If you’ve ever woken up with a line of small red bites on your skin, you’ve probably been the victim of bedbugs. These tiny, annoying critters are like little vampires that live in beds and other household furniture and feed off of human blood. They create a problem that once revealed should never go untreated. If left alone, bed bugs will multiply and can create an awful infestation in just a few days.
What do Bedbugs Look Like?
Adult bedbugs look like lentils: reddish-brown, flattened, oval and wingless. Mature bedbugs are about 5 to 6½ mm long, which (contrary to popular belief) means that they can be seen by the naked eye. “The first stage nymph is about 1.5 mm long. The eggs are 1 mm long,” explains Taz Stuart, Winnipeg, Canada’s city entomologist.
Watch out for Bedbug Eggs
Bedbugs lay 4 – 8 eggs per blood meal. “They lay eggs close to where their host is,” according to Stuart. That means that if you’re getting bitten by bedbugs, you might be able to spot their eggs near your bed. “The eggs look like little white-grey grains of rice. They’re laid with almost like a crazy glue, so they’re almost impossible to get off when they’re laid on something. They could be laid on the baseboards, cracks, in a wall void on the inside, wherever they go to digest their meal and relax,” says Stuart.
Frass: The Telltale Sign of Bedbugs
“Frass” is another word for, well, bedbug poop. If you think you might have a bed bug problem, check for tiny black spots on bedding and furniture in the suspect area. Frass look like little specks of dirt. They’re crunchy when they’re dry, and moist when they are fresh. “These spots are telltale signs,” warns Stuart. “As they’re feeding, you’ll see the poop getting pushed out the back [of the bedbug]. It’s usually [on the furniture] where the person is sedentary or asleep. It’s sometimes on your skin.” Scratching frass into your skin may cause secondary health effects.
Hunt for the Bedbugs Themselves
- Visual inspection: Hunt for bed bugs in the seams of your bed or sofa, underneath your box spring, in cracks in furniture and walls, under wallpaper and hung-up art, in carpets, behind baseboards, in the joints of the bed frame or even in buttons and seams of clothing kept in dark, covered places. “When you go into a hotel room, look along a coffee table, on the headboard, underneath a picture, in the telephone, underneath the coffee table, in the couch. If there is a couch in the room, flip over things and look for the evidence of them,” Stuart advises.
- Bedbug traps: Place a dish of baby powder under each bed leg for an effective DIY bed-bug trap. “Double sided tape is always effective as well. You usually put it on baseboards directly,” states Stuart. “Do not directly apply it to carpets, unless you are going to put masking tape down first, because if you put double sided sticky tape down on carpet you’ll never get it off. You can wrap the double sided tape on your bedposts. Wherever the host is staying is the best place to put the double sided sticky tape. The sticky mouse traps work well as a monitoring tool to see if you’ve got anything going on.”
- Bedbug-sniffing dogs: “They are about 95% accurate. I know many places that bring in the dogs deliberately just to make sure there’s no bugs,” Stuart claims. “Once they’ve determined there are bedbugs in the room, they should be treating the room properly, and the room across, above and below. That’s the proper way to be treating in a building.”
How Do I Get Rid of Bedbugs When I Find Them?
- Clean your house: Clutter attracts bed bugs, as it provides many crannies and crevices for them to hide in. Stuart advises, “It’s very hard to control bed bugs in a hoarding situation. So you need to set up your apartment or home for a pest control professional to come in and treat properly. Avoid situations where everything is up against the walls or everything is dumped onto a bed. Everything needs to be orderly and moved away. It’s not a 1-time treatment. It usually takes several times to treat for them.”
- Put all clothing, bedding, carpets and fabrics in a hot dryer: The heat of the dryer will kill bedbugs. Taz Stuart does not recommend hot water: “The best way to prevent shrinkage is to put it into a hot dryer, direct dry, for 15 to 20 minutes on high heat. I don’t recommend washing, because when you put it in the dryer you’re going to shrink it on high heat. If you’re coming home from a trip, take your luggage and thow it directly in the dryer on high heat for 15-20 minutes to kill the eggs and all stages.”
- Vacuum the whole area, including inside bags and luggage: “Vacuuming makes it easier when you’re coming in for a pesticide treatment. You’re taking away a lot of the adults and the nymphs. It’s very important when you dispose of that vacuum cleaner bag that it’s in a sealed container so those bedbugs don’t come out,” cautions Stuart.
- Mattress encasements: Cover your mattress and box spring with a mattress encasement registered for bedbug control, such as BugLock® manufactured by Protect-A-Bed. “Only buy mattress encasements that are registered for bedbugs because they’ll crawl through the zipper if it’s not registered for bedbugs,” Stuart recommends.
- Steam clean your walls and crannies: “Steam cleaning helps, but the problem is if you’ve got a wall void, you may not get enough steam heat to kill the eggs and nymphs,” Stuart discloses. “If you’re going to do heat treatments in a house, and that includes steam cleaning, you need to do a pesticide treatment as well after.”
- Remove infested furniture from your house: Although you might love your couch, it’s almost impossible to remove bedbugs from inside of plush couch cushions. “The only way to kill bedbugs inside of plush furniture is to expose the bugs to temperatures higher than 140 degrees F,” counsels Stuart. “Exposing bedbugs to cold temperatures is not really recommended. It has to be -20 for an extended period of time. You can’t just throw your couch outside in the middle of winter."
- Don’t reintroduce them to your home: “You can get rid of them in your house, but you borrow your friend’s book and there’s bedbugs in the book, you’ve just reinfested. A little screw hole can hold many little nymph bedbugs,” explains Stuart.
- Pesticide: “Heat and pesticides together seem to be the primary way [pest control] companies have gone,” Stuart recounts. Pesticide has to be registered for control of bedbugs. You can’t get a can of Raid.” Stuart emphasizes that cleaning and heat treatment must be followed by the application of the proper pesticide by a qualified pest control professional.
Updated February 20, 2018.