Guide to Effective BedBug Treatment

"Below you will find step by step instructions for do it yourself bedbug treatment and tips for hiring a professional. We recommend seriously considering an exterminator since these insects are difficult to eliminate. The downside of a professional exterminator is the high cost which could be $1000 or more plus an on-site inspection fee. Treating an entire home or apartment can cost thousands of dollars.  Home bed bug treatment is possible if you do it the right way. Killing bed bugs requires several types of products that come in a kit such as the organic products available from Naturasil for Bed Bugs ($160). Detailed instructions for how to kill bed bugs are listed below and provided throughout this site.  Some homeowners go the self treatment route first, and then if the bedbugs return or they are unsuccessful, hire a professional. Regardless of what you choose to do, expect to apply 2 to 3 treatments before the problem is gone. Renters should call a local department of health to determine if the home owner or building manager is responsible for treatment."  

Bedbug treatment requires knowing how to kill bed bugs and their eggs, and knowing where to look.  We always recommend hiring a professional, although do it yourself approaches do work with readily available chemical and non-chemical methods.  Both are described below.

How to Hire a Bed Bug Exterminator

A survey of exterminators reported that Bed bugs are one of the most difficult insects to kill.  It can take the better part of a day to do a thorough job.  Costs can be as high as $1,000 or more per treatment, with many companies charging for both an in-home inspection and the bedbug treatment itself.  Because of this, and to save money, we suggest getting a quote from the following firms:

  1. Call or visit the Home Advisor Network: Home Advisor (phone 1.877-233-1145) is a network of local pre-screened pest control companies.  They offer 3 free quotes and enforce standards among members of the network.
  2. Search our exterminator database: We maintain a database of local bed bug experts.
Be sure to ask any exterminator about their experience, guarantees and the types of bedbug treatment products that will be used. The guarantee in particular is important since more than one treatment is often required. The primary treatment methods used by professionals include:

  • Freezing sprays
  • Heat (hot air in a sealed home or thermal remediation)
  • Insecticide Sprays
  • Vacuuming
  • Steam

Do it Yourself BedBug Treatment

The key to killing bedbugs is knowing where to find them and then applying the right treatment products. Typical bedroom hiding places are indicated in the diagram below.

bedbug treatment
Picture of Areas in Home Requiring BedBug Treatment

Here's an over view of what is involved in each of these approaches. The quick summary is:

  • Bedbug Sprays: There are two types of sprays, knockdown, which kill bed bugs and bed bug eggs on contact, and residual which provides lasting protection. Residual sprays kill bed bugs when they come out of hiding or will act on any insects you miss when applying the knockdown spray.  Both types are available in either a pump or aerosol.  In terms of a knock down spray, we recommend Sterifab or Bedlam. One of the best residual sprays is  Phantom (New York residents cannot buy Phantom online, and should instead use a combination of Bedlam and bed bug dust).   These products have been independently reviewed as being effective in killing bed bugs and bed bug eggs among insecticide resistant insects. This is an important factor in the Northeastern United States.

    Other commonly available sprays are showing some bed bug resistance as indicated in this University of Kentucky study (PDF download).
  • Bedbug Dust: To kill bedbugs from eggs that are missed, or to provide lasting protection, bed bug fossil dust is commonly used.  The dust sticks to the outside of the bed bug, causing death.  Also called fossil dust or Diatomaceous Earth.
  • Hand Steamer:  Extreme heat, such as that produced by steam,  kills bedbugs and bed bug eggs.  This is why Pest control professionals often seal a room and super heat it for a few hours to kill all of the bugs and eggs. A hand steamer will produce enough heat to kill bed bugs (113F).
  • Vacuuming: This is often the 1st step when removing living bedbugs from the room. It  will not get all of them and does not pick up bed bug eggs. Immediately dispose of vacuum bags outside of the home after treatment.
  • Bedbug Mattress and Box spring Covers: Bed Bug mattress covers are uses after treatment. They trap any bedbugs in the mattress and box spring.  They'll eventually die when not being able to feed.  

As mentioned, the cost effective way to buy these products is in a kit from companies such as Naturasil for Bed Bugs.  

