How to Identify & Get Rid of Bedbugs (& What Not to Do)

Thanks to their ability to hide in small cracks and crevices, bed bugs are incredibly difficult to target directly. Not only can it be expensive and time-consuming to remove these parasites, but they also transmit easily and can cause skin irritation.

Bed bugs especially like hiding out in mattresses and bed frames, and once you find them, the infestation may already be too far spread. Our article will discuss bed bugs, how to identify them, and how to get rid of them once and for all.

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What Are Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are small parasitic insects that are flat, round, and usually dark brown as adults. Bed bugs specifically feed on human blood, so animals like cats or dogs do not transmit them. They are about 1 to 7 millimeters in size, similar to the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny.

Bed bugs are capable of living for several months without consuming blood, making them particularly insidious and hard to notice. The eggs and larvae are small and white.

These small parasites can be found wherever humans are found. They are most often located in areas where people sleep, fitting snugly between mattresses and box springs, between top sheets and mattresses, or between the bed and the wall.

With more people traveling around the globe, bed bugs are rapidly transmitted across luggage in airplanes, from hotel rooms to homes, and through seats in theaters, automobiles, and other areas.

To get rid of bed bugs, you first need to know the signs of an infestation. Then, you can follow the recommended steps to get rid of them.

Signs of Bed Bugs in Your Home

Although bed bugs are not known to spread diseases, they are a nuisance. Their bites can make your skin itchy or blotchy, they can disrupt your sleep, and they can spread quickly to other people. If you scratch the bites on your skin, you may develop a secondary skin infection from breaking these open.

Some people may be bitten by bed bugs and never have a skin reaction at all. Other people have an allergic reaction to the bites that cause pain or swelling.

Bite marks are the primary way most people figure out they have a bed bug infestation. These bites will appear as red marks or splotchy areas on your arms, legs, torso, or even your face.

Bite marks usually appear overnight; however, they can take up to 14 days to develop, with some people experiencing no reaction at all.

There are certain signs to look for if you are concerned about a bed bug infestation:

  • Small brown exoskeletons after the bed bugs molt.
  • Dark or red spots on sheets and pillows.
  • Rust-colored spots on furniture or bedding.
  • A musty odor.
  • Small white lumps or crawling white spots, which are eggs and juveniles.
  • Round, brown insects, which are the adult bed bugs.
  • Disturbed sleep that has no other cause.

When bed bugs bite their victims, they typically inject an anticoagulant and an anesthetic, so the person does not react strongly to the bite and feeding. You may have a quick reaction that brings you out of deep sleep or REM state, so you may begin to feel less rested as a result of being bitten.

It is important to note that bed bugs have evolved to be inconspicuous. Currently, the most common way to catch a bed bug infestation is through traveling. They sneak into your suitcase and hitch a ride to your house. You are unlikely to notice one or two of these bugs in your luggage as you leave a hotel or when you get home, but they can quickly multiply and become a nuisance.

Where to Find Bed Bugs and How to Get Rid of Them

If you notice bite marks or blood spots on your body, sheets, pillows, or clothing, you may have bed bugs. Check areas of your home where they may live for further evidence.

Bed bugs hide in tight, flat spaces, so they are most often found:

  • In the seams of couches and chairs.
  • Within the folds of curtains or sheets.
  • Between cushions or under pillows.
  • In appliances or electrical receptacles.
  • Under wall hangings, pictures, or in folds of wallpaper.
  • In the junction between the wall and ceiling, or floor and wall.
  • In drawer joints.
  • In folded clothes.
  • In luggage.
  • Between the mattress and box spring.
  • Between the mattress and headboard, or headboard and wall.
  • Between furniture and the wall.

Even with the listed tips, you may not know what you are looking at when you find evidence of bed bugs.

If you are worried about a bed bug infestation, get help from a professional exterminator who specializes in bed bugs. As more people around the world report these infestations, more local and state governments are providing information on the best exterminators in the area to help their residents.

Identifying signs of bed bugs early means less drastic measures may work to eliminate the infestation in your home.

Eliminating Bed Bug Infestations

Localized bed bug infestations may be eliminated with some DIY methods. Once you have located where the bed bugs live, the first step is to contain the infestation.

Get rid of dressers, mattresses, carpets, or even electronics that are home to bed bugs. Because bed bugs spread quickly and are a public health crisis, you will need to contact your local, city, or state government for recommendations on where and how to safely dispose of these items. Leaving them on the street or trying to throw them away in the regular garbage collection is illegal in many places.

Take these other steps to get rid of bed bugs:

  • Vacuum them up. If bed bugs take up a small space on your floor, in a closet, or luggage, you may be able to vacuum them up entirely. Be sure to thoroughly clean out the vacuum, place contents in a tight plastic bag, and throw them away.
  • Use high-heat washing. If your clothes and bed linens have been home to bed bugs, put these in a plastic bag until you can wash them. Separating them will contain the bed bugs so they cannot spread any further. Then, wash and dry on the highest possible heat setting. Bed bugs cannot survive temperatures above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius). Washing and drying must occur for at least 30 minutes to kill bed bugs.
  • Try extreme temperatures. If it is summer and you live in a southern climate, you can pack up infested items in black plastic trash bags and leave them outside in the sun. This is less reliable than high-heat washing, but it can work if the inside of the bag gets hotter than 115 degrees. You can also pack up smaller items in plastic bags and put them in the freezer. Temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) will also kill bed bugs, although this takes at least four days.
  • Steam clean. Use a hot steamer in crevices of furniture like couches and chairs to heat-kill bed bugs.
  • Use desiccants. Products like diatomaceous earth can kill bed bugs by pulling all the moisture out of their bodies. Silica aerogel can also be used for this purpose.
  • Try non-toxic insecticides. Products like cedar oil can be spread around walls, ceilings, and floors to kill bed bugs by clogging up their airways. These products are not toxic to humans or pets.

You may need to use multiple approaches to treat your home if you choose to eliminate bed bugs yourself. If you continue to see evidence of bed bugs after you have tried to treat infested areas, contact professional exterminators.

Your bedroom is the most likely location for bed bug infestations. To be sure you get rid of all possible locations for bed bugs, most experts recommend getting rid of your mattress. If you cannot heat wash or steam clean your linens and pillows, dispose of these too.

Replacing your mattress is an investment, but once you get a new one, you can immediately begin preventative measures such as encasing your new bed in a mattress protector.

Getting a New Mattress to Reduce Bed Bug Spread

Plastic mattress covers that zip around your mattress are a great way to protect it from becoming infested with bed bugs in the future. A new, high-quality mattress that does not need a box spring is another great method, as this gives bed bugs fewer places to hide.

One of the major problems with older mattresses, especially innerspring coil mattresses and box springs, is that there are many places for bed bugs to hide inside the bed. Bed bugs prefer tight spaces, but if they can wedge between the thin fabric and the wood slats of a box spring or in the layers around the coils of an old innerspring coil mattress, they can survive for months.

The best mattresses for preventing bed bugs usually have several layers of foam rather than coils. Many new, high-tech foam mattresses do not need a box spring to be comfortable; this eliminates an extra place for bed bugs to hide.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

Michelle Zhang, Wellness Writer Michelle Zhang

Michelle Zhang is a regular contributor to our Zoma blog and is our go-to sleep researcher. In her time with Zoma, Michelle has researched and published many articles on widespread sleeping habits and troubles. In her time outside of Zoma, Michelle is an occupational therapist and long-distance runner. She believes leading a healthy lifestyle is the key to getting better sleep at night. Michelle's work has been featured on Men's Journal, The Frisky, and The Mighty.

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