How to Kill Bedbugs

" How to kill bedbugs involves both organic, chemical and mechanical methods.  Mechanical methods include vacuuming, traps, steam heat, freezing and the use of a washing machine. Chemical methods include sprays and dust. Organic methods include natural powders.   All three are needed to thoroughly treat an infestation. Single sprays will not be able to treat an infestation since they either kill insects and eggs on contact or provide residual protection against any insects you might have missed."



bed bug biology and overview

Bed bugs are small insects that live near their host. They puncture the skin of the host in order to feed. The skin reaction to a bed bug bite is an allergic reaction. It is estimated that 70% of people show no skin reaction after being bitten.

Even if you don't have a reaction to the first time you are bitten, it is possible to have a reaction the next time you are bitten. Reactions can occur within an hour to as long as 14 days later.

It is difficult to kill bedbugs since they are hard to spot. They can be seen with the naked eye when you are able to coax them out of their hiding places, which are usually thin cracks and crevices.

Treatment requires a combination of methods in order to effectively knock down or reduce the bedbug population and then to apply products that provider longer lasting protection. The key is to be thorough and to make sure that you treat the entire infested area. 

Removing bed bugs from an area usually takes three applications. If you are planning to remove the bedbugs yourself, you will need a combination of non-chemical and chemical approaches since steps like cleaning a room and vacuuming will reduce but not eliminate the population.  The most economical way to obtain the required bedbug products in through the purchase of a bed bug kit.

Not living in the infested room is usually not an option since bedbugs can live about a year without feeding.

how to kill bedbugs at each stage of their lifecyclePicture of the Bed Bug Life Cycle. Bed Bugs Change in Appearance as they move from egg to adult. They also change in appearance before and after feeding

One female bedbug will lay somewhere between 200 to 500 eggs.  Each egg can hatch and develop into an adult in as few as 3 weeks.  The adult can live up to 12 to 14  months without feeding.  If you have bedbugs, try and stop them early and fast.

Signs of Bed Bugs includes stains on sheets (top left), mattresses (top center and top right) and bed bug bites on arm which can appear as a single bite, in a row or pattern. Severity depends on how allergic the individual is to bedbug bites, with most people showing no skin reaction. (bottom pictures)


what causes bed bugs?

Bed bugs are caused by either bringing them into your home from an infested area, or when they spread from one apartment to another. 



How to Find Bed Bugs

Start your search in the bedroom since up to 90% of the bed bugs are usually found within 10 feet of the bed. When looking for food, they can crawl over floors, on walls, and across ceilings for up to 100 feet. For this reason be sure to check adjacent rooms.

how to kill bedbugsHow to Kill Bedbugs: Typical Bed Bug Hiding Places in Bedroom

Approximately 50% of bedbugs will hide in and around the bed including the mattress, box spring and bed frame.  They prefer to hide in tight spaces such as under mattress labels, behind plastic box spring corner guards, inside wall cracks, along baseboards, bed frame joints, and in torn fabrics. Hollow bed legs could also make for a convenient hiding place.

bed bugs hiding on box springPicture of bedbugs hiding behind a Box Spring Corner Guard. Bed bugs do leave behind clues that they were present. This includes brown feces marks on sheets or the mattress, old molted skin and egg shells.

Bedbugs like to live in small, warm, dark places. Use a strong flashlight and carefully inspect the crevices of your mattress and bed frame. Adult bedbugs are usually reddish-brown in color and are about a quarter of an inch long. Their larvae are the size of a grain of rice. Look carefully, because they can be easy to miss.

Inspect other furniture beside your bed. Bedbugs can live on sofas or chairs. They can even live in dresser drawers. They can also live in carpet, usually along the baseboard. If you find bedbugs in one location, go ahead and inspect your entire house. If you miss a spot when treating them, the infestation will just return.

