Jeffrey Hahn, Asst. UMN Extension Entomologist
Bed bugs are often a very challenging and costly problem with which to deal. The best long-term control is to hire an experienced professional pest control company to treat your home. They have the expertise, experience and effective products to properly control bed bugs. These insects are too difficult for a homeowner to eliminate themselves. However, while you cannot eradicate bed bugs are your own, there are some steps you can take to help reduce their numbers.
Make Sure You Have Bed Bugs
Not every insect you see is necessarily a bed bug. Especially with all of the media attention recently, it is easy to think that you see bed bugs in every crack and crevice in your home so be sure you know what they look like. Despite what some people believe, bed bugs are not microscopic. Adults are similar in size and shape to a wood tick. They measure about ¼ - 3/8 inches long and are oval, flattened, brown, and wingless.. Young bed bugs are much smaller; when they first hatch, about 1/16 inches long and are nearly colorless except after feeding, but are oval like adults. If you have any doubts, let an expert identify your insects to be sure they are bed bugs.
Photo 1: Bed bug adult. Jeff Hahn.
The best places to look for bed bugs are the bedroom or other rooms where you may rest or sleep or where you set down or store your luggage. Bed bugs like to hide in cracks and behind or under objects so examine behind baseboards, mattresses, boxsprings, bed frames, as well as dressers, desks, chairs, and other furniture, the edges along carpeting, and behind clocks and pictures. Consider having an inspection done by an experienced pest control company.
Be aware of signs of bed bugs in your home. One of the first indications some people experience is bites. However, be careful because reaction to bites varies considerably from no reaction to mild (small red bumps) to severe (rash- or hive-like lesions). Also, not all unknown bites turn out to be bed bugs. When you are inspecting for bed bugs, also look for cast skins (empty shells of insects). You may also find dark (not red) spots. These spots are fecal droppings which are composed of digested blood. They are on sheets, bedding, or other places where bed bugs feed or around their hiding places.
Using Temperature to Kill Bed Bugs
You can use your washing machine and dryer to kill bed bugs that may be infesting clothes. Clothes laundered in hot water and dried in temperatures hotter than 122o F for 20 minutes will kill all stages of bed bugs. This is typically the medium-high setting. You can also sterilize curtains and other fabrics, rugs, shoes, backpacks, stuffed animals, toys, and similar objects by drying them for about 30 minutes (for a full load).
Cold temperatures can kill bed bugs if they are exposed to it long enough and at temperatures that are cold enough. If you place objects into a freezer, at 0o F all stages of bed bugs will be killed when they are left in it for 7 - 10 days.
Photo 2: Mattress encasement (see description below). Courtesy: Protect-a-bed.
It is believed (or hoped) that if you put infested furniture outdoors during winter, that the temperatures are sufficient to kill bed bugs. While you will undoubtedly kill some bed bugs, there is no guarantee that you will kill all of them. It is generally believed that if you expose furniture to 0o F or less for four days or more, that may be sufficient.
Even if you put furniture outdoors at 0o F, consider that the temperature where the bed bugs are hiding may not be as cold as the air temperature. Also, any sun shining on the furniture can raise the temperature in localized areas. Although it may seem cold, the odds of the temperature remaining consistently at 0o F or less for four consecutive days are unlikely.
Although you cannot guarantee that freezing temperatures will kill all of the bed bugs infesting an object, you can use the cold to immobilize any bed bugs that are present until you decide what to do with the object.
An encasement is a fabric covering that completely encloses a mattress or box springs. It creates a barrier to prevent bed bugs from infesting or escaping mattresses or box springs. Although the encasement can become infested themselves, the infestation is easier to detect. They are useful when you want to protect a mattress you know is free of bed bugs (it has been heat treated or you have purchased a new mattress). You can also use encasements on infested mattresses and box springs trapping the bed bugs inside them and allowing you to continue to use them as long as they are not ripped or torn. Make sure you buy encasements that are specifically designed for protecting against bed bugs. You can purchase encasements from professional pest control services or retail stores.
Bed Bug Interceptors
Photo 3: Bed bug interceptor. Stephen Kells.
These are small plastic trays with an inner and outer ring. They are intended to be placed under the bed legs. Bed bugs that attempt to climb up from the floor to the bed become trapped in the outer well. Any bed bugs that try to climb down will become trapped in the center well. Bed bug Interceptors not only help to reduce the number of bed bugs that can reach the bed but also acts as a monitoring tool to help determine whether bed bugs are present (if that is an issue). You can purchase Bed bug Interceptors online (type bed bug interceptor into a search engine for sources).
One of the first products some people reach for when they know they have bed bugs are bug bombs also known as total release foggers. These products throw insecticide into air of which very little, if any, comes in contact with bed bugs which are hiding in cracks and behind and under objects. Its use will not have any impact on a bed bug infestation. Unfortunately, it is too easy for people to misuse or over use bug bombs which can result in unnecessary pesticide exposure. Bug bombs are also potentially flammable if used incorrectly.