Written by: Anthony O’Neill, Licensed Pest Control Technician
HOW TO PERMANENTLY GET RID OF BED BUGS (Cimex lectularius)
Getting rid of bed bugs yourself takes time, patience, and persistence as they are resilient pests that are hard to kill. The process for eliminating them for good can take months and needs to be maintained afterward so you stay bed bug free.
Before you do anything else, make sure it’s definitely bed bugs in your home and not a similar-looking insect. Correct identification is important and if you’re unsure look at these pictures, or put a bed bug into a clear container and contact a pest control professional for confirmation. Alternatively, get in touch with the entomology department at a nearby university.
HOW TO GET RID OF BED BEDS WITHOUT AN EXTERMINATOR
Read the step-by-step DIY guide below all the way through before attempting anything. It’s lengthy but you will know exactly what to do and what not to do, saving you time, money, but more importantly, your sanity!
HOW TO TREAT BED BUGS AT HOME YOURSELF
This is a non-insecticide management guide. Why? As a pest control professional, I’ve seen too many people try to treat the problem with off the shelf bed bug control products that don’t work. This results in wasted money and insecticide overload in the home.
So, let’s get started…
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), so 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.
- Credit card, a playing card or something similar and plastic – to push into and along cracks and crevices and lifting the bed bugs into view so they can be killed.
- A roll of clear tape – to trap the bed bugs for closer inspection if needed, after carrying out option 2 above.
- Plastic garbage and shopping bags – a good supply is needed as you will be putting clothing, bedding, 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 Cleaning – 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.
- 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 – rubber or similar so your skin doesn’t come into contact with the bed bugs and the infestation area.
- 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 a silica gel to dehydrate and kill the bed bugs.
STEP 2 CLEARING THE CLUTTER FROM THE ROOM
Now you’ve got the above items together, start removing items, clutter, and drawers from under the bed. Do not put these items 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 any bed bugs 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, 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. Female adult bed bugs 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 with “Infested with Bed Bugs” before disposing of immediately in the outside garbage.
When you’ve finished the bed area, repeat the 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 bed bugs can’t 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 and place straight in and immediately put onto 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 bed bug 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.
IMPORTANT! All items must be laundered and/or heat dried at a MINIMUM temperature of 125ºF (51ºC). Adult bed bugs die at 119ºF (48ºC) but their eggs can be heat resistant up to 125ºF (51ºC).
If some clean clothes are sat in a pile, 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 bed bugs can 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.
FREEZING BED BUGS
If you can’t use the methods above then another option is to freeze them. 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 into the freezer for no less than four days.
Next 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. With the flashlight slowly go over the material to find any bed bugs hiding inside. To make them 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 to treat the internal structure before putting on the encasement.
Dismantle your bed frame and headboard and vacuum in the corners, in between and underneath slats, in screw heads, and 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 and edging and vacuum along these. Place the crevice tool on the surface at a 45-degree angle and push in a forward motion. This dislodges and crushes the bed bugs and eggs ensuring the majority are sucked up and not stuck to the side of the tool.
Vacuum clean the floor area where your bed will be and where bed bugs might have dropped off when vacuuming the mattress.
STEP 5 VACUUM EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE ROOM
The rest of the floor needs to be thoroughly vacuumed and will need frequent vacuuming to dislodge and remove the remaining bed bugs and eggs.
Use the crevice tool to scrape along harborage and infested areas including seams on other furniture items in the room, behind baseboards, heating vents, beneath tack strips, and where the carpet meets the wall as well as any cracks and crevices.
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 reinserting. 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 and completely seal with tape and put out for garbage collection. Take out the removable canister and wash in hot soapy water removing any bed bugs left in there. 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.
Once the room has been vacuumed, the next part of the process is to heat treat the bed and other upholstered furniture in the room with the steamer.
STEP 6 HEAT TREATMENT FOR BED BUGS
HOW TO GET RID OF BED BUGS IN A MATTRESS AND BOX SPRING
The mattress, box spring, bed frame, and any upholstered furniture in the room must be heat steamed then 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 will blow 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 fallen to the floor. The high temperature of the steam might cause damage to some surfaces, so care must be taken.
Steam treating will kill all life stages but can only kill the bed bugs it actually reaches.
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).
CONSIDER APPLYING A SILICA GEL
After you have heat-treated the bed, you might want to consider using a silica gel which is a desiccant dust.
Silica gel, such as CimeXa, is natural and safe to use and is a better alternative to diatomaceous earth.
It should be used after the heat treatment so now is a good time to 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 before you seal and caulk. Click here to learn why you should use it and how to apply it.
If your mattress and box spring are heavily infested then no amount of heat 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 MATTRESS AND BOX SPRING ENCASEMENTS
Move the bed completely away from the wall so it becomes an island with NOTHING touching it, and no bed linen is touching the floor.
Thoroughly vacuum so hair, dust, or other particles cannot create a bridge for the bed bugs to crawl up onto your bed.
Encase both the mattress and box spring to prevent bed bugs reinfesting them or infesting new ones (if you bought one), and from biting you.
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 encasements are vital.
The encasements are a specially made protective cover. Know what to look for and do not buy a standard protective mattress cover, these offer no protection against bed bugs.
I recommend you do not remove them 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.
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.
After you have applied the silica gel to the bed (if using), you should also apply it to the rest of the room as a crack and crevice treatment behind baseboards and switchplates for example, before caulking.
Now use a 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!
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 adult bed bugs and 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 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.
Inspect all corners, the bed frame, baseboards, furniture, and anywhere else that you heat-treated again. If you see live bed bugs or viable eggs or nymphs 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 that must be inspected on a regular basis to check they are not torn or frayed and 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!
Almost no bed bug treatment is 100% successful at first, but repeating the processes above gives you a better chance of winning the battle against bed bugs, you then have to prevent them from returning to your home.
If after week 8 there is still lots of evidence of bed bugs, or you have found they have spread to other areas of your home then it’s time to contact a pest control company to help with an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach to exterminate them.
Remember, getting rid of bed bugs permanently is not easy and takes a lot of commitment and patience, and hopefully this ‘do’s and don’ts’ guide helps you succeed.