologist Dr. Waldvogel recommends the following to safeguard your luggage from bed bugs when you travel:
- Enclose your clothes and other belongings in plastic trash bags
- Avoid placing luggage on or around the beds but rather use the luggage stands
- Use a steamer or insecticide designed for fabric to spray your luggage
- Place pest strips inside your luggage after use and leave the luggage in your garage or some other isolated space
- Unload stored clothes from trash bags directly into the washer and dryer
- Consider alternative heat treatment options
A lot of advice includes checking the mattress and box spring for bed bugs as soon as you arrive to the room, which is good advice. We even talked to Mike Fischer, owner of Fischer’s Pest Control in Las Vegas who says bed bugs are very common in high tourist areas (like Las Vegas).
However, just because you spot something doesn’t automatically mean it’s bed bugs.
So be careful!
2. Run your clothing and luggage through the dryer (or applying direct heat treatments)
Further emphasizing the points from above, putting the clothes you used during travel directly into the washer and dryer could help eliminate any bed bugs you bought with you. The University Of Minnesota breaks this process into three main steps:
- Sorting Infested Clothes: Separate dry-clean-only clothes and other clothes into multiple piles. Dry-clean-only clothes can’t be washed but they can be put into the dryer on high heat. Bag up the clothes and migrate (carefully) to the laundry room.
- Washing And Drying: Empty each bag into the washer/dryer (dryer only for dry-cleaning). Dispose of the transporting bags and seal in separate clean bags.
- Sorting Clean Clothes: Once the clothes are clean, fold and put away if your home is deemed bug free. If you’re home has bed bugs, separate and/or seal the clean clothes in bags and store until the house is safe.
- Apply Direct Heat: Alternatively to washer/dryer, you could buy a product that would apply direct heat treatment to your belongings when you suspect bed bugs. These products cut out the need for washer/dryer and usually stand on their own.
Additional Resource On Bed Bug Prevention
- To learn more about preventing bed bugs when traveling, read an excellent article “8 tips to avoid bed bugs when traveling” from our friends at HiTravelTales.com.
3. Avoid second-hand furniture/clothes
Using Craigslist for your second hand furniture purchasing needs may sound like a great idea, but it also begs the question… bed bugs?
I would recommend you entirely avoid second hand furniture or anything else second hand unless you’re heavily aware of the item’s past ownership. But if you can’t pass up a good deal (I know I can’t) Dr. Peek from Oklahoma University put together a couple key ways to go about prevention:
- Sofas And Chairs: Inspect the under the cushions, seams, push down on the springs, and look under the item for black spots. After you buy, consider using a steamer to heat up the item (bed bugs hate heat) and leaving them in an isolated location with bed bug traps.
- Clothes: For second hand clothes, the same treatment applies as if you were traveling. Wash and dry your clothes with as much heat as possible without ruining the fabric.
What to lookout for with bed bugs?
This picture illustrates black fecal spots “feces” left behind by bed bugs on the corner of a mattress. If you’re buying any furniture second hand, keep an eye out for these spots. Here are a bunch more pictures of bed bugs in case you need to see any more examples of what to look out for!
When buying second hand anything from anyone, you should always ask probing questions as far as item history and/or usage. If you’re buying from a thrift shop, ask them if they do anything to clothes that come into the store. If any sort of heat treatment is involved when new goods arrive, that is good sign.
We’d also recommend checking out our bed bug steamer and vacuum guide to aid in your heat treatments.
4. Be aware of the early signs
Being able to spot the early signs of bed bugs could mean the difference from a full extermination and killing one bed bug to eliminate the threat. The key is knowing what those early signs look like and what to do about them when you see them. Some early bed bug warning signs include:
Bed Bug Bites
At the start of an infestation, you might get only one or two bed bug bites. But the problem is that they look like and feel almost exactly like mosquito bites, so in the beginning when you’re only getting a few, it’s easy to write them off and to not care. In my experience, bed bug bites, are WAY itchier than mosquito bites, take significantly longer to fully heal, and are prone to scaring.
