Practical, Effective Methods to Manage Bed Bug Infestations
After receiving many messages and phone calls about how to get rid of a bed bug infestation, Restoring Dignity has put together the following page, dedicated to practical, effective methods that should significantly reduce and possibly eradicate a bed bug infestation, if done properly and with vigilance. Information has been primarily gathered from peer-reviewed primary literature and reviews from The National Center for Biotechnology Information’s PubMed. Citations can be found at the bottom of this page. Please understand that while Restoring Dignity believes in the effectiveness of these methods, the organization can not promise nor be held liable for infestations that are not reduced or eliminated after using these suggestions.
To get rid of bed bugs, there are several pre-steps that must be understood if success is to be achieved in eradication:
- There must be knowledge of the where the bed bug lives and its general life cycle.
- Efforts to eliminate the bed bugs must be very thorough.
- A single treatment plan (ie. insecticides only or steaming only) must not be relied upon (1).
Please read through all of these sections carefully, as each one is important in understanding how to get rid of bed bugs.
What is a bed bug?
Bed bugs are small arthropods that feed on the blood of humans and animals. Of the 90 or so species within the family Cimicidae, only a handful bite humans, with the two main species being the common bed bug, C. lectularius, and the tropical bed bug, C. hemipterus (1).
When and where do bed bugs bite humans?
Bed bugs are most active between 1:00am-5:00am, which is when people are usually in their deepest sleep. During the day, they hide in cracks and crevices and become inactive while they digest their blood-meal from the previous night. Most people usually encounter bed bugs when they sleep on an infested mattress (1).
How do I get rid of bed bugs?
To be successful, the use of integrated pest management (IPM) should be used, in which insecticides and non-chemical treatment options are used together (1). Please note that keeping a room empty to “starve out” the bed bugs is not a reasonable option, as bed bugs can live for longs period without feeding. In one study, bed bugs were shown to live up to 277.1 days with only one feeding (2).
By using the following steps, patience, and perseverance, you should be able to eliminate bed bugs from your place of residence, per what peer-reviewed research suggests.
1. Dispose of unneeded items
In heavily cluttered areas, the simplest way to begin bed bug eradication is to properly dispose of unneeded, infested items. Please note that many items are treatable and do not need to be thrown away, but if there are items of little value (unneeded furniture, trash, boxes, non-valuable wall pictures, etc), the best option is to dispose of them. To dispose of unneeded items, place them in a plastic bag and seal the bag so that no bed bugs can be released. This is particularly important if bed bugs are being removed from an area where other people are living (ie. apartments, condos, houses that are very close together, etc). If furniture is being discarded, destroy it so that no one will take it home (ie. cut it up and place very clear signage on the furniture that reads “Bed Bug Infested”) (1).
2. Vacuum frequently
Always use a vacuum that has a a disposable bag. Vacuuming around the room and mattresses can help to remove bed bugs (but not eggs). Additionally, vacuuming helps remove dust which can interfere with insecticides. After vacuuming, place the infested vacuum bag in a plastic bag and sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth (see information further down about this insecticide) in the bag and seal it. Throw the bag away immediately in the trash outside of the place of residence. After vacuuming, thoroughly clean the plastic parts of the vacuum in very hot water. By cleaning the vacuum after each use, this will eliminate the vacuum from becoming a place where infestation is occurring. Only use this vacuum for bed bug prevention, and store it in a sealed plastic bag when it is not in use (3).
3. Wash all linens in 140 F (60 C) water & dry on high heat for 30 minutes
The next step in eradicating a bed bug infestation is to remove all linens and clothing, place them in sealed plastic bags, wash them in very hot water (140 F or 60 C), and then dry them on the high heat setting for 30 minutes. Research has shown that drying linens and clothing for 30 minutes on the high heat setting kills bed bugs and their eggs (4). To prevent bed bugs from spreading throughout the residence, or at public laundry rooms, dissolvable laundry bags can be used. These bags can be purchased online, and dissolve in the washing machine (3). If these dissolvable bags are not available, use plastic bags and carefully dispose of them. After all of the linens and clothing have been properly washed and dried, they must be placed in clean, sealed plastic bags (not the plastic bags used to transport them to the laundry facility) and kept in the bags until the infestation is gone.
Steam treatment, followed by the use of an insecticide has been shown to be more effective for long-term control of bed bug infestations than with only using insecticides (5). Steam is the only effective method to kill bed bug eggs as well as all other stages of the bed bugs.
