How to Handle Bedbugs Smartly and Effectively

So, after reading our previous article you determined you have bedbugs.

That’s bad.

You know that.

In fact, at this point you’re probably starting to feel a little panicky.

Don’t.

It’s OK.

While a bedbug infestation is a royal pain, it’s not the end of the world, and it is treatable.

You don’t need to panic.

What you need to do is work out a game plan.

So, here’s what you’re going to do.

First, if you haven’t already, you’re going to make sure you actually do have bedbugs [link to “How to Identify a Bedbug Infestation”].

(Note that a lot of insects look quite a bit like bedbugs, and also that bedbug bites look a lot like mosquito or chigger bites on many people.)

Once you’ve confirmed that you do actually have an infestation, you’re going to take at some of these ideas.

And then, you’re going to work out exactly what to do next.

You’ve got this.

Get Your House under Control

The first thing you’re going to want to do is get rid of as much bedbug-friendly habitat as you possibly can.

Remember, bedbugs are about as thick as credit card, so anywhere you can fit a credit card, bedbugs could be breeding.

Write Everything Down

Now, before you start on any of the steps we’re about to go through, get a pen and paper ready.

You want to keep track of everything you do, since this will make life a lot easier for the pest management professional (PMP) once they get here.

Ready?

Alright—let’s get started.

Wash Everything

A good first step to dealing with bedbugs is cleaning just about everything you possibly can.

A lady washing clothes in the machine

Clean your bedding, clean your linens, clean your curtains and your clothing.

You’re going to want to put it all in hot water in the washer, and then dry them on the highest dryer setting.

Then, if you have items that can’t be washed that might still be prime bedbug territory (things like shoes or stuffed animals), stick these in the dryer and run it on high for about half an hour.

Also, pro tip: check the lint filter after you’ve done all this to check for bedbugs.

This’ll help you confirm that they’re actually in your house!

Suck It Up

Once you’ve run a couple loads of wash, it’s time to bust out the vacuum.

Run this everywhere in your room, and use the attachments to get into the more remote corners.

Be smart about this, though.

A guy vacuuming an infested carpetDon’t use attachments that have brushes or bristles, since bedbug eggs can easily get stuck in those.

Also, vacuums that use bags, rather than filters, are ideal here.

With bags, you can just stick them in the freezer at zero degrees for four days and you’ll kill everything they sucked up.

You should also be sure to wash out the canister and inspect the vacuum to make sure there are no bugs left in it (and maybe even leave it outside for good measure).

Filters, though—those are trickier.

It’s hard to be sure you’ve gotten all the eggs out of them, since they’re probably going to be too small for you to make out.

So if you can get a powerful vacuum with a bag, that’s your best bet.

Make It Hard to Be a Bedbug

Once all that’s done, it’s now time to start making your home as awful a place as possible for a bedbug to live.

The good folks over at the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have the following tips for this:

  • Use light-colored bedding. This will make it easier to notice both bedbugs and blood spots.
  • Get rid of all clutter anywhere near your bed
  • Put some space between your walls and the furniture in your living room and bedroom.
  • Seal cracks in wooden floors
  • Patch up peeling wallpaper
  • Keep bedding from touching the floor
  • Vacuum regularly, and use an attachment to get into all the cracks and corners
  • Get tight, bedbug-specific encasements for your mattress and box spring, and check periodically for tears.

A Note About Encasements

Most encasements are designed to protect against spills and stains, or to help with allergies.

Be sure to get one specifically designed to deal with bedbugs, and if you notice any tears, patch them up immediately with duct tape or another good sealant.

You’re probably going to have to leave these things on for a while, unfortunately—although exactly how long is still a little uncertain.

Cornell suggests that you leave encasements on for at least 18 months.

Scientific American, on the other hand, suggests that bedbugs can only survive for two to three months at a normal room temperature without a blood meal.

It’s up to you what you do with that information, but in this case, “better safe than sorry” is probably the way to go.

Should I Just Get a New Mattress?

Now, you might be tempted to run and invest in a new mattress once you find out you have bedbugs.

Although there is a decent change you need a new one anyway [link to “When is it Time to Get a New Mattress?”], keep in mind that bedbugs can live in many different areas in a house—not just your mattress.

