Written by: Anthony O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional
How To Permanently Get Rid Of Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius)
Finding bed bugs in your home is both stressful and worrying and you’ll want to get rid of them before the infestation gets out of hand.
Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans has had a bed bug problem in their home, or knows someone who has come across bed bugs at home or in a hotel?
Getting rid of bed bugs yourself will take time, patience, and persistence. These pests are hard to kill, but it can be done if you act as soon as you find signs of them.
The process to get rid of them for good can take months and will need to be maintained afterward so you stay bed bug free.
But before you do anything else, make sure it’s definitely bed bugs in your home and not a similar-looking insect.
You might not know you have bed bugs at first and are wondering what’s causing those welts on your skin. But not everyone reacts to the bites so you might be noticing other early signs of an infestation, which include:
- Small dark brown/black fecal stains on your sheets, pillowcases, and mattress.
- Red, itchy bites
- Tiny white eggs that are the size of a pinhead
- Your PJs and sheets have small bloodstains on them
- Cast/shed bed bug skins and shells
- Tiny, flat, reddish-brown bed bugs
Correct identification is important so look at these pictures of bed bugs, or capture one and 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.
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
Attention is needed to carry out the following steps thoroughly. If not, the infestation will just continue to grow and get out of hand.
So, let’s get started with the checklist for your DIY bed bug control treatment.
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:
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- 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, 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 and mask – rubber, latex, or similar gloves so your skin doesn’t come into contact with the bed bugs and the infestation area. A mask is needed 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 a silica gel is used to dehydrate and kill the 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.
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 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 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 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 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 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. 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 if you want to treat the internal structure before putting on the 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, dismantle your bed frame and headboard, if possible, and vacuum in the corners, 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 and edging, and use a stiff brush if you have one, and scrub the seams to remove the bugs and eggs.
Next, vacuum along the seams 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 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 and other items of furniture now need to be thoroughly vacuumed and 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 and infesting 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, completely seal, 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.
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
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.
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 will kill 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, it’s time to apply 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 (read why here and how to apply it).
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.
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: Mattress And Box Spring 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.
When the mattress and box spring are completely dry after steaming, put the encasements on both to prevent any remaining bed bugs 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.
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 and replace under each leg of furniture.
Whatever band 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.
Inspect all corners, 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 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!
Almost no bed bug treatment is 100% successful at first, but repeating the processes 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 this so you know 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.
Remember, getting rid of bed bugs is not easy and takes a lot of commitment and patience, but with the help of this guide you will succeed in being bed bug free for good!