Important! - If you find you have bedbugs, do not move to another bed and please don’t go to a hotel or friend’s home. Bed bugs are amazing hitchhikers and you do not want to bring them to anyone else. Bed bugs can travel fast on their legs, they can move up to 30 feet in only six minutes, and they detect the carbon dioxide you breathe out to find you. You can move wherever you want to in the house; they will find you and the infestation will only spread. If you are waiting on the pest control company and just don’t feel you can sleep another night in the bed- sleep in the back yard in a throw away tent. If you think you will need to sleep in the tent for a few days take a shower first and put on fresh hot clothes from the dryer. Don’t bring items from the home into the tent.
Bed bugs are (bloodsucking) insects that feed on humans and other warm blooded mammals. Bed bugs are attracted to their hosts by carbon dioxide which is what we exhale when we breathe out. They also sense warmth and our body’s chemicals.
A bed bug pierces the skin of its host with what is called a stylet fascicle or beak. When the bug penetrates the skin it releases a chemical which more or less numbs the area and makes the bite less painful or completely painless for some. The mandibular stylet tips have small teeth and through alternately moving these stylets back and forth, the insect cuts a path through tissue for the maxillary bundle to reach an appropriate sized blood vessel. They feed by sucking blood for about five to ten minutes. It then withdraws the stylet bundle from the feeding position and retracts it back and folds the entire unit back under the head, and returns to its hiding place. If a bed bug feeds for ten minutes it will become completely engorged with blood. They can live for up to a year without feeding, but as long as they have a host they will eat about every five to ten days.
---Return to Top of Page---
How do I know if the bug I have found on or near my bed is actually a bed bug? Well there are several things to look for that can help you to determine what you have.
First of all, it is very important that you not smash the bug as this will make it extremely hard to identify. This may seem gross or unorthodox, but the first time I captured my first bed bug I simply put my arm up against the side of the bed and let it crawl onto my arm. Then before it could begin to feed I went into the kitchen and pushed it off onto a white paper towel. Then I quickly placed a wine glass over the bug in order that it not escape. Knocking it into a Ziploc bag is also a good idea as well. For those of you who are squeamish about blood sucking bugs you may use an item like a small comb or shirt and then place the entire thing in a Ziploc bag.
Now that you have an actual bug to identify you should start by ruling out a couple of things. Number one- if the bug has wings and spreads them to fly, small or otherwise , it is NOT a bedbug. Also bed bugs only have 6 legs where tics which also suck blood have 8 legs. South Carolina has a lot of bugs and some of these bugs seem to swarm during different times of the year. We also have a large mosquito population so do not be overly alarmed if you see bug bites.
Adult bed bugs are light brown to reddish-brown, flattened, oval shaped and have no hind wings but front wings are vestigial and reduced to pad-like structures. Vestigial wings are wings have been lost thru evolution and are functionless. Bed bugs abdomens are segmented, and have microscopic hairs that give them a banded appearance. Adult bed bugs are around 3/16” or 4–5 mm in length and 1.5–3 mm wide and are about the size of an apple seed. Newly hatched nymphs are translucent almost clear looking, very small and much harder to see. The nymphs become browner only after their first feeding and first molt. Their heads have a beak and their antenna has 4 segmented sections with the 3rd segment being longer than the other segments of the antenna. The bases of the middle and hind legs are widely separated. Bed Bugs emit an obnoxiously sweet odor from their scent glands. Bed bug eggs look more like tiny pieces of opaque rice and are about 1 mm in size. Whereas, flea eggs are similar, but are smaller and about 1/2mm and look more like tiny white jelly beans.
I have known people who feared they had been exposed to bed bug and begin to search their mattress and box spring only to find what they believed to be a bed bug when in actuality it was the “common” carpet beetle. Carpet beetles do not feed on humans as they only eat organic material such as cotton, fibers, blankets, clothes, etc. My grandmother used to keep moth balls out and vacuum frequently to keep carpet beetles away. A baby carpet beetle looks like a tiny caterpillar and you are able to see all the tiny legs without a microscope. Of course, finding any bug or insect near or on your sleeping quarters is pretty gross. So just be sure and wash your sheets on a weekly basis and vacuum these areas weekly and you can usually avoid the carpet beetles. . Keeping a bedbug certified mattress encasement is also a good idea as it helps you spot bugs early, it reduces dust mites, and protects your mattress.
