There are different theories as far as what to do about your bed. Here are a few of them. Note that it is not possible to completely stop bed bug bites, but if you are very sensitive to them, you may be able to take steps to stop as many as possible by “isolating” the bed. Since there are negative aspects of this approach, according to some experts, another option is to not isolate the bed and instead “protect” it.
A. Protecting your bed from bed bugs
This means you make sure bed bugs are not harboring in the bed frame, headboard, etc., and that you encase mattresses and box springs in high quality bed bug-proof encasements.
You have to work with the protocols of your pest management professional. Most pest professionals we’re aware of do recommend encasements. A carefully-encased mattress (with encasement sealed and kept free of tears) may help many people to eliminate bed bugs sooner, avoid bed bug bites, and save or protect an expensive mattress. Read our encasements FAQ for some of the pros and cons, and expert recommendations.
Bedbugs can crawl onto the bed and bite you, but you are taking steps to ensure they do not live there. If they cross poison on the way to you, any meal will hopefully be their last. You may use a Packtite Passive Monitor/BBAlert Passive Monitor, which encourages bed bugs to harbor inside so they can be detected easily. Alternatively, you may use pitfall/interceptor monitors like Climbup ® Interceptors or Blackout Bed Bug Detectors to catch any bed bugs climbing onto or off of the bed (read more about Climbup ® Interceptors and Blackout Bed Bug Detectors here). These two approaches (passives vs. interceptor/pitfall monitors) are quite different, and mixing them is not usually the best idea.
B. Isolating the Bed
Here, you are trying to get bedbugs out of your bed, and keep them out, so they cannot bite at night.
Isolating the bed is controversial, and though it may help stop bed bug bites in bed for people who are being bitten very badly, who have serious allergic reactions or who are in great distress, it also may actually mean you are fighting bedbugs longer. This is so because bed bugs may spread further around your home (and remember: this process won’t stop bed bug bites happening outside of the bed).
The theory behind isolating is that bed bugs will still try to get to you, but they should be trapped on the way, and you should be able to avoid bed bug bites while sleeping.
In a few cases, however, bed bugs are said to have dropped down from the ceiling to bite people in “isolated” beds. It seems to be a rare occurrence, but a possibility. More often, beds not thoroughly isolated have allowed people to continue to be bitten by bed bugs. If you’re going to isolate, you must be meticulous and thorough.
And remember, if bedbugs cannot bite at night, they will bite during the daytime, as you sit in chairs or go about your day. For this reason, many would recommend instead that you simply “protect” the bed, but do not isolate it.
Many people prefer to “protect” rather than “isolate” the bed because having bed bugs biting you in bed, or finding evidence they were there (cast skins, blood spots, etc.) is a sure sign you still have a bed bug problem and require further treatment. If you “isolate” and don’t react to bed bug bites you get during the day, it may be harder to verify bedbugs’ continued presence. Isolating may also mean they spread further around your home, since they may have trouble reaching you in bed, where they used to feed. Protecting the bed instead, and using pitfall/interceptor monitors like Climbup ® Interceptors or Blackout Bed Bug Detectors as a tool for catching bed bugs as the wander onto or off of the bed’s legs, or using Packtite Passive Monitors (aka BBAlert Passive Monitors) (which offer an easily inspected harborage for trapping and monitoring bed bugs) would be my preference.
C. Do not encase
We are aware of two highly regarded bed bug experts who do not recommend encasing mattresses or box springs. British PCO David Cain of Bed Bugs Ltd., and Dr. Richard Naylor of Sheffield University (UK), well known to forum users, both do not recommend encasements. It should be noted that David has a very hands-on approach to removing bed bugs from homes, and claims to take a long time inspecting and removing bed bugs. If your pest control operator uses such methods, and tells you not to encase the mattress or box spring, by all means, do not do so. It’s essential that your mattress does not have any tears or gaps which would allow bed bugs to get inside. Your pest management professional (or you, if necessary) should remove all bed bugs and eggs from the mattress and box springs. (Note: removing bed bugs with any certainty from a box spring is very difficult; eliminating the box, or encasing just the box with a strong encasement, are options to consider.)
