Guide to Bedbug Infestations

" Bedbug infestations can be spotted with the naked eye by inspecting the mattress and linen or detected by bed bug sniffing dogs. Bed bugs can also be mailed or brought to either public or private labs that can confirm the presence of the insects. Once a bed bug infestation is confirmed, treatment should begin immediately before the infestation gets too large or moves on to adjacent rooms or apartments.  Steps to get rid of bed bugs using a professional is preferred, however, for limited infestations, do it yourself kits can be effective using a multi-product approach."   


Bed Bug Infestation Basic Overview


The goal of this site is to provide information on everything you need to know to fight a bed bug infestation.  Here's some quick links to what can be found on this page.  Use our search feature to find any bedbug information you cannot find or send us a question using the contact link at the bottom of this page. 

 Quick links to information about bedbug infestations::


How Bad is My Bed Bug Infestation?


To determine the size of a bed bug infestation start by examing all areas around the infested bed. Bed bugs will try and hide as close to the human host as possible. They start in the mattress seams, bed frame and then work their way into nearby furniture. You can see bed bugs with a naked eye, so use a flashlight and check all tight crevices.


BedBug Video

Here's a video from National Geographic on some basic bed bug information and bedbug infestations.  Once you have reviewed the video, see the information below on steps for removing bedbug infestations.

Bed Bug Video on BedBug Infestations

Confirming Bedbug Infestations

Bringing in a professional for an inspection and quote is the best way to determine if you have a bed bug infestation. A pest control expert will inspect the seams of the mattress, furniture and other bedbug hiding places. Many exterminators use bedbug sniffing dogs, which are very effective for finding bedbugs. The downside of using a dog is the higher cost of these types of inspections. You can use a convenient on line form provided by this site to find a bed bug pest control expert. This page also has tips for choosing a professional and questions to ask such as experience, tools used, cost and guarantees.  It may take 2 to 3 treatments to eliminate a problem.

Pest control treatment can cost upwards of $1000 for a home and significantly more for an entire apartment building.  Do it yourself approaches will cost between $50 and $200.

Two methods for inspecting a room include:


  • Inspect the Mattress: Bed bugs leave behind spots on the mattress and linens such as brown or red fecal matter. See the picture below for typical bedbug marks. Be sure to check any time you sleep in a new room such as a hotel, cruise ship or friends house.

    bedbug infestations
  • Place an Interceptor Under Each Bed Leg to Trap Bed Bugs: A small bowel called a Climbup Interceptor will trap bed bugs as they try and climb up onto the bed. You can tell the extent of the infestation by the number trapped. This is an inexpensive approach for both learning the extent of the bed bug problem and to be sure they are gone after the room has been treated.

Bed bug bites are not a reliable way to know if your home needs to be treated for bedbug infestations. The majority of people do not show any bite reaction. A recent study found senior citizens living in bedbug infested apartments with no bite reactions on their body. A typical bedbug infestation is comprised of 500 bugs.

picture bed bug bites
Bed Bug Bite Picture

Bed bug odor is also not reliable for humans as an infestation needs to be large and may not always give off a detectable odor.  This is not the case for bed bug sniffing dogs.

Bed Bug Identification by Mail

You can mail a bed bug to certain government offices and universities for evaluation.  A popular service that requires a $20 fee is offered by the Harvard School of Public Health.  You can access the downloadable bed bug identification form here.

What Do Bed Bugs Look Like

An individual can identify bed bugs by several characteristics. Note that they change in appearance depending on where they are in their life cycle and before/after a blood meal:

In general you can identify bed bugs by:

  • Body Shape: Oval and extremely flattened
  • Length: Bed bugs are up to 6 mm in length as adults and 9mm after feeding
  • Mouth parts: The mouth has 2 bristles which form a pipe-in-pipe system and is folded under the head and frontal thorax in a resting position.

    bed bug picture
    Close Up Picture Bed Bug

Pictures of Bed Bugs

Adult Bed Bugs before and after feeding:

bed bug picture
Picture of Bed Bug Adults Before and After Feeding

Baby bed bugs are called nymphs, they have a lighter straw color before feeding.  The nymphs need to pass through 6 stages (called instars) before becoming an adult.  They need to feed to pass from stage to stage.