---Return to Top of Page---
In the United States areas with the most reported and confirmed cases of bedbugs are: New York, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, Washington DC, LA, Boston, San Francisco, Columbus, Dayton, Baltimore, Kentucky, Texas and Florida. Bed bugs are seen more in dense populations and large cities. The first time bed bug arrives on scene you might get lucky and only have a lone hitch hiker that is a male or that is a female, but that is not pregnant. Success rates for eradicating this insect dramatically increase the earlier they are detected. (Source: the 2011 Bed Bug University, North American Summit.)
London, England has had a 26% year on year increase in bedbugs between 2002 and 2007.
Currently there is no reliable data for the rest of Europe. The average infestation or introduction of bed bugs will usually start with only six to twelve bugs, but the population doubles every three to four weeks, and in extreme cases can reach as many as 50,000 bedbugs within a 90 day period. (Source: Chris Hastam, Sunday Times, United Kingdom)
---Return to Top of Page---
Most of the time you are going to find bed bugs hiding on your mattress or box spring, bed railings or footboard or headboard area. You should begin by removing comforters, blankets, sheets and mattress pad. Be sure and notice if there are small areas that appear to be blood or rust on the sheets and or mattress pad. Now that you are down to the mattress begin lifting the edge of the seam along the mattress. You are looking for adult bugs, nymphs (which are almost clear and very tiny) , blood, and little black dots that are bed bug feces, and body castings from when they molt and grow larger. Their feces resemble roach feces. If while doing this you find evidence of bed bugs you should stop and begin to place all linens inside of a plastic bag which can then be tied closed and either sanitized or disposed of later on. Bed bugs can go anywhere that you can slide a piece of paper so you understand they can go just about anywhere to hide. Special note: bed bugs can run pretty fast so be prepared to capture one by having a Ziploc bag handy.
Bed bugs hide in bedside dressers, items on dressers, in pictures hanging on the wall, behind outlet plug covers, behind wallpaper, in cracks and crevices, behind baseboards, light switches, books, corrugated cardboard, boxes, in suitcases, backpacks, cars, buses, movie theaters, purses, sofas, chairs, dog beds (yes, they will bite animals, but prefer human blood), flea markets, thrift stores, restaurants, pretty much anywhere they like. They do not like extreme cold or heat so you won’t find them in the freezer or oven.
When you find a bed bug on a bed you should continue going room to room checking each bed to see how extensive the infestation is. If you are staying in a motel or hotel it would be wise for you to first go into the room and inspect the beds for the signs we listed above. If after close inspection you feel that the room is safe then bring in your luggage and place it on the metal suitcase stand. I may be a bit of a freak about bugs, but I like to place the suitcase inside of a plastic garbage bag and then on top of the suitcase stand.
If you are traveling on a plane you should know that bed bugs which are in luggage stowed underneath the plane are usually killed by the freezing temperatures and low oxygen levels or at least become more inactive and in a semi-hibernation state. Therefore, they are not going to be crawling out and roaming around into your luggage. However, luggage that is placed in the overhead bins will be a prime spot for bed bugs to crawl out of one person’s back pack and enter your purse, small suitcase, laptop bag, etc. I try not to even use the overhead bins at all. If I have a purse I bring a small plastic bag and place my purse in it and tie it up before placing it in the overhead bin. Better safe than sorry you know.
---Return to Top of Page---
Check websites for reviews of hotel or vacation rental and see if there have been any reported cases of bed bug or concerns in the dwelling.
Pack a plastic or metal suitcase verses a soft fabric suitcase.
Check the hotel room, mattress, headboard, and dresser before bringing in your luggage inside.
Place your suitcase on metal suitcase rack or on bathroom counter. Try to avoid placing it on the floor.
Place your dirty clothes in a plastic bag verses the floor.