Stains On Your Sheets
A second early sign that indicates bed bugs would be stains on your sheets. After bed bugs take a bit of your blood, they attempt to escape, occasionally, you might roll over them, or squish them as they make their exit.
Squishing a bed bug full of blood will of course result in blood on your sheets. This blood should be an early indicator to watch out for.
That’s not to say every time there is blood on your sheet, it’s bed bugs, but it’s just another early sign to be aware of.
What about mattress encasements for bed bugs?
Encasements (box spring and mattress) we’re originally created to help with dust mites, but have been re-purposed as a bed bug solution. As for usefulness, there’s generally two schools of thought.
- For Encasements: Encasements streamline the bed bug extermination process and protect the investment in your mattress incase there’s ever an infestation.
- Against Encasements: Encasements don’t “protect” you from anything and could provide a false sense of security and defense against bed bugs.
Overall, it’s up to you whether you think investing in an encasement is a good idea. Personally, I have invested in one just to make it hard for those buggers to invade my life.
A Bed Bug or Not a Bed Bug?
Bed bugs are easy to identify, but they do have close relatives that look almost exactly like bed bugs, which may make it difficult to positively identify.
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How To Identify A Bed Bug?
Generally speaking bed bugs are easy to identify, but they do have close relatives that look almost exactly like bed bugs, which may make it difficult to positively identify.
To give you an idea, bed bugs are in the Cimicidae insect family with over 100 varying species. It’s important you understand the difference because what’s biting you might not actually be a bed bug.
Bird Bugs Vs Bed Bugs
Bird bugs (also known as “bird mites” or “bird lice”) look very similar to bed bugs up close, but they are much smaller resembling “black pepper”. An adult bird mite is about .5 mm whereas an adult bed bug is 5mm.
They tend to feed on birds but if the bird dies or leaves it nest, they may crawl into your house in search for a blood meal. According to a Swedish Study, bird bugs are capable of living up to 9 months without re-feeding, so eliminating them once an infestation has begun can be troubling.
What’re the differences between bird bugs and bed bugs?
- Bird bugs are much smaller than bed bugs (see picture above)
- Bird bugs live on their hosts while bed bugs bite and leave back to their hiding spot
- Bird bugs do not have fecal traces
- Bird bugs prefer birds but will search for alternative food sources when their primary host dies
- Bird bugs can not reproduce on human blood
How To Find Them?: If you think you have bird bugs, check your pets first to see if they’re living on them. Check also your attic, your gutters, and any adjacent tress which might be coming in contact with your house. They are parasites so the first step to eliminating bird bugs would be to find their source and/or their host and remove it.
Bat Bugs Vs Bed Bugs
Bat bugs a close cousin to the bed bug.
It’s often stated that bed bugs are a descendant to the bat bug who fed on cave-dwelling humans years ago.
Bat bugs are the most common type of bugs that are mistaken for bed bugs.
Bat bugs heavily rely on bats for their main source of food and similar to bird bugs, can not reproduce on human blood.
What’re the differences between bat bugs and bed bugs?
- Bat bugs hair length is longer than a bed bug’s
- Bat bugs can only reproduce on bat blood
How To Find Them?: If you think you have bat bugs, immediately check your attic, basement, cellar and/or any other harboring location they might have gotten access too. Once the bats have been removed, your bat bug problem should begin to wane with the use of residual sprays and powders to any cracks and crevices in your home.
Fleas Vs Bed Bugs
People often mistake fleas for being bed bugs, not because they look like bed bugs, but just because they’re in your bed and biting you leaving similar bite marks. Despite their similarities, fleas and bed bugs do have distinct differences.
What are the differences?
- Fleas are much smaller than bed bugs
- Fleas can jump
- Fleas can transmit diseases
- Fleas leave erratic and itchy bite marks that resemble a white halo when observed closely
- Fleas like to bite your lower legs and feet
Fleas were partially responsible for killing thousands of people during the black plague. They would get infected through biting rats and transmit the disease to humans. Everyone reacts differently when bitten by fleas. Some people will break out into large rashes, where others just have some itchy red spots.
