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When I was a child, bed bugs were considered to be a rather disgusting nuisance written about in classic novels that no longer existed anywhere in the modern world.
The truth is that humans and bloodsucking bed bugs made strange but regular bedfellows for centuries until shortly after World War II when strong pesticides like DDT and chlordane came into widespread use. Heavy pesticide use nearly eradicated bed bugs for over 50 years with most people living today having little to no memory of the major pest threat they were in the past.
The knowledge that pesticides damage the environment and contribute to health problems resulted in the banning of DDT in 1972 and chlordane in 1988. In addition, the changing attitude toward the use of chemicals along with bed bugs developing an increased resistance paved the way for a slow but steady resurgence. Bed bug problems are now commonly found even in the most modern and sanitary living environments including four and five-star hotels!
Identifying Bed Bugs
Bed bug bites typically manifest as tiny, itchy bumps that seem to come out of nowhere. Besides a tick bite, bed bug bites are probably one of the most feared!
Bites from bed bugs resemble those from other types of insects. This makes diagnosing bed bugs as the source of the problem particularly difficult. People usually figure it out over time when they notice that the bites occur whether or not they have been outdoors and exposed to other insects. So, the bites occur regardless of season, weather or the amount of clothing worn when outside.
Compounding the problem is the extremely tiny size of bed bugs. They are about the size of an apple seed, flat, and brown in color. This minuscule size allows them to easily stay hidden! If you suspect you have a bed bug problem, search around the seams and tags of your mattress and box spring. Cracks in the bed frame and headboard are other common places they hide.
According to the EPA, a better way to identify a possible bed bug infestation is to look for physical signs of their presence. While cleaning or changing the bedding, look for:
- Reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed (gross!).
- Dark spots (about this size: •), which are bed bug excrement. These dark spots may bleed on the fabric as a black marker would.
- Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm). Also, check for pale yellow skins that immature bed bugs (called nymphs) shed as they grow larger.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
If you ask people who’ve successfully gotten rid of bed bugs in their homes, you will hear a very common theme that it wasn’t an easy process!
A thorough cleaning of the area where the bed bugs live is crucial to resolving the problem successfully. Notice that the first two steps are very similar to what is done to get rid of fleas.
Removing Existing Adults, Nymphs and Eggs
- Declutter the bed bug-infested rooms. This is especially important for items stored near and under beds and couches. Items such as stuffed animals and shoes should be placed in the drier on the highest setting for 30 minutes. Cardboard boxes should be thrown out.
- Thoroughly wash all bedding in hot water and dry it along with pillows on the highest setting in the drier. If you have curtains, remove them and wash/dry in the same manner or have them dry cleaned.
- Use a stiff brush to dry scrub furniture fabric on couches and chairs and mattress seams to loosen bedbugs and their eggs to prepare for vacuum removal.
- Vacuum areas that were dry scrubbed above and adjacent areas thoroughly. Vacuum conventional and wool carpets as well as hard floors. It is important to immediately empty the vacuum and place contents in sealed ziplock bags. Dispose of bags in the garbage can outside.
Get Rid of any Missed Bed Bugs
- Encase the mattress, box springs, and pillows in zippered plastic covers to keep bedbugs from reinfesting and/or escaping. This is the same as what is done for dust mites. The covers need to remain in place for a year to ensure all bed bugs and their eggs are dead. Alternatively, purchase a new nontoxic mattress.
- Bed bugs can hide in cracks in plaster and peeling wallpaper. Be sure to repair any that are visible in the area(s) of infestation.
- Apply the biological insecticide BotaniGard, a product that contains a special type of microbe (Beauvaria bassiana) which kills bed bugs (1). This fungus is safe for humans and grows naturally in soils throughout the world and acts as a parasite to bed bugs eventually killing them. This is not an overnight solution but effectively works over time. Those with mold allergies should consult with their practitioner before using.
- Sprinkle CimeXa, non-toxic insecticide dust made of engineered silica powder, on the floor around the infested area. The exoskeleton of the bed buds is scratched by the dust when they crawl over it, which causes them to quickly dehydrate and die. CimeXa will remain viable for up to 10 years as long as the conditions are not damp and it is left undisturbed.
- As an alternative to steps 7 and 8 above, set up bed bug traps to catch stray bed bugs and/or hatching eggs missed by the above treatments.
