2. You can find bedbugs in the “cleanest of clean” rooms. Gulp.
3. Adult bedbugs can survive for more than a year without eating if the room’s temperature isn’t too warm.
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If you’ve noticed clusters or lines of itchy welts on your skin that resemble mosquito bites—and you don’t have any mosquitoes around—you may be another bedbug bite victim. The bugs have appeared in places ranging from luxury hotels to suburban McMansions, making no distinctions between clean lodgings and crowded homeless shelters.
But by far, “apartments are the worst,” says Michael Potter, Ph.D., a professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky who specializes in urban pest issues. “Bedbugs can move from unit to unit,” he says, and thanks to clutter and a lifetime’s worth of belongings crammed into a small amount of space, it can be hard to uncover all their hiding spaces.
(Stressed out by even the thought of bed bugs? Watch how to make a soothing calendula chamomile lotion below.)
Ready to go inspect your bedroom with a magnifying glass?
To detect an infestation: Carefully examine the edges of your mattress, box spring, and bedframe. Look for dark red or brown spots (bedbug poop) and the insects themselves hiding in tiny crevices. Keep in mind that despite their name, bedbugs can be found just about anywhere in the house—baseboards, behind picture frames, in other furniture—anywhere they’ll have access to your flesh while you’re staying relatively still.
Related: We Put 10 Natural Mosquito Repellents To The Test
But how did they get there? It’s hard to say, but common sources might be your luggage, if you’ve traveled recently, or that great piece of vintage furniture you picked up at a yard sale. (Here are seven ways to pest-proof your home in 15 minutes.) If you do encounter the creepy crawlies, keep calm and study up on these nontoxic bedbug-eradicating methods. Bedbugs are increasingly resistant to many common insecticides, so people have started turning to natural methods. Here, we examine what actually works and what totally doesn’t.
Should bedbugs ever invade your home or apartment, here's how to deal with them:
Vacuum and encase the mattress
If you have or suspect you have bedbugs, act early, beginning in the bedroom. If you move to another room to sleep, the bedbugs will just follow you there (you’re their food source, after all). Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension put together a comprehensive bedbug action plan that’s a good place to get started.
Your first line of defense is busting out the vacuum cleaner—it sucks up those tiny parasites and puts them where they’ll never see the light of day again. But as you likely know, bedbugs bury deep inside your mattress, so your vacuum isn’t going to get them all. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to procure bedbug-proof cases for your mattress, box spring, and pillows (you can order online or find them at stores like Target). The fabric is woven tightly to prevent bedbugs from getting in or out, and they can’t bite you through the fabric, either.
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Encasements designed to protect allergy sufferers from dust mites will kill off any bedbugs inside your mattress and box spring, says Potter, which means you won’t have to throw the mattress out. You can find encasements made specifically to protect you against bedbugs, but most encasements have been found to work, Potter says. The most ecofriendly and healthy options are those made from tightly woven organic cotton.
They won’t keep other bedbugs from climbing onto your bed, though (is your skin crawling yet?). Until you’re sure you’ve eradicated the bugs—or if you have to sleep in a room that you suspect has bedbugs—get rid of bed skirts and keep comforters, quilts, and sheets tucked under the mattress so they won’t contact the floor. Move the bed so it doesn’t touch any walls. If you throw out an infested mattress, encasing the new one before you bring it home will save you the cost of ruining yet another mattress, should there be a bedbug rebound.
Consider integrated pest management
Integrated pest management (IPM) techniques that don’t involve pesticide use in your home are better for your health. In this case, however, they may not eliminate the problem completely, says Goddard. “You still need traditional residual pesticides as part of the overall strategy to control bedbugs,” he says. But you can minimize the amount of pesticides needed and avoid repeat exterminator visits by including IPM techniques in your battle plan.
