Bed bugs are found pretty much everywhere and are one of the most widespread pests in the world. Their numbers declined during the last century, and they were almost wiped out, but then they started reappearing in the 1980s, and their population numbers have grown ever since. Some scientists think that this reemergence is due to a spike in overseas travel, while others believe that they have become resistant to the pesticides once used against them. Probably, this is the result of both reasons, as bed bugs are very adaptable to conquering new habitats and they are very hard to get rid off.
It would be best to take the proper measures to prevent infestation in the first place, but if you think that bed bugs are already in your home, don’t worry, we have some tips to help you get rid of them effectively.
Biology Of Bed Bugs
When encountered with bed signs of bed bugs, people often ask some questions like: Where do bed bugs come from? or Can you see bed bugs? or What do bed bugs eat? This article will try to help you get answers to those questions.
Bed bug or Cimex lectularius is a member of the Cimicidae family of insects, that feed on human blood. There are other members of that family that feast of the blood of other vertebrate hosts. Bed bugs are temporary ectoparasites, which means that they live outside of their host, where they feed, and then they spend time in between their meals hidden nearby, usually in cracks and crevices.
- lectularius hatch from eggs and then goes through seven nymph stages before reaching adulthood. Adult bed bugs are usually 6mm long, which is approximately the size of an apple seed. They are red-brownish color, and they can be found anywhere where humans are typically resting, in beds, couches, chairs, but also carpets, curtains, and many other places. They are nocturnal animals, meaning that they are active during the night, and that is when they go out and feed on their hosts. Some people think that leaving a light on will prevent them from doing so, but that is a myth as artificial light doesn’t affect them.
Females can lay up to five eggs per day, and a usual life span of bed bugs is ten months. They can also survive several months without eating, mainly because they can consume as much as seven times their body weight, during the feeding session. That’s why they usually have oval-shaped bodies.
They can survive a wide range of temperatures, starting from freezing to as much as 114 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). The way they detect hosts is through recognizing body heat and carbon dioxide that we exhale.
How To Detect Bed Bugs?
Detecting them can be pretty tricky due to their small size, but there are a few clues to look for:
- Bites: People first suspect about having unwanted guests when they found bite marks on their body. Usually, the red dots will appear, the area will be itchy, and there can even be a small rash. This is not a perfect indicator for detecting them as you can’t easily distinguish bed bug bites from bites of other insects. Some people don’t experience any reaction, so you should look for other signs as well.
- Fecal spotting: Digested blood appears as small black stains on your mattress, bedding, box springs and other places where bed bugs like to seek shelter.
- Cast skins: Before each stage, bed bugs molt, so you will find small insect-like “shells.”
- Eggs: They are small, white and roughly 1mm long.
- Live bugs: Look under your mattress, in the cracks around your bed, behind your nightstand, pictures hanging on the wall and other small hidden spaces that bed bugs like to invade.
Bed Bug Prevention
A common misconception is that bed bugs seek dirty places and that if your house is clean, there is no chance that you’ll find them there. It is true that if your home is cluttered, they’ll have more places to hide, so regularly tidying up will help. But they are mainly attracted to humans, and most of the times they are brought in by accident. Bed bugs are great hitchhikers, so they’ll cling on to your suitcase, coat or other clothing objects, and hold until they get into your home. That is why you need to take some precaution, especially when you’re traveling.
Bed bugs can be found everywhere:
- Hotels and motels
- Nursing homes and care facilities
- Office buildings
- Taxis, buses and other kinds of public transportation
You can see that they are all around, so early detection is the key before their numbers grow. Look for the signs mentioned before for recognizing the infestation.
You should take the following precautions to prevent the introduction and spread of bed bugs:
- Fix all the cracks in the walls, floors, and all the nearby places where they love to hide
- Make sure to seal the windows, baseboards, and all the small cracks bed bugs may use to get in
- Regularly wash your sheets, pillowcases, and other bed linens. Use the hot setting on your washing and drying machine. Also, make sure to vacuum your carpet and bed surroundings often.
- Tidy up cluttered areas in your home. Avoid storing anything under your bed, if possible.
- While staying in a hotel, make sure you keep your items off the floor. Use luggage rags and closet hangers for all your clothes.
- Use cases for your mattress and pillows to prevent the infestation.
You should also be very cautious when getting used furniture in your home. Inspect it thoroughly, and don’t bring it in your home if you are not 100% sure it’s bug-free. When disposing of furniture infested with bed bugs, make sure to mark it down as infested, so other people don’t use it. You can do so by getting a spray can and writing it on the outside of the disposed piece of furniture.
