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 knows someone who has come across bed bugs at home or in a hotel?
That’s a worrying statistic that shows they are an issue for many of us. Finding bed bugs in your home is both stressful and concerning and you’ll need to act fast to eliminate these pests for good.
Getting rid of bed bugs yourself can take months as they are hard to kill. I can tell you now that it takes patience and persistence, but it can be done.
This guide shows you exactly what signs to look for to prevent a growing infestation, as well as how to get rid of bed bugs 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.
As a pest control technician, this is something I’ve come across lots of times when I’ve been called to treat a particular pest and it’s turned out to be a different bug altogether.
So, what do bed bugs look like? If you click on the link, you’ll find a detailed description and lots of pictures to help you identify them.
Take a look and then come back when you’re sure it’s bed bugs you’ve seen.
I took the above picture of a bed bug when treating an infestation. It’s a close up image so you can see what they look like.
- Adult bed bugs are tiny, reddish-brown colored insects with protruding eyes, six legs, and two antennae
- Their bodies are flat when unfed
- When taking a blood meal they change to 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 you probably won’t know you have them at first, but one telltale sign is the sudden occurrence of red welts on areas of your body that are not covered by the duvet when in bed.
- Small dark brown/black fecal 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 spots on them
- Cast/shed bed bug skins and shells
- Tiny, flat, reddish-brown bed bugs
As I said, correct identification is important, so look at these bed bug images, capture a live or dead bed bug, put it into a clear container, and contact a pest control professional for confirmation.
Alternatively, get in touch with the entomology department at a nearby university.
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 a growing bed bug problem again if they have access to a blood meal.
They are mainly found on the bed because they can easily feed on your blood undisturbed while you’re asleep. This is why you will pay special attention to the bed area when trying to eliminate 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 is because of their resistance to pyrethroid insecticides.
Bed bugs are resilient pests and their resurgence since the early 2000s has been connected to their resistance to these insecticides.
Just because they can be hard to get rid of, it doesn’t mean it is impossible.
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 treatment.
So our step-by-step DIY guide below also helps you get rid of bed bugs if on a 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
Careful attention is needed to carry out the following steps thoroughly. If not, a minor bed bug infestation will soon become a severe one.
Now, let’s get started with the checklist and get rid of these pests.
Step 1: What You Need To Kill Bed Bugs And Their Eggs Checklist
Before you start you need to check for bed bugs and their hiding places (other than the bed), then get the following items together:
- Flashlight – bed bugs hide in and near the bed, in cracks, crevices, and dark places often making them difficult to see.
- A roll of clear tape – to seal bags and vacuum nozzles.
- Plastic garbage and shopping bags – a good supply is needed as you will be putting 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.
- Heat treatment – a heat treatment container is optional but a steam cleaner is an integral part of effectively killing bed bugs with heat.
Containerized Heat Treatment (optional, but worth it). A heat chamber is used for non-washable items such as shoes, suitcases, electronics, books, and files. A commercial heat box kills bed bugs in all life stages within a few hours.
Check the instructions for exposure time and that the temperature reaches a minimum of 125ºF.
STEAM CLEANER – a steam cleaner is needed to heat steam the mattress, box spring, bed frame, upholstered furniture, and carpet.
A steam machine can probably be hired from your local DIY store (must be cleaned thoroughly after use to prevent passing the bed bugs on), but buying one is best as you will need to use it again in the following weeks and months.
A steamer will kill bed bugs on contact when the steam reaches 170ºF (76ºC) or higher.
- Bed Bug Proof Mattress and box spring encasements – you MUST have these whether you keep the mattress and box spring (which I always recommend unless the infestation is severe) or you buy new ones.
Encasements prevent the bed bugs from escaping so they eventually die. They also make it easier to spot any remaining bed bugs on the outside for removal.
- Bed bug traps or interceptors – bed bugs cannot climb slippery, vertical surfaces so become trapped within the wells.
The plastic interceptor cups are large enough to place a bedpost, table leg, or other similar items into.
- 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.
- Latex or silicone sealant & desiccant dust – a sealant is needed to repair, seal, and caulk the room to close any breeding areas.
A desiccant dust, such as CimeXa is a silica gel that is used to dehydrate and kill bed bugs.
When you’ve got all of the above, it’s time to declutter the infested room(s).
