Skip to main content

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs: A Low-Cost DIY Extermination Without Toxic Poisons

Victoria has experience getting rid of bed bugs in her home.

The bed bug life cycle

The bed bug life cycle

Don't Panic!

I know the panic, the dread, the embarrassment. This was a horrible experience for me! After trying others' advice and spending months battling these horrible little critters, I FINALLY got my house back! I want to share with you how I did it so that you can do it too!

This article describes how to get rid of bed bugs yourself without using toxic pesticides or paying thousands of dollars on exterminators! Do not give in to the exterminator hype. If I can do it alone, you can too!


Learn to identify. I don't mean just knowing what they look like. I mean, learn male from female and the life cycle stages. Learn this first hand as you are doing the extermination. Later on, if you find a single bug, you will know if it is a recent hatch (could be a loner) or a female adult (that would require the extermination of new eggs).

Your battle against the bed bug will be much shorter if you can identify them well so that you know how to react. This can also relieve some of the anxiety and stress that comes from seeing a single bug after extermination. Knowing if a new bug is a male or female can let you know if you need to repeat processes or wait to see if he is just a loner that was missed or hatched after extermination. Also important to know is that females do not reproduce until they are adults.

Bed Bug Habits

  • Bed bugs are nocturnal. They will be most active after the house is dark and quiet.
  • They prefer humans over animals. But if humans are not available, they will feed on your pet.
  • They like to travel. They will hang out on your shoes, clothing, and suitcases.
  • You will usually find them living within a 5 ft perimeter of your bed.
  • They can hide in small tight spaces.
  • If you can fit the corner of a credit card in a crevice, a bed bug can hide there.

The Basics

You are going to kill the bed bugs with heat using your dryer and a handheld steamer. Using steam to kill these bugs is almost instant! They cannot tolerate heat. Your dryer can kill the bugs and eggs if on the highest setting for about 30–45 minutes.

Freezing temps will also kill them. If you have a deep freezer, you can put items in the freezer for three days to ensure everything has been killed.

Your Weapons

  • Handheld steamer
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Clothes washer and dryer
  • Deep freezer
Eggs and newly hatched bed bugs found under the box springs of the bed.

Eggs and newly hatched bed bugs found under the box springs of the bed.

Is It Worth It?

I say above to not throw away any furniture you want to keep. "Want" is the key word. You must decide if it is worth it. Only you can decide. During my extermination, I did toss out an old recliner because it was just too much of a risk. It had a decent infestation inside the chair. With all of the inside parts, nooks, and crannies, I decided that I would probably not be able to get every single one. So I tossed the chair.

Another example of when to toss is if you have a torn mattress. If your mattress has a tear in it, then your protection of bed bugs being inside the mattress has been jeopardized. In most cases, it can be salvaged. But is it worth it? If you choose to keep the torn mattress, you can steam the mattress inside and out. If you are not confident after steaming, you can add a mattress cover. (I do not recommend the cover unless your infestation was severe and you have a tear in the mattress cover.)

