How to get rid of bed bugs and the 3 signs of an infestation
Bed bugs are small insects that feed on human blood. Since they’re less than a quarter of an inch long, they’re almost impossible to spot. But they can be found anywhere, from houses to nursing homes and hotels.
“Normally the first signs of bed bugs are bites,” says Rick Young, owner of UK-based Young’s Pest Control.
The tell-tale sign is small bites clustered in a group or line on your skin. Although bed bug bites are itchy, they’re usually harmless.
“In the vast majority of cases, bed bugs are a nuisance rather than genuinely dangerous to health,” says Sreedhar Krishna, a dermatologist at TalkHealth London.
Still, most people who have bed bugs want them gone as soon as possible. Here’s how to spot the signs of bed bugs and get rid of them quickly and effectively.
Signs of bed bugs
Bed bugs usually live in or around your bed, and they commonly hide in the creases and seams of mattresses or upholstery. However, it’s rare to actually spot a bed bug.
“Sometimes it can be very hard to tell if you have bed bugs as they remain in hiding places through the day time and only come out at night to feed when we are in a deep sleep,” says Young.
Instead of looking for bugs, you should look for signs of a bed bug infestation. These can include:
- Bed bug bites that appear in a cluster or line on your skin. Bites will appear red on light skin, or could look dark on darker skin. They will be smaller than mosquito bites.
- Red or rusty colored stains on your mattress or sheets. This can occur when you inadvertently squish bed bugs.
- Dark brown or black stains on your mattress or sheets that almost look like they were drawn by a marker. These are bed bug feces.
How to get rid of bed bugs
Treating bed bugs can be complex and time consuming, especially since infestations are usually severe by the time people notice it.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends certain do-it-yourself remedies.
- Heat treatment. Bed bugs die when they’re exposed to heat above 130°F. You can put bedding in the dryer on high heat, or use a steam cleaner with a gentle air force to heat your bed.
- Cold treatment. You can put your bedding in a sealed bag, and stick it in a freezer set to 0°F for four days to kill bed bugs.
- Pesticides. The EPA recommends certain pesticides for fighting bed bugs. Desiccants, which dry out the bed bugs, are very effective but can take months to work. Some foggers (also known as bug bombs) can be used to fight bed bugs, but they’re less effective because they don’t penetrate the small cracks where bed bugs hide. It’s important to follow the directions on the specific fogger that you’re using.
In addition, our colleagues at Insider Reviews have put together a list of the best products to get rid of bed bugs.
You can try these before hiring an exterminator to save money, but you should note that professional extermination is a more effective (albeit costly) treatment.
Exterminators use the same tools — heat or pesticides — but they have access to higher-quality equipment that can work more quickly and effectively.
“There are a number of home remedies which one can try, but these are unlikely to eradicate the problem,” Krishna says. “This is because bed bugs can hide in very tricky to reach areas and so professional help is often required.”
In most cases, exterminators will have to come back multiple times to get rid of the bed bugs. The EPA has additional guidance on selecting a pest control company. After the extermination is complete you should continue to monitor for signs of bedbugs for at least two weeks.
If you suspect you have bed bugs, don’t carry bedding or clothing into other areas of your house. This can help keep the bed bugs contained to one site, Young says.
The bottom line
Bed bugs are creepy, but they’re mostly harmless and there are effective ways to get rid of them. Remembering that can help you stay calm if you notice the signs of a bed bug infestation in your home.
“You never need to panic if you have bed bugs,” Young says. “There are qualified people and correct methods of safely exterminating your problem.”