Once you suspect you may have a bedbug issue — whether because you’ve spotted bites on your body or you saw a bug crawling across the floor — you need to turn your attention to how to get rid of them.
Experts advise that it’s no use stressing about how bedbugs got into your home in the first place. Instead, focus on how to get rid of them — and fast, before they have the opportunity to reproduce and spread.
To Get Rid of Bedbugs, Step 1 Is Confirming You Have Them
Jerry Lazarus, owner of Braman Termite & Pest Elimination in Massachusetts, says before you freak out, it’s important to confirm you’re dealing with a bedbug issue. “People may misidentify harmless bugs as bedbugs and launch a full-on attack when their home is not infested,” he says.
That could end up costing you a lot of time, money, and stress.
First, try to locate some telltale signs you have a bedbug problem, such as:
- A sweet, musty odor — this odor tends to come with an infestation, rather than early on when just a few bugs are around. (1) Lazarus says there are dogs trained to sniff out bedbugs, and they have a 97 percent accuracy rate in detecting the bugs.
- A live bedbug — they’re usually most active about an hour before dawn and found at the corners of the mattress. (2)
- Blood spots or discarded bedbug skin on or around your mattress.
- Bites that look similar to those from a mosquito.
If You Have Bedbugs, Call In the Professionals for Extermination
Once you can confirm you have bedbugs or you have a strong suspicion that you do, you’ll want to hire a professional to confirm that is the case and get rid of the bugs. That’ll be the quickest way to get rid of the problem, and likely will be the cheapest in the long run.
How to Prep Your Home for Bedbug Extermination
Usually you will need to do some prep work before the experts come in to actually treat your home and exterminate the bugs. If it’s a mild bedbug problem, you won’t have to do as much since the bedbugs are likely only around the areas where you sleep. (3)
Common prep includes:
- Remove bedding and clothing and wash and dry them at a minimum temperature of 120 degrees F. At the very least, you should place these items, in addition to toys and shoes, into a dryer that is set to the hot temperature setting for 10 to 20 minutes. (Heat kills bedbugs and bedbug eggs.)
- Move your bed away from the wall and put on a bedbug-proof cover, which may be called an encasement or liner. You’ll want to do the same for your box spring if you have one. Unless you have a severe infestation, you may not need to get rid of your mattress. Your exterminator can help you decide if that’s a good option. Either way, it’s important to wait until after treatment is complete to bring a new mattress into your home to avoid it becoming infested, too. (4,5)
- For all of those items that won’t fit in the dryer, place them in garbage bags and set them in a hot, sunny spot outside or inside a hot car for a day or so. Ideally, the temperature will reach at least 120 degrees F to successfully kill the bugs.
It’s also possible to freeze out the bedbugs, but heating is usually a better option because the freezing-cold temperature would need to be maintained for a couple of weeks in order to be effective.
The pest control expert you hire will outline what preparation needs to be done. It’s important to follow the specific instructions the professional asks of you, as prep can vary depending on the severity of the infestation in your home and the type of treatment the exterminator will use.
The prep work will likely feel tedious, but it’s usually very critical to ensuring that the treatment works (and actually gets rid of the bedbugs).
Extermination Treatments That Kill Bedbugs
After you’ve prepped your space, the exterminator will enter your home and will likely use one of these three treatment options:
- Insecticide application This is the most common way to get rid of bedbugs, Lazarus says. Oftentimes, the professional will use several different products to effectively treat the area, though it may take a few rounds to ensure removal. “The advantage to this method is that the residual insecticide will continue to offer protection for a period of time,” Lazarus says. “The biggest drawback is that the preparation for service is time-consuming and must be repeated prior to each service.”
- Heat remediation For this method, the area is heated to about 130 degrees F and maintained so the heat moves into the furniture and everything else in the room. Lazarus says there’s less preparation needed with this method (you’ll likely just need to remove things that are sensitive to heat, like medication and plants). It usually takes just one treatment to effectively kill all of the bedbugs at their various life stages. Sometimes heat remediation is used along with insecticide for an extra-thorough approach.
- Fumigation This type of treatment is less common than the others. You’ll need to leave the building for a few days so it can be filled with a lethal gas that’ll kill the bedbugs. It usually only takes one treatment, but it is expensive.
It’ll likely take about three weeks to completely get rid of the bedbugs. That time frame includes one week to prepare for treatment and time for a follow-up appointment in case the bedbugs aren’t all killed in the first go-around.
Treating Bedbugs On Your Own May Not Be Effective
You may be tempted to take treatment into your own hands. The nonchemical treatment options — such as heating and freezing — can help reduce the number of bedbugs you’re dealing with but probably won’t get rid of the population completely. Eggs and young bedbugs can be incredibly difficult to locate since they can be small enough to fit inside the head of a screw, Lazarus says.
You can also try spraying an insecticide yourself. Just make sure the product you use is intended to kill bedbugs and is made for the type of space you are using it in. Some are intended only for outdoor or garage use, rather than for indoor use in areas where you may be sleeping, cooking, and eating, among other things. And know that insecticides available to professionals are usually stronger and more effective than those that are available to consumers. (6)
Why Leaving Bedbug Treatment to the Experts Is Usually the Way to Go
Many experts agree bedbug problems are best left to professionals. “We work with many homeowners who have wasted time, energy, and a lot of money trying to find a cheaper way out when a professional exterminator could have gotten the job done right on the first try,” says Steve Durham, president of EnviroCon Termite & Pest, in Tomball, Texas.
You want to be thorough about treating the issue because to be successful, you have to get rid of every last one. “If even one single bedbug egg gets left behind, you could have another round of bedbugs on your hands,” Durham says.