Bed bugs: Do-it-yourself control options

Bed bug, <i>Cimex lectularis</i>

Bed bug, Cimex lectularis

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 are infested. 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. Typically an infestation starts in one room and spreads slowly to other places where people sleep.  The sooner you find and treat bed bugs the easier it will be to get rid of them.  Wait too long and bed bugs may be found throughout your home.
  • Don’t throw your bed away.  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.
  • Create a safe place to sleep.  This is critical because staying in your own bed will reduce the risk of bed bugs spreading throughout your home. If you move to another room to sleep, the bed bugs will eventually follow.  Then you’ll have bed bugs in multiple rooms. Make your bed a safe place to sleep by:
      • Stripping and vacuuming the mattresses and box springs, and encasing them.  Double bag your bedding and wash in hot water and dry for at least 30 minutes (discard the inner bag after putting bedding into the washer, as it could have bed bugs).  After vacuuming suspected bed bugs from the bed, take your vacuum cleaner outdoors and remove and discard the bag.  Purchase a good quality set of bed-bug-proof encasements for your mattresses and box springs. Bed bug-proof encasements are fabric sacks into which you slide your mattress or your box spring. The zippers on bed bug encasements are designed to be tight enough to prevent even the smallest life stages of the bed bugs from escaping. Also, good bed bug-proof encasements are woven 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. A good place to look for different brands and reviews of mattress encasements is (whether you buy there or at a local store). Go to and search for “bed bug mattress protectors”.
      • Killing all bed bugs on your bed frame and headboard. Normally this would be done by a pest control professional. Approximately 70% of all bed bugs in the typical infestation are located on the mattress, box spring and bed frame.  You’ve encased the mattress and box spring and taken care of that problem.  Now you have to make sure that your bed frame is bed bug free. Vacuuming alone won’t do this.  Vacuuming can remove many bed bug adults and nymphs, but it isn’t very good at removing eggs.  For this job you’ll need insecticide sprays and possibly dusts to treat every crevice and void in your bed.  For insecticide spray and dust options see below. Remember that insecticides can be hazardous if you don’t follow label directions.  Read the whole label before spraying or dusting.  The label directions are the law and failure to follow the label not only puts you and your family at risk, it is against the law.  Homemade sprays, by the way, are usually less safe than commercial insecticides.  Stick with the legal stuff.
    bed bug protected bed

    A bed that has been treated, encased and isolated from the rest of the room with Climbup® Interceptor cups is a safe place to sleep.


  • Isolating your bed from the rest of the house.  If you don’t use a bed, purchase a frame that gets your mattress off the floor and install bed bug interceptors under all feet of the bed frame to keep bed bugs off your bed while you are sleeping. Interceptors are special platforms or cups that are purchased to prevent bed bugs from climbing on to your bed.  An interceptor can be as simple as a sticky card placed under a bed post (sticky and messy).  Better are one of the commercial pitfall traps made specifically for this purpose.  The Climbup™ Bed bug Interceptor and BlackOut BedBug Detector (Google them) are two such products sold online. Relatively inexpensive, these cups trap bed bugs attempting to climb (or exit) the bed. If you have encased your bedding, treated your bed frame thoroughly and installed interceptors, you will be instantly protected against bed bugs.  Don’t take out your clean bedding or put it back on the bed until the bed has been treated (and dried) and encasements installed. And note that for this method to be effective, beds and bedding must not touch the floor, furniture or walls.  This would provide bed bugs other ways to climb onto the bed and foil your defenses.
  • Treat other areas in your home.  This is perhaps the most challenging part of do-it-yourself bed bug control.  If you catch an infestation early you may not need to do anything more than treat and isolate your bed as described above.  But if an infestation has spread to other parts of the home, bed isolation may not be good enough. Here is where professional help may be needed, especially if you’re not up to moving furniture. Still determined?  Here are some tips that may improve your chances of success:
    • Prepare the room by separating treated from untreated furniture.  This will involve moving all your furniture to one side of the infested room (Remember, you’ve already assessed which rooms you think are infested.  You may not need to do this in every room).  The process is important because if you treat half of the items in a room and leave other areas untreated, bed bugs may return to the previously treated areas from untreated sites. Take all clothes from drawers, infested closets, etc. and double bag them in clear plastic bags (clear bags are easier to see where things are). Also double bag all personal items (toys, papers, books, electronics, CDs, or anything that could serve as a hiding place for bed bugs) and set them aside until they can be carefully treated, cleaned or inspected. 
    • Systematically treat the room–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). Sticky tape is another method of picking up bed bugs from furniture, walls, etc.
    Bed bugs are flattened for hiding in cracks and crevices.  This bed bug was hiding along the welting on the edge of a mattress.

    Bed bugs are flattened for hiding in cracks and crevices. This bed bug was hiding along the welting on the edge of a mattress.

