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How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

bed bug in bedroom
Africa Studio / Shutterstock

Bed bugs may be tiny, but finding them in your house or apartment is a big nightmare. These small bugs — formally known as cimex lectularius — love to suck your blood. Worse yet, they’re expert hiders and can live as long as a year without a meal, so they’re not very easy to kill off.

If you find yourself in the middle of a bed bug infestation, your stress is understandable. But take heart, you can get rid of bed bugs — and we’re here to help. With this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know (probably more than you want to, really) about these nasty little bugs and how you can banish them from your space — for good.

What do bed bugs look like?

close up bed bug

Akos Nagy / Shutterstock

 

Bed bugs are small, flat, brownish bugs. So small that they’re easy to overlook, especially when they’re hiding under your pillow (yuck). There’s a myth that bed bugs are so tiny you can’t pick them out with the naked eye, but that’s not true. A full-grown bed bug is usually a little bit bigger than a flea and a little smaller than an ant. You can definitely spot it yourself — if you know where to look.

Baby bed bugs, or nymphs, are harder to see because they’re both smaller and lighter in color. They might look white or yellow.

This guide from the EPA has pictures so you can see a bed bug in its various stages through its life cycle.

How do you get bed bugs?

If you mentally link bed bugs with dirtiness, consider this: Bed bugs feed on blood alone. They’re just as likely to lead a healthy, hearty life in an immaculate home as they are in a pigpen as long as they can find a human to bite.

So where do bed bugs come from in the first place? Short answer: everywhere. They’re increasingly common in the United States. They got here the same way they get into your house or apartment — by hitching a ride. If you pass through a bed bug-infested area, the bugs can climb onto you or anything you’re carrying. Then, you give them a free ride home.

You don’t have to be the carrier, either. If a guest comes over with bed bugs on them, those pesky suckers can climb off them and set up shop in your house. Once they get into your house or apartment, they’re excellent hiders and often go undetected until you notice bite marks on your skin. But we know where to look to uncover them — and get rid of them.

How to check for bed bugs:

If you notice unexplained red, itchy bites on your body when you wake up in the morning, it could be bed bugs. Start by checking your mattress, especially the protected underside and the sheltered folds, to see if you can spot any bed bugs. These little pests are excellent hiders, though, so you may not have much luck seeing one in person.

Fortunately, there are other telltale signs you can use to find out if you have bed bugs. Unfortunately, they’re pretty gross.

  • Smell your bed: It sounds weird, but bed bugs have a musty, sweet smell.
  • Check your sheets, pillowcases, and mattress: If you find small spots of blood, it’s a sign something’s biting you at night. You might also find dark spots of bedbug excrement (so disgusting, we know).
  • Check the floor: If you find shed skins or eggshells under or near your bed, it’s probably from bed bugs.

If you do find bed bugs or signs of them, don’t panic. We can help you get rid of them.

How to get rid of bed bugs, step by step:

No surprise here. If you find these nasty little guys, the first thing you’ll want to know is how to get rid of bed bugs. We’ve got you covered. Here’s a step-by-step guide to bed bug removal:

  • Start doing laundry — a lot of it: Wash anything that can be washed on the hottest cycle possible. This includes your bedding, of course, but also all clothes, draperies, towels, stuffed animals — really anything you can run through the washer should go through it. Things that can’t go through the washing machine (shoes, for example) should go through your dryer for at least 30 minutes on high heat. When you finish a load of laundry, put it in a trash bag, and seal it tightly to protect it from bed bugs while you continue with treatment.
  • Scrub, vacuum, and seal your mattress: Get a brush with stiff bristles and scrub all the crevices of your mattress. Then go over the whole mattress a few times with a vacuum. Finally, encase your mattress in a bed bug cover. These seal around your mattress, entrapping any remaining bed bugs. Don’t be anxious to take it off, either. Bed bugs can live for as long as a year without eating, so it’s best to leave your mattress covered indefinitely.
  • Clean around your bed: It’s time for the deepest clean you can imagine. Roll up your sleeves and get to it. Make sure you wipe down or vacuum your headboard, the bedposts, and the floor surrounding your bed. If you have any clutter by your bed, go through it, cleaning each item. Use a bed bug spray as you go. For the best chance at getting rid of bed bugs, clean your entire house or apartment, thoroughly vacuuming all upholstered furniture.
  • Dispose of vacuumed dust carefully: This is key. Don’t just dump your vacuum bag into the trash where bed bugs can crawl back out. Empty it into a plastic bag, seal it tightly, and immediately put the bag in an outdoor trash can.
  • Keep checking: Over the coming days, continually check your sheets for any signs of bedbugs. If you see some, don’t get discouraged. It may just mean some eggs have hatched from an area you didn’t treat. Take it from the top to get rid of these new bed bugs.