Step 2: Clearing The 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 top of the bed or take them to another room, as you’ll have bed bug infestations in these areas also.
Try not to lean over the bed, you don’t want these pests to get on the clothes you are wearing and 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 live for up to a year, 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. 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.
Step 3: Remove And Wash Bedding, Curtains, & Clothes
Remove all bedding from the bed and place in plastic garbage bags and seal tightly so the bugs cannot escape.
Remove curtains and clothes (yes, bed bugs hide in clothes) where they lay eggs in and repeat as above.
Take the plastic bags to the washer, remove everything from the bags and place straight into the washer, and immediately put on a hot wash.
When the wash cycle has finished, move the items into the dryer, loosely fill, and select 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, I recommend using an eco-friendly dissolvable laundry bag.
You put your bedding in the bag, seal it, and put it straight into the machine. 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 some clean clothes are sat in a pile in the room, these don’t have to be washed again but 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 in the heat treatment chamber (if using), but a cheaper option is a removable drying rack in your dryer.
A drying rack is for items that can’t be tumbled, such as handbags, books, and shoes.
The dryer needs to be on for a MINIMUM of 30 minutes so it reaches the required temperature of 125ºF (51ºC) to kill the bed bugs and eggs. An infrared thermometer is useful for this.
When everything is washed, place 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 these pests will hide inside the cardboard.
For items that can’t be cleaned, such as electronics, these should be stored in sealable plastic bags or bins until you are able to inspect and treat if necessary.
Alternatively, these may be able to be placed in the heat container, or on the dryer rack. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions regarding heat and moisture tolerance first.
Freezing Bed Bugs
If you can’t use the methods above then another option is a freeze treatment.
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 being frozen so the bed bugs die.
- The 4-day freezing time starts when the center is 0°F.
- Do not allow the temperature to go above 0°F (-15°C) during this time as eggs and nymphs can survive.
We’re now ready to move on to the next step, which is to vacuum the mattress and clean the frame.
Step 4: How To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs On A Mattress
Remove the mattress and box spring from the bed frame and stand the box spring upright as you’re going to carry out a careful inspection.
With the flashlight, slowly look over the material to find any bed bugs hiding inside.
Look carefully in the corners and in all cracks and crevices.
To make the pests easier to spot, hold your flashlight parallel to the surface area so a shadow is cast from them and their 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.
However, this isn’t absolutely necessary if you’re using an encasement, but some people like to remove as many of the bugs as possible.
Next, if possible, dismantle your bed frame and headboard if you have these.
Vacuum in the corners and crevices, in between and underneath slats, in screw heads, to remove as many bed bugs and eggs as possible.
Use hot soapy water to clean the frame and headboard removing any remaining bed bugs and eggs.
Wring the cloth in the bucket and wipe along checking the area after as heat brings the bed bugs out. Immerse the cloth in hot water after every wipe and repeat.
Check the mattress thoroughly, pay particular attention to the seams, tufts, and edging, and use a stiff brush if you have one, and scrub them to remove the bugs and eggs.
Next, vacuum along the seams, tufts, and edging. 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 will be and where bed bugs might have dropped off into the carpet when vacuuming the mattress.
Do dryer sheets keep bed bugs away? I want to make it clear that putting dryer sheets on your mattress or in between your mattress and box spring WILL NOT keep bed bugs away or kill them.
There is no evidence that this works at all. In all my years of working in pest control, I’ve never heard of anyone having success with this. If this worked then the pest control industry would be a lot less busy!
I can’t believe how many websites are out there saying this repels bed bugs and to try it. Click on the link If you want to know what some of the other bed bug treatment myths are.
Step 5: Vacuum Everywhere Else In The Room
The rest of the floor/carpet and other items of furniture now need to be thoroughly vacuumed. This will need to be done frequently to dislodge and remove the remaining bed bugs and eggs.
Again, use the crevice tool to scrape along any areas they might be hiding including the seams on other furniture items in the room, in the cracks and crevices of furniture, behind baseboards, heating vents, beneath tack strips, and where the carpet meets the wall as well as any cracks and crevices in the wall.
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.
The vacuum should have a HEPA filter system to prevent the dispersal of allergens from becoming airborne.
Carefully clean the vacuum after use. The vacuum bag must be sealed with tape, placed into a plastic bag, and completely sealed and put out for the garbage.
Buy any new filters, or wash if possible, with hot soapy water and dry completely before re-inserting.