    • Systematically examine and treat all furniture (beds, bed frames, dressers, chairs, couches, night stands, etc.) following the same procedures and recommendations above. As a piece is treated it can be returned to the parts of the room that have been treated.  Note that furniture should be taken apart, drawers and cushions removed in order to inspect and treat every nook and cranny. When treating upholstered furniture, pay attention to each welt, button and fold. You may wish to discard low-value, stuffed furniture that is infested and too difficult to treat.  After spraying, return each article of furniture to the part of the room that has been treated. Do not reintroduce any furniture or other items to the treated room until they have been thoroughly cleaned, inspected or treated.
    • Treat or isolate your bagged items. For washable items research shows that dry cleaning, washing in hot water for 30 minutes, or tumble drying for 30 minutes on high will kill all stages of bed bugs. Non-washables are a little trickier.  Items that aren’t needed for a while can just be stored. It takes 2-5 months to kill bed bugs by isolating them in bags (the warmer the temperature, the shorter the survival time for starving bed bugs). Heating bags by placing in direct sunlight is one of the most effective methods during the warm summer months.  Seven pounds of items placed in clear bags in direct sunlight on a 95 degree day will get hot enough to kill all bed bug life stages in one afternoon.  Also, placing bagged items in a chest freezer (0 degrees F) for 8-10 hours is lethal for bed bugs and their eggs. Some toys may be disinfested by cleaning with hot soapy water and/or rubbing alcohol.
  • Select and use insecticides safely. There are no magic sprays that kill bed bugs very well.  Most commercial insecticides will kill bed bugs if applied carefully and directly to the insects and their hiding places. An exception is “Bug bombs”, or aerosol foggers. Foggers are mostly ineffective in controlling bed bugs. Because bed bugs hide in crevices and voids where aerosols do not penetrate, they are able to avoid contact with these insecticides. Their use is not recommended. Some of the products you may find helpful 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 lightly dust all accessible crack, crevices and voids.
    • Low toxicity contact sprays like SteriFab™ or Bedlam® are likely to kill bed bugs only on contact. Alcohol- and soap-based sprays, are only partly effective. All of these products, once dry, are likely to provide no further control. Eggs will not be killed by alcohol-based sprays, so repeat treatments are usually needed. Be careful when using sprays containing alcohol because they may be flammable.
    • Pyrethroid sprays are among the stronger and longer-lasting pesticides, but most bed bugs are resistant to these sprays to some degree. Special care should be taken when using pyrethroid sprays, especially when children are present. Only use pyrethroids in places indicated on the label. 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.
  • Track your success. Interceptor cups under your bed posts are also one of the best ways of keeping track of your success with bed bug control. Check the cups regularly and empty into a trash bag or bucket of soapy water.  You may even want to keep track of how many bed bugs you catch weekly so that you can track your success. Wipe out the interceptors and make sure they are clean. Some devices, like the Climbup Interceptor, require redusting with a very small amount of talcum powder to make them slippery again and reduce the bed bug’s chance of escape. Note that talc is not toxic to bed bugs, but simply makes it harder for them to climb out of the cup.  The talc should be barely visible, and more is definitely not better.

 A last warning

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 directionsfor use that are not merely suggestions.  Failure to follow directions exactly is illegal and 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

For more information about bed bugs, including their biology and how to recognize them, see other factsheets on the Citybugs bed bug page.  The State of Michigan has also recently published a very detailed guide to Do-it-yourself bed bug control. Also, if you decide you need professional help, check out our advice onHow to Select a Bed Bug Control Professional, ENTO-033


Michael Merchant, Ph.D., Professor and Extension Urban Entomologist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  Dallas.

Please note that I am unable respond to all questions posed in the comment section of this fact sheet. Before commenting, check to see whether your question is already addressed here, or in a link provided in this article.

38 Responses to Bed bugs: Do-it-yourself control options

  1. colette prussman says:

    Your page was wonderfully full of information that I may actually be able to use for controlling bed bugs in my home. We are a struggling family, and cannot afford most of the methods mentioned on the epa website. Thank you for the very informal way you provided information that may actually be helpful in regaining my sanity and a good night’s sleep.

  2. Steve Crisp says:

    I’m a little confused about the purpose of double bags? And what about drawers without clothes, do you still have to empty and spray them?

    • m-merchant says:

      Double bags serve two purposes. The inner bag keeps bed bugs from contaminating the home when taking clothes to laundromat or washing area. It should be discarded immediately after dumping clothes in the drier, as there could still be bed bugs in the bag itself. The clean outer bag is used for carrying the dis-infested clothes back to the home. Double bagging is just a convenient way to make sure you have bags for both trips. Yes, bed bugs can be found in drawers without clothing, especially those near the bed. They also need to be emptied and treated in most cases. The difference is that “hard items” cannot be washed, though they can be easier to fumigate with fumigants. Hard items can usually be solar heat treated as well.

