How to Permanently Get Rid of Bed Bugs in 9 Steps
Written by: Anthony O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional
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How to Permanently Get Rid of Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius)
1 in 5 Americans have had a bed bug problem in their home, or know someone who has come across these pests at home or while staying in a hotel?
The presence of bed bugs in your home can be stressful and distressing and you need to act fast to eliminate these pests for good.
Getting rid of bed bugs yourself can take time as they are hard to kill. I can tell you now that it takes patience and persistence, but it can be done and this guide shows you exactly how.
You’ll learn what signs of an infestation to look for and how to get rid of bed bugs permanently, step by step without an exterminator.
How Do You Know It’s Bed Bugs?
Before you do anything else, we need to make sure it’s definitely bed bugs and not a similar-looking insect because bed bugs are often confused with fleas and cockroaches and vice versa.
So, what do bed bugs look like? The image below shows you a close-up of a bed bug crawling on a mattress. Just in front and to the side of it are black dots which are their droppings. If you click on the link, you’ll find a detailed description and lots of pictures of bed bugs to help you identify them.
- Bed bugs prefer to feed on human blood but the blood of mammals will also do. They are tiny, reddish-brown colored wingless insects with protruding eyes, six legs, and two antennae.
- Their bodies are a similar shape to an apple seed and flat when unfed
- When taking a blood meal they become a darker brown/reddish color and the body swells and elongates
- The adult grows to 5-7mm (3/16 of an inch) in length and up to 10mm (just over ⅜ of an inch) after feeding on blood
Bed bugs are excellent at hiding and it is likely that you won’t know you have them at first, but one telltale sign is the sudden occurrence of red welts which are bites on areas of your body that are not covered by the duvet when in bed.
- Small dark brown/black fecal spots or stains on your sheets, pillowcases, and mattress.
- Red, itchy bites as mentioned above
- Tiny white eggs that are the size of a pinhead
- Your PJs and sheets have small blood stains or spots on them
- Cast/shed bed bug skins and shells
- Tiny, flat, reddish-brown bed bugs
As mentioned, it’s important to correctly identify them so examine these images of bed bugs carefully to make sure it is definitely bed bugs you’ve seen, as different bugs require different treatments.
Are Bed Bugs Hard to Get Rid Of?
Yes! Especially if the bed bug population has grown undetected. Another factor is if just one single pregnant female is missed during treatments then you’ve got an active bed bug infestation that will continue to grow.
They are mostly found on the bed because they can easily feed on your blood while you sleep. This is why you will pay special attention to the bed area when eliminating them. Putting your food in containers won’t reduce their population levels as it does with cockroaches or other pests because your blood is their only source of food. This alone can make them difficult to control.
Another reason they are hard to get rid of and the cause of their resurgence is because of their resistance to pyrethroid insecticides.
Although it can be hard to eradicate them, it doesn’t mean it is impossible to get rid of them for good.
What to Do if You Have Bed Bugs
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs Without an Exterminator
Hiring a pest control company can be costly, and lets face it, not everyone has the money for professional treatments.
So this step-by-step DIY guide shows you how to get rid of bed bugs if on a tight budget.
But before attempting anything, read this guide all the way through.
It’s lengthy but you will know EXACTLY what to do and what not to do, saving you time and money, but more importantly, your sanity!
How to Treat Bed Bugs at Home Yourself – Step by Step Instructions
Careful attention is needed to carry out the following steps of this bed bug control guide thoroughly. If not, a minor bed bug infestation will soon become a severe one. Now, let’s get started and get rid of these pests.
1. Get Your Bed Bug Fighting Kit Together
Take a look at the supply list below as you will need these when you check for bed bugs and for the removal process.
Flashlight – bed bugs hide in and near the bed, in cracks, crevices, and dark places often making them difficult to see.
Roll of clear tape – to seal bags and vacuum nozzles.
Plastic garbage bags – a good supply is needed as you will put clothing, bedding, stuffed soft toys, and other items in them to prevent spreading bed bugs to other rooms.
Cloth and hot soapy water – for wiping off eggs or bed bug clusters on surfaces.