These include: getting rid of clutter, particularly under your bed; dismantling your bed frame and scrubbing it with a stiff brush to dislodge eggs; vacuuming rugs and carpets as well as any floor or wall cracks and crevices around the bed; removing dresser drawers and vacuuming them; lying dressers down to vacuum their undersides; and washing bedding in hot water and drying it on high heat. It’s also important (especially in apartments) to caulk and seal cracks in walls and floors that allow bedbugs to move from room to room.
Related: 14 Natural Ways To Control Garden Pests
Don’t waste money on products that claim to kill bedbugs
A growing number of essential-oil based products made from cinnamon, cedar, and the like are appearing on store shelves. “They will kill bedbugs when sprayed directly on them,” says Jerome Goddard, Ph.D., an entomologist from Mississippi State University. “But even soapy water or plain old alcohol will do the same thing.” The sprays, he notes, have little or no residual effects.
Related: Toxic Yard Sale Items That Aren't Worth The Bargain
Call for help
Bedbugs are very creative in finding hiding spaces. Public health officials recommend hiring a professional exterminator who knows where to look and can use methods that won’t send them scurrying to other hard-to-reach places.
Related: This Organic Gardener Destroys The Insects And Pests In His Garden By Eating Them
Beware of bringing bugs back
“In a single-family home, bedbugs are more likely than not to have come in with a person who was traveling,” says Potter. On trips, carry a small flashlight so you can inspect hotel beds and use luggage racks rather than setting your suitcase on floors. If you think you might have brought home bugs in your luggage, Stanford University recommends putting your suitcases in garbage bags and leaving them outside in summer heat for 2 to 3 days, which will kill the bugs and their eggs.
Related: 7 Easy Ways To Make Life In The Bedroom Healthy + All Natural
Once you’ve removed as many bedbugs from your mattress as possible, you’ll want to get some special traps. Interceptors, as they’re called, have been shown to be effective at keeping bugs from re-infiltrating cleaned items. They look like plastic cat bowls with a moat around the outside, and they’re designed to fit under your bedposts to trap the invading parasites. (Here's a set you can order on Amazon.com.)
The first step is to move your bed away from the wall and other furniture. Bedbugs can’t fly, so now they’ve only got one route to your mattress: by climbing up the bedposts from the floor. Then slide an interceptor under each bedpost to stymie the bedbugs’ progress and trap them in the inescapable moat.
Related: 10 Beneficial Insects That Actually Keep Nasty Pests Out Of Your Garden
Using steam to kill bedbugs is one of the most effective nontoxic methods, especially when combined with other preventative measures like those outlined above, because it eradicates eggs that your vacuum can’t reach. The downside is that you’ll probably need to hire a professional to do the job with a heavy-duty steamer. Steam cleaners designed for carpet and clothes like the ones you may already own (or can rent at the grocery store) don’t get hot enough to deliver a lethal blow. Do an online search, though, to see if there are any commercial steamers available for renting in your area.
DON'T try these methods. They don't work!
NOPE: Ultrasonic Devices
Ultrasonic devices emit sound at a frequency that’s too high for human ears to detect. The sound is meant to interfere with bedbugs’ communication and drive them out of your home. However, in lab studies ultrasonic devices had absolutely no effect on bedbugs’ behavior, leaving scientists to conclude they simply don’t work.
Related: What Do Stink Bugs Eat?
NOPE: Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth (DE), a powdery mined mineral made up of fossilized algae, is one of the more popular home solutions to bedbugs. It’s very abrasive to small insects, and spreading it about pest-infested homes is basically meant to chafe insects to death by causing them to lose water. There are many reports that DE is successful against bedbugs, especially when combined with other methods, but in a recent field study DE failed to work at all. This may have something to do with the frequency at which bedbugs molt, thus replacing their scratched-up outer shells with new ones, as well as their ability to live with very little water.
NOPE: Rubbing Alcohol
You might read on DIY sites that spraying rubbing alcohol on places where bedbugs hide is an effective way to take them out, but the science begs to differ. Researchers reported at an entomology conference a few years back that in one trial rubbing alcohol only killed about half of bedbugs after four days.