Definitely Have Bed Bugs? The Nuclear Option
If your situation requires calling in the professionals, the good news is that you don’t have to fumigate your home with who knows what chemicals to get rid of the bed bugs. There are non-toxic ways to eliminate them without endangering your health or that of your family even though an infestation with bed bugs is so much worse and seemingly intractable compared with any other pest!
Note that if you live in an apartment, flat, or townhome, the problem becomes more difficult. Bed bugs seem to be able to move around a building with relative ease. According to a friend who experienced a very bad infestation in a large city apartment building, the only thing that seemed to work was an expensive heat treatment where all affected apartments were treated simultaneously by experienced professionals. The heat treatment method usually requires 2 or 3 sessions to be completely effective.
If you live in a standalone house, the problem is a bit easier and cheaper to handle as you can treat it yourself in most cases (see DIY ideas below). Just keep the heat treatment idea from experienced professionals in your back pocket in case nothing else works!
In addition to the steps for removing bed bugs above, bed bug traps are very helpful in resolving the problem as well. Bed bugs locate their human hosts via attraction to carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted during exhalation. This can be used to trap them for easy elimination. There are two ways to accomplish this.
CO2 Bed Bug Trap
The CO2 trap essentially uses a yeast ferment made from dry activated yeast (not brewers yeast), sugar and water. The microbial culture generates carbon dioxide gas which lures the bed bugs into the homemade trap.
Unfortunately, this method is quite complicated and requires many steps as you can see from the link. While you are welcome to try it, I would suggest the dry ice method below. It is much easier for not much more cost.
Dry Ice Bed Bug Trap
The second trapping method is quite simple. Just buy a small chunk of dry ice, which is frozen carbon dioxide that emits the gaseous form CO2 as it melts. Companies that make dry ice are available in most urban areas. In my experience, they are more than happy to sell you some for a reasonable price. By the way, using dry ice to get rid of ticks in your home works too as ticks are also attracted to CO2.
Many supermarkets now sell dry ice as well. For example, the large Publix chain of grocery stores in the Southeast United States sells dry ice very affordably. The cooler containing the dry ice is located near check-out.
Once you have your dry ice ready, follow these instructions to set up a bed bug trap.
- Place the dry ice in a glass bowl that has a paper towel or cloth wrapped around it. The cloth allows the bed bugs to easily climb up.
- Slide the bowl under the bed or where you suspect the bed bugs are hiding. The bed bugs will climb up the side of the bowl on the fabric, fall into the bowl and be unable to escape.
- Repeat the process as necessary until all bed bugs have been removed. You will know this as new bugs won’t appear in the bowl during an overnight period.
- One pound of dry ice will last for about 5-8 hours at room temperature.
If you absolutely cannot find any company in your area that makes or sells dry ice, you can buy a machine to make it (this is one of the cheapest). While a bit pricey, it’s certainly less expensive than calling in the professionals for 2-3 treatments.
Once you have treated your home for bed bugs either professionally or via the steps listed above, monitoring is essential.
The best way to check that treated rooms remain free of bed bugs is by using bed bug interceptors.
These specially designed plastic devices are placed under each leg of a previously infested bed, couch or sofa. Non-infested pieces of furniture where bed bugs are suspected to be hiding are also a good place to set them up.
Interceptors also identify which way the bed bugs are crawling and prevent the spread of bed bugs from one piece of furniture to another.
Keeping these devices in place for a month or so after treatment will help you confirm whether your house continues to be bedbug-free or follow-up treatment is required. In short, these devices give you invaluable peace of mind!
Healing Bed Bug Bites Naturally
If you are already suffering from bed bug bites, the best way to heal them quickly is using a natural herbal salve.
Witch hazel for bug bites works very well too. Just dab some on several times a day using a dampened cotton ball until healed.
For quick relief, rubbing the inside of a banana peel on insect bites is the best mosquito bite remedy I’ve found. However, I don’t know if it works as well for bed bug bites. It’s worth a shot since you probably already have some in your kitchen.
If you need other ideas, more natural and effective ways to relieve insect bites are provided in the linked article.
Have you battled a bed bug infestation where you live? Did you manage to get rid of them without resorting to chemicals? If so, please share with us the methods you used!
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