Stiff-handled brush – to scrub seams.
Containerized heat treatment container – (AKA a hot box) is OPTIONAL as it’s expensive. A heat chamber kills bed bugs in all life stages within a few hours and is used for non-washable items such as shoes, suitcases, electronics, books, and files.
Check the instructions for exposure times and that the temperature reaches a minimum of 125ºF.
Steam cleaner – an integral part of effectively killing bed bugs with heat to heat steam the mattress, box spring, bed frame, upholstered furniture, and carpet.
Bed Bug Proof Mattress encasements, box spring encasements, and pillow encasements – you MUST have these whether you keep the mattress and box spring (which I recommend unless the infestation is severe) or you buy new ones.
Bed bug traps or interceptors – you need one of these ready-made devices under each leg of the bed (or other items of furniture) to prevent them from crawling up and onto your bed.
Gloves and mask – rubber, latex, or nitrile chemical resistant gloves so your skin doesn’t come into contact with the bed bugs and the infestation area. A mask must be worn when applying the desiccant dust.
Desiccant dust – such as CimeXa silica gel that is used to dehydrate and kill bed bugs.
Latex or silicone sealant – a sealant is needed to repair, seal, and caulk the room to close any breeding and hiding areas.
When you’ve got all of the above, it’s time to declutter the infested room(s).
2. Clear Clutter From the Room
Put your gloves on and start removing items, clutter, and any drawers from under the bed.
Do not put any of these on the bed or take them to another room as you’ll have bed bug infestations in these areas also.
Don’t lean over the bed, you don’t want the bugs to get on your clothes and be transported to other rooms.
Place items you are keeping into plastic garbage bags and seal completely until you can inspect them, put them all together in a separate area of the room.
If you see evidence of bed bugs on the items, depending on what they are you can either place them in the containerized heat chamber (if using), freeze, steam clean, or rack dry in the dryer.
If you cannot use any of the above, you will have to leave the items in a sealed plastic bag for up to 1 year because the adult females can (but unlikely) live this long, and nymphs that haven’t had their first blood meal can live for up to 4 months.
Throw away anything you don’t want to keep into a plastic garbage bag and seal it. Label these bags “Infested with Bed Bugs” before disposing of them immediately in the outside garbage.
When you’ve finished the bed area, repeat the same process for the rest of the room. Start at one end and slowly work your way around until all the clutter is removed.
3. Remove and Wash All Bedding, Curtains, and Clothes
Put all bedding, curtains, and clothes (yes, bed bugs hide in clothes) in plastic garbage bags and seal tightly so the bugs cannot escape.
Take the bags to the washer and wash everything on a hot wash.
When finished, move the items into the dryer, loosely fill, and dry on the highest heat setting available (consider temperature recommendations on labels). Leave the dryer on for a MINIMUM of 30 minutes to ensure the bed bugs and eggs are dead.
Alternatively, if you’re uncomfortable removing the bedding from the bags, use an eco-friendly dissolvable laundry bag. This will give you peace of mind that no bed bugs have escaped on the way to the washer.
IMPORTANT! All items must be laundered and/or heat dried at a MINIMUM temperature of 125ºF (51ºC). Adults die at 119ºF (48ºC) but bed bug eggs can be heat resistant up to 125ºF (51ºC).
If any clean clothes are sat in a pile in the room, they will need to be heat treated in the dryer.
Washable hard toys and breakable items could possibly be washed in the top rack of the dishwasher. Put them into a normal laundry or lingerie bag and run on a “heat dry” hot cycle.
If the items are breakable then hand wash them or place them in the heat treatment chamber (if using), but a cheaper option is a removable drying rack in your dryer.
A drying rack can be used for items that can’t be tumbled, such as handbags, books, and shoes.
When everything is washed, place all items into NEW garbage bags and seal. Leave the items in the bags until you no longer have an infestation.
If you want to be extra cautious, place the sealed bags into plastic bins with lids.
DO NOT USE CARDBOARD BOXES for storage as they will hide inside the cardboard.