So if you get a new mattress before the rest of the infestation has been taken care of, there’s a good chance it’ll quickly become just as infested as the old one.

Non-Insecticide Battle Plans

OK, so you’ve now cleaned your house as much as you can, but the bedbugs are still here.

What’s next?

There are actually a couple of options now.

Eventually, you’re probably going to have to call up an extermination agency and have them bring in the insecticide.

But if you want to make it easier on the PMP (and probably also save yourself a bit of cash), there still a couple more tricks left for getting more of these bedbugs as dead as possible.

Turn Up the Heat

Heat is always a good approach to dealing with these things.

A thermometer in the heat

Non-tropical bedbugs will die if you leave them get them to around 117 to 122 degrees for a decent amount of time.

You might be able to do this by leaving infested items in a black trash bag or in a hot car—but don’t count on this to work if you’re not sure every part of the item you’re cooking is going to be heated to an appropriate temperature.

Give Them the Cold Shoulder

You could also just freeze them.

The EPA recommends leaving infested items in a freezer at zero degrees for four days, but you have to be sure that the freezer is actually zero degrees.

Check this with a thermometer if you have to—a lot of home freezers are not set that low automatically.

Get Things a Little Steamy

Steam will also do the trick.

A good steamer will kill all the eggs, nymphs, and adults it can get ahold of (though scientists are still researching how deep steamers’ heat will penetrate into different materials).

Follow all the instructions the machine comes with, and move it excruciatingly slowly—about one foot every 15 seconds.

Be methodical, and don’t use a small nozzle that might end up blowing live bedbugs away without killing them first.

My Grandmother Swears by This One Trick…

There are also a lot of home remedies for bedbugs you can look into if that’s more your speed.

You’re of course welcome to look into these if you like, but you should still know that at some point, you’re probably going to have to call in a PMP.

Bring Out the Big Guns

Once you’ve done all else you possibly can to get these bedbugs out of your house, it’s now probably time to bust out the insecticide.

Please note though: insecticides are safest only in the hands of a licensed professional.

This is the safest, most effective option for dealing with any bedbug infestation, and it is not advised to try using insecticides on your own.

Bring in the Exterminator

Exterminators know what they’re doing.

A professional exterminator

They’ll get in and out as safely and efficiently as possible, and they’ll probably save you quite a few headaches that you’re likely to get if you try to handle this yourself.

They’re especially important if you have pets, children, pregnant women, or sick people in your house, since these are often the most sensitive to insecticides.

Be sure to hire only PMPs that are affiliated with a state or national association.

This is the only way to be sure that they’re fully up-to-date on all the current practices, and also that they’re only using legal insecticides.

Also realize that if you first decide to use an insecticide and then realize you need to call in a professional, this is going to be much more difficult for the professional than if you’d just called them to begin with.

More insecticide will be used and the bed bugs will likely have moved into more difficult areas to attack, making this entire experience longer and pricier than it has to be.

How Much Does it Cost?

Prices for bedbug treatments vary considerably from region to region, but you can expect somewhere around $500 or more for the first inspection and $250 for the follow-up.

When Will the Bedbugs be Gone?

It usually takes at least three weeks to get your house entirely bedbug-free.

That’s because preparing your house usually takes about a week, and eggs (which insecticides don’t kill) take about six to 10 days to hatch.

The PMP should reinspect your house two weeks after the first inspection and apply more insecticides if necessary. Unfortunately, though, no exterminator will be able to guarantee that the bedbugs will never come back, unless you get your house fumigated.

If You Decide to do It Yourself…

Although we do highly recommend hiring a professional, if you do choose to try using insecticides by yourself, please do it safely.

Look at all instructions on your products, and be aware that many products are not labelled, for instance, for use on mattresses.

Also, if you’re concerned about the effects of the chemicals you’re applying in your home (and you probably should be), most pesticides will have an EPA registration number on their label.

You can look that number up online, and find out about any potential side effects for pets, children, pregnant women, the sick, the elderly, etc.

If a pesticide does not have this number, do not buy it.

Conclusion

With the help of these ideas, hopefully you now have a plan for how to go about handling these bedbugs.

So, what are you waiting for?

Shut off the laptop or the phone, and get to work!

These bedbugs aren’t going to know what hit them.

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