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What To Do About Bedbugs

Updated on May 2, 2013

Bedbugs bite mostly at night, and are most active about three to four in the morning, after you've been in bed a while and have settled into deep sleep. They're gross and disruptive and annoying, but they aren't dangerous.

You can tell if you have bedbugs through these clues:

  • Bites appear at night without you seeing where they come from, and tend to be in groups of two-to-five, often in a straight line.
  • There are little black specks in the corners of your walls and ceilings, by the baseboards, behind pictures or headboards or furniture, and in the nooks and crannies of your bed.
  • You see bugs that look like baby roaches, or that are flat and round, and then that puff up after they've bitten you and look like beetles.
  • If you squish them, there's blood, and they often smell bitter and unpleasant.

They're a problem all over the world right now, but there are things you can do about it.

Day To Day Basics

When you're living with bedbugs, there's a few things you can do to minimize the affect they have on your day to day life.


  • Wear long sleeves, long pants or leggings and socks to bed to minimize the amount of skin the bugs can get at.
  • Use sheets and blankets of a color that lets you see the bugs clearly--white or other light colors--so you can find them. Light colors also allow you to bleach the stains out of your bedding, because there will be stains. These are messy little bugs.
  • Check your bed before you go to sleep--the edges of the mattress, especially, as that's where they like to hide.

Your room:

  • Check ceilings and floorboards before you go to bed; if there's any bugs there, remove them immediately and squish them, then flush them to get them out of your house.
  • Move your bed away from the walls, and lift it up off the floor. There are bed-risers you can get at Walmart or similar stores that are basically like cups you put the legs of the bed in to give them extra clearance off the ground.
  • Keep bedding on the bed and away from walls and floors when you can.
  • Keep your room cool; bedbugs are more active in a warm room.
  • Cover your bedspring in a sealed plastic liner so they can't nest there; if you can handle the noise, it wouldn't be a bad idea to seal up your mattress, too, but those can be noisy. You can get them at Walmart, usually, or places like Bed, Bath and Beyond or online.
  • If you have carpets, cover the whole floor with borax or baking soda or flea powder and let it settle into the fibers. If you vacuum reapply. It pokes holes in their shells and eggs, and in the case of flea powder, actually poisons them, too.
  • Whether you have carpets or not, lay down a barrier of borax along baseboards and under furniture, where they have to cross it if they're coming for you.
  • Wash your bedding regularly; if they have been bugging you, use hot water and dry at the hottest temp your machine has. Once or twice a week, throw all your blankets and pillows into the hot dryer before bed. (Bonus: In the winter, this is amazing!)
  • Put your clothes away. Hanging is the best option--it's harder for them to get into hung-up clothes.

In Your Home:

  • Use the borax or baking soda in all furniture--put it under, behind and among all pillows, the piece as a whole, and any slip covers where they could hide.
  • Keep an eye out for infiltrators and squish and flush them as soon as they appear.
  • Do not pick up second-hand furniture without thoroughly checking that they aren't infected before bringing them inside.
  • Keep your spaces free of clutter--they like to nest in piles of cloth, paper, hidden corner and messy boxes like fleas and roaches; avoid those conditions and you cut down the chances of getting any of those bugs!
  • Use repellent medicines on your pets so that they can't feed there, eliminating another place for them to thrive; they should be sensitive to the same meds that get rid of other biting insects.
  • Keep warm, damp places from happening--clean them with bleach or some other heavy-duty cleaner, air them out, expose them to light.
  • Check behind pictures, posters, callendars--anything that covers parts of the walls--regularly. They'll nest there if they can. You can avoid some of this is you find ways to hang things so that they aren't flush--use hanging wires on pictures, hang posters on binder clips instead of right up against the wall.
  • Move furniture a few inches away from the walls and floorboards so there's air between them.

Attacking the Problem Naturally

If you've already got a mess made by the bugs, the smears they leave on walls can be removed with hydrogen peroxide. Comes right off.

And you can use these things against them:

  • Clove, orange, patchouli, and cinnamon oils will repel almost any biting insects; you can either get a all-natural flea or other bug repellent that has these oils, or you can mix up a few drops of each into a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and spray that everywhere you are likely to sit and bugs are likely to be. Be careful on delicate fabrics, though, because it can stain them. And don't make the oil concentration too high--it can get nauseatingly overpowering, it can irritate skin and eyes, and it can ruin things sensitive to oils.
  • There's the above-mentioned borax-treatment. You can also use diatomacious earth; you can find it for sale through natural herb and remedy shops online. It does the same thing--pokes holes in the bugs' shells--but it can irritate skin, if you're delicate, so keep it to furniture surfaces that you won't have a lot of contact with.
  • There are a number of store-bought sprays that claim to be all natural and safe, and they generally work, though not always as good as they could; find one in your own budget and try it out. If it doesn't work, try another.

Attacking the Problem With A Vengance

If you have the money, you can call an exterminator, but to treat a whole house for bedbugs, the price can get pretty high. Try these things first:

  • Get a harsher bug spray. Make sure you avoid spraying it where pets or kids'll be sleeping without a lot of time to air out and dissipate, and check the labels before you spray it anywhere. Read all the warnings.
  • Try a bug bomb. They aren't really meant for bedbugs, but they should at least lower the numbers of almost any insect in the house. Put the canisters close to where the problem areas are, and make sure you get all kids and pets (even things like goldfish) out of the house while treating. Cover up all your food so it won't get poisoned, and when you get home, wash all your dishes and clothes and bedding again to make sure the poison is off them.
  • You can kill fleas by letting the house get over 100 degrees, and bedbugs are susceptible to a lot of the same treatments. If it's the summer, consider closing up all the doors and windows, turning off the air, opening all the blinds so the sunlight can get in, and going away for the weekend. Take pets and house plants with you. Let the house get very hot, and sit that way for a while. When you get back, be careful about re-inhabiting a hot house if you have a sensitivity to heat like that. Then wash all your bedding to be sure they're gone.


Don't do anything that could poison your family.

Don't leave pets or children near anything dangerous.

Don't put your health at risk over bugs that aren't fatal or disease-carriers--remember, they're gross and annoying, but they aren't dangerous.

Research your options before you try them; make sure they're right for your family, your home and your experience.

Try the safer, non-toxic treatments first, then scale up if they don't work. Often, it's not the harshest thing that works, and getting all militant about it only causes needless trials.

The best way to keep things under control is to be thoughtful about where you live: make it a house that doesn't encourage bugs of any kind, and you will have less of them to deal with.


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