Updated: January 1, 2020
By: Mary Sweeney RN, BSN, CEN, ONN-CG
An Uninvited Guest
Bed bugs are pesky little insects that are unwelcome visitors in many homes and living spaces every year and are a public health issue that pops up annually. In addition to homes and living spaces, these creatures can be found in public areas like lobbies and waiting areas in doctor’s offices. Although we’d like to think they won’t happen to us, there’s always a chance that they will appear, so we need to understand what they are and how to deal with them. Let’s talk bed bugs!
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?
The common bed bug is an insect that feeds on blood, causing itchy, red bug bites on their unsuspecting victims. They have become more common in recent years. It is thought that the recent increase in these disgusting insects is due to higher amounts of travel in and out of the country, resistance of bed bugs to the pesticides used to eradicate them, and overall lack of knowledge in the general public about how to deal with them. By reading and familiarizing yourself with the information below, you can do your part to ensure you and your family are not affected by these little pests.
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?
Bed bugs are small, brown insects that can be very difficult to identify with the naked eye. In general, they are about the size of an apple seed, and are long and oval-shaped. Younger bed bugs may be smaller than their adult counterparts, white or translucent in color, and may be nearly invisible. Bed bug eggs are round, white in color, and may be no bigger than the head of a pin (source).
Identifying Bed Bugs
If the descriptions above are any indication, bed bugs can be incredibly hard to find and identify. So, what should you be looking for? Here are a few things to keep on the lookout for:
- Red stains on bedsheets or mattresses (these can be blood stains after bed bugs are crushed)
- Dark spots that are the size of a pinhead (or this bullet point!)
- White objects that look like small shells
- Actual live bed bugs
- Small, itchy, red bumps anywhere on your body
Where should you be looking for the infamous bed bug? Besides the obvious answer (your bed), there are lots of places these tiny pests can hide. Check around the seams and tags on your mattress, as well as the headboard and mattress box spring, if you have them. Don’t stop there, though. If the bed bugs have spread past your bed, they may be hiding in the seams of chairs or couches, in drawers, in or around electrical sockets, in the seams of a carpet, or under loose wallpaper or other things hanging on your walls. This is not an all-inclusive list, so do a once-over of your room and check any areas that are dark crevices or cracks that appear to be a good home for these little guys.
Getting Rid Of Bed Bugs
Ok, so you’ve found bed bugs. Instead of losing your cool, use these handy tips from the Environmental Protection Agency and other sources to rid your house of these insects once and for all:
Identify the problem. If you think you’ve found a bed bug, try to collect a sample of the insect and keep it in a jar – this way an expert can verify that it is, in fact, a bed bug. If you live in an apartment, get your landlord involved. If your unit has an infestation, it’s likely that other units may as well.
Develop a strategy. Making a plan is the best next step. Consider consulting a pest professional or other expert on possible next steps, and plan out how you’re going to tackle this issue. By keeping your cool and making a thorough plan for how to rid your space of these creatures, you will prevent the unnecessary spreading of these insects to areas that have avoided infestation.
Keep the infestation from expanding. This is the important one. You want to be sure to contain this infestation as much as possible. This process may include:
- Isolating and removing all infested things, including clothing, bed sheets, pillows, and any other items that may be affected. Place all items that can fit in a bag inside a plastic bag and seal it.
- If you are using a vacuum, seal the vacuum bag and throw it away outside and away from any residential areas.
- If you are getting rid of furniture, take steps to safely destroy it. You don’t want someone finding a bed bug-infested sofa and bringing it unknowingly into their home. Consider writing a large sign or writing with spray paint directly on the furniture. If you can salvage the furniture, try to rid it of the infestation instead of just getting rid of it.
Prepare for treatment. This step is arguably the most important. Here are some ways you can prepare for treatment of bed bugs in your living space:
- Clean up any clutter inside your home and be sure to separate infested items from non-infested items.
- Pick up all clothing off the floor and thoroughly inspect it for bed bugs and eggs. Take any infested clothing and immediately seal it in plastic bags for cleaning.
- Remove any items from underneath your bed, as these can be hiding places for bed bugs.
- Clean everything within sight of a bed bug-infested area. This includes washing clothes in the hottest water possible followed by drying at the highest heat setting possible. Washing clothes and sheets alone may not kill all bed bugs.
- Vacuum every possible surface and dispose of the vacuum bag immediately.
Kill the bed bugs. The following are different methods you can use to kill bed bugs:
- Heat: Heat is an extremely effective way to kill these insects. Wash clothes and sheets on the hottest possible setting, followed by drying at a very high heat. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, there are professional companies with heat machines that can come into your home and perform heat treatments.
- Cold: You can put items in a sealed bag into a freezer that is set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The items must remain in the bag in the freezer for four days to ensure all bed bugs are dead.
- Steam: Steam cleaners can be used for small crevices and cracks in the carpet, floor, and furniture to get rid of any remaining bed bugs. Be sure that the steam temperature is at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit for it to be effective.
- Pesticides: You may be more comfortable delegating this work to a pest professional. Pest control companies can use foggers or EPA-approved pesticides to rid an area of bed bugs permanently. Beware of using foggers without professional supervision, as they are ineffective when not used properly. Also, be sure that any pesticides you are using on your own are approved by the EPA and are not harmful to humans.
Evaluate and prevent. After treating a living area for bed bugs, do a thorough inspection of the area to ensure they are all gone. Keep inspecting for 1-2 weeks to ensure there are no stray bugs still living in crevices or cracks. If you find some stray living ones after you have treated an area, go back to the beginning of your treatment plan and start over. Go through each step carefully and thoroughly to be sure you are eliminating all possible bugs in all possible areas.
Other Home Remedies For Bed Bugs
If you want to try some other home remedies in addition to the above tried and true solutions, here are some home remedies that MAY kill bedbugs. Keep in mind, though, these remedies have not been back by studies or other evidence, so they are not the most effective ways to rid your space of these annoying insects.
- Spray rubbing alcohol directly on the insects and on possible infested surfaces. The alcohol should kill the bugs on contact.
- Sprinkle baking soda along cracks and crevices where the bugs may be hiding. This will suck any moisture from those spaces and will kill the bugs. Be sure to vacuum and reapply baking soda to these areas regularly to make sure you get all of them.
If you’ve found bed bugs in your home or living area, don’t despair – you can deal with them and get through this! Do not substitute the above home remedies for the steps recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those steps have been proven to effectively kill bed bugs, while the home remedies do not have any evidence to back them up.
For more in-depth information on bed bugs and how to manage them, see the Environmental Protection Agency’s website below. There, you will find pictures of the different types of bed bugs to help you identify them more easily, as well as more comprehensive information on how to deal with an infestation.