Preparing a Room for Bedbug Treatment

A room needs to be clutter free prior to treatment.  Do not remove anything from the room unless it is in a plastic bag, so that bedbugs aren't carried from one room to the next. Ziploc XXL Big Bags are bed bug proof and handy to have when either moving items or protecting them from bedbugs.

Wash all linens in hot water and then place in the dryer on high heat for at least 20 minutes.  This will kill all bedbugs and eggs.  Wash blankets, clothes and anything else that was in the room.  Place toys, sneakers that will not melt or get damaged in the dryer for at least 10 minutes at 120 F. 

Throw out books, magazines, newspapers and anything else that was near the bed and that can provide a convenient hiding space for the bedbugs.

Loosen any wall plates and if you can, loosen the carpeting along the edge of the room.  Bedbugs like to hide in the crack where the floor meets the wall.

Remove items from closets and drawers, particularly if they are near the bed.  Do not return any items until the treatment is done.

It can take 2 - 3 treatments before the bedbugs are gone.  

Bedbug Treatment Step 1: Vacuum and Clean the Carpet

Before spraying or steaming, vacuum the carpet and use the hand suction tool around the edges.  As recommended above, either loosen the carpet around the edges or at minimum use the suction tool.

Remove the vacuum bag in the room being treated and then dispose in a sealed plastic bag, outside of the house.  

If you have a carpet, you might want to mix a disinfectant into the water or cleaning fluid using a product like PuraCleenRx. Be sure to test any cleaning product on an out of the way area to avoid carpet discoloring or staining.

Bedbug Treatment Step 2:  Treat the Box Spring and Mattress

Start bedbug treatment with the mattress.  Use a knock down mattress safe spray along all seams, tufts and around any labels.  While they can be purchased from a local hardware store, we strongly recommend buying insecticide sprays that have been proven to work such as Sterifab.  A good organic alternative spray is Bug Patrol (manufactured with plant extracts).

bedbug treatment
Treat Mattress with the BedBug Spray (Sterifab shown here)

Knock down sprays will kill bedbugs and bed bug eggs on contact.  If you use an aerosol spray, DO NOT smoke when spraying as this could start a fire (yes, it actually happened).  Whether you buy a canned aerosol spray or pump spray, each will kill bed bugs on contact.  They are good for spraying into seams along the bed and into cracks.  Even if the bedbugs appear to run away when sprayed, they are disoriented and will die.  

Must bedbugs, approximately 80%, will be in, near, and around the bed, since this is where the human host will return (bedbugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide produced when people breathe).  Sprays should be able to kill most of these bugs.

After the mattress is treated, move it out of the room to a safe area such as an adjoining hallway. With the mattress out of the way move on to the box spring.

Be sure to treat the mattress AND box spring.  It is possible that more bed bugs are hiding in the box spring than the mattress.  This includes peeling away the cloth backing found on many box springs.

When done, move the mattress to an out of the way designated "safe area" such as in a nearby hallway.  

It is important to be thorough. A female bedbug will lay about 10 eggs per day.  The eggs are usually laid on a rough surface such as fabric and are attached to the surface with a cement like substance.  This cement makes vacuuming them up impossible.  Sprays will not penetrate their shell and are ineffective at killing them.  For that you need a heat, such as a hand held steamer (which is why a steamer is part of most bedbug kits).

When using any insecticide, be sure to follow the manufacturers directions and wear gloves.

Step 3: Bedbug Treatment for Furniture and Baseboard: Use a Residual Bedbug Spray

When finished spraying the mattress and box spring, then apply a bedbug treatment to the furniture and around the baseboard.  This would include inside any night stands.   Inspect the contents of any drawers and bag or dispose of them during treatment so that drawers can be removed and treated.

Use both the knock down spray first, to kill any bed bugs and bed bug eggs on contact. Follow this with the use of a residual spray such as Phantom.

bedbug treatment
Spray Inside Furniture, Particularly along tracks that hold drawers, a favorite hiding place for bed bugs

bedbug treatment
Spray the Back of Furniture Along Cracks with a Knock Down Spray and Residual Spray
(Sterifab shown here)

bedbug treatment
Spray along Window Sills with a Knock Down or Residual Spray

After treating the furniture, spray along the perimeter of the room.

bedbug treatment
It is a good idea to start treatment by spraying a Knock Down Spray Around the Baseboard (Bedlam bedbug spray shown here)

If you have pets or children, remove them from the area and check the label regarding safety.  Keep a window cracked open to help the sprays dry quickly and to avoid mold on mattresses.  Follow the manufacturers directions.

