How to Choose the Right Bed Bug Treatment

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After identifying a bed bug infestation, you'll want to keep it from spreading. Here's what every homeowner needs to know about bed bug treatments.

The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) is a tiny, parasitic insect that can sneak into your home in search of human and animal blood. They typically hide in the seams of mattresses, sofas and recliners — virtually anywhere warm bodies sit or lie down.

According to a 2018 study, 91 percent of bed bugs were discovered in single-family homes and 89 percent in apartments. If you do have a bed bug infestation, don’t be too hard on yourself — the reason has little to do with cleanliness.

“With news of a reemerging bed bug epidemic, many homeowners are worried about inadvertently carrying the little hitchhikers into their homes,” says Ed Spicer of Pest Strategies. “Bed bugs are very adept at spreading from home to home and even between countries. They don’t just latch onto beds, but also clothing, luggage — even the seat covers on airplanes.”

How To Identify a Bed Bug Infestation

The first indicator of bed bugs is small — red bites around your midsection. Other tell-tail signs include:

  • Blood and fecal matter on sheets and mattresses;
  • Eggs (they look like poppy seeds);
  • Skin casings;
  • Dead bugs.

What To Do When You Have an Infestation

Once you’ve identified the problem, there are simple, do-it-yourself steps to take:

Step 1

Search your home and write down dates and exact locations where bed bugs were found. Track your progress to target treatment effectively.

Step 2

Declutter to eliminate hiding places. If you live in a multi-family dwelling, ask neighbors if they have bed bugs and, if so, elicit their help. Success depends on everyone’s cooperation.

Step 3

To keep infestations from spreading, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says you should:

  • Inspect and treat infested furnishings and drapes;
  • Wash/dry clothing, bedding and plush toys at highest heat settings;
  • Seal untreatable items in plastic containers or bags for up to a year;
  • Encase mattresses and box springs in bug-proof covers;
  • Discard unwanted items in sealed bags.

Step 4

Kill the bugs (see treatment options below).

Why Get a Bed Bug Treatment?

A single female bed bug can lay hundreds of eggs, so it’s crucial to treat a bed bug infestation as soon as you discover it! Ignoring the problem only exacerbates it.

Bed Bug Treatment Types

The right bed bug treatment depends on the scope and severity of the outbreak. From DIY to non-chemical to insecticide solutions, choose one that fits your situation best.

Clothes Dryer

Tumble dry items at least an hour at the highest heat setting.

Pros: It will kill bugs.

Cons: You must run unwashed clothes through the dryer first to kill the bugs. Then, afterward, you can wash and dry them as you normally would.

Cost: Free.

Hairdryer

Kill bed bugs with a hairdryer set at the highest heat level.

Pros: Almost everyone has access to a hairdryer.

Cons: To be effective, you need to hold the nozzle at the target area for a few minutes.

Cost: Free.

Freezer

Place items in air-tight bags and put in zero to subzero temperatures for three days.

Pros: Perfect for items that could be damaged by heat.

Cons: You need plenty of freezer space.

Cost: Free.

Heater

Heaters designed specifically to kill bed bugs use high temperatures that take out not only the bugs but their eggs, too.

Pros: Leaves no chemical residue and sterilizes everything.

Cons: It’s expensive.

Cost: From $200 up to $3,800 (for professional models).

Steamer

Steamers shoot hot vaporized water at pests.

Pros: Kills bugs and eggs instantly.

Cons: If used on thick fabrics or carpeting, it may not reach bugs more than 3/4 inch below the surface.

Cost: $300.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil’s high menthol content gives off a strong scent that bed bugs don’t like.

Pros: A reliable, non-toxic bed bug repellent, it’s most effective when combined with other treatments.

Cons: Not lethal to bed bugs.

Cost: $16.

Double-Sided Carpet Tape

Wrap bedposts with double-sided carpet tape.

Pros: Prevents bed bugs from climbing up into bed while you’re sleeping.

Cons: Removing the tape of dead bugs can be icky.

Cost: $14.

Traps

Traps control nymphs and adults; they get stuck and die.

Pros: Creates a non-toxic barrier around furniture.

Cons: Doesn’t affect eggs.

Cost: $26.

Dusts

The active ingredient in this dust, synthetic silica gel, dehydrates bed bugs until they are dead.

Pros: Great for seeping into tight cracks and crevices.

Cons: Causes allergic reactions in some people.

Cost: $27.

Sprays

Easy-to-use sprays work on bed bugs and their eggs.

Pros: This one is safe around people and pets.

Cons: Leaves behind a chemical residue that lasts up to four months.

Cost: $55.

Foggers

Foggers emit a cloud that serves as a spot treatment.

Pros: Work best in enclosed spaces.

Cons: Unsafe to use around humans and animals.

Cost: $10 (three-pack).

What To Do Before a Bed Bug Treatment

Before you begin — whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a professional — here’s how to prepare your home for treatment.

  • Clean, vacuum and remove clutter;
  • Move beds at least six feet from walls;
  • Wash curtains, towels, bedding, etc. and then bag;
  • Caulk cracks and crevices.

What To Do After a Bed Bug Treatment

At least once a year, do a check to ensure bed bugs haven’t returned. If they have, repeat steps one through four above or call a professional exterminator for help.

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Toni DeBella
Toni DeBella is a freelance travel, lifestyle and digital content writer based in a medieval hill town in central Italy. Her work has been featured in such publications as Fodor's, The Telegraph, Walks of Italy, Italy Magazine, Frommers.com, Touring Bird (via [email protected]) and more. Most recently she authored the 2020 edition of DK Eyewitness Sicily travel guide. When Toni is not roaming around Europe, you'll find her tending her alley-side container garden or honing her clay-court tennis game.