If you choose not to encase the mattress, we would still recommend using the Packtite Passive/BBAlert Passive, designed by David Cain. It’s a small, inexpensive passive monitoring device. The design naturally encourages bed bugs to harbor there. The idea is that you check it for signs of bed bugs (like fecal stains) on a monthly basis, to determine if bed bugs are present. You can read more about Packtite Passive Monitors (BBAlert Passive Monitors), and find out how to get them, here.
Note on products mentioned:
You can read about Climbup ® Interceptors, a pitfall/interceptor monitor, or buy them from US Bed Bugs, using the coupon code in the ad below for free shipping. You can also get them from Amazon.com (Climbup Insect Interceptor Bed Bug Trap, 4ct or Climbup Insect Interceptor Bed Bug Trap, 12ct), or from many of your friendly, local pest control operators, including Standard Pest in New York City. XL Climbups are available from US Bed Bugs as well as standard sizes.
You can also read about BlackOut Bed Bug Detectors, another pitfall/interceptor monitor, or purchase them from Amazon (pack of 12):
Additional pitfall/interceptor trap brands you may be able to obtain and use include Bed Bug Barriers, Bed Moats and those made by BEAP Co.
Packtite Passive (aka BBAlert Passive) is an alternative to pitfall/interceptor monitors for those who do not want to “isolate” bed legs, or in cases where the bed frame does not allow their use. You can read more about Packtite Passive Monitors, and find out how to get them, here.
What to do
Both protecting and isolating the bed require you to eliminate bed bugs from the mattress, box springs, headboard and bed frame, and then encase the mattress and box springs. So let’s start there.
The advice below assumes your home will be professionally treated by a Pest Control Operator who has experience with bed bugs. Protecting or isolating your bed, on their own, will not get rid of bed bugs. However, a PCO will tell you that you need to sleep in your normal spot in order to get rid of bed bugs, and protecting or isolating the bed will likely work well with the PCO’s treatment plan, which will likely include laying down residual pesticides that bed bugs will cross while trying to get to you.
You should wait to carefully clean your mattress, frame, bed, and home until a Pest Control Operator has verified you have bed bugs. Some have cleaned away evidence and been refused treatment by professionals or landlords.
Also, once bed bugs are verified to be present by those who need to see them, you should wait to encase your mattress until the Pest Control Operator has treated your home, because most PCOs can treat areas of the mattress (side, seams) and box springs as well as the bed frame / headboard with certain pesticides which are labeled for this purpose. Doing so and then thoroughly drying and sealing the mattress and box springs in encasements is best.
For protecting the bed or isolating the bed, everyone will need:
1. A zippered mattress encasement that has been tested to keep bed bugs in (or out), and that completely encloses your mattress (and box springs, if you insist on keeping them), the best you can afford. They are not all the same. Vinyl and cloth encasements are sold by a wide variety of suppliers, but few have actually been tested to keep bed bugs out (or in).
I would recommend Protect-A-Bed AllerZip encasements. They have been tested to keep bed bugs within the mattress even if the zipper is opened slightly — which gives you some insurance against accidents. Mattress Safe encasements also did well in Rick Cooper’s tests. Click here to read about bed bug encasements and to purchase them.
2. New pillows
3. Pillow encasements; buy with mattress encasements from same source. As for mattress encasements, they should be designed and tested specifically to keep bed bugs out (or in).
4. White sheets and pillow cases, cotton blanket (if you need to replace a comforter or other blanket). Cotton sheets and a cotton blanket are easy to wash and dry. (Comforters may harbor bed bugs even after a long stint in the dryer, and non-cotton blankets do not hold up well to dryer heat.) White color is not mandatory but may help you spot stains or insects; I’d avoid small patterns for this reason also.
If you want to “isolate” the bed, read the following items 5-12.
If you only want to “protect” the bed, skip down to “Steps for Everyone” under the next dotted line below.
5. Bed risers — they raise the bed, to help keep sheets and blankets off the floor, a must if you are trying to “isolate the bed.” They can be found at Bed, Bath and Beyond (or Bed Bugs and Beyond, as Bedbugger Bugzinthehood termed it, long before a company providing Vikane treatments appeared with the same name) or (like the other items below) on Bedbugger’s Useful Stuff page.
