In recent years, the bed bug epidemic has quickly become no laughing matter. A nuisance at best and a serious health concern at worst, bed bugs can be easily transported clothes, luggage, or any types of fabric and material. They might follow you home from a business trip or vacation, or they might appear when you purchase a used piece of furniture. They aren’t just contained to dirty houses either; bed bugs spread just as easily in clean homes as they do in messy ones.
Once bed bugs are present in your household, they are extraordinarily difficult to get rid of. Bed bugs have some favorite places in your house; they like to hide in any small crack or crevice, especially on mattresses, furniture, or in the corners of dresser drawers. They feed on humans as they sleep and typically leave distinctive red bite marks on arms, legs and trunks. Due to their small size (making them very difficult to see), the first signs of an infestation might be small drops of blood on your sheets (an unfortunate result of being bitten).
While exterminators and professional pest control companies can help you, they’ll arrive armed with harsh chemicals and pesticides. For those looking for a more organic solution, there are plenty of natural and non-toxic ways to repel and eliminate your bed bug problem.
1. Uncover Your Problem
First, you need to figure out exactly where the infestation is happening. If you catch it early, the bed bugs might be contained to one room. If the infestation has been going on for any length of time however, the bed bugs might be in several rooms or even throughout your entire house. Examine everything; Carefully look at mattresses, furniture, and any nooks and crannies that might be hiding bed bugs.
While bed bugs hide during the day and only come out at night, you don’t need to see the actual bed bugs to tell if an infestation is happening or not. You might simply find the evidence of the insects, such as brown smudges or spots (bed bug feces). If you do actually spot one of the critters, they’ll look somewhat like a very small, brown tick, about a fifth of an inch long and without wings.
2. Clean and Sanitize
Despite being called “bed” bugs, these insects aren’t contained to the mattress only. In fact, bed bugs can infect a number of different places such as carpet, bedding and clothing.
Once you’ve located what rooms the bed bugs are located in, clean out each room thoroughly by taking any items and placing them in an airtight bag or bin.
If you simply place them in another room, you run the risk of spreading the bed bugs. You’ll need to clean everything in the infected room, or risk a reoccurrence later on if the bed bugs are hiding in the furniture or clothing.
3. Wash Everything
Using high temperatures, wash all clothing, bedding, linens, curtains, and even any stuffed animals. After the items have been washed and dried on high heat, store everything in an airtight storage container someplace other than the infested room, and keep the items quarantined until you’re sure your bed bug problem is truly gone.
If there is an item of clothing that cannot be washed, skip the washer and place it in the dryer on high heat for at least five minutes to kill any bugs. Children’s soft toys will need to be cleaned and dried as well. In the dryer, consider using a wool dryer ball and add a few drops of lavender essential oil to help repel further infestations (bed bugs will avoid the scent of lavender).
Like high temperatures, cold temperatures will also kill bed bugs. If you have items that cannot be washed or dried, consider bagging them and placing them in the freezer. Let them sit overnight to kill the bugs, then place in an airtight container in a non-infected room.
4. Vacuum Everything
Anything that might house a bed bug needs to be thoroughly vacuumed, several times. This includes (but is not limited to) carpets, curtains, mattresses, and any upholstered furniture in the room. As a rule, bed bugs can hide in any material and also in any sort of nook or cranny, so be sure to thoroughly vacuum floors, baseboards, and the corners of rooms.
After you are finished vacuuming, discard the vacuum cleaner bag in an outside trash bin. If you have a bagless variety, thoroughly clean out the inside of the vacuum cleaner reservoir in an area outside your house. Otherwise, the bed bugs you just vacuumed up may escape and re-infect your rooms.
5. Steam Clean
If you do not own a steam cleaner, consider renting or purchasing one (you will most likely need to use it multiple times over the course of days or weeks). Steam is one key to thoroughly sanitizing your room and possessions, and is one of the best ways to take care of bed bugs naturally. The steam cleaner needs to reach a minimum of 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
For best results, use a dry steam cleaner as opposed to a wet variety. You may use a wet steamer, but you run the risk of introducing mildew and even mold into your house from the wet items, or damaging furniture, carpet or curtains.
