We've Got Bedbugs! Now What?
The classic children's rhyme about not letting the bedbugs bite isn't quite so cute if you discover you're actually cuddling up with unwanted pests. The little bugs feed on animal and human blood, which means they'll soon start munching on you and your furry family members if they take up residence in your home.
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Ick! What’s more, bedbugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of. Knowing what to do if you have bedbugs can help you end a nightmare invasion.
How Can I Tell If We Have Bedbugs?
Bedbugs can't fly, but they can scurry very quickly. They tend to hide, so finding them can be difficult. Bedbugs tend to stick around your bed, including headboards, bed frames and mattresses, and they often stick together in groups.
Bedbugs have an oval shape and a small, flat body roughly the size of an apple seed. After feeding on blood, they look reddish and have swollen bodies. Check for them at the seams and edges of your box spring and mattress. Bedbugs sometimes crawl around the bedroom, especially at night, so look in books, carpeting and other items near the bed.
Other signs of bedbugs include:
- Musty odor that comes from the bugs
- Itchy welts where you've been bitten, often around your ankles
- Spots of blood on your sheets
- Spots of bedbug excrement, which look dark or rusty, especially on your sheets and mattress
- Eggshells and shed bedbug skin on your mattress, box spring and other areas where bedbugs hide
What’s the Main Cause of Bedbugs?
Bedbugs usually hitchhike into your home undetected after you've been somewhere that's infested with them. If you stay in a hotel that's infested with bedbugs, you can bring them home on your luggage or clothing. That bargain used furniture you found online could also be the culprit. If the seller has bedbugs, they'll include them in the purchase for free, and your home becomes infested.
What Should I Do If I Find Bedbugs?
If you suspect an infestation, don't ignore the problem. Call an exterminator immediately. Cleaning the mattress and other areas where you see bedbugs can help control the infestation, but you'll likely need an exterminator to eliminate them completely. The chemicals required to kill bedbugs can be dangerous, so letting an exterminator do the treatment is safer.
Here are a few things you can do before the exterminator arrives:
- Wash bedding in hot water and dry on a high heat setting.
- Run a brush over mattress seams to loosen bugs and eggs.
- Vacuum well in all infested areas.
- Fix cracks in the wall where bedbugs can hide.
- Eliminate clutter near your bed to remove hiding spots.
- Use covers designed to keep bedbugs out for your mattresses and box springs.
How Hard Is It to Get Rid of Bedbugs?
Bedbugs are much more difficult to get rid of than many other home pests. They're resistant to pyrethroids, a type of pesticide that's often used to eliminate infestations. They hide most of the time, especially during the day. And they live for several months, so an untreated population can rapidly get out of control. Bedbugs reproduce quickly, often doubling in population every 16 days. (Warning: Don’t click that link if you get squeamish at the sight of these nasty critters.)
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What Kills Bedbugs?
Heat and certain pesticides are the two main treatments used by exterminators. Heat treatments need to reach at least 120 degrees for several minutes to kill bedbugs. While throwing textiles in the wash in hot water can be effective, it can be difficult to heat all parts of the home to this temperature. Sometimes, bedbugs can escape the heat by moving to another area. Steam cleaners can help, especially in cracks and seams that are difficult to reach.
Certain insecticides can also be effective. These treatments can take a few hours. You'll need to stay out of the house until the chemicals are dry and your exterminator gives you the go-ahead to reenter. These treatments are often repeated two or three times.
Do You Need an Exterminator for Bedbugs?
Some things are best left to professionals, and bedbugs are included in that category. They're just too difficult to eliminate on your own. Professionals know how to get rid of bedbugs efficiently. If you have a small infestation, you might be able to get rid of it with repeated treatments. But if you have a larger infestation or you can't eliminate them completely, call a professional for help.
Some Additional Tips
- Verify the issue. Fleas and other insects can also infest your home and bite you. Have an exterminator confirm that you're dealing with bedbugs.
- Avoid spreading bugs. Be careful about sharing anything that could be infested with others. If you throw away stuffed animals, furniture or other items that are infested with bedbugs, destroy the items first. If you leave them intact, someone else might take them home — and with them, the bedbugs.
- Be vigilant. Monitor the situation even after treatment to ensure the bedbugs are well and truly gone. Even professional treatment often needs to be repeated to eliminate them completely. Regular inspections to look for bedbugs help you spot a recurrence early.