Use a magnifying glass to spot the white bed bug eggs. They are approximately the size of a head of a pin as are nymphs, which are bedbugs that were just hatched. The eggs are difficult to kill because of their protective shell, size and the sticky substance that cements them to a surface, making vacuuming ineffective. As bed bugs grow they will shed 5x which is why you might see bed bug skins on a mattress. They feed in between molting. A bedbug can grow into an adult in 30 days and create three new generations in a year. 

If you frequently get bed bugs consider purchasing an inspection kit.



Bed Bug Hiding Places

Around The Bed

  • Mattress seams
  • Tears in the mattress
  • Box Spring
  • Inside the Box Spring
  • Around Room Edges
  • Bed Frame (note that bed bugs prefer wood frames and do not like hard surfaces such as metal frames)

Near the Bed

  • Behind the clock radio and inside electronics
  • Carpet seams and edges
  • Behind pictures
  • Behind cable and electrical wall plates
  • Inside books, papers and, magazines located near the bed

Other Places

  • Clothes, shoes, toys, and closets
  • Wallpaper seams
  • Around door locks
  • Molding, wall and floor cracks
  • Drapery seams, pleats and hangers
  • Window and door frames
  • Newspapers and magazines

Identifying bed bugs

We suggest that you have a professional confirm that you have bed bugs. Options include sending an insect through the mail to the Cornell Diagnostic Laboratory or check with a local Cooperative Extension.

You can also call in a reputable pest control company such as members of the Home Advisor Network to have them identified (866) 214-8380.

bed bug inspectionDo A Thorough Inspection of Bed Bugs Around and Near the Bed

Bed Bug characteristics

Eggs

Small pinhead white specks. They attach to surfaces in bunches with a cement-like substance. 1/32 inches. Females lay 1 to 12 eggs/day. Bedbug eggs hatch in 6 to 17 days.

Nymphs

Small colorless "bed bug babies." Adults and bed bug nymphs are similar in appearance. After being born they look for a host right away. A bed bug will "molt" (loose its skin) 5 times before becoming an adult. It takes approximately 21 days.

Picture of Adult Bed Bugs Before and After Feeding

Adults

Adult bed bugs are dull red/brown in color and are approximately 1/5 of an inch (A). After eating they elongate in size (B). Adults live for 12 to 18 months. According the Ohio State University cooperative extension, 3+ generations can exist in 1 year. Bed bugs can survive for months between meals.



how to kill bedbugs

How To Kill Bedbugs In 4 Easy Steps

Video review of how to kill bed bugs.

Preparation

Follow these tips before you begin to treat a bed bug infestation. 

  1. Do not remove anything from the room to be treated unless bagged or in a snap-tight container. 
  2. Loosen the edge of carpet at the perimeter to inspect for bed bugs 
  3. Remove and inspect all items from the walls including pictures and lights if mounted on the wall. Keep the items in the infested room.
  4. Loosen all switch plates such as electric, cable etc. 
  5. Remove all linens, clothes and blankets and bag/seal in a bag or bin before they leave the room.
  6. Remove all items from adjacent closets. Bag and clean in a washing machine or dry clean. 
  7. Remove all items from the floor 
  8. Dispose of clutter such as newspapers and magazine in a sealed plastic bag

Bed bugs are also difficult to spot because they are active at night. You can try and pinpoint a location where a bed bug is hiding by looking for stains or remains from shedding skin (molting). The bedbugs also have a distinct sweet smell, which is why dogs are sometimes used to locate areas where they are hiding.

bed bugs on wall Bed Bugs Picture at Bottom of Wall

apartment Owners

Apartment owners may not be able to treat bed bugs legally as it may violate there lease. Check with your management company. 

Bed Bug Sprays and Tools

Video: What Kills Bed Bugs

Video review of the products you will need to kill bed bugs.


You’ll need a combination of products when learning how to kill bedbugs:

  1. Mattress safe contact spray
  2. Residual spray
  3. Bed Bug Powder (diatomaceous earth)
  4. Powder applicator
  5. Vacuum
  6. Hand Steamer (optional)
  7. Mattress and Box Spring Covers (optional)
  8. Climbup Interceptors for Bed Legs (optional): trap bed bugs trying to get up onto the bed. When trap stays empty you know infestation is gone.