How to find them?: If you have fleas you should first look to your pets and then any other animals that may have taken residence in your home.
Pets: If you have pets, it’s likely that they fleas are from outside, at the vet, or from another pet or animal. Once your pet catches them, they’ll likely start spreading in their bedding or other areas where they sleep. Most of you reading this probably let your pets sleep with you at night, which will result in you also catching fleas. If this is the case, I recommend shampooing your pet with approved insecticide, cleaning their sleeping area, and investing in a flea collar. Consider also placing flea traps around the sleeping area, which would catch the fleas to confirm there is in fact a problem.
Other Animals: If you don’t have pets, you can still catch fleas through squirrels or other rodents that may live in your attic or crawl spaces. This is why it’s vitally important for homeowners to seal up access points to their homes!
Check out our complete guide to fleas if you want to learn more!
Mosquitoes Vs Bed Bugs
Mosquitoes are another common insect to confused bed bugs for. For most people, they might want to convince themselves that they are being bit by mosquitoes rather than face the reality that bed bugs have invaded their lives.
The thing is, there aren’t a lot of major differences between mosquito bites and bed bug bites, which makes it difficult to assess based simply on the bite. That being said, you need to look more at circumstantial evidence to make a determination if it’s a bed bug that’s ailing you.
For example, do you live in Florida without any windows screens? Chances are that mosquitoes are feasting on you.
What’re The Differences?
- Mosquito bites appear almost instantly after bite
- Mosquito bites resolve much quicker than bed bug bites
- Mosquitoes transmit diseases (Zika, etc)
- Mosquito bites are random and tend to be isolated to only areas of exposed skin (bed bugs can crawl under your clothes while you sleep)
How to find them? Mosquitoes can be a real nuisance if you have them. Some common mosquito removal tips include removing standing water sources around your house. These water sources provide a habitat for mosquitoes to thrive and reproduce. Removing these water sources in conjunction with other methods to getting rid of mosquitoes will alleviate your mosquito troubles.
Confirming You Have Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are nocturnal creatures, rarely seen during the day. To correctly confirm if you have bed bugs you should preferably catch one so that you can show a professional, but if you can’t, the key signs of bed bugs are as follows:
- Itchy bite marks usually in a line of 3’s (but not always)
- Fecal traces in or around your box spring and mattress
- Skin castings in or around your mattress
- Blood marks on your bed sheets or pillow covers
In my experience, the bite marks left from bed bugs are much more itchy that mosquito bites and stay for a longer period of time. Also, the bed bug bites typically left miniature scars in the areas where I was bitten.
Also consider using bed bug traps that can be placed underneath your bed at night. These traps have a powder like substance that make it difficult for bed bugs to climb up your bed and instead capture them in a bowl. Once they’re captured you can easily show an exterminator to correctly identify your problem.
Below is a video that goes into depth on finding bed bugs so you can get rid of them.
How To Identify Bed Bug Bites?
So you’ve gotten through the first two sections and feel mostly comfortable that you have bed bugs. So what does it all mean?
Now you have determined that bed bugs are your problem, this section will talk all about what it means to be bitten by a bed bug, what bites from bed bugs look like, and how to treat bites when bitten.
What do bed bug bites look like? And why do they itch?
When a bed bug bites you, it will leave a similar mark to that of a mosquito or flea, which is why it is hard to ascertain the nature of the bug infestation you have simply from a bite.
You’ll likely develop a swollen red lump area, which will itch and remind you that you have a pest problem.
Bed bug bites (and mosquito bites) itch because you are allergic to the anticoagulant the bugs use to prevent you from feeling the bite itself.
What’s interesting about bed bug bites is that not everyone will react to them, and some people will never get a red bump to indicate that there is a problem.