Seal the end of the nozzle and attachments with tape to stop any bed bugs trapped inside from crawling out.
For bagless vacuums, empty the contents into a plastic bag, completely seal, and put out for garbage collection.
Take out the removable canister and wash in hot soapy water removing any bed bugs left inside.
Discard the filter attached to the canister and buy a new one, or wash and dry completely if possible.
DO NOT use water on any of the vacuum’s electrical components.
The next part of the process is to heat treat the bed and other upholstered furniture in the room with the steamer.
Step 6: Steam Heat Treatment For Bed Bugs & Apply Silica Gel
Now the mattress, box spring, bed frame, and any upholstered furniture in the room have been inspected and any bed bugs and eggs have been brushed off, it’s now time to heat steam them.
After the heat steam treatment they must be aired afterward and not left wet or damp to prevent mold growth.
Fans and dehumidifiers will help dry the items. Dry steamers are also a good option.
DO NOT encase the mattress and box spring until completely dry.
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 moisture from the steam so your bed won’t get as wet.
Another point to consider is the temperature of the steam. The farther away the nozzle is held from the furniture, the lower the temperature of the steam, so the nozzle must be as close as possible.
Start by moving the steamer very slowly along all crevices and in the corners of the bed frame, along mattress seams and edges, sofa seams, and anywhere else you might see evidence of bed bugs.
Although time-consuming, take no less than 20 seconds to move the nozzle along per 12 inches. At this rate, the steam should be able to reach a depth of about 3/4″ into the mattress.
Steam under furniture to kill any bed bugs that may have fallen to the floor.
The high temperature of the steam might cause damage to some surfaces, so care must be taken.
Will steam cleaning really kill bed bugs?
If it’s carried out properly, then yes steam will kill all stages of the bed bug life cycle, but the steam can only kill the bed bugs it actually reaches.
Steam is particularly effective when bed bugs are on the surface of the mattress, box spring, etc. Steam will also kill bed bugs in cracks and crevices up to 2-3/8”.
Steam cleaning kills bed bugs instantly and is an effective way to get rid of bed bugs fast and pesticide-free.
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.
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 and switchplates 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 so, read how to get rid of a mattress with bed bugs for proper disposal instructions.
Step 7: 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.
You can read why I recommend the Safe Rest encasements here.
When the mattress and box spring are completely dry after steaming, put on the encasements.
These prevent any remaining bed bugs on the mattress and box spring from escaping and biting you, and from any bed bugs in other areas of the room from entering 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.
The encasements are a specially made protective cover. It’s important to know what to look for and do not buy a standard protective mattress cover, these offer no protection against bed bugs.
The encasements must be certified bed bug-proof.
I recommend you do not remove the encasements for up to 18 months. Although the encased bed bugs will eventually die, the adult female can live for a year without a blood meal!
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 or eggs entry or exit to your mattress.
You’re now ready for the next step.
Step 8: Interceptors For Bed Bugs
Bed bugs come out when they detect the carbon dioxide you exhale when sleeping.
Interceptors work by trapping the bed bugs that have crawled over to your bed. 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.
You’ll want to look at the interceptors almost daily so you can see how many bed bugs are being caught.
You should start to see the amount of bed bugs 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 the bed bugs to climb up into your bed.
To clean out the interceptors, you’ll need to:
- Remove from under the 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.
- Flush the toilet when all of the bugs are removed from the interceptor.
- Wipe both the inside and outer wells dry with a tissue and dispose of the tissue in a plastic bag, seal, and take out for the trash immediately.
- Reapply talc if the interceptor was lined with it (most don’t require it) and replace 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.
Step 9: Apply Silica Gel, Repair, Seal & Caulk
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, and all minuscule cracks and crevices on walls, doors, windows, and the floor.
Seal any gaps on shelving and cabinets. Fill screw and nail holes in wooden furniture. Turn furniture upside down and seal any gaps.
Inspect and seal all 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.
Remember, 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 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?
No matter what DIY methods you use, there will still be some adults and eggs that have survived at first, 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 to 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 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.
The encasements will prevent any newborns hatched inside from escaping and biting you.
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 with 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 after week 8 there is still evidence of bed bugs, or you have found they have spread to other areas in your home then it’s time to contact a pest control company to help with an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach 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. This will help you to choose the right pest control company.
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!