Expert bed bug killer and ultimate victor. By the third infestation in three different apartments, I had them figured!
According to a recent article in Business Insider, bedbugs were nearly eradicated in the 20th century as a result of various pesticides. However, a few survived, and they have adapted. They now have a 15% thicker skin and are immune to virtually all insecticides.
Eradicating bed bugs is not easy. They can live without food for up to nine months in colder climates. They breed quickly—so as fast as you get rid of one lot, six lots replace it. They're difficult to find, because they can hide in places you didn't know existed. Getting rid of them is a major operation.
So here are the high points for how to rid your home of these pesky insects.
A Quick Guide to Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
Though we'll soon get into further specifics for getting rid of bed bugs and preventing them from coming back, here's a brief, easy guide to how you can get these annoying insects out of your home:
- Understand bed bugs' life cycles. Kill newbies before they hatch.
- Heat kills them. So put everything you have in a very hot wash cycle, then a very hot dryer for an hour. They should be quite dead by then. (When you take these items out of the dryer, plastic wrap them until you are sure that every last bug has left your home. That could be many months, maybe up to a year.)
- Cover anything that you can't put through the dryer and that you won't use for a year in plastic wrap so that nothing can escape. Pack it away. (Bugs have been known to live for anywhere between three and nine months without food. Sometimes even longer in colder climates. So if there are any eggs or living bugs in those items, they should die within a year.)
- Check every piece of furniture, luggage, nook, and cranny you have. They hide and they're good at it. Use a powerful vacuum cleaner in order to suction up any hidden eggs or live ones. You might have to throw out beds, cupboards, and other fixtures once these are infested. (Unless you can cover them in plastic wrap and put them into storage for a year.) If even one of these bugs remains hidden, it can lay eggs, and the entire cycle starts again.
- Invest in a steam cleaner for your floors. The steam will kill them. Steam your floors daily. Do the same with carpets. Heat is always your best option.
How Do You Know If You Have a Bed Bug Infestation?
Just because you have bug bites, doesn't necessarily mean you have a bed bug infestation. After all, those bites could've just come from fleas.
Here's how you know if you have bed bugs:
- Check the sheets. There will be blood and brownish spots that look like garbage in your bed.
- Check around your bed and furniture for this brownish garbage. (It's a result of molting, which they do five times before reaching maturity.)
Some Facts About Bed Bugs
There are many myths about bed bugs. Here are some facts about them to help dispel certain inaccuracies:
- Diatomaceous earth does not kill them.
- Boric acid will kill roaches, but it doesn’t work on bed bugs.
- Clean environments do not fully prevent an infestation.
- They do not transmit disease—their bites just itch.
- DDT does not work on these bugs. (They developed an immunity within a very short time.)
- Pesticides do not work on bed bugs.
How Often Do Bed Bugs Lay Eggs?
Bed bugs lay between one and four eggs every day. But before it is able to reproduce, the bed bug must reach adulthood, which is about five or six weeks after hatching. It needs to molt once a week, however, in order to reach the next stage in its life cycle. (There are five stages.) And in order to molt, the insect has to feed once a week. So if it doesn't feed, then maturity is delayed.
Eggs are laid as close to the host as possible, and that might be the bed, the floor, the wall, or in items close to the bed. The eggs are white and about the size of a pinhead.
Your best case scenario for preventing further infestation is to find every single one of those eggs laid before they hatch (about six weeks) and eradicate them.
First Things First—Get a Mattress Cover!
The very first thing you have to do is make sure you don't get bitten anymore. And since beds are expensive to replace, you should immediately get a mattress cover. This will prevent bed bugs from reaching you from your bed. Not only will it stop them from biting you, but it will also leave them without their blood supply. If they starve long enough, they may even die. But because bed bugs can live for nine months to a year (around three months in a warm climate and around nine months in a cold climate), you should wait a full year before assuming that you are clear of the infestation.
Note: As an extra precaution, I would also plastic wrap the mattress before putting on the bug cover.
Look Into Temporary Bed Replacement Options
Depending on how bad your bed bug infestation is, you might eventually have to get rid of your bed. If so, you can’t donate it—not in good conscience anyway. That said, many places are now refusing beds precisely because bed bugs have returned with a vengeance. And obviously, buying another bed is just an open invitation to any of these devious insects to move into a new home. But if you’re single and you’re not entertaining nightly visitors, you can buy a camp bed or sleep on an air mattress until you’re certain they've permanently vacated your premises.
