Bed bugs. Two words no person wants to hear. As is the case with most insects, if you have a bed bug infestation, you want to know how to get rid of bed bugs fast on your own. Whether you've seen one in your home, on your luggage or hiding in personal belongings, your first reaction is likely to try figuring out what kills bed bugs fast.
Updated: June 10, 2022
The good news: there's lots of information on getting rid of bed bugs, including products and tips for elimination. The bad news: anything other than professional pest control for bed bug eradication is likely to be ineffective. Worse yet, an ineffective treatment may result in a resurgence of bed bugs that is more deeply entrenched and resistant than before.
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small, flat insects with an oval shape and brownish color that feed on the blood of humans and warm-blooded animals. Their flat bodies allow them to fit into tiny spaces about the width of a credit card. They can hide in cracks and crevices located close to your resting areas such as mattresses, box springs, bedside tables, and other areas around sleeping areas. This gives these pests easy access to sleeping humans, hence the name "bed bugs."
What is the main cause of bed bugs?
If you're a frequent flyer, you might not like to hear this: the main source of bed bugs is travel. These pests will hitch a ride on luggage or clothing that you bring home. You can bring home bedbugs from a hotel, public transportation, movie theater, or even a clothing store.
If you're staying away from home, inspect your surroundings for bed bug activity. When you return home, check your suitcase and clothing, and wash everything in warm-to-hot water immediately and then dry with high heat. (Be sure to follow manufacturer's instructions for washing and drying your clothes).
These creatures do not discriminate. Bed bugs are attracted to warm blooded creatures that can provide them with sustenance in the form of a blood meal. If a human or animal sits still long enough for a bed bug to feed, they will take the opportunity to do so.
How to check for bed bugs
By noticing bed bugs early, you can keep a small invasion from turning into a major infestation. The most common signs of bed bugs include:
- Empty shells (molted skin) that bed bugs shed.
- Bed bug bites on your skin.
- Tiny spots (feces) in or around your bed.
If you are observant, it's possible to notice clusters of these pests in and around your bed. However, since they prefer to stay hidden, bed bugs are usually hard to spot.
Where to check for bed bugs
Bed bugs typically live in close proximity to where people sleep. In your home, they can hide in:
- Mattress seams and piping
- Box springs
- Cracks in the bed frame or headboard
- Seams of couches or chairs
- Behind loose wallpaper and painting
The small, flat size and shape of these pests allow them to squeeze into the tiniest spaces, making it very difficult to get rid of bed bugs.
How to get rid of bed bugs
Although bed bugs don't carry pathogens that may cause disease, bed bugs bites can cause a lot of itching and discomfort – making these little blood suckers an insect you simply can't live with. In fact, it's possible to develop a secondary infection as a result of scratching and breaking the skin with itchy bed bug bites.
On top of the bites, bed bug populations can develop quickly unless they are removed. That's why it's so important to contact a professional pest control company like Terminix as soon as you see any evidence of bed bugs.
Terminix takes a unique approach to bed bug control: our customers don't need to prepare before our arrival. In fact, it's best if you don't. Each bed bug infestation is unique, and our technicians can give you the best advice after inspecting your space as-is.
More than likely, they will give you the following advice after your initial bed bug inspection:
1. Reduce hiding spots and cut down on clutter
Consider getting rid of anything unneeded such as old magazines and newspapers. A cluttered home provides many places for bed bugs to hide, and the more items you can eliminate, the less places bed bugs can hide. If you're wondering what bed bugs are attracted to – other than warmth, blood and carbon dioxide – dark crevices also get their attention, giving them a place to hide before emerging to feed.
- Check baseboards for any cracks or crevices and caulk as needed.
- Ensure wallpaper is not loose and repair any wall damage.
- Check outlets and wall switches for bed bug evidence.
Bed bugs can hide in cardboard, so if you need the storage, plastic bins are less likely to foster infestations.
Keep clothing and accessories off the floor. If possible, throw away or donate items you no longer need, taking care first to ensure it's all free of bed bugs.
2. Clean the infested space
After your initial bed bug inspection, your technician will probably advise you to keep your sleeping area neat and tidy. Some ways to do that include:
- Wash and vacuum floors thoroughly. Bed bugs can hide in carpet fibers. Several rounds of vacuuming will help get rid of bed bugs on your carpet.
- When finished, double-bag the vacuum bag in a trash bag and place it in an outdoor bin.
3. Be mindful of your bed
Seeing tell-tale signs of bed bugs on your mattress and bedding may leave you feeling squeamish and wondering, "should I throw out my mattress after a bed bug infestation?" Fortunately, a bed bug infestation does not mean you have to throw away your entire mattress. If your technician recommends it, here's how to clean your mattress for bed bugs:
- Remove your pillowcases, sheets, mattress cover, etc., and wash everything in hot water (please follow the manufacturer's instructions, though).
- Dry the items on high heat if the manufacturer's instructions allow it.