      • Im a kid and I dont want my mom to know I have a problem with bed bugs. I am trying to do something that would not be as visible as the cups you describe.

        • m-merchant says:

          If you have bed bugs your mom will soon know, because they will soon spread throughout the home. The best thing is to let her know ASAP. Getting bed bugs is not necessarily because of something you did. Anyone can pick up bed bugs on a backpack or purse when visiting an infested home or business. Even city buses have been known to be places where you can pick up a bed bug. Bed bugs can also make their way through walls or doorways from one apartment into another. You may not be responsible at all for the bed bugs you are finding. In fact, it’s possible that your mom might have bed bugs in her room without knowing it. You won’t know for sure until you use the traps or have a professional do an inspection.

          Remember that bed bugs are easiest to control when treated early, before they spread. Show your mom this website for ideas to get them while you can, before you absolutely need a professional. Or even better, if you live in an apartment, so the landlord can arrange to have your home treated by your pest control contractor.

  3. Kurdog says:

    I have found Vasoline can really help. I spread the vasoline around all windows and corners, cracks and nail holes. I also use it at the feet or base of my bed.

    • m-merchant says:

      I haven’t specifically tested Vasoline, but it is messy and difficult to clean up. Dust and other things eventually get caught in it, reducing its effectiveness. Interceptor cups are way better way, in my opinion.

  4. Becky Marshall says:

    My friend found bed bugs in her bed. They removed the bed from the house and vacuumed. They think the problem is solved, but I told them no way. How can you check for bed bugs?

  5. Eileen says:

    I am concerned about what to do about heating coils in my bedroom. There are many crevices there, so I sprayed them. Is this dangerous?

    • m-merchant says:

      You should probably avoid spraying heating coils directly when there is any chance of them coming on. Treated heater parts could give off toxic fumes if enough pesticide remained on them when the heat comes on. Diatomaceous earth would be a better treatment. It is low toxicity and inert, and should not be affected by the heat. It will not produce any off-gassing should the heater coils come on. A light dusting is all that is needed.

  6. Michael says:

    Does steam cleaning kill bed bugs?

    • m-merchant says:

      Steam can kill bed bugs, but to be effective steaming should be done by someone with experience using steam for bed bug control. It is usually used on upholstered furniture that is not easily treated with sprays or dusts.

  7. justin says:

    How do bed bugs affect my dogs?

    • m-merchant says:

      Bed bugs will feed on dogs and cats, but they seem to prefer humans (we’re usually less hairy!). More research is needed in this area.

  8. Aaron says:

    The floor in my room is not a finished and has [rough] plywood flooring. As far as the exposed plywood underneath, I was thinking about painting it with latex paint to possibly seal-in and kill any eggs or bugs that are in the cracks and spaces of the wood. Does this sound like a waste of time?

    • m-merchant says:

      While painting floors or beds or even furniture will probably not eliminate all the hiding spots for bed bugs, a light colored paint does often make it easier to spot places where bed bugs hide, and the light color can help reveal bed bug signs to a sharp-eyed inspector. This will certainly not solve your problem, but it still might be worth the effort if you plan to use that room for a while.

  9. krissi says:

    What is a good way to treat platform beds? Interceptor cups aren’t an option for them.

  10. Judy says:

    I am a home health care worker. I enter homes with suspected or with a history of bedbugs often. My risk of entering a home with active bedbugs as high. What is the best way for me to protect myself for the 30minutes I will be in the home? Other than not sitting, taking in only the minimal that can stay on me or in pockets, shoe covers, laying nothing down….etc?

    • m-merchant says:

      This is an important question for many with jobs that involve home visitation. First, though it can happen, it’s not very common for people to pick up bed bugs on shoes, clothing, etc. in light- to moderately-infested homes. The important thing is to be aware that most bed bugs in an infested home will be hanging out in upholstered furniture, couches (especially sleeper couches where someone sleeps) and in and around beds. These are the best sites for a bed bug to find a meal, and have lots of nooks and crevices in which to hide. If possible, avoid sitting or especially placing purses, briefcases, backpacks, etc. on or next to these types of furniture. If you do a lot of home visiting, you might want to consider carrying your personal items, tools, etc. in a plastic tote box. Bed bugs are not very good at climbing slick vertical surfaces, so this can be a very effective form of protecting your things. And remember, though some bed bugs adapt to being active during the day, most bed bugs stay in their hiding places during the day and are not roaming about trying to hitch a ride on you or your stuff.

  11. Cathy U says:

    Any tips on what to do with clothing etc. that I have already washed to keep it from getting re-infected while I go on dealing with the other areas?

