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How to Be your Own Bed Bug Exterminator
The mere thought of bed bugs is enough to make your skin crawl. If you're allergic to them or can feel them bite, it can mean endless weeks of not being able to sleep through the night.
Even if you're not allergic, the thought of tiny bugs living in the cracks of a mattress is unsettling. No matter how disturbing that thought is, most people still wind up living with them because they can't seem to get rid of them. Exterminators are expensive, and one treatment is never enough to get rid of them.
Instead, homeowners have to pay hundreds of dollars every single month for six months or more to get rid of the problem. Even then, it may not do the job. If a person can afford that, great. The rest of us, on the other hand, wind up living with bed bugs for a while as we try to figure things out.
If you just found out that you have bed bugs, don't bother spending hours surfing the web looking for a solution. Unfortunately, I've got plenty of experience in the area, and I know a few other people that have had to deal with them. Below, you'll find everything that I've learned along the way, and it should be more than enough to help you finally get rid of those bed bugs.
Signs of Bed Bugs to Look For
During the beginning of an infestation, a person will not see a bed bug randomly crawling up their wall. Most people begin to suspect these annoying critters when they notice a bite (or three) on their arm or leg after they wake up.
Those bites are the first sign that there is a problem. There are a few other signs that people can look for to figure out if these are behind the mysterious bites.
- Look along the seams of a mattress. Look in every single crack of the mattress. If there are bed bugs, there will be other signs. The most obvious sign is a bug itself, but it’s not that easy at first.
- Small black dots that look like dirt in the cracks of the mattress is another sure sign. That is their poop. If you think the mattress is just dirty from wearing shoes on the bed, etc., vacuum it up and check back in a couple of days. If there are more black dots and bites, it’s bed bugs.
Different People React Differently
One of the main reasons that infestations get so bad is because one person in the house will have bites and no one else will. That doesn’t mean they aren’t getting bitten, though.
When bed bugs bite, they numb the skin first. This works on some people, but not on others. I wake up to the bites. It feels like someone just pinched the **** out of me. My significant other, however, never does. The kids never did—just me.
I’m also allergic to the bites. If I got bitten, it would swell up like a giant mosquito bite and would last for at least half a day. My daughter would have the same reaction. Other family members may have a red dot somewhere when they woke up, but that was about it.
The main way that we could tell that we had bed bugs (or still had them) was when one of them would wake me up at 2:00 in the morning for their midnight snack.
Don’t Throw Everything Away Yet
Now that we’ve figured out that bed bugs are the problem, try to calm down. If you’re anything like me, you are probably horrified at the thought of them feasting on you in the middle of the night, and you’re thinking about throwing everything away. Don’t. All that is going to do is make them run into the cracks in the walls because they want to hide somewhere.
Instead, take a deep breath. Before you react, you have to assess the situation to see how bad it is.
Read More From Dengarden
If you think there is an infestation, the first step is to figure out how bad the problem is. This part is tedious, and it’s going to take some time, but you need to do it. Exterminators might do it for you, but you’ll do a more thorough job.
First, take the sheets off the bed and check the mattress with a flashlight. You might need a magnifying glass to see the baby ones, but most people can see the adults with the naked eye.
After checking the bed, move through the rest of the house and check every crack and crevice. Here are some examples of where to look to get you in the right frame of mind:
- Check the tops of the curtains
- Take the clothes out of dresser drawers and check around the edges
- Take the drawers out and check the inside of the dresser
- Look inside shoes
- Observe the underside of the kitchen table and chairs
- Examine the folds of fabric in the couch
These tiny things can hide anywhere, but they prefer to nestle down in fabric or wood if they can. Check every crack and crevice in the house to figure out how bad it is.
Keep in mind that they will stay as close to the source of food (you) as they can, so if a person only sleeps in the bed, they are more likely to be in the bedroom than they are in the kitchen.
If the infestation is severe, they can be everywhere though, like inside the walls.
Time to Treat
Now that you know what you’re up against, it’s time to wage war. There are a lot of different ways to get rid of bed bugs. The best way is to learn about the different methods available and combine them all.
Put All Fabrics in the Dryer
Take all the clothing, bed sheets, curtains, etc., out of infested rooms and throw them in the dryer. One full cycle in the dryer will kill them. Make sure not to overfill the dryer, though. If there are too many clothes in the dryer, the heat will not get to everything, and it won’t kill them all, so do smaller loads.
Your vacuum is going to be your best friend during this process. It's a quick and effective way to suck up bugs, including the almost invisible babies.
- Take the sheets and blankets off the bed, and then vacuum every single inch—the sides, the underside, literally everywhere.
- After that, dry the sheets and put them back on the bed. Repeat this process every couple of days.
- Vacuum everything in the house in the same manner, like the couches, chairs, other beds, etc. Even if something is not infested, this will make sure that a stray bed bug hasn't found its way over there.
- After you're done, empty the vacuum into a plastic trash bag, tie it tightly so they can't crawl out, and toss it in the trash.
Use Rubbing Alcohol
This is a great spot treatment. Rubbing alcohol will instantly kill a bed bug on contact.
- Pick up a big jug of rubbing alcohol that is at least 95%.
- Put on a mask (the smell can be pretty strong) and use it to get into the hard-to-reach areas.
- For example, they can hide deep inside the couch where the vacuum can’t reach. Dumping rubbing alcohol onto those areas will kill the bed bugs on contact.
- Do this daily for two weeks, and you’ll see a tremendous difference.
Steam is great for getting rid of bed bugs because it kills both the bugs and the eggs. Things like rubbing alcohol don’t kill the eggs. The vacuum won’t get the eggs, either. Bed bugs secure their eggs to surfaces with a glue that means no amount of suction is going to pull them off.
