Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. Those two statements unfortunately are as rhetorical than most political promises for those who aren’t aware of how to get rid of them (bed bugs not politicians). Like mosquitoes and houseflies, bed bugs occur in all continents except Antarctica thanks to a surge in world travel. Americans call them bed bugs, because they’re bugs and often live in beds but residents of other countries might ask after hearing the first two statements from movies and TV. What are bed bugs? How do I know if I have bed bugs? What is the main cause of bed bug infestation? And most importantly, how to get rid of bed bugs?
What are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs, Latin name Cimex lectularius, are parasitic insects whose primary target are humans. Can you see bed bugs with the human eye? If you look closely, the answer is yes but barely. Bed bugs are small insects that can grow to about 7mm but are commonly below 5mm. Like the common house roach, bed bugs also have a red-brown color and have long flattened bodies but without wings. Fortunately, their small size hides their gross appearance.
But unlike cockroaches, bed bugs dine exclusively on human blood. They seek out hosts by identifying body heat and like mosquitoes, the carbon dioxide from human breathing. Fortunately, unlike mosquitoes, bed bugs are nocturnal so they feed at night and are not known to transmit pathogens. Their bites are painless but after their numbing chemical wears off, the bites become itchy and uncomfortable and appear as linear, red welts.
How do I know if I have bed bugs?
The aforementioned linear red welts should be an obvious answer, but other insects can do some similar damage. But if you want to determine bed bug infestation before those bites occur, there are signs to watch out for.
- Black dots on the bed or sheets – If there are plenty of black dots on the bed and sheets, they could be a combination of bed bug fecal matter and molted skin during their life cycle. Bed bugs go through five molting stages before reaching adulthood. Highly unappealing and is reason enough to be rid of these insects.
- Red or brown stains on the bed or sheets – a combination of human blood from their bites as well as squished insects.
- Particulates on the bed – aside from black bed bug poop, there could be light-colored specks on the bed which could be eggs or egg shells. You need to look for these things on your carpet and closets as well.
- Live bed bugs – of course, if you see one, there’s the big possibility there could be dozens or hundreds more, all waiting for their evening buffet.
What is the main cause of bed bug infestation?
The main cause of bed bug infestation is travel. Victims unwittingly introduce the insects into their homes after they hitch a ride from an infested location. As mentioned, bed bugs can be anywhere except in extremely hot places above 50 degrees Celsius. They’re present in homes, hotels and motels, nursing homes, schools, daycare, hospitals, clinics, public transport, basically anywhere humans go. Bed bugs or their eggs are introduced into homes from uninspected clothing or luggage.
Also, people need to check for bed bugs when buying used clothes or furniture. Even new ones from stores as they like to take ‘harborage’ in tight, enclosed spaces. And, contrary to popular belief, their environment is not exclusive to beds. These critters can travel on their own up to 100 feet from their chosen home in search of food. Bed bugs also tend to migrate from house to house if the owner of a previous home decides to take control measures.
How to get rid of bed bugs?
There are several ways to get rid of bed bugs most of which involve cleaning and heat treatment of potential harborage areas. In case of infestation, carefully inspect potential harborage areas especially where people sleep like beds, sofas, chairs and cushions.
- Mattresses, box springs, sofas should be stripped, brushed and vacuumed until there are no longer traces of bugs, eggs, skin and casings. The vacuum bag should be disposed of, far away from the house. All sheets, pillow cases, clothing, pet bedding and curtains should all be placed in a two layers of plastic bags. The items should be placed in a washer, washed with hot water and then dried in high heat. Again, dispose the bags somewhere faraway.
- Non-washable items where bed bugs could thrive like stuffed toys, shoes, bags, sleeping bags and pillows should also be cleaned. Stuff them in a dryer in the hottest setting for at least 30 minutes. As mentioned, bed bugs cannot stand extreme heat exceeding 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Other items can be placed in direct sunlight where the heat reaches about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Bed bugs can also be killed with extreme cold at -18 degrees Celsius or 0 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use a hair dryer and heat these items as well as sofas and beds to kill insects that may be deeply tucked away.
- If you yourself can’t stand extreme heat, put some rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle and spray away. Alcohol kills bed bugs on contact.
- This part only applies if you have no kids or pets and you yourself will be away for a while. You can use any of the following. Diatomaceous earth, baking soda and ground silica gel. Spread the powders in known harborage areas as well as the bed and carpeting. The baking soda and gel can absorb moisture from the insects’ bodies which kills them. This also applies to fleas, ticks and roaches. The diatomaceous earth works the same way as it pierces insects’ bodies which bleeds then to death. After treatment, be sure to vacuum thoroughly.
- Or as a last resort, hire an exterminator which should cost around 500 bucks to treat your home.
- Unsalvageable objects should be thrown far away responsibly such as beds, cushions, pillows sheets and mattresses.
Bed Bug Prevention?
Scents can keep away certain insects like how citrus can keep away mosquitoes. What scents keep away bed bugs?
- Lavender. Washing items with lavender soap and detergents and spraying lavender scents in the room should drive and keep bed bugs away. The pleasant smell is an added bonus.
- If you don’t like lavender, what other scents keep away bed bugs? There’s also peppermint, sweet flag, Indian lilac, lemongrass, clove, pyrethrum and used black walnut tea. These can be made into a spray solution. The smell of burning thyme can also drive bed bugs away as well as distributed bits of mint and bean leaves.
- Double-sided tape can also be used to keep bed bugs away if you have high-footed beds and furniture Tape around the feet of the bed so that they’ll get stuck when they attempt to crawl up. Just ensure that sheets don’t touch the floor.
- Ensure a thorough check of objects that might bring about an infestation such as clothing or luggage after coming from a trip.
Prevention is always more pleasant rather than the cure. Place the aforementioned scents around your home and always inspect your stuff after coming from a trip. This will ensure a tight, pleasant sleep and zero bed bug bites.
Emily is the content director and a contributor with 10 Best Mattresses. Emily was born and raised in Texas. After college she taught English for one year in Japan. Emily is an advocate for getting a good night’s sleep and she is passionate about promoting the benefits of good sleep such as increased alertness, improved mood and increased energy.
There was a time Emily was having trouble getting the type of sleep she had while in her 20’s. This has happened to a lot of us, right? Anyway, after noticing her quality of sleep declining, including a period of insomnia, Emily started researching sleep and sleep topics. In addition to sleeping on a great mattress with great bedding, Emily has a night time routine that works for her. She says it’s a firm mattress, a good book, milk, magnesium and fish oil. Emily sleeps great every night and her smile shows it everyday!