Getting Rid Of Bed Bugs
If you have detected some of the signs of bed bugs infestation, don’t worry; it’s time to take a deep breath and make a plan on how to fight the little bloodsuckers.
There are several effective techniques to restoring your home to a pest-free zone, so you should refrain from throwing out your mattress, bedding and other household items they may be using as a hiding space. Those items are expensive to replace, so only consider throwing them away if multiple extermination methods have failed.
The first thing you want to do is look around the house to locate where the infestation is highest. Look in the bedroom, couches in the living room and other places where people sleep. The places where bed bugs dwell and breed are called harborage areas, so once you’ve located them, it’s time to take some action.
- Strip your mattress, bed cushions, box springs, and other infested items. Use the brush to scrub off all the bed bugs, eggs, casings and other traces of bed bugs, and then use a vacuum to eradicate them. Take a vacuum cleaner outside and dispose of the bag as soon as you’re done.
- Put all of your sheets, bed linens, pillowcases, clothing, and curtains in a plastic bag and take them to a washing machine. Wash and dry them on the highest possible temperature setting. Warm water won’t kill them as they can survive temperatures of up to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to throw away the bag once you’ve put all the items in the washing machine.
Freezing temperatures can also be used to eradicate bed bugs. You can place your smaller items in plastic bags, and keep them in a freezer for a week. Chest like freezers can be used for storing larger things as well. Keep in mind that eggs are more resilient to cold temperatures so that they can survive up to 30 days in a freezer.
- Buy encasements for all the mattresses and spring boxes in your home. They are made of plastic, and they fight tightly over your mattress, with a zipper used to close them completely. Encasements are tick enough to prevent the bed bugs from biting you through the material, and the trapped bed bugs die inside after some time. Keep the encasements on for at least a year, as bed bugs can live that long.
- After your secured your mattress, bedding and other items, thoroughly vacuum all the carpets and rugs in your home.
- Alcohol can be pretty useful in dealing with bed bugs, so pour some on a Q-tip, and wipe any other stray bugs you found, after you have cleaned your house.
- If you have decided to throw away the piece of infested furniture, responsibly dispose of it the way we previously mentioned.
If these steps haven’t been successful, it is time to call the pest control specialist, also known as the bed bug exterminator. They will come to your home, inspect it, and then discuss different extermination methods based on your home and the state of infestation. The cost of bed bug extermination goes from $500 to $1500, and there are few methods available. Heat and steam treatments are viewed as the best option, while the fumigation is used as a last resort method.
The heat method is regarded as one of the most effective and non-dangerous solutions for bed bugs. Portable heaters are strategically placed around your house, and the temperature is slowly rising to as much as 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, that temperature is kept for one and a half to three hours depending on the level of infestation and a general clutter in the treated rooms. Heat treatment is a low risk for customers, as well as the environment, because of its minimal use of pesticides. It can also be done in just one day, compared to several weeks some other methods take.
Steam treatment is cross used with pesticides, but it lowers the need for them. Portable units emit steam that draws out bed bugs in the open, making it easier to use pesticides. Steam treatment may not be appropriate for treating all the surfaces because of the moisture that is produced.
Fumigation is used as a last resort method for killing off all the remaining bed bugs. It uses chemicals in the form of gases that penetrate all the items within the fumigation space. Be aware that only professionals should do this method.
There are over 300 chemical product recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used to treat bed bugs infestations.
Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are pesticides most commonly used to control bed bugs’ populations. They are in the form of a spray, synthesized from plants, and have a quick and long-lasting effect.
Desiccants erode the outer shell, causing bed bugs to die of dehydration. Boric acid and silica gel are one of the most popular desiccants.
Insect growth regulators weaken the outer shell and prevent bed bugs from reaching maturity.
Cold-pressed neem oil is extracted from the seeds of the tropical neem tree and is the only biochemical registered by the EPA. It is proven to be useful for eradicating bed bugs and their eggs.
Neonicotinoids are derived from the tobacco plant. They target the nicotinic receptors, that play an essential role in the signal transduction in the brain, causing the nervous systems of bed bugs to crash. Neonicotinoids are very useful for controlling bed bug populations.
Keep in mind that pesticides may have some harmful effects on humans if not used correctly. That’s why we advise you to contact the pest control specialist as soon as you see the first signs of infestations. They’ll asses the situation objectively, and help you get rid of bed bugs in the most effective way.
Dusan is a biologist, a science enthusiast and a huge nature lover. He loves to keep up to date with all the new research and write accurate science-based articles. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him in the kitchen, trying out new delicious recipes; out in the wild, enjoying the nature or sleeping in his bed.