Now you know how to treat bed bugs, but be advised. The success of a DIY approach depends on how bad your infestation is. If you only have a few bed bugs, you can probably wipe them out with the above steps. But if they’ve had the chance to breed in your house, they might be hiding on your couch, in your closet, or virtually anywhere else. Try bed bug removal yourself, but if it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to call in a pro.

Don’t want to use chemical cleaners? Here’s how to get rid of bed bugs naturally.

Fortunately, most of the home remedies to get rid of bed bugs are pretty safe. Yes, you’ll be using a lot of single-use plastic, and that’s a shame, especially if you’re environmentally conscious, but this is one of those times where it’s necessary. Apart from that, most of the above steps only require some elbow grease.

If you’re looking to go a completely chemical-free removal route, you do have options to get rid of the tiny little pests naturally. One of the most effective home remedies to get rid of bed bugs is something you might already have in your house: white vinegar. The acetic acid in this vinegar makes it a contact killer, meaning if you can spray it directly onto the bed bugs, they’re out. Put some in a spray bottle, and you’re armed and ready.

The trick, of course, is that to spray it on the bugs, you have to find them. The best way corral the bugs is to soak the floor around your bed — especially around your bedposts — with vinegar. Then spray your mattress and headboard thoroughly. The theory is that the bed bugs will scatter to avoid the vinegar, ending up right in the areas you just treated, killing them.

With this approach, you should still do all of the other steps above. Just use vinegar during your deep clean instead of a chemical-based bed bug spray.

When to call a professional exterminator to treat the bed bugs:

If you go through the above steps, you give yourself a fighting chance against bed bugs. But if your bed bug infestation is serious, you might need to call in a pro. Bed bugs are excellent hiders, and, frankly, you do need to get a little lucky to capture them all during your DIY treatment.

Hiring an exterminator means you get an expert. They know where bed bugs hide, what they look like, and how to get rid of them quickly. Some exterminators even offer non-toxic bed bug treatment if you’re concerned about chemicals. Call a few different companies to understand all of the options for bed bug extermination in your area.

How to keep bed bugs out:

Once you get rid of bed bugs, you want to make sure they never come back again. Here are some pro tips:

  • If you buy secondhand furniture, check it thoroughly before you bring it home.
  • When you stay in a hotel or rental, check the bed for signs of bed bugs before you climb in.
  • Put luggage up on a luggage rack to make it harder for bed bugs to get in. When you get home, clean and wash everything — even stuff you didn’t wear — and vacuum your suitcase.
  • Minimize the clutter near your bed, so bed bugs have fewer places to hide.
  • Leave your mattress cover on, as this minimizes places for bed bugs to hide.
  • Vacuum and do laundry regularly so that if any bed bugs do successfully hitch a ride to your house, you get rid of them right away.

The bottom line on bed bugs:

Bed bugs are a huge drag, but they’re not insurmountable. Once you know how to check for bed bugs, you ensure an infestation never gets out of hand at your house or apartment. And since you now know how to get rid of bed bugs, if you do see any signs, you can spring into action right away. Be vigilant and you’ll be able to sleep soundly through the night.


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