For items that can’t be cleaned, such as electronics, you should store them in sealable plastic bags or bins until you are able to inspect and treat them.
Alternatively, these may be able to be placed in the heat container, or on the dryer rack, if using. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions regarding heat and moisture tolerance first.
Freezing Bed Bugs
Does the cold kill bed bugs? If you can’t use the methods above then another option is a freeze treatment method.
Your home freezer has a temperature of around -18 – -20°C (-0.4 – -4ºF), so you can place small items into plastic bags, seal them, and put them in the freezer for NO LESS than four days.
It is important that 0°F is reached in the center of the items so the bed bugs die from the cold temperature. The 4-day freezing time starts when the center is 0°F, but don’t allow the temperature to go above 0°F (-15°C) during this time as the eggs and nymphs can survive.
4. Treat the Mattress for Bed Bugs
How to get rid of bed bugs in a mattress
Remove the mattress and box spring from the bed frame and stand the box spring upright as you’re going to now carefully inspect them.
Hold your flashlight parallel to the surface area so a shadow is cast from any bed bugs and eggs and slowly look over the material for them.
Look carefully in the corners and creases checking the mattress and box spring thoroughly. Now use the stiff brush and scrub the seams, tufts, and edging to remove any bugs and eggs.
If the box spring is torn remove the bottom lining if you want to treat the internal structure before putting on the box spring encasement. This isn’t absolutely necessary as you’re going to cover it, but some people like to remove as many of these pests as possible.
Next, if possible, dismantle your bed frame and headboard if you have these and vacuum in the corners and crevices, in between and underneath slats, and in screw heads, to remove as many bed bugs and eggs as possible.
Using the cloth and hot soapy water clean the frame and headboard removing any bugs that are remaining.
Wipe along again checking the area after as heat brings the bed bugs out. Immerse the cloth in hot water after every wipe and repeat.
Next, vacuum along the seams, tufts, and edging of the mattress and box spring. Place the crevice tool on the surface at a 45-degree angle and push in a forward motion. This dislodges and crushes the remaining bed bugs and eggs ensuring the majority are sucked up and not stuck to the side of the tool.
Vacuum the floor/carpet area where your bed is and where they might have dropped into the carpet.
5. Vacuum Everywhere Thoroughly
After vacuuming the bed area, thoroughly vacuum the rest of the floor/carpet and other furniture items. This needs to be done on a regular basis to remove any remaining bugs.
Again, use the crevice tool to scrape inside the cracks and crevices and along the seams of the pieces of furniture in the room, as well as behind baseboards, heating vents, beneath tack strips, in and behind picture frames, and where the carpet meets the wall as well as any wall cracks.
Bed bugs can hide in cracks the same width as a credit card, so inspect carefully!
Ideally, a separate vacuum should be specifically used for bed bug removal, so if you have an old one that you can use, it will help reduce the risk of spreading bed bugs to other areas.
Also, the vacuum should have a HEPA filter system to prevent the allergens from becoming airborne.
Carefully clean the vacuum after use. The vacuum bag or contents from a bagless vacuum must be sealed with tape, placed into a plastic bag, sealed, and put out for the garbage.
Wash the filters, if possible, with hot soapy water and dry completely before re-inserting. If not, buy new ones. To prevent bed bugs from crawling out, seal the nozzle and attachment with tape.
Wash the removable canister in hot soapy water to remove any trapped bed bugs.
DO NOT use water on any of the vacuum’s electrical components.
This video demonstrates how to vacuum and steam clean the room in areas where bed bugs hide.
The next step to getting rid of bed bugs completely is to heat treat the bed and other upholstered furniture in the room with the steamer.
6. Steam Heat Mattress, Box Spring, Bed Frame, and Upholstered Furniture Then Apply Silica Gel
When the steamer is ready to use, place a towel or cloth over the nozzle. There are two reasons for this:
1. Steam blows the bed bugs around, so placing a towel over the nozzle points the steam directly onto them.
2. A towel absorbs some of the steam’s moisture so your bed won’t get as wet.
Another point to consider is the temperature of the steam because the closer the nozzle is held to the furniture, the higher the steam temperature, so it must be held as near as possible.