Watch for bites marks and itching.
Is there an odor that smells like over-ripened raspberries or almonds?
Are there a lot of vacancies in the hotel? (hungry bedbugs will move thru duct work to find a food source)
---Return to Top of Page---
Once you arrive home you should go into a garage or garage like area, remove all clothes from the suitcase and place them in the sealable dissolvable wash bags, strip down and wash the clothes you are wearing as well. Wash all items in hot water and then dry completely on the highest setting possible. If you know that your dryer does not get extremely hot you should bring the sealed dissolvable bags to a laundry mat that has dryers that will heat to 115 or better. Dry for at least 30 minutes. Now that clothes have been addressed, look at other items in the luggage these items can be placed in plastic bags and placed in the freezer for several days if washing is not permitted. If you are certain you stayed with bed bugs it is advisable to destroy the suitcase by cutting with a knife or burning as you do not want someone to dumpster dive for it. If you want to save the suitcase spray it with a product that kills bed bugs or have it heat treated. The next time you go to buy your next suitcase stay away from ones made of fabric or that are soft. Go for plastic or metal luggage as bed bugs don’t like these as much.
---Return to Top of Page---
We Use Heat to Eradicate Bed Bugs
Bed bugs cannot survive high heat. The following table shows the death point of bed bugs in terms of heat and duration of exposure:
Heat Box, Room Treatments, Containerized Heat (like Ice Fishing Shanty), Heat and Nuvan Prostrips, Containerized Fumigation ( with Sulfuryl floride).
Heat Box- economical, effective, not a stand-alone treatment
Room Treatments- involves steam, sealing cracks and crevices and dust or silica aerosol
Containerized Heat- same concept as a Heat Box only larger as in a cargo container, whole rooms are being treated.
Heat and Nuvan Prostrips- only organophosphate still available to the industry, it is labeled for bedbugs, and heat enhances nuvan treatment.
Containerized Fumigation- an absolutes sure kill of all stages of bedbugs, not a stand-alone treatment, use in large scale infestation.
What kills bed bugs? Bed bugs can survive a wide range of temperatures and atmospheric compositions. Bed bugs will die after 15 minutes of exposure to extreme cold temperatures of (−26 °F) -which is below freezing. Even better- adult, nymph and eggs are killed by penetrating heating that reaches (115 °F) for at least seven minutes though most thermal heat companies will go above this temperature and for a longer period of time to ensure that all are destroyed. So unless you plan to put everything you own outside in the snow you will probably need to use a thermal heat company to rid your home of these pests.
Chemicals are becoming less popular due to the increase in children and adults with allergies and asthma. In addition, scientists are seeing more bed bugs that are pesticide resistant to the chemicals- requiring different chemicals be reapplied and sometimes it may take several different pesticide treatments to finally rid your home of the pests.
If you choose to have a professional thermal heat company come in to eradicate the bed bugs you will not need to throw away your mattress or box springs. You will need to de-clutter your home (as heat can only penetrate so deep) if you have a lot of clutter or if you are really disgusted the thermal heat company can bag and sanitize contents for you, but this is time consuming and can be expensive. Once the home has been de-cluttered the heating company is ready to start to work. You should be careful not to bring anything out of the home that could possibly be brought back in and re-contaminate the sterilized home. In other words- do not take a suitcase with you. If you think you may have transmitted the bugs to your car you should purchase something like the new Ortho Bed Bug Killer spray from Lowes and spray your car seats and carpets to ensure there are no live bugs waiting to re-infest you and your home. This is a new product so I really don’t know how well it works or how quickly bugs will become resistant to it. (Remember, I am just giving you my free opinion and am not warranting this information.)
