What to Do When the Bed Bugs Bite!

By: Julie Day
Bed in home

Bed bugs can be found in your home or hotels

After several decades of relative freedom from bed bugs in North America, it seems the critters have recently resurfaced with gusto! It’s believed that increased travel and a general lack of awareness have resulted in a resurgence of bed bugs in homes and hotels across the U.S. and elsewhere.

Here’s what you need to know to identify, eliminate, and prevent bed bug infestations from occurring in your home.

About Bed Bugs

Adult bed bug

Adult bed bug, photo by Piotr Naskrecki, CDC/Harvard

Bed bugs are small oval-shaped brownish insects that are about 1/4-inch long. They feed on human and animal blood, and they’re known for colonizing in cracks and crevices of upholstery and mattresses close to their human hosts, hence the name “bed bugs.”

Bed bugs feed at night and hide during the day. As the population grows, the infestation can spread to other furniture or rooms as they search for more food. They also can travel by hitching a ride in clothing, luggage, and bedding.

Most people discover a bed bug infestation when they wake up with small red bites on their skin. While bed bugs aren’t thought to carry disease, the bites can cause itching, rashes, or hives.

How to Inspect Your Home for Bed Bugs

Begin your inspection by targeting:

  • Places where you sleep or sit, such as beds or chairs.
  • Places where you put or store your luggage, such as closets or entryways.

When inspecting your home, look for:

  • Adult Bed Bugs: Brown colored adult insects are easily visible.
  • Bed Bug Nymphs: Smaller than adult bed bugs and clear in color.
  • Bed Bug Eggs: Resemble white grains of sand tucked into crevices.
  • Bed Bug Skins: Bed bug nymphs leave a trail of cast-off skins.
  • Bed Bug Droppings: Resemble tiny red or brown dots on the upholstery.
Bed bugs on mattress

Bed bugs on mattress, photo by Cuttlefish

Bed bugs can flatten themselves and fit into very tight cracks. A general rule is that if a crack is large enough to fit a credit card, it’s large enough for bed bugs. In particular, carefully examine:

  • Mattresses, Box Springs, and Bed Frames: Look in the seams and tufts as well as the top, sides, and bottom of bedding for bed bugs.
  • Bed Linens: Pay particular attention to pillowcases for fecal spots left by bed bugs.
  • Upholstery: Check folds, crevices, and tears in fabric for bed bugs.
  • Unmade bed

    Examine bedding for bed bugs

  • Wood Cracks: Examine anywhere that wood meets wood such as cracks and corners of bed rails, headboards, drawers, cabinetry, baseboards, crown molding, and window and door casings for bed bugs.
  • Furniture: Inspect the bottom and backs of dresser drawers, armoires, and tables for bed bugs.
  • Wall Hangings: Look behind pictures, clocks, posters, TVs, or cabinets for bed bugs.
  • Room Coverings: Peek behind loose wallpaper or underneath carpet for bed bugs.
  • Everywhere Else: Expand your search beyond the bedroom, since bed bugs can migrate!

How to Treat Bed Bug Infestations

Controlling bed bugs is a complicated process that requires very careful application of pesticides and a rigorous control program. There are DIY products out there, but simply spraying a room fogger isn’t enough to eradicate bed bugs.

Consider hiring a professional pest control company to handle things like:

  • Disassembly and Inspection: The entire infested area needs to be taken apart for bed bug treatment, including dismantling beds and furniture.
  • Chemical Control: Over 300 insecticides are rated for bed bug control, including powerful Cyzmic for room treatment, Bedlam for mattress treatment, and Nuvan, a non-residual strip that’s put into sealed plastic bags with items such as toys, radios, or books. A variety of aerosols, liquids, and dusts are applied in combination, with no crevice left untreated. Every area on the inspection list above should be treated thoroughly and carefully for bed bugs.
  • Washing clothes

    Wash and dry clothes and bedding on hot to kill bed bugs

  • Heat Treatment: Bed bugs and eggs will be killed if you can heat the area or object to at least 113° F for several hours. Pros can treat your home this way with special heaters, but I wouldn’t attempt it yourself due to the risk of fire. For clothing and small items, you can use your clothes dryer to kill bed bugs.
  • Cleaning: After the insecticide has dried, the area should be thoroughly cleaned. This includes vacuuming up all the dead bed bugs and eggs and scrubbing every surface and crack. Bedding, slipcovers, clothing, and pillows should be washed and dried in the dryer on the hottest setting.
  • Sealing: All cracks and joints in woodwork should be sealed with caulk, and plumbing and electrical openings sealed with foam, to get rid of any possible hiding places for bed bugs. In addition, chimneys and windows should be shielded to keep out birds and rodents that can also attract bed bugs. If you choose to keep the mattress, it should be encased in a bed-bug-proof mattress cover.

How to Prevent Bed Bug Infestation

Follow these tips to help prevent bed bug infestation in your home:

  • Inspect Hotel Rooms: Thoroughly check your hotel room for bed bug infestation before bringing in your luggage.
  • Protect Luggage: Keep your luggage on a clean luggage stand rather than the floor or bed to prevent bed bugs from crawling into it.
  • Luggage rack in hotel room

    Use luggage racks when traveling

  • Travel Smart: When you get home, unpack your suitcase directly into the washing machine, and inspect your luggage thoroughly for bed bugs before storing it.
  • Thrift Stores and Yard Sales: Inspect used furniture or other thrift store and yard sale items thoroughly before bringing anything home. Put used clothing and other fabric straight into the washing machine on the hot cycle then dry in the drying to kill any bed bugs.
  • Reduce Clutter: Clean out your house to give bug bugs fewer hiding places and make detecting them easier.
  • Clean Well: Deep clean your house periodically including baseboards, closets, bed frames, and clothes hampers. Vacuum all cracks and crevices, and throw away the vacuum cleaner bag afterward. If you see any evidence of bed bugs, repeat the treatment.

Further Information

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One Comment on “What to Do When the Bed Bugs Bite!”

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  • D Says:
    December 23rd, 2010 at 8:46 am

    My wife and I had an unfortunate run in with bed bugs this summer in the hotel we stayed in. Those are good suggestions about how to get rid of bed bugs. But the BEST way to get rid of them is steam. Of course put your clothes that you can wash in the laundry and wash and dry them at least twice and special clothing articles to the dry cleaners. But for all the other things you cannot wash or dryclean… buy a steamer and steam EVERYTHING! It works… trust me…. I know from first hand experience. The heat from the steam will kill the little blood suckers in ANY stage of their life cycle.


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