Bedbug Treatment: Hand Steamer

Use of a hand steamer will kill bedbug eggs on contact by super heating them to 113 F.  Bed bugs become sluggish in heat and will die in high temperatures.  This is the most effective way to  kill eggs,  short of fumigating a room with a pest control professional.

Eggs are easy to miss as they are small, white, with each egg the size of a pin head.

bedbug treatment
Picture of Bedbug Eggs and Bedbugs on Furniture Fabric
Use Bedbug Knock Down Spray (1st) Followed by Steam for bedbug treatment of furniture. 
(Bedlam is a good bedbug spray choice for furniture since it uses a water base - always test to make sure sprays do not stain the fabric)

BedBug Treatment: Dust or Powder
(Fossil Dust, Diatomaceous Earth)

These bedbug dust products are all natural and are made from old fossils.  Dust lightly spread into areas where bed bugs may hatch and crawl.  When the exterior or "shell" of the bed bug comes in contact with the dust it will penetrate the shell and kill the bug.  Most professionals and individuals doing it yourself will spread a dust product after treatment. The dust provides lasting protection as long as it isn't disturbed.   Some buildings in areas with large bed bug infestations such as New York City, are placing Diatomaceous earth (another name for fossil dust) into the walls to prevent the spread of bedbugs from apartment to apartment.

Bedbug dust is also useful around electrical and cable outlets, since liquid sprays could be dangerous in these areas due to the risk of liquids and electrical shock. 

One good choice is JTEaton as it comes in an applicator bottle (vs. having to buy an inexpensive duster to apply the product).

Bedbug Treatment: Mattress Covers

When the room baseboard, mattress, box spring, furniture and all cracks and crevices are treated, the final step is to put both the mattress and box spring into a bedbug proof cover. 

Mattress covers need be certified as being for bedbug protection.  They are designed with a zipper to enclose both the mattress and box spring.  The goal is to trap any remaining bedbugs and eggs that may be hiding (particularly inside the box spring).  Since they can't feed, any remaining bedbugs will die inside the mattress.

It is not necessary to replace a mattress or box spring that is in good condition.  If there is a rip in either one, you might want to consider replacement.  Determine if your area has a free pickup service for any furniture or mattresses that have bedbugs.  Wrap in plastic before removing from the home to avoid dropping bedbugs in another room.  An example of an approved mattress cover is the AllerZip Waterproof Bed Bug Proof Zippered Bedding Encasement from Amazon.com.

Checking for Bed Bugs After Treatment

It is common for a bedbug treatment to take 2 to 3 attempts.  Bed bug eggs and even bed bugs are very easy to miss the first time around.  Also, is takes bed bug residual sprays up to 7 days to start fully working.  

We suggest purchasing Bed Bug Climbup Interceptors under each bed leg.  These bowls will catch any bed bugs moving toward the bed from the floor.  If the bowls stay empty for 2 to 3 weeks, then the bed bug problem has been removed from the home.  The number of bed bugs caught, if any, will any show the size of a bed bug problem.

BedBug Treatment for Bites

A bed bug bite is actually a puncture from the two tubes that are on a bedbugs head.  Any red skin reaction is actually an allergic reaction.  While some people will have no reaction, most will develop a small red raised area that will surround the area bitten.  Bites are usually on exposed areas of the body including the legs, arms and neck.  Bedbugs tend to avoid the bottom of the feet.

bedbug treatment
Picture of Bed Bug Bites

People become more sensitive to bedbug bites with each episode.  So a mild reaction from first time bitten can be worse the second time.  In most people, beyond redness, the bites itch badly and may require the use of a  simple over the counter itch cream.  Symptoms can appear immediately to several hours later and will clear in approximately 1 week.  Some people can have a more severe reaction such as welts or hives on the arm.

If the bites are itched, the skin could become infected, requiring an anti-biotic cream or an oral anti-biotic prescribed by a doctor.  See a doctor if the bite marks are not healing.

Luckily, bedbugs do not spread disease.

 

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