There are several important steps to using steam:
1. Use a dry steam machine that does not blow steam very hard. If the steam blows out too hard, the bed bugs will be blown away. A rag can be placed on the nozzle of the steamer, to help the bed bugs from being blown away by the steam. The video featured below shows how to properly steam a mattress infested with bed bugs.
2. Move the steam nozzle over the area being treated at a rate of 1 inch per second. To effectively kill bed bugs and eggs, the steamer has to be moved very slowly along the area being treated.
3. Areas to be steam-treated include (and should be treated in this order):
- Mattresses & boxsprings
- Chair cushions and couches (especially buttons and seams)
- Corners and edges of the room
- Around the edges of furniture
- Any cracks/crevices in the floor or walls (3)
5. Wrap mattresses & boxsprings in bed bug mattress protectors
Immediately after steam-treating a mattress, wrap it in a bed-bug mattress protector. These protectors can be found at most major outlet stores and can run in price anywhere from $20-$200, depending on the brand. Generally speaking, mattress protectors ordered online cost less than when they are purchased in a store. Remember that box springs as well as mattresses will need to be encased. After encasing the mattress, DO NOT REMOVE THE MATTRESS PROTECTOR at any point in time, as it is keeping the bed bugs from escaping. Eventually, the bugs will starve and die. However, starvation of a bed bug can take almost an entire year (3).
6. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) FOOD GRADE ONLY
There are many insecticides that are on the market for bed bug treatment. The one that we are recommending is a natural, silicate-based product called diatomaceous earth (DE). Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring soft sedimentary rock that was discovered in the 1800’s (6). Since then, it has been found to have many purposes, one of which is that it functions well as an insecticide for bed bugs, among other insects. DE physically kills bed bugs by absorbing “lipids on the waxy surface of the epicuticle such that the insect can no longer maintain moisture and dies from dehydration” (7). One study found that it took 6 days to achieve 100% mortality for bed bugs exposed to DE (7).
When purchasing DE, make sure that it is FOOD GRADE. Pool grade DE, on the other hand, is extremely dangerous and can cause severe lung complications. Food grade DE can be found at most major outlet stores under the label of “Bed Bug Killer.” It can also be found at food and grain stores where it is used in animal food to help eliminate intestinal worms.
DE will be the LAST step in bed bug eradication. After you have disposed of unnecessary items, vacuumed, washed and dried all linens on high heat, steamed mattresses and the room, and encased mattresses, then DE will be applied. BEFORE THE APPLICATION, READ ALL WARNINGS ON THE DIATOMACEOUS EARTH PACKAGE LABEL. To effectively apply DE to rooms, use a bulb duster and place the DE into cracks and crevices along the baseboards and around electrical outlet covers. Bulb dusters can be purchased online for around $10-20.
Bed bugs live in cracks and crevices, and it is important that the DE is being placed where the bed bugs will walk through it. The following video shows how to properly place DE into cracks and crevices with a bulb duster:
Once DE is properly applied, it should last a fairly long time and will help provide longer term bed bug management and prevention against future infestations.
(1) Bed Bugs: Clinical Relevance and Control Options. Stephen L. Doggett, Dominic E. Dwyer, Pablo F. Peñas, Richard C. Russell. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2012 January; 25(1): 164–192. doi: 10.1128/CMR.05015-11
(2) Monograph of Cimicidae. Usinger RL. 1966. Thomas Say Foundation, College Park, MD
(3) A Code of Practice for the Control of Bed Bug Infestations in Australia. Third Edition, 2010 (www.bedbug.org.au). Stephen L. Doggett.* Principal Editor. Department of Medical Entomology, Institute for Clinical Pathology & Medical Research, Westmead Hospital, WESTMEAD NSW 2145, Australia.
(4) Practical solutions for treating laundry infested with Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Naylor RA, Boase CJ. 2010. J. Econ. Entomol. 103: 136–139
(5) Bed bugs bite back. Meek F. 2003. Pest Control Technology, 31: 43,44,46,47,50,52.
(6) Diatomaceous earth. Wikipedia. Accessed 26 August 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diatomaceous_earth
(7) St. Aubin F. 1991. Everything old is new again. Pest Control Technol. 19: 50, 52, 102
(8) Romero A, Potter MF, Haynes KF. 2009. Are dusts the bed bug bullet? Pest Manag. Prof. 2009(May): 22–23, 26, 28, 30