In 2009, the Climbup ® Interceptor passive bed bug monitor became available. This product replaces and is, in my mind, preferable to the use of items 6-8 below. If you obtain Climbup Interceptors or BlackOut Bed Bug Detectors (introduced in 2013), you can skip the mineral or tea tree oil, vaseline, and bowls. You may still want to use bed risers, to help keep bed linens off the floor, but make sure they fit inside the pitfall trap well. You can read about ClimbUps and BlackOut here.
Climbup ® Interceptors, BlackOut Bed Bug Detectors — or other pitfall or interceptor monitors — one per bed leg. These will catch any bed bugs climbing onto or off of the bed, and are vastly preferable to items 6-8 because they catch samples, rather than deterring bed bugs. Note Climbup brand has been known to crack on thicker carpets. Putting something flat underneath them may avoid this problem, or you could try another brand.
If pitfall/interceptor monitors are not available, you may use items 6-7:
6. Mineral oil or tea tree oil (more expensive but some people enjoy the idea that bed bugs hate it; we’re told it may harm cats).
7. 4 bowls for holding mineral oil or tea tree oil under the legs of the bed frame. Stainless steel is the best choice, but other sturdy unbreakable bowls will do. If your bed risers have a little reservoir, you can simply keep that filled instead.
Warning: oil may damage wood and other items. Bed bugs may also be deterred from entering these traps. If you use cups of oil, you won’t know if bed bugs are present and they may spread further from the bed and be harder to treat. For these reasons, if pitfall/interceptor monitors are not available, consider very carefully whether you might instead choose David Cain’s approach described under method C (“Do not encase”) above.
8. Thick garbage bags (contractor bags) and XL and XXL Ziploc bags. Check the hardware dept of your favorite big box store for the contractor bags. They are usually not sold with the household trash bags. In the USA, XL / XXL Ziplocs are sold in Target stores (look near the storage section and/or the section with bags), Home Depot (near the home cleaning supplies) from US Bed Bugs or Amazon.
9. Murphy’s Oil Soap
(for wooden bed frames), which is a contact killer for bed bugs and is good for cleaning wood and rendering it bed bug-free. Regular strength works fine. It is sold in ready to use spray bottles and a concentrated formula.
10. Quality duct tape: Use duct tape to ensure there are no sharp edges on a metal frame before you place an encased mattress on it.
11. You may need a new metal bed frame, if you are unable to get bed bugs out of your wooden bed.
12. Some have actually decided to discard mattresses and isolate an Aerobed upon a metal bed frame. Use duct tape to ensure there are no sharp edges on a metal frame before you place an Aerobed on it. (Please use caution with discarding items; seal them completely in plastic before moving them through or out of your home, label them carefully, and realize that if you live in a building or in a house which is attached to others, your neighbors may take them in and use them and become infested and you may be right back to square one — another reason to encase instead.)
Steps for everyone:
(See “Important” note at top.)
1. Strip the bed. Put all of the dirty linens into a garbage bag and tie it off well. Some suggest using plastic cable ties. You can also knot the bag’s top in one single knot (it must be airtight; push the bag. If air can escape, you are tying it wrong). Launder your bedding as soon as you can in HOT water, and dry on HIGH HEAT until completely dry and then some. When you take it out of the dryer, put it immediately into another garbage bag and tie it off, or use an XL Ziploc.
2. Vacuum the mattress and springs really well. Especially in areas with stitching, piping, tufts and the plastic corner guards. You might want to take the corner guards off. You may also want to take the gauzy covering off of the bottom of the bed spring and vacuum inside. (Though box spring encasements are available, many people will want to discard box springs; be sure to seal in a bed-sized bag before moving through your home.) Used vacuum bags should be sealed in a ziploc and disposed of after use. If you have a bagless vacuum, empty into a ziploc and clean the bagless container right away. Otherwise, bed bugs or eggs may remain in the container/bag.