To save money, consider purchasing an insecticide based bed bug kit that contains all of the products needed to kill bedbugs and bed bug eggs.  Kits should last for at least the required 3 treatments.

Note that our recommended kit contains sprays which kill insecticide-resistant bed bugs. Products typically purchased in a hardware store or Home Depot may not kill the types of pesticide-resistant insects found in Ohio and New Jersey.

Step by step Instructions: Killing Bedbugs

The following will take you through how do you kill bedbugs. The key to treatment is to be thorough and to use the right products.

1. Designate a Safe Area: Identify an area just outside the area to be treated where you can place treated items such as the mattress.  The bed will be the work area, which helps to limit the spread of bed bugs.

2. Launder: The first step in how to kill bedbugs is to launder your bedding in hot water by bagging the clothes in the room of the infestation and then carrying the bags to the washing machine. After washing anything you can including blankets, clothes and, linens in hot water, be sure to dry on high heat for 30 minutes. This will kill all bed bugs.

3. Vacuum:  Be sure to vacuum thoroughly to remove bedbugs and reduce the size of the population. Use the crevice tool on a strong vacuum cleaner to get into the crevices of your mattress and the corners of your bed frame. Of course, you can use the crevice tool on other soft furniture as well, such as sofas and chairs, and also on hard furniture like the insides of dresser drawers. Also, use the crevice tool to vacuum the floor along the baseboards near the bed or other infested furniture. Be sure to dispose of the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag when done. Do not use the brush tool since it may disperse bedbug eggs or they will get caught in the tool.

If you have a carpet, be sure to vacuum and steam clean.  For added protection, add a disinfectant formulated to kill parasites such as PuraCleenRX to the cleaning fluid (check use in an out of the way area to make sure cleaners to not discolor carpets). Be sure to treat along the baseboards.  Larger infestations should be treated by a professional as bed bugs can hide along carpet tacks as shown below.

bed bugs in carpet tack Picture of Bed bugs and Bedbug eggs (white oval objects) on Carpet Tack

4. Dispose of Clutter: Dispose of anything you can in the infested room such as magazines and newspapers. Bed bugs like to hide in clutter. Check every item in a room such as behind picture frames and even inside electronics. They may even hide behind wall electrical or cable plates. Check along the perimeter of the carpet as bedbugs can hide in the carpet and attach themselves to the wood holding the carpet in place.  Removing hiding places makes how to kill bedbugs an easier task.

If a mattress is torn and old, then it should be disposed of. If the mattress is in decent condition, then there is no need to dispose of it.  Instead cover with a bed bug approved mattress and box spring cover

5. Steam: 
 a hand steamer will push steam into areas where there are bed bugs and eggs. Steam is effective for how to kill bedbugs at all stages of life and is most effective when used prior to the application of insecticides such as sprays and dusts. It is preferable to use a steamer sold specifically to kill bed bugs as it will have high heat and low water vapor.

Steam all areas, including the mattress, box spring, bed frame, headboard and along the baseboards.

An alternative source of heat is a hair dryer set to the hottest setting held over each area for 10 seconds.

using steam to kill bed bugs on mattress Use a Hand Steamer for a Safe Way to Kill Bed Bugs and Bed Bug Eggs Picture: Steaming Mattress Seam

Open a window after treatment to avoid growing mold on treated surfaces. Start by treating the mattress surface, mattress seams and then the furniture. Bed frame joints are a favorite hiding place. Treat all edges of the carpet as well. Do not steam furniture that can be damaged by water.

6. Use a Mattress Safe Contact Spray on the Mattress: After steaming wait for the mattress to thoroughly dry. Then apply a mattress safe knock down spray to immediately kill bed bugs and bed bug eggs. It also works well for killing bed bugs hiding in cracks such as bed frame joints, and cracks/crevices in furniture. Good choices are Bug Patrol (organic/natural spray) or Sterifab (insecticide bedbug spray, proven to kill insecticide resistant insects, we prefer the Sterifab).  You should also purchase a residual spray that will provide several weeks of lasting protection such as Phantom or Bedlam Plus  (New York residents cannot buy Phantom, so purchase Bedlam instead).

