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How to kill bedbugs

Ants are painful, cockroaches are unsanitary, but bedbugs are just plain gross. That’s reason enough to want to rid your home of them.

They were almost exterminated from North America years ago because of insecticides that we no longer use. But because of new insect treatments that don’t affect bedbugs, as well as frequent travel and lack of public awareness, bedbugs have resurfaced and continue to spread, according to the University of Minnesota Extension.

The tiny insects don’t transmit disease, but they feed on humans and animals, making their homes where people spend much of their time sleeping, resting or sitting. They’re mostly active at night and hide during the day.

The first step is to see if you have a bedbug infestation. Once you know if they’ve invaded your home, then the battle begins.

How to check for bedbugs

unmade bed Start by inspecting your sheets and then look at the mattress and box spring. (Photo: gowithstock/Shutterstock)

Whether you’re searching your own home or a hotel room, head to the bed first.

First check the sheets and blankets, then pull them away and check the mattress and box spring, suggests the American Academy of Dermatology. Look for tiny specks of blood that look like dark, rust-colored spots. Those are signs of bedbugs being crushed.

You may also see the bugs themselves. Consumer Reports points out that adults bedbugs, as well as their nymphs, eggs and excrement, are visible to the naked eye. Bedbugs are about the size of an apple seed and their eggs are tiny, white ovals. Also look around for bedbug exoskeletons, which are the outer shell casings the bugs shed when they molt. Tiny, black specks can be bedbug excrement.

Be sure to check nooks and crannies, cautions the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Look near the seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, and in any cracks and joints in the bed frame and headboard and footboard.

Check any upholstered furniture in the room too, especially the seams of couches and chairs, in between cushions, and in the hems and folds of curtains.

Remember, bedbugs are very small. As the EPA says on its website. “Since bed bugs are only about the width of a credit card, they can squeeze into really small hiding spots. If a crack will hold a credit card, it could hide a bed bug.”

How to kill bedbugs

washing machine full of clothes Wash sheets in hot water to kill all stages of bedbugs. (Photo: Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock)

These critters are sneaky, small and often evolve to resist pesticide. Home pest control remedies are available, but they are often unreliable and time consuming. Not to mention, it can be very difficult for the untrained eye to differentiate between different strains of bugs, and the wrong pesticide can be completely ineffective.

That being said, if you seem to only have a moderate infestation and want to take a shot at do-it-yourself bedbug extermination, follow these few steps:

The first thing to do is a very thorough cleaning. Wash all sheets and comforters (separately from clothing) in hot water and/or dried in temperatures hotter than 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). Doing this for at least 20 minutes will kill all stages of bedbugs, says the University of Minnesota Extension. You can also heat curtains, rugs and similar objects by drying them at medium-high for about 30 minutes.

The next area to tackle is your mattress, the ideal real estate for bedbugs. First, inspect your mattress. Is it worn, filled with holes and appear to have dark, bloody spots on it? If so, you may need to just throw it out and buy a new one. Bedbugs can lay eggs inside the mattress, making it impossible to fully clean.

If your mattress seems to be in reasonable condition, buy a bedbug-resistant mattress cover. Many retail stores sell these for a reasonable price, and the covers are effective at insulating the mattress.

Make sure to never spray insecticide on your mattress, or anywhere else you may put your head, unless the label specifically says mattress-safe. Pesticides are highly toxic.

Although there are home-treatment kits available, the only way to guarantee a bedbug-free home is to call an exterminator. Professional pest control has highly specialized equipment and volatile chemicals that cannot be handled without proper care. Exterminators come to assess the property, select specific chemicals designed to treat your exact issue, and return two to three times to make sure the bugs are gone for good.

Exterminators rarely have a set price; based on the number of rooms, the accessibility of the area, your location, and the exact type of infestation, prices can vary greatly.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was published in July 2010.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

How to kill bedbugs

Learn how to find and kill bedbugs, which are small, sneaky and able to evolve to resist pesticide.


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