3. Put the mattress and springs into the new encasements and seal. If you use a Protect-A-Bed AllerZip encasements (with the BugLock Zip), you do not need to tape the zipper. Mattress Safe encasements also have a lock to keep the encasement closed.
If you use another encasement, you should probably tape the zipper and where the zipper closes on your encasement. This tape must not be allowed to come off; keeping it on can be very difficult. People have used Scotch Blue Painter’s tape, and National Allergy sells this along with their encasements, to be put over the zipper. Other types of very adhesive tape may work better, but none are foolproof.
4. Vacuum your bed frame. If you have a metal frame, put DE down in the legs and cover over all of the holes and spaces with duct tape.
Wooden bed frames, and fancy headboards and foot boards are very problematic and need extra considerations. These are addressed in another area of this FAQ.
5. Move the bedframe away from the wall.
6. Vacuum under and around the bed frame very thoroughly.
7. Put the mattress set back on the frame, very carefully, so you don’t rip the covers. (See comments above about duct tape; this can be used to reinforce corners.)
(Note: even though they are not necessary for protecting the bed, you may want to use pitfall/interceptor monitor bed bug monitors under each bed leg in order to detect bed bugs climbing onto or off of the bed.
The following steps are only for those “isolating” the bed. If you are only “protecting” the bed, skip to step 12.
8. If using pitfall/interceptor monitors (preferred method; see above): Put bed legs (or bed legs on risers) inside pitfall/interceptor monitors — one per bed leg. These will catch any bed bugs climbing onto or off of the bed, and are preferable to items 6-8 because they catch samples, rather than deterring bed bugs.
If pitfall/interceptor monitors are not available to you, put the bed on the risers, and put mineral oil (or tea tree oil) in the depression in the castors are resting in. If your bed is already high off the floor, or if the bed risers have no wells to put the oil in, put the legs in bowls of mineral oil.
Note: some people have traditionally recommended placing a row of vaseline and a separate row of double sided tape around the bed legs, above the mineral oil cups. I am not sure of the value of this if you are using cups of mineral or tea tree oil. People tell us double sided tape does not often catch bed bugs. However, if you are using Climbup ® Interceptors or BlackOut Bed Bug Detectors as recommended, do not place vaseline or double sided tape on the bed legs. You want bed bugs to walk into the Climbup discs and be trapped; you do not want them to be deterred by barriers.
9. Vacuum again, to hopefully pick up any strays that fell or crawled off of the mattress and box springs in the process.
10. Remember not to let your sheets and blankets drag on the floor while you sleep. Realize also that you may carry bed bugs into the bed, for example, by simply sitting on a chair where a bed bug was able to crawl onto your clothing. If you isolate the bed, try to hop in bed clean and wearing clothing which was itself isolated and kept in sealed plastic bags.
11. Break out the new pillows and put encasements on them. See step #3 above and duct taping the zippers if necessary.
12. Put on clean white linens (so you can see blood or other stains more easily).
Change and launder them (and blanket, if used), preferably about every 4-7 days. Check the sheets every day for bed bugs, cast skins, and fecal stains that look like black ink spots.
If you “protected” the bed, this is evidence you still have bed bugs (helpful to know, especially if you do not react to bites). If you “isolated” the bed, this is evidence that the bugs are still in the bed.
Consider repeating the steps above of cleaning the frame and having it treated with pesticides, to ensure bed bugs are not living in the bed. And in any case, continue professional treatment approx. every two weeks until bed bug bites and all other signs are long gone.
13. Unless you are doing more cleaning immediately, take the bag out of the vacuum,and put the bag in a Ziploc bag or a securely tied garbage bag and put in an outside garbage receptacle. If you use a bagless vacuum, empty it into a bag and seal and dispose of this, and clean the bagless container. This prevents bed bugs and eggs from remaining in the container and potentially reinfesting your home.
14. Examine all of your precautions often. Encasements can get holes; try to avoid this. If it happens, promptly duct tape or replace them.
If you have a cat with claws, ensure the cat cannot make contact with the encasement (or even the encasement covered in bed linens). Keep the cat away from the bed if at all possible.