Before the heat treatment begins you should take a hot shower and then put on clean hot (out of the dryer) towel, clothes and shoes. Depending on the size of the problem you may need to arrange other sleeping arrangements for a few days. Be sure that you don’t stay with anyone who has traveled with you or stayed in your home recently. It is advisable that once the heat treatment has been done that you purchase bed bug mattress encasements. How are these helpful? Well, if for some reason an egg or bug were able to survive the extreme heat they would be trapped inside the mattress encasement and unable to exit it to feed. Unable to feed they will die. Also, if a mattress and box spring are encased then there are no more seams where the bugs like to slip in and hide. Without seams and on a white surface you would be able to see the bugs should they reappear and hopefully before the problem gets too severe. They also are great to reduce dust mites which cause allergies. They will not work if they are unzipped or ripped so pay attention to the encasements.
If you are reading this page in search of a way to kill these bugs yourself we do have a few suggestions which may help. In addition to encasing your mattress and box springs you should wash everything in hot water and then dry it until completely dry and then continue to dry it for another twenty minutes to kill any bugs or eggs which may be on your clothes or linens. You should then check with your local feed and seed or hardware store for diametacious earth (DE) which is used with livestock and not the one that is used for cleaning pools -as it can be harmful to humans. Sprinkle the food grade DE around the bedrails, box springs, along baseboards, and areas where you have seen the bugs. I would not advise that you sprinkle it on the actual mattress as the dust may rise and you may inhale the stuff which might cause an allergic reaction or asthma. DE works when a bed bug walks thru it and the tiny glass like splinters cut the bed bug and dehydrates the bugs. It is a physical killer so they must come in contact with the dust in order to be injured and then die. It can take several days for it to work – meanwhile bugs that are not walking thru the dust may be laying eggs and multiplying, but eventually this solution may work for you. I would also suggest leaving a bedside light on at night and then trying to wake up in the middle of the night to see if you can catch any bugs coming out to feed. Even though this sounds gross- you may need to find them and then mash them between your fingernails to kill them or use super sticky tape. I know it’s yuck, but you can wash your hands and sterilize your sheets, if you just don’t have the funding to hire a professional service. You could also try putting a strip of double sided duct tape around the perimeter of your body so that anything that crawls up to you gets stuck on the tape, but you wouldn’t be able to move around and cover up the tape. Bed Bath & Beyond also sells a Bed Bug Spray which is organic and smells like cinnamon. It only cost about $10 per spray bottle and states that it is safe for humans, but repels and kills bed bugs, but I have no idea how well it works.
---Return to Top of Page---
Bedbugs have been caught even in low infestation situations with a device called a NightWatch Monitor. The 20 oz. CO2 device runs from 10:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m. every night for four to five nights until it runs out of CO2. It will require a replacement CO2 bottle be put in after 4 – 5 days. These Active Monitors can be used with or without a sleeping person in the room, and has shown to be very effective in capturing bedbugs in work place or office areas.
---Return to Top of Page---
Honestly, you are going to have to treat this like you would a severe case of head lice. Think about everywhere you or your family sit, rest, sleep or just hang out at. (Beds, recliners, sofa, computer desk and chair, cribs, the list goes on.) Also think back about anyone who may have slept over and may now have the bugs themselves. You will need to make them aware so that they don’t accidently bring them back over when they visit you. (Plus you would want to tell them anyway.) The point I’m trying to make is that you don’t want your children running around the neighborhood possibly infecting their friends’ homes or being re-infected. Just go anti-social until you combat these pests. Before you head out the door to the laundry mat I would take a hot shower and have some hot dry clothes and shoes running in the dryer and ready to be put on and get out the door and down to the laundry mat.
Wash everything you can in hot water (bleach if possible) and then dry completely on the highest setting. This includes all bed linens, mattress pad, curtains, clothes, throw pillows, etc.) Pillows don’t do well in the washer so I would just bag them and toss them. Once the fabric is dry, and if it can handle it, I would dry an extra ten minutes or so, to be safe. Place all clean items in a strong sealable bag. You should check with the local laundry mat to be sure they have the newer washers and dryers that will heat up to 140 degrees. My local laundry mat claims their dryers can get up to 146, but I’m not sure about that. I wouldn’t want my clothes to smell burned. As the problem is getting worse technology is beginning to come up with better solutions. One of the new products is a plastic bag which can be used for contaminated sheets but does not have to be opened as it will dissolve in the washing machine. Pretty cool, huh?