Picking up a good steamer is a great way to kill the eggs. A steam mop with a built-in steam is ideal, especially for wood floors. Bed bugs can hide in between those cracks, too. The detachable steamer can be used on dressers, couches, and so on.
Throw It All Away?
Most people contemplate throwing everything in the trash when they find out they have bed bugs. This can be a good thing or a bad thing.
If the infestation is so bad that the bed bugs are in the walls, throwing all the furniture in the trash means that you will be sitting on the floor and still have bed bugs. In short, it’s not going to matter.
On the other hand, this can also be a great idea. If the bed bugs are only in one area, like on the couch, throwing out the couch can prevent further infestation.
I knew someone that brought bed bugs home with them from the hospital. They slept on the couch, so the bugs were on the couch. This same person vacuumed religiously for weeks to no avail. The bed bugs didn’t spread to the rest of the house, but they could not get rid of them in the couch either.
Finally, they took the couch out in the backyard and set it on fire. That may sound extreme, but it worked. That was the only place they found bed bugs, and, once they got rid of the couch, they never saw them again. Problem solved.
Use Bed Covers
Some people have an aversion to bed covers because they can't get over the idea that the bed bugs are still in the mattress, but these covers are a great preventative measure, too. Once you get done vacuuming the bed, put on a plastic cover to make sure that the mattress doesn't get re-infested.
They also make covers for furniture, etc., that can work just as well. It may not be the most comfortable option, but it's definitely better than sitting on the floor.
This stuff can kill anything with an exoskeleton, from bed bugs to roaches. I’ve used it, and it works amazingly well. There is a catch, though.
Bed bugs have eyes, so if they see a giant pile of white powder, they will simply walk around it. The key is to sprinkle a fine dust around areas where they are found. Then the bed bugs crawl through it to their imminent death. Keep in mind it can take a few days for this stuff to work, and they have to crawl through it for it to work.
Trying to get rid of bed bugs can seem like an uphill battle. At some point, you might consider just setting the entire house on fire. That’s okay. You’re going to get frustrated, but don’t lose hope. If you keep at it, you’re going to see a difference, and eventually, they will be gone.
Use a spreadsheet to keep track of where and when you see them to keep yourself motivated. Then, check out prevention tips to make sure that you don’t have to go through all of this again.
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.
Barbara on June 28, 2020:
I’ve been looking for your preventative article?? Could you provide a link please. I’ve been doing everything you stated for my bedroom. So far haven found one. Haven’t been bitten. I still haven’t finished with decluttering, I have a physical disability. I call it purging. I also had them in my living room. Before I heard about alcohol I doused then couch. Since then we have purchased a few things. Only saw something really small twice yesterday. Still have purging to do there too. I’m not letting up. But today my back us hurting so I can’t do to much. I will continue on this battle. My main problem is the couch. We don’t want it and haven’t for a while. Can seem to figure out how to get it out of my apartment. It was boughten in by a window that has since been replaced. We want to cut it up. But I’m afraid it won’t work due to the ends recline and there is a lot of metal. I’ll figure it out.
Stacy on July 21, 2019:
How long does steam have to be placed in an infested area to kill bed bug eggs? Does one blast kill the eggs or must I leave the steam on for a longer time? I did not know that eggs could NOT be picked up by a vacuum cleaner -- thanks for the tip. I know I have bed bugs because I caught a few on my pillow at night. (But can find no bite marks.) However, in search of a nest, I have looked high and low, torn my bed apart, searched every fold and crevice on the mattress and everything around my bed including the frame, under the bed, beside the bed and cannot find any evidence of a nest or infestation. Nonetheless, I am treating for bed bugs in every way imaginable. I cannot afford an exterminator so was pleased to learn that if I keep at it, I should be able to eradicate the pests.
Fantasia on March 20, 2018:
Thank you.. will try your solutions ..
I really can't sleep.. thinking they will walk on me..
Once i catched one while sleeping.. realised i felt it walking on my chest.. got it subconsciously and had lots of blood on my chest and blouse.. I was really horrified to see it between my fingers and all that blood.. get me lack of sufficient sleep
NICKIE P on September 28, 2017:
Thank you so much. I have not seen any bugs i have pulled apart the mattress and box spring but my daughter woke up this morning with 3 bites on her feet and her toes. I dont have anything. I bought a spray and plan on buying rubbing alchol. After work everything is going in the dryer and i bought all new pillows and pillow and mattress covers. Thank you for writing this it was very informational.
Amber Lynn (author) on September 28, 2017:
I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I think it takes so much work that most sprays simply aren't enough to make sure they stay gone. I have another article about how to prevent bed bugs if you're getting them from a neighbor too.
If they are just still there, this tip is risky and it is a fire hazard, but it worked for a friend of mine. They removed all the electronics from the house, turned the furnace all the way up, got a few torpedo heaters and turned them on and left. It was enough to heat the entire house up to 120 degrees. When they came back at the end of the day, it had gotten so hot that the blinds on the windows were melted (and I'm assuming anything else plastic in the house), but they never saw another bed bug.
Debbie on September 27, 2017:
Thank you for this I am going to try it we had paid $1100 for a professional exterminator approx. 1 year ago and they are back and of course the exterminator said I have to pay again and there is no guarantee and explained with great detail appreciate it
tonykeywest on May 15, 2017:
I have been reading about bed bug re emergence for about ten years, I have been using DE around the house for years as a preventative measure, if I do happen to bring some home they dont stand a chance. I also place the sticky traps arond the bed and hang sections of clear contact paper around, I find the occasional gnat, mite or springtail but so far no bedbugs.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 15, 2017:
Thanks for your very detailed instructions. These are worth trying if they can replace the expensive exterminators.