After treating the mattress, move it out of the infested room to the safe area, and then treat the box spring.

how to kill bedbugsPicture: Use a Mattress Safe Bedbug Spray to Along Mattress seams and tufts. Be sure to treat around the mattress label.

7. Treat objects in Nightstand drawers: First, remove the drawers from furniture near the bed.  Dump contents onto the box spring. All contents need to be treated.  Methods include heat (steam), washing (for machine washable items), bed bug knockdown sprays and freezing (place items in the freezer for 2 weeks). After treating drawers place into the safe area.  You can also place items into a ThermalStrike portable heat chamber. Note that electronics such as clock radios may not withstand high heat. Check with the manufacturer.

8. How to Kill Bedbugs in Box Spring: It is just as important to treat the box spring as it is to treat the mattress.  Be sure to treat the inside of the box spring by peeling back or removing the bottom cover. After treating, carry box spring to a safe area.

9. Treat the Furniture, Bed Frame and Baseboards: Be sure to treat every possible hiding place, including the bottoms of drawers, the backs of furniture, and along the baseboard.  Bed frame joints and hollow bed legs are favorite hiding places.

bed bugs in furniture Be sure to treat the inside of furniture such as drawer tracks
killing bed bugs in wall baseboards Use an Aerosol Spray with Top Attachment (comes with spray). Follow manufacturer instructions on how to kill bedbugs

10. Bed Bug Dust: Even if you vacuum and kill all of the bugs, it is very difficult to locate and kill the eggs. Which is why an infestation may reappear several weeks after treatment. By spreading a thin layer of dust (called fossil dust or diatomaceous earth) in and near crevices around the room, the bedbugs will be killed when they come in contact with the dust. Dusts are also useful around electrical outlets such as wall plates since liquids could be dangerous. Since dust is visible after it is spread around, it is limited to out of the way areas such as under furniture and the bed.  It can also be placed into the tufts of the mattress and inside the box spring.  Most dust products are all natural.

treating a mattress with bed bug dustAfter treating the mattress, apply bed bug dust to seams before covering with a mattress cover


If the dust product you purchase also contains an insecticide, the active ingredient in dusts is usually carbamates such as bendiocarb and propoxur. 

Do not vacuum the room 10 to 14 days after dust treatment to allow the residual effects of sprays and any dust placed around the room to do its job. This is because any remaining eggs will hatch in 7 to 10 days.

11. Mattress and Box Spring Covers:  one approach for how to kill bedbugs is to buy a tight-fitting mattress and box spring cover.  The covers will trap any remaining bed bugs and those that hatch inside the mattress, denying them food. There is no need to throw out a mattress or box spring that are in good condition. It is equally important to cover the box spring as it is to cover the mattress.  Covers purchased must specifically state that they were made for bed bugs.

After covering both the mattress and box spring move both back in place.  Be sure to either dispose of pillows or use bed bug pillow covers.

If you decide to replace the mattress and bed frame, buy a metal frame since bed bugs hate the smooth and hard surface of metal. If you use any linen around the edges of a bed, make sure that it is off the floor to avoid having bed bugs use this as a pathway back into the bed.  Also, keep the bed at least 6 inches from the wall and any adjacent furniture.

12. Use Climbup Interceptors: Climbup Interceptors These are inexpensive bed bug traps that go under each bed leg. When the traps remain empty after 3 weeks, you know that the infestation has been eliminated.



what doesn't work when killing bedbugs

Avoid older dangerous methods of bed bug removal such as the use of flammable liquids such as gasoline. Also products such as boric acid which comes in a dust form do not work as they are not ingested by bedbugs. If treating an apartment, products that contain pyrethroids may result in bedbugs dispersing from the treatment. Pyrethroids will not kill insecticide resistant insects found in States such as New Jersey and Ohio.

Bed bug bombs will cause bed bugs to scatter into the walls and are not effective.

