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How do I get rid of bed bugs?

Updated on December 28, 2014

Picture this: You get up from bed one morning and you discover mysterious red spots on your skin. They become painful and itchy--uncomfortable. You're not allergic. What caused this? A tiny bug may be your answer.

Bed bug getting blood meal.
Bed bug getting blood meal. | Source

What are bed bugs?

Do bed bugs have wings? No. They're flat-looking, about the size of an apple seed and brownish, or rust colored. Oval in shape, they feed on the blood of humans or animals. They can get inside your home undetected through clothing, suitcases from your travels, used beds and couches. These insects got their name because they are typically found in bed frames, mattresses and headboards. These areas provide them with an easy access to bite people when they are sound asleep at night.

Bed bug feces stain on the corner of a bed
Bed bug feces stain on the corner of a bed

How do I detect the presence of bed bugs?

Waking with red areas on the body is one way to tell. Bites or feeding areas may appear as reddish welts and are sometimes found in rows indicating a bug seeking easy access to its meal. Unmonitored however the presence or an infestation can go unnoticed for a while. And if you happen to spot one during the daylight hours it may indicate a large infestation and require consultation with a pest control professional.

Another indicator may be waking to small blood stains on the bed sheet where you've rolled over onto one during its feeding. The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture recommends also examining bedding or mattresses for dried excrement or feces, which will appear as dark spots and staining.

What a bed bug looks like (top view).  Look for something about a third the size of a penny.
What a bed bug looks like (top view). Look for something about a third the size of a penny.

Look for:

  • Small blood stains on your pillow sheets or blankets which indicate you rolled over a bug in your sleep while it was active
  • Tiny, rust-colored stains which are fecal matter in mattress seams or undersides
  • Strong, foul and musty odor which may indicate a larger infestation
  • Since bed bugs are famous at hiding, remove your bedding and check the mattress ribbing, that is, the cloth bead that runs the entire edge top and bottom of your mattress. Also check the underside of your mattress and your box spring

How do I get rid of bed bugs?

Cleanliness of a home doesn't guarantee the absence of bedbugs. The blood of a living host is all they seek, so even in the tidiest of homes, their food source is, well, Or your blood, to make it a little less icky. Given that bed bugs can travel from house to house, an infestation is not necessarily your fault. Again, these transfers tend to be within apartment residences or other domiciles which regularly change inhabitants, possibly hotel rooms. This understanding of how infestations can start is a giant leap in treatment. Modifying certain travel behaviors will decrease the likelihood of re-infestation. Following are a few tips to follow:

Use your washing machine and dryer

Wash your bedding, curtains, sheets, linens and clothing in your washing machine using hot water. Place them in trash bags as you remove them. Transfer them to the washer/dryer area in the bags and wash in hot water and the highest dryer setting your fabrics can tolerate, remembering to seal the bags again when they're empty. Burn the bags or simply discard them in the dumpster.

Bed bugs die in sustained temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and above, so they will die in your dryer, which will be a great line of defense in your control efforts. If you have items that cannot be placed in the washing machine such as shoes and stuffed toys, simply place them in the dryer and let them dry on the highest setting for a good 30 minutes. Another way of heating these items is sitting them outside in a sealed plastic bag on a hot sunny day.

Improvised barrier based on tape adhesive
Improvised barrier based on tape adhesive | Source

Another Thought: Make your bed hard to get to

  • Make sure your bed is away from the walls a few inches at least, making your bed harder to get to. Be sure as well, as much as possible, keep bedding from touching the floor
  • bed bug proof mattress covers--mattress encasements also prevent any new bugs from finding hiding places in your mattresses and box springs
  • be careful about used furniture, such as mattresses, sofas, etc. You may want to avoid furniture placed out by households or furniture sitting by dumpsters
  • place bedbug climb up interceptors under bed legs. These are circular inventions that your bed posts can rest on which prevent access
  • an improvised barrier (see image) using the adhesive side of tape

Diatomite is also used as a mild abrasive in products like toothpaste
Diatomite is also used as a mild abrasive in products like toothpaste
A sample of food-grade diatomaceous Earth
A sample of food-grade diatomaceous Earth | Source

How to get rid of bed bugs organically

You might ask, how can I get rid of bed bugs naturally? There are many sprays and powders on the market designed to kill bed bugs, yet doing it organically can save you money and time, and the ingredients tend to be inexpensive.

The correct diatomite earth to use will be food grade, that is, below a certain size in particulate width, (about 11 micrometers) and has not been heat treated. A micrometer is one thousandth of a millimeter, for an idea of the size of a particle of this powder.

Dust sites of your room and furniture where bed bugs will typically camp, like your box spring and corners and crevices of the underside of your mattress. Bed bug interceptors, which go under the four bed legs are also an excellent place to put the powder since, if you've been careful to limit the pest's access to your bed to the four legs, they will have no way around them. Also check the retailer's or manufacturer's applicator bottle for instructions for places to dust with the powder, which may include crevices at floor boards and the underside of furniture pieces.

Diatomite earth is deadly to pests like bed bugs. It's a particularly ingenious way to eradicate a household bed bug population due to its abrasive and absorptive talents. Its efficacy as an insecticide derives from soaking the waxy coating from the bed bug’s outer shell. Dehydration follows, due to the loss of moisture retention from a lost protective barrier.


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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      For some reason this subject just makes my skin crawl. Never had them though. Great hub, now I know what to do if I do have them.