How to Kill Bed Bugs and Their Eggs
Now that you've stopped them from biting you, here are just a handful of ways to kill the bed bugs you have now:
Dryers, Boiling Hot Water, and Hot Days
Most instructions will tell you to put all your clothing, sheets, fabrics, etc. into a dryer and leave them there for an hour. That’s true. It will kill them.
You can also put the entire lot into a bath of boiling hot water. They will die instantly. Similarly, you can also pour a kettle of hot water over a nest of eggs. They'll die in less than a second.
Bed bugs prefer colder climates, and do not remain on the human body because body heat is too hot for them. By the same token, if your infested linen is left outside on a very hot day, the odds are that the eggs will die.
A 91% solution of rubbing alcohol will kill bed bugs. For fast use, organize in the following way:
- Decant the alcohol into several smaller spray bottles.
- Leave a bottle in each place where there are likely to be bed bugs.
- When you find eggs, spray them until they are saturated. Remove the dead eggs. Put them into a tightly sealed plastic bag or burn them.
- When you find bed bugs, spray them as well. They move slowly, so you will have plenty of time to spray them as they walk.
Vacuuming and Steaming
You will need to vacuum the floor and any nearby carpets at least every other day. It’s preferable to do so every day. The vacuum will suck up both eggs and bugs hiding in carpets or floorboard cracks. It's also advisable to use attachments to vacuum all soft furnishings.
For your floor, use a steamer. The heat from the steamer will kill both eggs and bugs. Use hot water to clean carpets.
Wiping Down Furniture
Generally, you can see bed bug eggs when you know what you are looking for. They are a white, creamy color and about the size of an old-fashioned pinhead. They tend to burrow into the same space, so that makes it easier to spot them. But you should still use a torch when you are looking for these guys, as they are small and difficult to see.
Use hot, soapy water to wash down every nook and cranny of furniture. If you see eggs, spray them with alcohol (unless your furniture is lacquered, which will harm the lacquer). Then dispose of the eggs.
Carbon Dioxide Trap
Bed bugs find you because they follow the carbon dioxide you breathe out. So if you use dry ice—which exudes carbon dioxide as it "melts"—you can set up a trap.
Take a bowl, put some dry ice in it, and surround the bowl with double-sided sticky tape. The idea is that, as the bed bugs gravitate towards the carbon dioxide looking for a meal, they walk on the sticky tape and can't move forward.
Is It Worth It to Hire a Professional Exterminator?
This costs anywhere from about $300 for a one bedroom apartment to thousands of dollars for an entire house. So far, nobody has discovered any magical chemical that completely kills all traces of bed bugs, so they can't do anything that you can’t. (Though they may have better equipment and more experience dealing with the matter.)
But if you're still thinking of hiring a professional exterminator, it’s worth asking them exactly what they will be doing and what chemicals they will be applying. Do yourself a favor and Google whatever they tell you.
Report the Infestation to Your Landlord and Post Your Location on the Bed Bug Registry
If you live in an apartment, report it to the landlord. Some states have laws where the landlord has to take care of it—others do not. In California, it’s a gray area.
At the very least, you should consider posting the address on the bed bug registry. That way, other potential tenants do not move into that apartment unless they have an assurance from the landlord that there are no bed bugs—and if there are, that the landlord takes care of all expenses. After all, eradicating these small vampires can be a costly operation.
Consider Downsizing Your Stuff
It might be good opportunity to get rid of excess. It’s true that the more you have, the more room bed bugs have to breed.
If you have enough bed linen to house the local hotel, then after washing it in hot water and drying at a high heat for an hour, wrap that linen in plastic and donate it. Someone else will be very happy, and you will have one less item to worry about.
Academic Sources for Further Information
- The University of Kentucky has a highly detailed page on bed bugs, their habits, and tips on eradicating them. It takes a bit of reading, but it's well worth the effort.
- The Virginia State Department has a number of outstanding PDF documents on bed bugs in various contexts and what to do about them. Again, well worth spending the time reading through them.
- Dr. Barb Ogg of the University of Lancaster also has an excellent article on managing bed bugs.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2014 Tessa Schlesinger