What To Do If You Get Bed Bugs (& Where To Spot Them)

Bed bugs are typically 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 pest which is unfair since the most conscientious homemaker may innocently bring them in on her clothing after brushing up against someone while shopping or tending to other errands.

Once in the house, they will hide all day in the most out-of-the-way place they can find. Its hiding spot 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 frame.

Wherever it conceals itself, it has an uncanny instinct for finding its way to humans 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 travel we do today compared to a few decades ago, these 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.

Habits

  • After eating, which takes from three to five minutes, it returns to its secret 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 critters for daytime seclusion.

Tip: When sleeping in an unfamiliar room (at a hotel for example), pull back the sheets and look at the bare mattress–if you see excrement (this will look like rust spots on the fabric), leave the room immediately and find another hotel to stay at.

Getting Rid of Bed Bugs

You can call in a professional exterminator to fumigate the home and furniture inside, this is preferable since professional exterminators are familiar with the 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 (DE) is a safe and harsh-chemical free method. This 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 they 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 creepers. Seal all cracks and crevices with caulking or dust with Diatomaceous Earth. They can be lurking between walls, underneath floor boards, inside of dressers and underneath drawers or hide in clothing hanging in the closet.
  • Apply a layer of (DE) 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 linens 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 dead (you have to ensure that the entire life cycle has been halted–no new eggs waiting to hatch, etc.). Keep applying the DE and petroleum jelly until all signs of the infestation are gone.

Treatment For Relief of Bites

Try applying one of the following remedies:

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Household ammonia
  • Vinegar
  • 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)

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Comments

    • Yvonne
    Reply

    My sister in law just told me her clothes are infested with bedbugs in my house!!!! she knew since before June 29th and today is july 11!!!! I heard that DE has killed some pets! How can I know my dogs will be safe? I am desperate I cant even sleep at night.

    • april
    Reply

    I have been using rubbing alcohol to kill be bugs and hydrogen peroxide to kill there eggs but I have been seeing black shall that look like bed bug but they don’t move what is it

    • Angelina
    Reply

    Bedbugs are my worst enemy i hate them yes ammonia works

    • margie.c.
    Reply

    The local town halls and. City halls conceal bedbug information, which help in medical treatment. Or any body parasite toward healing.Some bugs parasites mimic other and confuse humans. I found out that. Its not mandatory for landlords nor tenanant and homeowners to report to code enforcements. I did hear with a doctors as reasonable accomadation gets heat treatment. And if your doctor and attorney suggest a motel/hotel accomadation to comfort the situation for any medical/physical reason on their ex pence. Until it’s eradicated.

    Margie

    • Ala
    Reply

    Tisol, and most pet stores (in Vancouver) carry DE, as well as some health food stores, because one can also brush teeth with it, and use it to strengthen hair and nails.
    It is used on Farms, for horses and cattle and on grain farms… so if you live in the country, check a surplus store that sells farm animal feed, and or animal hospitals.
    Definitely one can rub onto a pets fur, and also feed it to them, in a measured amount to rid them of worms and parasites.
    As the other poster said, be careful Not to get it in your eyes, or breath it in.
    It also kills ants, roaches, and silver fish.
    Reminder:
    One MUST only buy FOOD grade Diatomaceous Earth.

      • Brenda
      Reply

      Is there a certain kind of vinegar. That’s preferred for sprays? Can you use any kind?

    • Karen
    Reply

    I have read that bedbugs love electronics. What can be used to kill/prevent bugs in my beloved technology?

    • andrea & todd vasquez
    Reply

    just wanted to know if the whole house should be done all at once or can you do one room one day and the next one the next day?

      • Shiralee Markel
      Reply

      I had my suite exterminated and was told that this would work. It’s only a week and they are starting to come up again. I’m tired of destroying pillows, washing everything, vacuming. Finally, I got my grandson to iron steam the baseboards and creases in the mattress. Is there such a thing that if you know how these critters came about can you sue that person. I have a heart condition and my ability is pretty much limited. So everything that I do costs me as I’m not able to do this work myself. Some say vinegar works, others, iron steam and then others claim that diotomacious powder will work. Helh me, I’ve become paranoid after waking up and a bed bug coming at me on my pillow.