- Do not carry these items to the washing machine by hand — use a plastic bag. Then throw the plastic bag away as it may have live bed bugs in it and you do not want to re-infest clean items.
- Pest control professionals recommend moving your bed at least six inches away from the wall to make it harder for bed bugs to settle behind the wallpaper or on any window treatments that may touch your bed.
- Clutter beneath your bed can serve as a hiding spot for bed bugs. Be sure to check under your bed and discard anything unneeded. Items you want to keep should be stored in the same room to prevent the infestation from spreading.
The most effective way to clean your mattress for bed bugs requires professional treatment. Post-treatment, your pest control specialist will recommend the use of special encasements (bed-bug-proof covers) to cover your mattress and box spring. Ensure they have zippers and are high-quality to cut down on tearing.
4. Clean all exposed laundry
If you've had laundry sitting out in baskets without being put away, you could be attracting bed bugs. Even clean laundry can be an attractive hiding spot for bed bugs. Additionally, curtains and bedspreads can harbor bed bugs, too, if they've taken up residence in your home.
- Wash and dry clothing and bedding at the highest heat as allowed by the manufacturer. Place items in sealed plastic bags for transport between rooms, and then seal clean items again in new plastic bags.
- If possible, remove and clean fabric window coverings and hardware, and place them in sealed plastic bags.
- Wash and dry all bed linens including pillow cases, sheets, comforters and mattress pads at the highest settings allowed by the manufacturer. Seal in plastic bags once clean.
Keep in mind, simply cleaning laundry is not a sure-fire way to get rid of bed bugs. Consult with a professional to find a more thorough and comprehensive solution to your problem.
5. Use steam or heat treatment
If you can expose bed bugs to extensive heat, you may be able to kill them. That's why it can be effective to iron or steam-clean bed linens. Be sure to read the label first to be sure it's possible without damaging the item.
However, this can only get rid of bugs that live in spots that can be heated. The majority of their hiding places can't be ironed or steam-cleaned. Professional pest control companies may use industrial steamers to heat-treat entire homes to help control a bed bug infestation.
6. Give the experts access
What kills bed bugs? Pest control professionals. Give them your full cooperation and make sure they have access to closets, walls and areas around furniture. In turn, they should be able to effectively treat your bed bug infestation.
Don't wait for the problem to get out of hand. To help get rid of bed bugs fast, you need a trained professional to identify the pests and find signs of infestation quickly. Contact Terminix® for powerful, customized treatments that can help eliminate bed bugs where they live and breed.
How hard is it to get rid of bed bugs?
Bed bugs are impressively resilient. They can survive a wide range of temperatures between 32 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit, go on for months without food, and are extremely good at hiding in small spaces where most human eyes can't detect them.
While some people may try to get rid of bed bugs by using home remedies or over-the-counter pesticides, they rarely succeed. In many instances, home remedies or DIY pesticides can be dangerous.
The only way to rid your home of bed bugs is to use a combination of professional pest control techniques.
DIY bed bug treatment: don't try this at home
It can be tempting to try to tackle your bed bug problem on your own using DIY methods. Resist that temptation! Many DIY methods — including over-the-counter pesticides and so-called natural treatments to get rid of bed bugs — can be unsafe to use and are unlikely to be ineffective, allowing the bed bug population to increase even more.
So-called natural bed bug treatment methods
You may see a lot of (mis)information online around recommending naturally occurring chemical treatments (such as borax, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, essential oils, baking soda and spraying bleach on bed bugs — to name a few). However, it's important to remember that even "natural" chemicals are still chemicals and should be used with care and only according to the applicable manufacturer's instructions.
Since bed bugs are excellent hiders, home remedies rarely get them all. If you miss any bed bugs or their eggs, the infestation can start all over again within days.
Unfortunately, natural treatments are rarely 100% effective, which is why you should contact a professional as soon as you notice bed bugs in your home.
The dangers of bed bug bombs and foggers
Bed bug bombs (sometimes called “foggers") are another potentially dangerous DIY option. These foggers release fumigants to the surrounding area that could cause allergic reactions.
In addition to rarely being 100% effective, these DIY treatments can can be dangerous to use as multiple bed bug bombs used incorrectly may cause explosions. If foggers are not used properly and homeowners fail to extinguish all pilot lights, the results can be disastrous.
Related: Where Do Bed Bugs Live?
How do pest control experts get rid of bed bugs?
Pest control experts use a combination of innovative techniques to make sure that all bed bugs die or are removed from your home for good. Professionals understand the resilience of these pests, as well as their possible resistance to certain insecticides.
A pest control professional will inspect your home, evaluate the extent of the infestation, and come up with a customized bed bug treatment plan that suits your needs.
Taming bed bugs isn't something you have to tackle alone. Our trained Terminix professionals are always here to help you protect your home. Contact Terminix for powerful, customized treatments that can help eliminate bed bugs where they live and breed.