15. Optional steps:
Some Bedbuggers have used an Aerobed or air mattress, with or without a new cheap metal frame. You can’t encase the raised AeroBeds, so you will probably want to isolate the bed (per our FAQs) with bed risers and a cheap metal frame (see below). Remember to make sure there are no sharp edges on the frame (wrap with some duct tape if there are).
Wood Bed Frames:
If you have a wood bed frame, take it completely apart, if you can, and wash it down (every inch) with Murphy’s Oil Soap
. Spray the Murphy’s on and wipe it off. Don’t just spray it on a rag and wipe. The Murphy’s will kill bed bugs on contact, if you douse them. I don’t know what a light spray will do.
Since you are cleaning, you can pay close attention to all the little cracks and crevices in the wood and joinery, looking for all of the signs listed in step #13. The Pest Control Operator may spray the bed frame all over before you reassemble it. You may also consult the PCO about a pesticide you can use all over the frame if s/he will not do it. Take precautions and use pesticides only as labeled.
Captain’s beds (with drawers underneath a wooden platform) can be a bed bug nightmare. Consider destroying and carefully removing them. Otherwise, every piece will need to be disassembled, cleaned and sprayed with pesticide (by a PCO). A PCO who knows bed bugs will be able to advise about which items you should discard and which can be treated successfully.
Upholstered Headboards and Footboards:
Any upholstery is very difficult to treat successfully. Others may have different answers, but I would say to remove them from your frame, and vacuum and have the PCO treat them (or cautiously spray them with an upholstery safe insecticide). Let it dry completely, then seal the item in plastic wrap (ie. heavy painter’s tarp or shrink wrap plastic), duct tape all of the edges of the plastic and store it for a year to 18 months.
Another option that may or may not work is steaming with a very good quality steamer. A professional may do this as part of a PCO service. You may do it also. The steam may not reach deeply enough in heavily upholstered items without cooling and may only serve to drive the bugs in deeper. Some people have simply given up and tossed them out, frankly, as upholstered head- and footboards are hard to treat successfully. Again, ask the PCO whether the item can be salvaged.
The FAQ on isolating the bed was originally written by Dee in Colorado, from information she compiled by asking the members of the Bedbugger Yahoo Group, a great source of support and information, in your war against bed bugs. It was edited and revised several times by Nobugsonme based on information we have since gathered about the downsides of isolating, and about products which were not available when the original FAQ was written.
Note from Nobugsonme: I have made a number of significant changes as of June 2008, including removing recommendations that people use the mechanical killer diatomaceous earth (DE) around the bed and on the floor.
I also strengthened the warning that “isolating” is controversial among bed bug experts. Many people would recommend you “protect” but do not isolate the bed.
In June 2009, I added information on Climbup Interceptors, a new invention which is inexpensive and much preferable to cups of mineral or tea tree oil being placed under bed feet. I changed the directions to note that if this tool is used, people must NOT use vaseline or duct tape on bed legs, as it will prevent samples going into the monitor and being trapped.
If you choose to use DE in your home, read the DE FAQ, and ensure that your pest control operator approves of this self-treatment and where you’re doing it.
Among other things, I also changed the recommendations about mattress encasements. When this FAQ was written, few encasements were available, and few studies had been done about their effectiveness. Eighteen months later, it’s a completely different ballgame.
We have better products available now, and they can be more costly than the cheapest encasements which don’t work. But the best encasements can also be comparable in cost to ones that do not work.
If these pests are living in your bed and not crossing poison in order to bite you, you will never get rid of bed bugs. For this reason, I personally believe the quality of mattress, box spring, and pillow encasements are very, very important.
Thanks to Dee in Colorado, and all the other Bedbuggers who’ve contributed to this wonderful FAQ!
We learned everything we know by trial and error and advice from others. If you have had success with something other than what has been listed, please add it to the comments. Also, please feel free to add any other reputable sources for products.
If you need information on other aspects of your bed bug war, go back to the FAQs by clicking here. To read about or buy mattress encasements click here, and to buy DE, bed risers, metal frames, or any of the other stuff recommended above, you can click here to go to the Shop for Useful Stuff page.
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