picture baby bed bug nymph
Picture Bed Bug Nymph (baby bed bug)

picture bed bug eggs
Picture of Bedbug Eggs - Hatched

Insects That Are Similar in Appearance to Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are often confused with other insects. Insects that are similar to bed bugs include:

  • German cockroaches:  When roaches are young they can look like bed bugs. Roaches have eggs which are more rectangular and feces is in the form of pellets. They are brown in color vs. bed bugs than red. 

    insects similar in appearance to bed bugs
    Picture of German Cockroaches
    Source: University of Nebraska
  • Carpet and warehouse beetle adults and larvae :These types of insects feed on bed feathers and human hair. The larvae shed tiny hairs, that can cause human skin itch. 

    insects similar in appearance to bed bugs
    Picture of Carpet and Warehouse Beetles
    Source: University of Nebraska
  • ,Shiny spider beetles: Shiny spider beetles do not bite people. These spiders are often confused with ticks and bed bugs. They eat dried pieces of plants, seeds and dried meat.  

    insects similar in appearance to bed bugs
    Picture of Spider Beetles
    Source: University of Nebraska

Bedbug Infestations Treatment

If you are using a professional, ask for a checklist of steps needed to prepare for the exterminator. Any item that can be disposed of, should be removed in a sealed plastic bag. The Ziploc Big Bag Double Zipper bags are a good choice for sealing bedbug infested objects, since they cannot break through the bags. Remove and throw out any clutter that you can from the room. They are also a good choice for carrying objects from the room to other areas of the home, such as the washing machine.

Depending on the approach, most exterminators as part of the treatment for bedbug infestations will require that all linens in the room be washed in hot water. Use the Ziploc Big Bags to move the clothing to avoid dropping bedbugs throughout your home. Wash clothes on the hot water setting followed by 20 to 30 minutes in the dryer. Bed bugs are killed at 114 degrees F.

If hiring a professional with experience treating bedbug infestations, see our list of questions to ask a bed bug pest control expert.  

How to Kill Bed Bugs Yourself

If you have a smaller bedbug infestation, it is possible to take a do it yourself approach to get rid of bed bugs.  The key to success is to inspect every inch of the room where the bed bug infestation is taking place.  The key difference to sprays etc is:

  • are they natural/organic or chemical/insecticide
  • are they mattress safe
  • do they kill bed bugs and their eggs
  • child/pet safety (after they dry)

Purchase a Bed Bug Kit: To do the job right, you need to pull together several products.  Some are essential and some are optional, but helpful.  Here are the individual products needed.  You can save money by purchasing a group of products in a kit.  The choice of organic products or chemical is one of personal taste. Best options include:

 

Essential Bed Bug Pest Control Products and Their Use

1. Mattress Safe Bed Bug Spray: A mattress safe spray is important since 50% of bed bugs in a room can be found on or around the bed and box spring.  Two good choices are a chemical based spray such as Sterifab or a natural organic spray such as Bug Patrol.  Both sprays will also kill bed bug eggs.

2. Chemical Based Bedbug Spray with Residual Action: There are some new and older bedbug sprays on the market that not only kill bed bugs and their eggs, but all provide some lasting protection.  We suggest purchasing Phantom bed bug spray for this purpose as it cannot be detected by bedbugs after it dries, yet will kill the for several weeks after application.

This type of spray is good for spraying into cracks and crevices and around the box spring.  The spray may take several days to have a full effect since it works by killing bed bugs on contact and by interrupting the life cycle of the bed bug.  

3. Bed Bug Dust: Bed bug dust is a natural product such as Dermisil Fossil Dust, This is also referred to as bed bug powder and diatomaceous earth.  Bed bug dust is spread into cracks, walls and even inside a box spring to kill any late hatching bed bug eggs.  The dust attachers to the bed bug, creating a hole in their outer layer, killing the insect.  Silica dust is an alternative.

4. Mattress and Box Spring Cover: Zippered bed bug mattress covers trap any late hatching or missed bed bugs inside the mattress and box spring.  Mattresses do not have to be thrown out, just covered with a zippered bed bug approved case.   Be sure to buy a cover for both the mattress and box spring.

5. Vacuum: A vacuum can suck up live bed bugs from a mattress and along the cracks in a wall.  Use the brushless crevice tool to get into hard to reach places.

