Bed bugs are one of the most difficult pest problems to eradicate quickly. By far, the best solution for bed bugs is to hire a pest control company with experience successfully controlling bed bugs. Unfortunately, this can be expensive and beyond the means of many people. If you feel you cannot afford to hire a professional, and want to attempt do-it-yourself bed bug control, there are some things you can do. With diligence and patience and some hard work you have a fighting chance of getting rid of bed bugs in your home.
If you live in an apartment or condominium, it’s best to alert the property manager. A coordinated bed bug control effort using a pest control company is generally needed in such situations. Bed bugs readily move from apartment to apartment, with many people unaware that they have a problem. If one apartment is infested, adjoining units (left side, right side, above and below) should be assumed to be infested unless shown otherwise through inspection or monitoring. Simply asking tenants whether they have bed bugs is not enough. In one recent study only half of residents in a large apartment with bed bugs knew (or admitted) they had a bed bug problem.
Pesticides alone are not the answer to bed bugs. Most of the commonly used pesticides today, including professional products and consumer products advertised for control of bed bugs, are at best moderately effective at controlling these pests. Pesticides must be used with care for safety and with attention to proper application to work well. Aerosol “bug bombs” or “fumigators” are also mostly ineffective in eliminating bed bugs. Aerosol insecticides mainly kill insects that are exposed, and out of their hiding places, not those hidden behind baseboards, in cracks and crevices of the bed, under carpet edging and in walls.
Steps for do-it-yourself bed bug control
- Determine which rooms need to be treated. Bedrooms are the principal locations for bed bugs; however, any room where people sleep in the home may provide harborage for bed bugs. Living rooms with sofas and sofa beds are the next most common sites for bed bugs. These rooms will need to be systematically cleaned and treated. In heavy infestations, bed bugs can be found throughout a home or apartment.
- It’s generally unnecessary to throw away beds or bedding. It is expensive to replace bedding, and chances are that any new mattresses, box springs or beds you bring into the home will quickly become re-infested. The money to replace a bed or mattress might better be spent on hiring a professional.
- Do purchase a good quality, bed-bug-proof set of encasements for your mattresses and box springs. Bed bug-proof encasements are fabric sacks into which the mattress and box spring are designed to slide. The zippers on such encasements are designed to be tight enough to prevent even the smallest life stages of the bed bugs from escaping. Also, truly bed bug-proof encasements are strong enough to prevent bed bugs from biting you through the encasement. A good encasement will trap all bed bugs in the mattress and box spring inside, and will be smooth on the outside, providing few places for bed bugs to hide. Sears, Target, Walmart and other stores may sell bed bug-proof encasements, but these can also be purchased online. One of the best places to look for different brands and reviews of mattress encasements is Amazon.com (whether you buy there or at a local store). Go to http://www.amazon.com and search for “bed bug mattress protectors”.
- Room preparation is important. If you treat half of the items in a room and leave other areas untreated, chances are that the bed bugs will return to the previously treated areas. All toys, clothing, boxes, papers, or anything that could serve as a hiding place for bed bugs during the day should be double-bagged in garbage bags and removed until they can be carefully cleaned and inspected. Clothing that may be infested should be bagged prior to treating the room, and dis-infested before returning to the room. Recent research shows that dry cleaning, washing in hot water, or tumble drying for 30 minutes on high will kill all stages of bed bugs.
Move all potentially infested furniture to one side of the infested room and systematically treat all cracks and crevices around windows, outlets, blinds, pictures, posters and clocks on walls, baseboards, under edges of carpets and any other crevices or void areas in the room. Remember that immature bed bugs are very tiny. Dozens of bed bugs can hide in a recessed screw hole in a bed frame or dresser. Therefore it’s important that no hiding place be overlooked. Treatment can include vacuuming, but should not be limited to vacuuming only. Vacuums do not remove eggs, and will likely not remove all bed bugs from deeply infested cracks and crevices. Vacuums can remove many bed bugs from mattresses and the exterior of box springs (remember to immediately double-bag the vacuum bag after cleaning and dispose of outside in a trash can or dumpster). If treating mattresses and box springs, pay attention to each welt and button; and be sure to remove the protective fabric under the box spring. A favored bed bug hiding place is in the wooden frame of the box spring. Sticky tape is another method of picking up bed bugs from furniture, walls, etc. Chemical do-it-yourself treatments for bed bugs can include:
- Diatomaceous earth (DE) dust for insect control (not the same product as diatomaceous earth for swimming pool filters). This is an abrasive dust that dessicates, or dries out, bed bugs when they come in contact with it. Some pest control companies now use DE dust extensively in bed bug control. This relatively inexpensive dust can be purchased online or in garden centers or hardware stores. Look for products labeled for indoor use and dust all accessible crack, crevices and voids.
- SteriFab™ (and other similar, low toxicity pesticides) spray generally kills bed bugs only on contact. When treating furniture be sure to treat all welting, zippers and around buttons with these sprays. Alcohol- and soap-based sprays, such as Sterifab™, only kill those bed bugs that you actually wet with the spray. Once dry, it provides no further control.
- Pyrethroid sprays are the strongest and longest-lasting pesticides, but most bed bugs are tolerant of these sprays to some degree. Special care should be taken when using pyrethroid sprays, especially when children are part of the household. Only use pyrethroids in places indicated on the label. Most pyrethroids will not allow treatment of bedding. Do not spray electrical outlets with any type of liquid spray. Spraying should be done when children are not present, and all label directions followed carefully.
- Systematically examine and treat all beds, bed frames, dressers, night stands, and other furniture in infested rooms, following the procedures and recommendations above. After spraying, return each article of furniture to the part of the room that has been treated. Do not reintroduce furniture or other items to the treated room until they have been thoroughly cleaned, inspected or treated.
- Consider use of bed barriers to keep bed bugs off your bed while you are sleeping. Bed barriers can be as simple as a sticky card underneath a bed post (sticky and messy), dishes with soapy water (messy and easy to spill—not good for wooden bed posts) or special cups made for the purpose. The Climbup™ Bed bug Interceptor is one such bed barrier that is sold online. Relatively inexpensive, these barriers trap bed bugs that are attempting to exit or climbup on the bed. If you have a bed on posts, or can elevate the box spring on blocks inside these traps, you can be instantly protected against bed bugs (assuming you’ve encased or treated your bedding). Note that to be effective, beds and bedding must not touch the floor or walls, as this would provide bed bugs other ways to climb onto the bed.
- You can evaluate the effectiveness of your bed bug control program with a homemade bed bug monitoring device. These devices use dry ice (CO2) as an attractant and either a modified dog bowl or Climbup™ Bed Bug Interceptor as a trapping device. Click here for instructions on how to construct your own bed bug trap or monitor. While these traps are useful for trapping bed bugs and knowing whether you have a bed bug problem, don’t expect them to eradicate bed bugs from your home or apartment.
Pesticides should always be used with caution, and especially when used indoors. Never use a pesticide for bed bugs that does not bear clear directions stating that it can be used indoors. Never spray yourself, children or pets with a pesticide. And follow the label safety directions carefully. Pesticide labels contain directions for use and are not merely suggestions. Failure to follow directions exactly can result in poor control and possible harm to yourself and family. For more information, see the EPA Consumer Alert on pesticides and bed bugs.
For more information
Michael Merchant, Ph.D., Professor and Extension Urban Entomologist, Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Dallas.