  12. Ricksgirlalways says:

    I’ve dealt with bed bugs quite a few times in my adult hood…There really is no “good” way to get rid of them yourself… it is very expensive to hire someone to do this for you but in the long run it saves time and headache. I am so glad that I finally don’t have this issue anymore…

  13. Sara says:

    I’ve done everything that was stated on this fact sheet. We had no sign of bugs for two weeks, the last couple nights I have seen three bugs. How long does it take for them to be gone completely and is there anything else I can do? I can’t really afford a professional.

    • m-merchant says:

      It can take weeks or even months to be completely rid of bed bugs after starting a control program. If you are using the interceptor cups, encasements, and bed treatment, and are still seeing bed bugs on the bed, the reason may be that (1) the bed is touching the wall or bedding is touching the floor, allowing bed bugs to get back on the bed; (2) you may not have controlled all the bed bugs on the bed frame and retreatment may be needed; or (3) you may have an encasement that is not tightly sealed, allowing trapped bed bugs from the mattress to escape. If you’re finding bed bugs away from the bed or in the cups, this would be expected for up to three or four months after treatment… part of the limitation of this method. If you live in an apartment, or other multifamily housing, you may be seeing bed bugs coming from another apartment. In such cases, you may wish to keep interceptor cups on your bed as a permanent early warning system, even after it appears bed bugs are eliminated.

  14. Andre says:

    I am embarrassed about having bed bugs. I’ve lived in the same apartment for 20 years and know all the neighbors on my floor. I don’t know how to tell them. I am afraid they will no longer have me over [or want to come visit]..

    • m-merchant says:

      If you have bed bugs, chances are that one or more of your shared building-neighbors already has them. In fact you may have them because they came through walls or hallways from an adjoining apartment. Keeping bed bugs as your own little secret never is a good idea because they will get worse and spread, likely regardless of what you do. Apartment dwellers should notify the landlord immediately, or at least let neighbors know so that you can battle these things together. It’s less expensive and more effective to treat bed bugs early before they spread and get out of hand. Ultimately it is the landlord’s responsibility to control pests in an apartment complex, though apartment manager willingness to pay for treatment varies widely.

  15. Barbara says:

    How often should you change interceptor cups?

    • m-merchant says:

      If you have an active infestation I would check and change them at least weekly. If you are just in the detection mode, check them every 2-4 weeks or whenever they get dirty. Cups won’t do much good unless they are maintained. They are designed to be used primarily as monitors and not control measures; but will provide some protection if you follow this article’s directions about isolating and treating the bed.

  16. jackie kennedy says:

    How do you know if you have bedbugs at all?

    • m-merchant says:

      Good question. Don’t treat for bed bugs unless you can find live bugs. If you can, hire an experienced professional. Otherwise, the first thing to do is take a flashlight and carefully inspect bedding sheets, mattress and box spring (including inside the box) looking for droppings or signs of live bugs. Interceptor cups are an efficient way to detect low-level bed bug infestations.

  17. Ramona says:

    We just found… bed Bugs in our 3 year old’s crib, [which] seemed to be pretty infested… Should we just throw it away? It was a very expensive crib and I’d hate to have to toss it.

    • m-merchant says:

      Options for treating a valuable piece of furniture include (1) putting in storage for an extended time (3-5 months); (2) disassemble and spray every crack and crevice and screw hole very thoroughly (preferably professionally); (3) solar-heating in a clear plastic bag out in direct sun where temperature can be raised to 122 deg F for an hour (a summertime option); (4) having it professionally treated with steam; (5) having it bagged and professionally fumigated with sulfuryl fluoride. I do not mention cold because bed bugs are very difficult to kill with cold. Vacuuming can help with heavy initial infestations, but should be supplemented with insecticide.

  18. Rose says:

    My granddaughter is visiting for the holidays and has just learned they have bed bugs where she is living. They are starting professional pest control this week. What should she do prior to her visit to our home in order to keep from bringing bugs here?

    • mike.merchant says:

      She should only bring personal belongings that have been washed, treated or have not been in the infested apartment. Click here for treatment options for personal items.

  19. lenore says:

    I saw a bed bug crawl in daylight on the top of my bed…I had an inspection by a professional [who] found nothing. Two days later I saw a bug walking on the sidebar of my upholstered bed. How common is it that a professional checks your home finds nothing anywhere? I was told after first treatment beds can be put back together and used. I can’t seem to get myself to do that… [and am] sleeping on the couch downstairs…

    • mike.merchant says:

      First, it is not uncommon for even a professional not to find proof of a low level infestation with a visual inspection alone. That’s why I recommend using bed bug interceptor monitors in high risk apartments, where only a few bed bugs are seen, and following a treatment. These monitors can be more effective than an inspector because they remain at work all day all the time, as long as you check, clean and maintain them. Second, get back to your bed. When you move to sleep in a different room, there’s a good chance that bed bugs will move with you. Then you have an infestation in both rooms.

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