Bed bugs are usually brought into the house from the outside, on clothing, baggage, second-hand furniture or in laundry done in an infested home. Social stigma is attached to them more than to any other insect. This is unfair since the most conscientious homemaker may bring them in on his or her clothing after brushing up against someone while shopping or spending an afternoon at the movies.
Once in the house, they will hide all day in the most out-of-the-way place it can find. Its hiding place may be a good distance away from the bed–in wall spaces, floor cracks, behind partitions, in furniture cracks–or it may burrow into the mattress tufts or crawl in among the crevices in the bed frame. Wherever it hides, it has an uncanny instinct for finding its way easily to the bed when the lights are out. They will climb up from the floor, climb walls and drop from ceilings with ease to get at their victims. They are attracted to your body warmth and the carbon dioxide you exhale–sure signs that there’s a live one waiting to be feasted on.
Because of the increased amount of traveling we do today compared to a few decades ago, bed bugs can be a real problem in hotels, buses, airplanes and other areas where groups of people gather together. Buildings that house several people or families at once can also cause infestation problems (apartment buildings, condos, senior citizen homes, etc.) since they can travel between walls with ease.
What They Look Like
Before eating, the bedbug (Cimex lectularius–also known as a chinch, a red-coat or a mahogany flat) is a small one-quarter to three-eighths of an inch, wingless, paper-thin insect, oval in shape and dark brown in color. After becoming engorged, the body thickens and is elongated. The ingested blood changes its color to a dull red. The mouth is constructed in the shape of a beak, which it plunges into the body of its victim, sucking the blood up through it. At the same time a fluid is being secreted to facilitate the eating process. This fluid is extremely irritating to the skin of most human beings and causes swelling, irritation and itching.
- After eating, which takes from three to five minutes, it returns to its hiding place for several days in order to digest its food.
- In the house, its attack is invariably launched at night, but if the bug has infested public restrooms, theaters, etc., it will bite at any opportunity.
- In a lifespan of six to eight months, given the right climatic conditions, females will lay hundreds of sticky white eggs, the shells of which may be found in habitual hiding places. The eggs hatch in about a week and a half and the young begin to eat nearly at once.
- If no food is available, they can live a long time without it. If, however, it is accustomed to eating regularly, it will die much sooner when provisions are cut off. Extremely cold weather will take away its appetite but lengthen its life considerably.
- One characteristic is its smell, caused by the secretion of an oily liquid from the scent glands. It is usually particularly noticeable around places long used by groups of the bugs for daytime seclusion.
When sleeping in an unfamiliar bed (at a hotel for example), pull back the bed sheets and look at the bare mattress–if you see excrement (it will look like rust spots on the mattress), leave the room immediately and find another hotel to stay at.
Getting Rid of Them
You can call in a professional exterminator to fumigate the home and furniture inside, this is preferable since professional exterminators are familiar with the hiding habits of these critters and the chemicals they use are usually very effective. However, if fumigation is out of your budget or you’d like to try a more natural remedy to kill them, food grade Diatomaceous Earth is a safe and harsh-chemical free method.
Diatomaceous Earth is a natural, effective means of pest control (I’ve previously recommended it for fleas  and ant control ). You can find it in garden centers (make sure to buy the food grade stuff). It’s a soft, chalk-like sedimentary rock that is crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder.
Diatomaceous Earth is easily picked up by the hairy bodies of most insects, whereupon it scratches through their protective wax layers and they also absorb some of this material. The result being that the insects lose water rapidly, dry up and die. Further protection is provided by the powder’s property of repelling many insects. In houses it can be used effectively to prevent the entry of certain insects such as earwigs, ants, and cockroaches, and to control these and others that are present in cupboards containing food, carpets, basements, attics, window ledges, pet areas (for fleas), etc. In all of these examples it is important to place a small amount of the powder in corners, cracks, crevices and other areas where insects might hide.
(Source: Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University ).
Steps To Take:
- Thoroughly inspect the room that is housing the critters. Seal all cracks and crevices with caulking or dust with Diatomaceous Earth. They can be hiding between walls, underneath floor boards, inside of dressers and underneath drawers or hide in clothing hanging in the closet.
- Apply a layer of Diatomaceous Earth between mattresses, around floor boards and in cracks or crevices that you can’t seal.
- Apply a thick layer of petroleum jelly around each leg of the bed to prevent them from crawling up the legs.
- Empty and clean out the closet and dresser drawers, washing all clothing in hot water and moving them into another room until they all have been killed.
- Wash all bedding and curtains/draperies in hot water.
- Spread Diatomaceous Earth throughout all carpeting and flooring, leaving on for a few days, vacuum up then reapply.
It will take a few weeks before they all will be killed (you have to ensure that the entire life cycle has been halted–no new eggs waiting to hatch, etc.). Keep applying the Diatomaceous Earth and petroleum jelly until all signs of the infestation are gone.
Treatment Of Bites
Try applying one of the following for relief:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Household ammonia
- Hot water (as hot as you can stand it without burning skin)
If there is a danger of infection, use iodine as a topical antiseptic to control it.
Source: Some of the information above is from Woman’s Home Companion Household Book (1948)