    • Terry
    Reply

    where can diotomacious powder earth be bought. I live in Canada and am unsure whether to go to hardware store, drug store or health food store. thanks for any idea’s, gas is out rageous here

      • Tina
      Reply

      usually at an agriculture store like UFA, at least in my area in Canada, that is were I got mine unfortunately here in this area it comes in 30 pound bag, enough for a long, long time, good thing it is useful for many things, even ridding oneself of parasites.

    • voicenow
    Reply

    Pls! Dont allow your pets to roll over in diatomaceous earth! Even though the food-grade is not harmful, if inhaled can cause damage to lungs to you & pets. In eyes can cause severe irritation. Use with caution & avoid creating a big cloud. Dust with a paint brush in crevices and for floors sweep with broom.

      • fact
      Reply

      Farms and ranches use Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth as a feed supplement for animals and livestock for better health. DE is also recommended by veterinarians as a health supplement when
      added daily to pet food, and as a topical flea control treatment. Food Grade DE can also be found
      in food that is eaten by most people every day, as DE is widely used and FDA approved for use by the nation’s farms in agricultural grain storage

    • Lb
    Reply

    Does anyone know if DE works on mites? I am having a hard time figuring out if I have bedbugs or mites…. But something is there! Also, can I dust my clothes directly and wear them before washing? I live in an apartment building without laundry so it makes it all a hit more difficult….. Thanks!

    • Christine
    Reply

    My step daughter was living with us brought them home From her boyfriends. You want to get rid Of the blood suckers.. Go buy a handheld steamer. It will cost you a hundred bucks but save your sanity. I mean steam every nook and creavice, and repeat once a week. You will notice immidiate relief and after a month Of treatment they are completely gone. The one I bought was the Shark. I did this because.I have.a child and pets. This has become my favorite cleaning tool.

      • Moribund
      Reply

      Steamers are great! I have an H20 handheld pressure steamer, because regular steamers sometimes miss deep crevices. I used it before and it helped (along with other methods like dryer, catch basins with vinegar and vaseline stoppers. It’s been years now and my home is bed bug free.

      The couple of times I bought used furniture,before bringing it home – I loaded the steamer with full-strength bleach (absolutely need a good gas mask though!). You must leave it to ventilate for 1 hour after because gaseous chlorine is very dense and thick, and will linger. Afterwards spray twice with regular water steam and wipe dry.

      Alcohol (70% and over) will also work fine, and is great for those who have pets or children in that it leaves no residue (but yes, you absolutely need a gas mask too, at time of treatment).

      Bleach steamer method works well on cockroaches, too, just make sure you open all the windows, use a FULL FACE gas mask and evacuate all food items and cooking utensils.

        • joanne
        Reply

        I am just having my very first encounter with bed bugs! My friend just lent me her steamer. I am considering filling it with straight vinager, but would NEVER fill it with bleach! I just did a test 3 hrs. ago on a live bed bug with straight vinager. I sprayed it on the B.Bug while it was in a glass and it instantly died! I figure if vinager kills head lice why not bed bugs? Sure enough it does indeed! I’m also going around my apt. with a spray bottle full of vinager, spraying everything.
        Good Luck to all out there..Vinager really does work!
        Joanne

    • ladonna
    Reply

    Made a few errors in previous comment. Sorry. I put vinegar on a bed bug a d it died instantly as well as when I used ammonia. I used the ammonia straight I did not dilute with water. So make sure the room is ventilated. Open windows use fans. And a mask. Good luck.

    • ladonna
    Reply

    I noticed a few bed bugs. So I began researching household products to kill them. And have experienced that vinegar and ammonia will kill on contact. I put a live bug in a pill bottle and dropped a little ammonia in the bottle. The bug died Instantly. Same with ammonia. So I went room by room cleaning vacumming applying diatomaceous earth and topping the room off with a mildly heavy spray of straight. On everything in the room. Have done this for the last two weeks. I check every couple days. Will continue to check and treat until I see no more signs of bedbugs.

    • Scott
    Reply

    6/28/12
    I bought a new bed and bedding in Feb. 2012. I have lived in this apartment 7 months prior to that. A new owner took over the apartment complex in April 2012 and began spraying a white powder around my baseboards etc. I have had several sores (bites), in the past two months so I saw my Dr. and he said “Do you have bedbugs?” I told him I have seen a spider and a ladybug. I found them under my box-springs. How/Why, I have NO clue. Not been elsewhere or persons staying here. I killed them & the eggs and sprayed with bleach. Note: I have only slept in that bed 10-12 times. No $ to hire exterminator. Is the spraying a probable reason I have them, and are they responsible to fix it????