Other Helpful Bed Bug Pest Control Products


There are several products can help make sure that there are no more bed bugs in a room being treated for bedbug infestations.

1. Hand Steamer: Use a steamer using the larger head on the steamer. Super heat the mattress seams, around furniture (check to make sure water doesn't stain wood) and along cracks.  Bed bugs are killed at 114 degrees Fahrenheit. A steam cleaner bed bugs can be a helpful tool for safely killing bed bugs and their eggs.

The following advice for using a bed bug steamer is from the Australian Code of Conduct for Bed Bug Extermination. A study has shown that steam followed by insecticides provides better long-term control than the use of insecticides alone. Control can not reliably be achieved with steam alone. If buying a steamer, it must be able to produce steam at a low flow and high temperature. It is best to use
commercial units that employ ‘dry steam’, which allows for quicker drying times.
Note: ‘dry steam’ is a misnomer; items treated will still be damp and a fan or
ventilation should be used to dry the room afterwards, otherwise mold growth
could occur. Immediately after steam treatment the surface should be recording a temperature of 70 (176F) -80oC. Steam flow rate must be kept to a minimum to avoid blowing bed bugs aroun dhte room.  Single jet steam nozzles can blow bed bugs away. If such nozzles are used on mattresses then the nozzle should be always pointed.  The Reliable T630 and the Vagamore MR-100 are two models recommended by some pest control experts.

2. Climbup Interceptors: A climbup interceptor is an inexpensive way to trap bed bugs before they climb up onto a bed.  These inexpensive bowls are placed under each bed leg.  When a bed bug climbs up the side, they fall into the bowl and are trapped.  This is a good way to measure the extent of bedbug infestations and to see if the bed bugs are gone after treatment.

3. Bed Bug Itch Cream or Spray: Besides the red marks left on the skin, bed bug itch is the most problematic symptoms of bed bug bites. When asking how to stop bed bug itch, just buy an insect bite topical ointment in a pharmacy.  If bed bugs area constant problem you can buy a product that was specifically made to stop bed bug itch such as All Stop.

4. Portable Heating Unit: Not every item can be washed in hot water such as electronics or items that will be damaged. A Pack Tite portable heating unit will super heat any objects placed inside to the required temperature for killing bed bugs.  This is the only way to save items such as electronics and other items you would like to keep that may be infected.  Professional exterminators often use larger versions of this method for treating items from bedbug infestations, such as a remote heat chamber or a heat chamber on the back of a truck.

5. Carpet Disinfectant: Carpeting presents its own problems when treating bedbug infestations.  It is a hiding place for bed bugs and their eggs (particularly where the edges meet the wall).  One approach is to use a carpet cleaner with some strong disinfectant mixed into the cleaner such as Xtremecleen.  Be sure to test in an out of the way area to see if the product will discolor your carpet.

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs Do It Yourself Steps


Assuming you now have the products needed for treating bedbug infestations, these are the steps for inspecting a room, and killing bed bugs and bed bug eggs.

  1. Select a Safe Area: Select an area where you can move the mattress after it has been treated.  This can be out in the hallway or an adjoining bathroom.
  2. Start with the bed linen: The bed area will be the location for all inspections, where possible. Start by folding the bed linen on top of the bed.  Bag in a plastic container and lid or a heavy duty plastic bag.  A good choice is the Double Zipper Large Ziploc bags, which are bed bug proof.  Remove from the room and put into the safe area. 
  3. Remove and Discard of Clutter: Bed bugs can hide in any newspaper, books etc. Place items for disposal into a plastic bag for immediate disposal outside the home. Do all inspections on the bed to keep bed bugs in one area.  Remove pictures, inspect, treat picture backs with spray product and when dry, bag (dry to avoid mold).