The range of your allergic reaction will depend on many genetic factors. Entomologist Michael Potter notes that over 30% of people will never react to a bed bug bite. What’s really bad is that if you aren’t allergic to bed bugs, you’ll never notice you have them until you start actually seeing them, and if you start seeing them, you can bet that there is a full blown infestation somewhere.
Should You Worry About Diseases If Bitten By A Bed Bug?
Generally, you should not worry about that actual bite of a bed bug. It has been said that bed bugs contain certain neutralizing factors, which reduce the chance they’ll transmit diseases. That being said, bed bugs are not known carriers of many diseases but there are a few exceptions.
For example, a study published by Oxford University Press found that bed bugs were the likely cause of sickness associated with a 67 year old man, where he developed rashes and skin irritations after being bit by many bed bugs.
Another study published by Austral Entomology cited two researchers who purposely let bed bugs bite them and developed skin rashes, hives, and itching. They began to feel lethargic and had bouts of profuse sweating. What’s strange is that these researchers have been bitten before with minimal reaction.
Assuming you don’t have a significant allergic reaction to bed bugs, you’ll probably be okay if you have a number of bed bites. Aside from scratching and a little emotional distress, you’ll heal without the need from special medicine.
For more information about the dangers of bed bugs, checkout this article where we break down the topic even more!
Bed Bug Warning
Going through this guide, I’m sure some of you are itching to take things into your own hands. You just want this problem to go away as soon as possible, thus you go out and buy some sprays and start fumigating your house. I get it, we are human and we like instant results. But DIY bed bug removal is not recommended. It is highly likely you’ll end up making the problem worse. That is why we recommend consulting with an exterminator in ALL types of bed bug infestations.
How To Treat Bed Bug Bites?
If you have bed bug bites, the best way to treat them is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine.
Most doctors will prescribe treatments for the itch rather than the bite itself, which usually subsides in about a week.
I will say from personal experience that bed bug bites tend to last a long time, much longer than mosquito bites. When finally healed, they may leave miniature scars. The scars did go away, but I was worried for a bit. After being bit by mosquitoes most of my life, you can definitely tell a difference when a bed bug is biting you. It’s hard to explain but there are nuances to the bite that will trigger you to think that the issue might be something other than mosquitos.
Once that fear creeps in, the hunt is on to find the threat. In this case, bed bugs.
So, How Do You Go About Getting Rid Of Bed Bugs?
At this point in the guide, you have decided that you have a problem.
The bed bugs have bitten you and you need to get rid of them asap. This section will outline exactly the steps to take to get rid of bed bugs, how to go about finding an exterminator, and the do’s and don’ts when it comes to getting rid of bed bugs.
Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
Below I outline the steps you should take once you’ve determined there is probably a bed bug problem in your house.
1. Remain Calm
When you realize you have bed bugs, the worst thing you can do is to over react and start going on a house decontaminating rampage, filling your house with poisonous insecticides, and/or pointing the blame for the bed bug infestation at your husband or children. Bed bugs are a nuisance, yes, but now that they’re here, the most prudent use of your energy would be to remain calm and take the necessary steps to remove them.
I keep emphasizing the theme of staying calm all throughout this guide because it is so vitally important to exterminating bed bugs.
2. Inspect your mattress and box spring
After you’ve established a certain level of calmness, you can begin the self-assessment phase of bed bug removal.
The first place you should look in assessing the damage is your mattress and box spring. University Of Kentucky did a study of 13 infested apartments, which found that if you have bed bugs, there’s a 70% chance that the bed bugs are probably in your mattress, box spring, or headboard (see figure).
If nothing else, this information should encourage you to go out and buy a mattress encasement!
3. Clean And Quarantine Everything
Regardless of whether you find any bed bugs in your mattress or not, you should take proactive measures to clean and quarantine everything in and around your house. Once the infected areas are cleaned, more invasive chemical treatments can be deployed by trained professionals.
Make a plan on how you will isolate and clean each item in your room.