If I had fifteen or twenty bags to take to the laundry mat I would try and put them in the back of a pickup truck so that none of the little critters crawls out and infest the car seats or carpets. The last thing you want to do is go driving down the road and feel something crawling up your leg- I know from experience! And of course you don’t want to run the risk of reinfecting everything you have worked so hard to sanitize. Once you are finished at the laundry mat - I would probley put the clean sealed bags of linens and clothes inside the truck and return to your now heat treated home.
The car or truck will just have to be crammed full until the thermal heat company or pest company has finished. In my opinion, and if you can afford it, I would go with a thermal heat company. If you feel this is too expensive you should at least find out if financing is available and if the company will warranty or do a return inspection visit as part of their estimate. Mattresses absorb heat easily. The heat being pumped in goes everywhere so it’s a lot harder for a bug to escape. Think about this: how many hours, days or weeks will you need to spend solving this problem yourself? How many sleepless nights will you have? Will the stress of the situation affect your job performance? Are you going to accidently spread this to your family or friends? Do you have children? If you do, please consider how mommy saying, “stay back… and stop jumping on that bed while I’m looking for these bugs…” will affect the children. If you must take care of the problem yourself you may want to check the beds while the children are at school, otherwise, they may have nightmares or be too afraid of bugs to sleep in their own beds. So again, I would seriously consider what the best option is for you and your family and not make any quick decisions. Yes, bed bugs are only a bug and with enough work and persistence they can be eradicated and like lice it does not mean that you are dirty or at fault in any way. Only when you intentionally or knowingly allow someone to be exposed and do not warn them are you at fault.
A professional and legitimate bed bug / thermal heat company will first VERIFY that you do indeed have bed bugs by actually finding and identifying the bug or at least some droppings or castings. It will be easier to rid the home if you are in a single dwelling. If you are in an apartment or condominium the property manager should hire a certified bed bug dog and it’s handler to go thru each and every unit to identify which units are affected. This is so important because there is really no point in treating one apartment just to have the critters come thru duct work and walls and re-infest the unit. Once everyone is on board (single home or complex) you will be asked to de-clutter the home or unit. This will help to ensure that the heat (which gets extremely high) is able to penetrate everything in the room and kills all the bugs and eggs. Some item will only need to be opened (like dresser drawers, side tables, cabinet doors, while other items may just need to be discarded or rearranged to decrease the clutter). If you have a lot of old books that you need to keep or stacks of papers you should place them inside a sealed bag and then have the bags treated chemically to protect them from heat damage. Depending on the home there may be other things that need to be protected or removed from the home (example: highly flammable items, sprinkler heads which could go off due to the heat (your sprinkler company will need to drain the sprinkler system, change out any heads that c/not withstand high temperatures, and disconnect it), etc.
Special note- bed bugs can crawl on your pets and bite them too. If you have a pet you need to address how you plan to debug them. I would suggest calling your vet and seeing if they recommend a shampoo for parasites that works well.
Once the home has been heat treated, our dog Scarlet will re-check to be sure no more bugs are detected. Once we have the all clear you will be able to return to the home. Remember- a bed bug dog will only be trained to sniff for live bugs and live eggs. If the dog does not detect any bugs you should be safe to begin unloading your bags of linens. If you were dealing with a bad infestation you would be smart to wait to bring in too many items, just in case. Once you are bug free you should purchase certified bed bug mattress encasements. This will ensure that in the future you will quickly and easily detect any bed bugs should they ever return and it also decreases dust mites. Hopefully, following this careful plan with rid you and your home of these annoying pests.
Please Note: If you live in a condo, apartment or other attached structure the process described above can take more time due to the fact that not every unit affected by the bugs will be as careful about cross-contamination as the next. The property manager in charge should send out a letter clarifying the proper steps to take to prevent cross-contamination and also be available to discuss any concerns which tenants may have. Depending on the extent of the infestation and the number of units involved the thermal heat company may also put down pesticides to combat the problem. If they intend to use pesticides or other chemicals be sure that they have a pesticide license and their insurance certificates are up to date.
---Return to Top of Page---