    Bed bugs can hide in electronics. The only way to deal with electronics is to either discard or use a Thermal Heat Pack, which will super heat to the required 114 degrees.  Do not use liquids near any electrical appliance or outlet.
  4. Inspect and Treat the Mattress: Vacuum all mattress seams. Treat the mattress with a bed bug safe spray such as the Sterifab mentioned above. Follow the manufacturers directions.  Spray along all seams and into any holes in the fabric covering.  Be sure to treat around any mattress labels.  Once you treat one side, hold mattress up on edge and treat the other side and edges.  After treatment, move to safe area (hallway etc.)
  5. Inspect and Treat the Box Spring: It is possible that more bed bugs have found a hiding place in the box spring than along the seams of the mattress. Vacuum all areas of the box spring. Treat the top and sides of the box spring with the spray product.  Stand the box spring on edge, within the bed frame, and treat around the bottom fabric.  Remove or peel back the fabric.  Spray with the Phantom spray along seams or the Sterifab. When done, put some bed bug dust into the bottom of the box spring and replace fabric (not necessary to replace fabric.
  6. Inspect and Treat Nearby Furniture: Move into the bed frame area if you can.  Remove contents from drawers and place into plastic bags.  Use zippered bags for items that can be washed.  Other items should be disposed of, or placed into a heat chamber for treatment such as the one offered by PackTite.  If this is not an option, consider disposing of the item.

    Be sure to remove each drawer and treat the bottom of each.  Test the bedbug spray to make sure that it doesn't stain the wood as many are alcohol or water based.  Also inspect any furniture for signs of bedbug infestations, particularly if it is upholstered.

bed bugs furniture
Bed Bugs and BedBug Eggs on Furniture

  1. Treat the Edges of the Room and all Cracks: Vacuum along all edges of the room using the brushless crevice tool (bed bugs can get stuck in the brush kind and then drop in other areas of the home). Treat all cracks and edges with the bedbug spray.  After spraying let dry.  Seal all cracks with wall putty. Inspect all carpet edges.  Use bed bug spray such as Phantom to treat cracks. After spray drys, spread bed bug dust into cracks and around edges of room to kill any bed bugs from late hatching eggs.

    Check behind any wall plates (electrical, cable) for bedbug infestations.  Use dust products around electrical outlets if needed.  Sprays are fine around cable.  When in doubt, use dust.

    bed bugs pictures   bedbugs picture
    Pictures Bed Bugs On and Around Electrical Outlet

    Steam clean any carpet.  Add a disinfectant to the mixture such as Xtremecleen to kill any eggs that are hiding in the carpet.  Test in an out of the way area to be sure that mixture doesn't cause carpet discoloring.

    Use the diagram below as a guide to areas that should be inspected for bedbug infestations.  The bottom line is that every inch of the room should be inspected and treated if necessary.

    bedbug infestations
    Bed Bug Hiding Places
  2. Seal the Mattress and Box spring  in Zippered Covers: Zippered covers are not optional as 50% of bed bugs are found on, in and around the box spring. Choose bed bug mattress and box spring covers that are labeled for bed bugs.  Bed bugs could escape from covers that are not labeled.  Do not put covers on the mattress and box spring until they are dry from any sprays.
  3. Wash Clothes: Bring any machine washable items in a sealed plastic container or plastic bags to the washing machine.  Wash on the hottest setting followed by 20 to 30 minutes in a dryer.  Return to room after drying.
  4. Return Furniture and Mattress: Bring furniture and mattress back to the room.  Return any removed items.
It may take 2 to 3 treatments to completely address any bedbug infestations that you encounter.  It can take an entire day to properly treat a bed bug problem.  If all else fails, hire a bed bug professional.

Preventing BedBug Infestations

The only way for bed bugs to enter a single family home is for the bed bugs to be carried into the home by a family member.  Bed bugs only travel 100 feet in any direction of where they hop off the object that carried them into a home.

For apartments with bedbug infestations, bed bugs initially enter the apartment the same way.  There is then a 20% chance that they will spread to an adjacent apartment and a 7% chance that they will enter the apartment above or below the room that is infested with bed bugs.

Prevention starts with not bringing bed bugs into the home in the first place. Here are some tips for avoiding bed bugs:

  • Used furniture or mattresses are often infested with bedbugs.  New furniture and new mattresses can also be infested with bed bugs if they were transported in trucks that are used to take the used furniture and mattresses away!
  • Used clothing that was removed from a home with bed bugs could be hiding the insects.
  • Furniture and other household goods that came from a bed bug infested self storage facility.
  • Bed bugs that were hiding in rented cars or trucks.
  • Rented furniture that was not properly inspected.
  • Travelers who picked up bed bugs in their luggage on cruise ships, hotels and even public transportation.
  • Even used electronics and pictures can have bed bugs hiding inside the device or along cracks in a frame.

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