- Clothes/Plush Items: All of your clothes that don’t have to be dry cleaned should be bagged up and washed/dried on the highest heat setting. At about 120 degrees, all the bed bugs and their eggs will die. Once cleaned, bag up the clothes and isolate it your house. Just be warned, that it is possible for bed bugs to escape through the holes in your dryer (see the 3rd bullet below for alternative solutions).
- Toys/Hard Items: Items that can’t be washed should be place in air tight containers that will stop bed bugs from getting in or out of the item. Once ready you can specifically treat each container.
- Consider Heat Treatment Cases: If you have toys or clothes you think might have bed bugs, there are alternative options that apply direct heat ensuring bed bug killing success. For example, there are cases that you could buy to put your clothes inside. When activated, the case would apply direct heat to the product killing any hiding pests (bed bugs, fleas, etc). They can be pricey, but the relief of knowing your belongings are bed bug free is quite comforting. Here’s a guide we have on heat treatment for your belongings.
Once you’ve isolated your belongings and inspected your mattress for bed bugs, make sure to wipe down and vacuum every crack and crevice in your house. The contents of your vacuum should be sealed in a plastic bag and disposed of.
At this point, you’ve probably did about 90% of what you should do before calling an exterminator for professional assistance. The key is knockout the obvious areas of your house.
Below is a useful video that goes into more depth about the bed bug problem in Los Angeles more tips on getting rid of bed bugs.
4. Hiring A Bed Bug Exterminator Or Pest Control Operator (PCO)
When you decide it’s time to call an exterminator to help with your bed bug problem you should educate yourself on the proper questions to ask so that you guarantee you find a competent professional. Given the boom of the bed bug infestations, there are a lot of new exterminators that claim to know how to eliminate a bed bug problem, when in reality, they don’t.
Far too often, people settle for the first exterminator the see on Craigslist or Google and fail to ask qualifying questions before hiring. People tend to be emotional when they have a bed bug problem, thus the hiring process isn’t thoughtfully planned out. Sometimes this works and you’ll get lucky, but more often you’ll end up with an exterminator that isn’t so great at exterminating. If this happens, you’ll only increase the level of emotional stress you’ll have to deal with and potentially exacerbate your bed bug problem.
To avoid potential issues here are the “must ask” questions when hiring an exterminator for your bed bug problem.
- Are they licensed by the state? You can validate their answer through your State’s Department of Agriculture. Search on the website or give the clerk’s office a call.
- Do they have references? Consider also validating their references through your own research (Google, Yelp, LinkedIn) to make sure they’re authentic.
- What is the company’s guarantee? Bed bugs are notoriously hard to get rid of and companies who aren’t confident in their service will give you an excuse why they don’t offer guarantees. Connected apartments and condos are difficult, but a reputable company should be able to guarantee service on free standing homes.
- Do they have liability insurance? If no, cross them off your list… fast.
- How long do the treatments last? Thorough bed bug treatments should last anywhere between 1-2 hours.
- How many treatments is included in their price? There should be at least two treatments. The first treatment, then the second follow-up two weeks later. If they quote more than two treatments, that might be an indicator of an inexperienced bed bug exterminator (be careful).
- Do their bed bug treatments consist of ONLY insecticides? Bed bugs have been shown to be more resilient against insecticides, thus exterminators should be aware of alternative methods (e.g., steam treatments, encasements, etc).
- Does the treatment cover the entire house? Bed bugs will definitely centralize near their hosts, but if you have family members chances are they’re going to be everywhere and your treatments should cover this.
- What is their inspection/application process? A reputable bed bug exterminator would never apply insecticide to an area he or she hasn’t thoughtfully inspected.
A Note About Bed Bug Exterminators
At the end of the day, when you’re evaluating your bed bug exterminator, you need to be listening for confident and detailed responses. Most people can lie in their responses, but if you listen carefully and call 4-6 exterminators, you’ll hear a difference. Checkout this guide where we explain the differences between exterminating companies.