Move the steamer slowly along all crevices and in the corners of the bed frame, along mattress and box spring seams and edges, sofa seams, and other upholstered furniture.
Take no less than 20 seconds to move the nozzle along per 12 inches. At this rate, the steam should reach about 3/4″ into the mattress.
Steam underneath the furniture to kill any bugs that may have fallen to the floor. Keep in mind that the high temperature of the steam might cause damage to some surfaces.
The items need to be aired after the heat steam treatment to prevent mold growth, so using fans and dehumidifiers to help dry them is a good idea.
DO NOT encase the mattress and box spring until completely dry.
Will steam cleaning really kill bed bugs?
Yes, steam is an effective way to get rid of bed bugs naturally, fast, and permanently as it instantly kills them and all stages of the bed bug life cycle on contact at 170ºF (76ºC) or higher.
Steam will only kill the bed bugs it actually reaches so it is particularly effective when they are on the surface of the mattress, box spring, etc. Steam also kills them hiding in cracks and crevices up to 2-3/8”.
WARNING: heat steamers can cause instant burns if skin is exposed to the hot steam as the steam at the tip will be about 212ºF (100ºC).
Apply The Silica Gel
After you have heat-treated the bed and it’s completely dry, it’s time to apply a silica gel such as CimeXa, which is a desiccant dust.
CimeXa insecticide dust is natural and safe to use around animals if you apply it according to the instructions.
Read why it’s a better alternative to diatomaceous earth for a bed bug infestation.
Wearing your mask, apply the dust with a soft paintbrush or cosmetic brush along the mattress and box spring seams and edges, in all creases, and in the corners of the bed frame.
The silica gel should also be applied to the rest of the room as a crack and crevice treatment.
Apply it behind and along the edges of baseboards, light sockets, and electrical outlets, for example, before you seal and caulk (Step 9).
If your mattress and box spring are heavily infested then no amount of steam treatment will help and you might want to consider buying new ones if you’re not comfortable with the idea of them being trapped inside the encasements.
If so, read how to get rid of a mattress with bed bugs for proper disposal instructions.
7. Install Bed Bug Proof Mattress, Box Spring, and Pillow Encasements
Keep the bed completely away from the wall so it becomes an island with NOTHING touching it, and no bed linen is touching the floor.
You’ve already thoroughly vacuumed (Step 5) so hair, dust, or other particles cannot create a bridge for the bed bugs to crawl up onto your bed.
The bed bug-proof encasements for the mattress and box spring can both be bought on Amazon or other retail stores.
You can read why I recommend the SafeRest encasements.
When the mattress and box spring are completely dry after the steam treatment, put on the encasements. They prevent bed bugs from escaping from the mattress and box spring and biting you, and stop bed bugs from entering from other areas of the room and infesting them.
If you buy a new mattress, don’t be fooled into thinking the problem will now go away.
This won’t stop the infestation or prevent further bed bug bites, so bug-proof your new mattress with an encasement.
It’s important to know what to look for and a standard protective mattress cover offers no protection against bed bugs, so buy one that is certified bed bug-proof and do not remove once installed.
An IMPORTANT feature to look for is the zipper and zipper lock. The zipper should be a micro zipper that will not allow any bed bugs entry or exit to your mattress.
You’re now ready for the next step.
8. Install Interceptor Traps
Bed bugs come out when they detect the carbon dioxide you exhale when sleeping and the interceptors work by trapping the ones that have crawled over to your bed.
You’ll want to look at the interceptors (also known as pitfall traps) almost daily so you can see how many bed bugs are being caught, and you should start to see the number becoming less and less until you get to zero.
Another reason to monitor the interceptors is to prevent any build-up of debris such as dust, hair, or cobwebs which would provide a bridge for these blood-suckers to climb up into your bed.
To clean out the interceptors, you’ll need to:
Remove from under the bed/furniture legs.
Wash in soapy water and make sure all bed bugs are completely immersed in the water.
Carefully pour the soapy water with bed bugs into the toilet and wipe both the inside and outer wells dry with a tissue and dispose of in the toilet and flush.