The Plan: Choose a Room

  1. Bag up any items that are cloth but cannot be put into the dryer; dolls, stuffed animals, throw pillows, purses, bags, etc. Put these bags into a deep freezer for 3+ days. No freezer—no problem. Keep them bagged and in this room until you are done with the rest of the room, then you can steam them and put them back.
  2. Choose your battle for laundry. A: Take 1 load at a time directly to the washer/dryer. B: Bag it up to wash over the next few days but leave in the room. C: Bag it up to wash 3+ days later and put it into a deep freezer. D: Clean but laying out? - Run it through the dryer for 30–45 minutes on the highest heat setting the clothing can take.
  3. De-clutter the perimeter - 5 ft from bed. (can double to 10 ft if you are a worrier like me!) The perimeter includes walls, baseboards, wall hangings, carpets, lamps, under bed, dressers, closets, curtains, etc. Inspect each item thoroughly, steam or wash as needed, then bag or remove from the perimeter.
  4. Travel items: If you have recently traveled, make sure to steam or freeze your suitcases and any travel bags.
  5. Strip the Bed: Bag or wash and dry immediately.
  6. Vaccum. Vaccum. Vaccum. Bag vacuum contents immediately, or add Seven Dust to your vacuum canister. Steam the vacuum cleaner after each use. Do not move your vacuum cleaner to another room without steaming the entire machine.
  7. Steam all furniture that is left very thoroughly. Steam the entire mattress, box springs, metal pieces, etc., of the bed. Hit every part of all the furniture with the steam to ensure any eggs have been killed.
  8. Steam the edges of the floors, baseboards, wall hangings, etc., any item in the perimeter needs to be steamed to ensure there are no eggs sticking to the items.
  9. Don't forget receptacles, light switches, light covers, lamps, ceiling fans, floor vents, etc. Remember, any space you can fit the corner of a credit card into is big enough to harbor a bug.
  10. Put everything back in its place, and move to the next room!
Bed bug eggs (white/tan) and fecal matter (black) in the seam of the mattress.

Bed bug eggs (white/tan) and fecal matter (black) in the seam of the mattress.

Tips for Success

  • Steam inside holes and around any hardware on your furniture, such as screws, bolts, and door handles.
  • I read that "bed bugs do not live in books." This is not true! Bed bugs can and will live in books. Check the covers, spines, and use the steamer.
  • Steam your mattress and box springs very thoroughly on both sides, all edges, and down into their core. Do not forget under the mattress tags that are sewn onto the top end of your mattress.
  • Put your pillows in the dryer for at least 1 hour.
  • Steam the edges of the carpet where it meets the baseboards.
  • Don't forget under your bedposts.
  • Steam clean hardwood floors.
  • Make sure to get the windows and trim. They like to hide in the folds of the curtain near the curtain rods.
  • Bed bugs like to lay eggs in small places, such as the staple imprints on the back of your headboard and nightstands.
  • Also, steam the joints of furniture legs and corners of drawers.

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: How long do I steam to get rid of bed bugs?

Answer: How long you steam one place will depend on the article you are steaming. The bed bugs will die with just a few seconds of steam hitting them. You must move the steam over the item slow enough to make sure the steam would reach the bug. For example, in a wood item, you can move along fairly quick through any cracks or gaps. If you are steaming an upholstered chair, you want to go over the fabric slowly, especially in any places the fabric gathers to ensure any hiding bugs or eggs will get hit by the steam for at least 3-5 seconds. Many times you will see them come out as you get closer to their hiding places. They will feel the heat coming and try to escape it.

Question: Where do I get a quality, but fairly inexpensive, steamer so I can exterminate bed bugs without toxic poisons?

Answer: I would try Ebay. Remember as you search, it does not have to be fancy. Just a hand held small steamer should do the trick. I have seen them at Wal-Mart, Target, Harbor Freight, and other discount stores.

Question: Can you use a blow dryer if you do not have a steamer? Or does it have to be moist heat?

Answer: I do not know for sure. It would be difficult because the bugs let go of the object they are crawling on to drop and run when they feel danger. I think the blow dryer would not be hot enough to kill them instantly. Therefore, give them time to run. Steam is hotter than boiling water. The heat to kill the bugs does not have to be moist — just very high temperature. You can put all bedding and clothing in the dryer on high temp setting for 30 minutes or so.

Also, if you just cannot get a steamer, I recommend getting Diatomaceous Earth. It is a natural substance, no pesticide poisons.

Put it on your furniture, flooring, and items that can not be washed. Put it in the cracks and crevices. Keep it dry, and it will last a long time. It does not kill instantly. Once bugs have it on them, they will die in a day or so. Very good to use to kill the newly hatched after you have done a good cleaning.

Anywhere you can leave it; it will kill fleas and bed bugs that walk through it for months if kept dry.