6. Bed Bug Oven
Although most sanitization can be accomplished through washing, drying, freezing or steaming, a bed bug oven is a specialty item that may make this task even easier.
It can be purchased online or through many home stores, and might be a good idea if you have a severe infestation that will require long-term treatment, or if you have experienced multiple bed bug infestations.
Items are placed inside the “oven”, then heated to greater than 140 degrees Farenheit (the magic temperature for killing bed bugs).
7. Kill Any Remaining Bugs
Once you’ve fully sanitized the room and all the contents inside, you’ll need to kill any bed bugs that might be hiding. Although scrubbing with soap and water will help (as will steaming), there are other ways to ensure the bugs are taken care of or their life cycle is stopped. A spray bottle filled with rubbing alcohol and water is an effective tool. Spray in corners, in the cracks around baseboards, and along windowsills and door jams to kill any hiding bugs.
Diatomaceous earth is an efficient tool that can be purchased online, from home stores, and from garden stores or nurseries. It both repels and kills any bed bugs that might crawl across it. Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic product made of the shells of diatoms from ancient lake deposits. It looks like a powder, but is actually very, very sharp (on the microscopic level). It is not harmful to humans, although you’ll want to avoid breathing it in or ingesting it.
To use diatomaceous earth, simply sprinkle it on the floor and surfaces in the room, focusing especially around doorways and window sills. Let it sit, and monitor the powder for dead insects. Once dead bed bugs start appearing, vacuum the space thoroughly and replace the earth as required.
Like diatomaceous earth, baking soda can be sprinkled around the room to interrupt the bed bugs life cycle. Baking soda will dehydrate and kill any bed bugs that might crawl across it. Sprinkle it in the same manner as you would the diatomaceous earth, let sit one week, then vacuum thoroughly.
8. Repel Further Infestations
The scent from a number of essential oils is known to repel bed bugs and stop them from returning to your room. Try placing a few drops of 100% oregano, citronella, lemongrass, rosemary, clove, peppermint, lavender, or eucalyptus oil in a spray bottle with some water, then spray around the room (focusing on any linens, carpet or clothing). You might also consider rubbing a few drops onto the legs of your bed as well as the bed frame to stop the insects from climbing up to your mattress.
Along with essential oils, fresh or dried plants will also help keep areas bed bug free. Try tying or placing bunches of lavender, mint, rosemary or eucalyptus around your infected room, especially in the closet or dresser where bed bugs may be hiding.
Finally, consider purchasing lavender scented dryer sheets and placing them all around the room to prevent bed bugs from returning. Place several sheets between the mattress and box spring, under the mattress, in your pillowcases, closet, or dresser.
9. Wrap Your Mattress and Pillow
Bed bugs like to hide in dark, hidden places, and the seams of mattresses and pillows are one of their favorites.
By keeping your mattress and pillow in a seam-free cover, you will deny bed bugs a prime hiding spot and your mattress and pillow will remain free of insects.
10. Protect Your Bed
Place small bowls or dishes under the leg of your bed frame, filling them with a small amount of soapy water or water with a few drops of essential oils inside (preferably lavender).
Bed bugs travel to your mattress and pillow by crawling up the legs of a bed. By placing these bowls under the feet, the bed bugs will be unable to climb up the legs and will drown in the liquid.
11. Don’t Give Up!
As a final note, you might need to repeat these processes over the course of several days (or possibly even weeks, if you have a particularly bad infestation).
Over time, you should see the evidence of bed bugs begin to dwindle. Continue to wash, sanitize and repel until all signs of a bed bug infestation are gone.
Once your house is bed bug free, consider keeping lavender in your luggage and closets as a way to prevent further bed bug problems.