Re-apply talc if the interceptor was lined with it (most don’t require it) and replace it under each leg of furniture.
Whatever brand of interceptor you buy, you will be provided with full instructions on how to clean them
If you’re treating an unoccupied room the interceptors are ineffective as there won’t be any carbon dioxide attracting the bed bugs. In this instance, you’ll need an active monitor designed to attract them without the need of a person.
9. Apply Sealant, Repair, Seal, and Caulk Any Cracks
This last part is to carry out some simple home repairs to eliminate breeding grounds and hiding places.
As you’ve already applied the silica gel to the bed and the rest of the room (Step 6), you’ll now use the silicone or latex sealant (silicone is usually not paintable) to caulk along all joints, moldings, baseboards, minuscule cracks and crevices on walls, doors, windows, and the floor.
Seal gaps on shelving and cabinets. Fill screw and nail holes in wooden furniture. Turn furniture upside down and seal any gaps.
Seal gaps between wall outlets, switch plates and the walls to stop bed bugs from hiding behind them and spreading to other rooms.
Remove or repair wallpaper, painted or plaster wall covering that is cracked or peeled. A bed bug can hide behind the smallest speck of peeling paint.
Create a seal around any areas where pipes or cables are coming through the walls, ceiling, or floor.
The actual size of bed bugs is extremely small so they can literally hide anywhere!
When you’ve completed this step, put your gloves and mask into a plastic bag, seal with tape and take it out to the trash immediately.
How Long Does It Take To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs? -Timeline After Treatment
How do you know when the bed bugs are gone?
You’ve carried out all of the above steps, now what? No matter what DIY methods you use, it is very likely that there will still be some adults or eggs that have survived, so eliminating and monitoring will be an ongoing process for several more weeks.
The majority of bed bugs are now dead, but any dead or dying females may still lay eggs for up to 5 days after and these will hatch within the next 7-10 days.
How can you tell if the eggs are dead or alive? If the eggs are viable (able to hatch) they are plump, white, and complete with the cap attached. If dead, they have a shriveled appearance.
Vacuum every couple of days to remove any remaining dead ones and dislodge any live ones. Follow the same procedure for vacuuming as above.
Any surviving eggs now start to hatch and the nymphs will need to have a blood meal.
However, they will not become adults and reproduce if they are not able to feed, and the interceptor traps and encasements prevent this.
Check and clean the traps every couple of days removing any bed bugs and dust particles in them.
Carry out an inspection of all corners of the bed frame, baseboards, furniture, and anywhere else that you heat-treated again.
If you see live bed bugs, viable eggs, or nymphs then repeat the steam clean process remembering to wash the nozzle thoroughly after.
You do not need to treat the mattress or box spring as they have encasements on.
The encasements must be inspected on a regular basis to check they are not torn or frayed (they will need replacing immediately if they are) and make sure the zip is still fully closed.
Keep the room clutter-free so any remaining bed bugs have fewer areas to hide.
Repeat the same process for WEEKS 3–7. Keep a record of how many bed bugs you find and by WEEK 8 you should be bed bug-free!
Staying Bed Bug Free
Almost no bed bug treatment is 100% successful at first, but regular inspections and repeating the bug extermination process above gives you a better chance of winning the battle.
Although you now know how to get rid of bed bugs permanently, I recommend you read how you might have got them in the first place and how to prevent them from returning.
If you live in an apartment complex and you’re still finding evidence of these insects, then contact the property manager immediately as they may be coming in from an adjacent apartment.
If after week 8 you’re still seeing signs of bed bugs, or you have found they have spread to other areas in your home then it’s developing into a severe infestation and it’s time to contact a pest management professional to exterminate them.
Fill in the form below for a free bed bug removal quote from a local pest control company. Whichever company you choose, make sure it is reputable and read reviews on them.
Read choosing the right pest control company so you know what questions to ask about the company and their bed bug treatment options which usually include chemical treatments.
Remember, permanently getting rid of bed bugs takes a lot of commitment and patience, but with the help of this guide, you will succeed and have a bed bug-free home for good!