Home remedies for bed bug protection

These are the basic steps that will start to protect you from bed bugs:

  1. Pull the Bed From the Wall: Bed bugs will climb the wall and then jump onto the bed. Pull the bed at least 6 inches from the wall.
  2. Use a Bed Bug Trap: One of the popular home remedies for getting rid of bed bugs is to buy Climbup Interceptors or use 4 plastic bowls. Glue fabric to the outside of the bowl so that a bed bug can climb up the side. Please each bowl under a bed leg. Place an inch of rubbing alcohol in each bowl. Bed bugs will climb up the side of the bowl and then slide into the alcohol and die. This is a convenient way to both catch the bed bugs and by the number found in the bowel, you can determine the extent of your bedbug problem or if a problem still exists. See our guide to homemade bed bug traps.
  3. Double Sided Tape: Put double sided tape around each bed leg. The bed bugs will get attached to and avoid the sticky surface.
  4. Vacuum/Steam: Vacuum and steam (if you have a hand steamer) the bed seams, box spring and bed frame.  You can see bed bugs with the naked eye.  Use a wire brush or thin object to pull them out of seams and cracks.
  5. Dispose of Clutter: Items such as newspapers and magazines provide hiding places for bed bugs.
  6. Use Duct Tape to Remove Bed Bug Egg:  Bed bug eggs are cemented to each surface where they are laid and cannot be picked up with a vacuum.  An easy bed bug home remedy is to pick up the eggs by applying duct tape and pulling.

When to Hire a Bed Bug Pest Control Expert

Bed bugs can rapidly multiply, so if you suspect you have bed bugs and can afford an exterminator, we suggest using an expert.

Don't wait or the problem will get much worse and possibly more expensive to treat.  We have a list of pest control companies that are specifically qualified to treat bed bugs. These companies will provide a quote at no charge to you.

You can hire an exterminator to come in and treat your home for you. It's not a bad idea to get a few quotes from a pest control network such as Home Advisor  (1.866.214.8380) since members are pre-screened and need to be licensed and insured before joining. You can then compare it to the cost of doing it yourself.

 You can also check our database of bed bug exterminators.

A pest control company may have specialized equipment such as room superheater which involves sealing a room and then heating it to a high temperature. Some also use a freezing spray.  They will have specialized knowledge on how to kill bedbugs.

If you have a large infestation, if the bed bug infestation has spread to multiple rooms, or if the bed bugs reappear after treatment, then bringing in an expert makes sense.  They have the knowledge of how to kill bedbugs that are spread throughout the home.

The downside of using an expert for killing bedbugs is the cost which often involves a fee for a home inspection ($100 - $500), with the high-end expense in larger cities where a bed bug sniffing dog is used. The treatment itself can cost between $750 to $1000 depending on the number of rooms that need to be treated.

When calling a bed bug pest control expert, ask the following questions:

  1. Cost for the estimate
  2. What chemical and nonchemical approaches will be used for killing bedbugs. Professionals use sprays that contain pyrethrins, bromophos, phenchlorphos and propoxur.
  3. If you have children, fish and pets, ask about safety
  4. Make sure that the treatment is guaranteed (often 2 to 3-bed bug treatments are needed)

brochures

Each of these free brochures provides additional answers on how to kill bed bugs in your home or apartment. It will also help you determine and learn about the best bedbug killer, and ways to approach the problem for your needs.

Article by one of the leading authorities on bed bugs on how to kill these insects with heat.
Available in a free Ebook

What you can do about bed bugs. Room preparation checklist for bedbugs. Cleaning and laundry checklist.
Available in a free Ebook

References for How to Kill Bedbugs:

Bed Bug Control: Challenging and Still Evolving Harold J. Harlan, Kadix Systems LLC, Arlington,VA 22203, USA 

Stephen L. Doggett Department of Medical Entomology, Institute for Clinical Pathology & Medical Research, Westmead Hospital, WESTMEAD NSW 2145, Australia. BedBug.Org.au

Do It Yourself Bed Bug Control - EPA