      • Tina
      Reply

      Hi Scott,
      It sounds like the landlord already knew the place had bed bugs and was trying to get rid of it himself. The “spraying” of white powder is probably a chemical, NOT diatmacious(spelling?) earth since I have heard of no one ever having a reaction to it and it IS safe for cats and dogs and humans. What is the type of sore and bites? Bed bugs are like a mosquito bite in the sense that they are welt like and are in a pattern, like a line or if you are allergic you will have a rash with it. The bed bugs are hard to find until there is a big infestation, The other thing that comes to mind is perhaps not bed bugs but fleas. both are easy to get in the home, even sitting in a theater will bring both home, either way, the earth powder will help a lot, good luck.

    • jbreeze
    Reply

    I think my husband an I have them, we are the the cleanest people ever, but I get bit and he doesn’t…..is that why they come after me now?

      • Tina
      Reply

      as far as I know bed bugs are equal opportunity, they bite everyone, and everything, no favourites. Fleas on the other hand do have a favourite, my brother would get bit but my sister in law was fine. Mites also have favourites, I’ve been bit with them but no one else in the family did. Also Clean has nothing to do with if you have them or not, they are equal opportunity buggers, and you can get them from literally any place, the mall, a ride in a friends car, theater seats, hotels, bus, etc.

    • Daniel
    Reply

    I want to get ride of bed bugs, but I have pets. My apartment is old and I was told that there was no type of infestation in my apartment. After a few months later I found myself always waking up after something bite me. Later I found black things on my bed and saw there was a bug next to it. I found out that it was a bedbug. I called my landlord and told him about the bedbug and all he saod was to get rid of the bed, I did what he said hoping to get rid of them. Now I found the same signs of bedbug living on my bed again. I not happy because they came back and I want to get ride of them myself now, but I am afraid of harming my dogs. What should I do for getting rid of bedbugs permitly and not harmful to my dogs and make sure they do not come back. Please respond back.

      • Kristy
      Reply

      the diotomacious earth is chemical free and is not harmful to animals, and really does work, I got rid of bed bugs with it, and it was very easy, and cheap.

        • Dee
        Reply

        We used the diotomacious powder for bedbugs, and it DOES work! I have 4 cats and two dogs. We powdered the animals also as a remedy for fleas as well, it worked and we haven’t had them since. BTW, our pets never got ill or harmed in any way from it. My dog just rolled around as if I put flea powder on him. But, don’t waste your money on other products, they don’t work! Use the diotomacious powder, it really does work!

          • Julie
          Reply

          Be sure and use the FOOD-GRADE Diatomaceous Earth, not the type used for cleaning swimming pools. You can get the food grade DE at plant nurseries or animal feed stores.

    • Mike
    Reply

    Ok so the things with the diatomaceous earth is that it does not need to be inhaled or eaten. with the bed bug having an oily skin, the “dust” adheares to the residue, like if you put a little bit of oil residue on a plate and then dust it with floer, same thing. its like if you take sand between your fingers and rub them real hard. our skin has grown accustom to rough surfaces and such. but with the bed bugs, as the only thing they touch most of the time are soft surfaces, the diatomaceaous earth cuts into their skin.

    Hope that helps

    • Dustin
    Reply

    What is the chance of a bed bug rubbing against diatomaceous earth more then just a minuscule spec? I imagine you would not just need a “dusting”. What amount would be required on the bed bug to effect it in any way and be enough to not be immediately wiped or pulled right off by the bug crawling elsewhere? Has this been tested? Please advise

    • Dustin
    Reply

    How will a food grade substance such as Diatomaceous Earth going to kill a bed bug when all they “eat” is blood?

      • Key Conroy
      Reply

      tHE de GETS INTO THE SOFT SPOTS OF THEIR LIL BODIES AND CAUSES THEM TO DEHYDRATE, IT IS A LONG PROCESS (ABOUT A WEEK i BELIEVE) DURING WHICH TIME THEY CAN STILL LAY EGGS. (sorry, capslok) that is why it is NOT GOOD to inhale DE and only spread a thin layer in low to no traffic areas

    • geegee
    Reply

    You say to put peroxcide on your bed bug bites, sure. Well the peroxcide will kill the bed bugs too. I’ve tested this by pouring some peroxcide in a jar then dropping bed bugs into the jar, and watch them die instantly. Maybe your company can do more testing with this therory.

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