It’s an unfortunate fact of life that even if you keep your house clean and wash your bedding regularly, there is still a chance that bed bugs might infest your linens. This problem is more common than you think — it must be, otherwise one of our culture’s tried and true sayings wouldn’t be “Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
The fact is, you don’t have to let them bite you as you are trying to get a good night’s sleep. There are key steps you can take to help rid your home of bed bugs.
Read our bed bug treatments article for more info.
1. Heat Your Bedding in the Sun
Though these bugs can infest many areas of the home, they are definitely prevalent in linens and bedding. It is very important that you not treat your bedding with insecticides. This presents a health hazard since the chemicals present in such products are highly toxic; you do not want to be in close proximity to them for several hours every night.
Instead, treat bedding by heating it to at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit. There are a couple of ways to do this. One method is to insert cloth items into black plastic garbage bags that you then seal and place out into the sun. They should be left in a location that is hot and sunny for several days to be sure they reach the necessary temperature. Checking on that temperature by using a thermometer in the very center of the bag is a sound practice. After the target temperature has been maintained for several days, the items can be laundered as usual.
Do not replace them on your bed until that has been cleared of bugs as well. Instead, seal them in clean new bags until you have completed all bed bug elimination procedures.
2. Heat Your Bedding in the Dryer
Another way to reach the target 120 degree temperature is to heat your bedding in the dryer. Wash it as usual and then put your dryer on its hottest setting and dry the items for several hours. You will be drying them well past the point at which they are bone dry, but the idea here is not just to get them completely dry, it is to sterilize them from the bed bug infestation and kill all remaining bugs and larvae.
This procedure is more expensive than #1, which is why some people prefer the hot sun method. Again, store linens in sealed containers until you have finished decontamination.
3. Chill Your Bedding
It’s also possible to freeze bed bugs to eliminate them. Place bedding where it will reach temperatures below freezing and maintain this temperature for two weeks or longer. Do not attempt to freeze your entire home in order to decontaminate it all at once; although this will kill some bed bugs, it will not kill them all, and thus this method produces mixed results. It can also produce damages to the home in the form of frozen water pipes, for example. The cost of repairs will most likely far exceed the benefit gained, so again, feel free to freeze your sheets and blankets, but don’t take the “chilling” approach further than that.
4. Vacuum Your Furniture
Bed bugs can thrive on the surfaces of mattresses, box springs, carpeting, and other surfaces such as cushions and walls. Take your bed completely apart and vacuum all surfaces with the vacuum set on the highest suction setting possible. Double or triple up on tufts, buttons, seams, and edges as these present nicks and crannies where bugs can hide.
5. Dispose of Vacuumed Bed Bugs Appropriately
Vacuuming will not kill all the bugs it collects. Alive, they can crawl out of the vacuum bag and re-infest your home or apartment. Immediately after vacuuming, remove the collected refuse bag and seal it completely inside a plastic bag, using duct tape to close all opening and holes. Discard immediately outside your home; a trip to the dump at this time is not too cautious when it comes to getting rid of bed bugs.
6. Steam Clean Your Carpets
This is more effective than mere vacuuming because it will help to kill remaining bugs and larvae the vacuum may have left behind.
7. Remove All Animal Debris From the Home
This means cleaning your hamster habitat from top to bottom and providing fresh kitty litter after you have cleaned the pan. Examine all pet habitats and clean them accordingly. This also includes cleaning out bird nests from the outside of your home since they can provide breeding grounds for bed bugs that then make their way inside.
8. Repair Your Walls
Bed bugs can thrive in the oddest places, including cracks in your plaster and beneath the edges of wallpaper that has worked its way loose. Repair cracks with spackle and use wallpaper glue to tack paper back down so that no loose edges remain.
You may want to employ a professional, particularly if your home has large problems in these categories. Do-it-yourself repairs are fine for small cracks, but when problems are extensive, homemade efforts to remediate them may end up looking amateurish, which can detract from the appearance of your home and from its value when you eventually decide you wish to sell it. Even worse may be the case of the apartment dweller whose landlord objects to the look of the repairs and charges a tenant a large fee to have the repairs removed and redone.
9. Avoid Acquiring Used Beds and Furniture
Prevention is an important part of avoiding a re-infestation. Do not allow secondhand goods into your home unless they have been very thoroughly inspected for signs of insect infestation.
10. The Role of Insecticide
Bug bombs and other do it yourself methods are not recommended, with some experts saying they make the infestation worse since they can cause bed bugs to scatter and become more widely spread. Employ a pest control professional to treat your home. Discuss treatment options first as there are a variety of methods available.
Find out more information about preventing and treating bed bugs with our bed bug guide.