Think you have bed bugs? Some dos and don’ts

If you think you may have bed bugs, these are the essential dos and don’ts. Make sure you also look at the photos of bed bugs (and signs of bed bugs) and photos of bed bug bites, and the FAQ on detecting whether your problem is bed bugs, or something else.



If you suspect there are bed bugs where you sleep, don’t begin sleeping in another bed, on the sofa. Do not go to stay with someone else. The bugs may follow you to your guest room or sofa, and then it will be much harder to get rid of them. They may hitch a ride to your relative’s home, and you can cause them to become infested. (All of these situations have happened to Bedbuggers we know.) Also, staying outside of your home means the bugs may become dormant. We’re told they may live without feeding for up to 18 months. When you come back, they can begin biting you again. So staying in your home during treatment, and sleeping in your usual bed, is the way to kill bed bugs. Read our FAQs and sleep there while you’re getting a Pest Control Operator (PCO) to treat your home. Once you are being treated, you must remain in the bed–you are the bait, attracting bugs to the poison and their deaths. If you isolate the bed, they need not bite you. (The FAQ on isolating the bed talks about the pros and cons of doing that).

Do save any bed bugs you find. Do not part with these– you may need to show them to landlords, pest control professionals, and so on. Entomologists at colleges or science museums in your town may identify these, and a pest control company can too. Pick it up with clear packing tape, and tape it to an index card. Or put it in a clear sealed ziplock or jar in the freezer. Don’t assume you’ll see lots of them, some people don’t.

Do rule out other possible conditions, like folliculitis, scabies, and bites from other insects. Suspected bed bug bites sometimes turn out to be one of these other conditions. Doctors cannot diagnose bed bug bites with any certainty. The FAQs may help. Be warned, though, that many of us are told by doctors that we do or do not have bed bugs, and later find they are wrong.

Don’t assume you are the only one being bitten. Remember that some people do not react to bed bug bites at all.  Bed bug bites are an allergic reaction, and reactions vary from nothing to serious allergic reactions.  Research released in 2010 by Dr. Michael Potter suggests 70% of people do react, and 30% of people do not react to bed bug bites.

Don’t start throwing your bed and other furniture out. As per the FAQs, you can cover and isolate the bed. (You may wish to wait until a PCO has started treating before covering the mattress in an encasement.) Most furniture, including mattresses and sofas, can be treated by a PCO, and you can ask the PCO if throwing them out is necessary. It usually isn’t necessary or recommended because tossing furniture and other items out can just lead to spreading bed bugs as well as emptying your home of furnishings. If there is a good reason to get rid of something, your pest management professional can help you do it safely, so as not to spread the bugs around your home or building, and so that others do not pick up infested items.

Don’t start buying a load of chemicals and treating yourself. We have FAQs about choosing a good pest control firm and about why doing your own pest control in lieu of a PCO is not a good idea. Yes, sometimes supplementing a PCO’s work makes sense, but only if they are fully on board with what you’re doing. Remember, pesticides have different qualities (repellents, contact killers, residual killers, growth regulators, etc.) Bed bugs are probably the most complicated pests you’ve ever encountered at home. If you start spraying pesticides, you may disperse the bugs, and the professionals may have trouble treating them. You may spread them around your home. Get good professional help and follow instructions. Some pros won’t treat a home if you have already done so.

Do not, absolutely do not release a fogger or bug bomb. Do not allow your landlord to do so. Do not allow a so-called “exterminator” to do so. Bug bombs / foggers do not work for bed bugs, and in fact, will spread them. Your problem will be magnified. Trust me!

Don’t start bagging everything you own. With the exception of washed and dried clothing (according to specific instructions your PCO gives you), do not seal up everything you own in bags. Some PCOs will want you to inspect, vacuum, and seal all your possessions in bags. Most won’t. Following their advice is crucial, since they know what they’re using on your problem. If you decide to bag things, you may be sealing away bed bugs– and this is only a way of dealing with the problem if you put these items in storage for 18 months, unopened. Instead, most PCOs will vigorously fight your problem, and bed bugs will be attracted out of your possessions and towards poisons which will kill them. We have a FAQ on this also: “How do I prepare for pest control treatment? Should I put everything in bags?”

Do start dealing with your clothing and linens if the PCO requires this. Though you should not simply seal your possessions in bags (as above), it is probably a good idea to start working on clothing and bedding, if the PCO instructs you to do this. Note that some reputable pest control operators do not require most clients to treat all their clothing and linens. If your PCO does not require it, then I would skip it. You should take clothing and other items, wash on hot and and dry them on hot. Remember, driers vary as to their strength and how long they take with what size of load. Don’t stuff the machines. My personal method is that items should at least be dried on hot for 20 minutes after they appear to be fully dry and very hot. Note that if you start with clean items, you only need to dry them on hot: this is a huge savings to time and energy. Starting with clean, dry items, running the hot dryer for 20 minutes should suffice. (You PCO may not be aware of research proving that a hot dryer alone is enough.) Keep in mind that pillows, comforters, down coats, and other thick items may take longer to dry. Here’s the key: after washing and drying, bag items in sealed, airtight bags, and do not remove them until use. Our FAQs give more explicit suggestions. Dry cleaning is theoretically a bed bug killer, but impractical since most dry cleaners may not be equipped to deal with bed bugs, and you have to disclose that the items have been exposed to bed bugs.

Don’t assume bed bugs are only in your bed. While bed frames and mattresses and headboards are the most likely location for bed bugs, they can and do often hide out in sofas and other soft furniture, electrical sockets (behind plates), light fixtures, baseboards, floor crevices, and other crevices in the bedroom and living room. Bed bugs are occasionally found in kitchens and bathrooms. This should not make you panic: most cases, especially smaller ones, are quite concentrated, usually 10-20 feet from where people sleep (or where they sit for extended periods). However, if a PCO tells you bed bugs are not found in living rooms, realize that many Bedbuggers have infested sofas, computer chairs, and so on. Don’t believe that bed bugs only bite at night. They prefer a sleeping, stationary host who is fast asleep. But if they’re hungry, they’ll take what they can get. You can be bitten while in a chair, awake.

Once you get a PCO treating your place, don’t assume this will be solved overnight. If your PCO treats and you are still being bitten, this is normal. The bites should decrease and eventually disappear. If you see bed bugs or are bitten, do have another treatment about two weeks after the first. Do insist the PCO repeat treatment every two weeks until you see no new signs of bed bugs (like bed bug feces stains in the bed). Do not assume you’ve got a bad PCO because it takes three treatments to solve your problem. This, unfortunately, is common, even if you follow all the advice. However, do ask questions, from the first treatment on, and take notes: what is the PCO using? What does each substance do? Make a note of where each substance is applied, and how long the process takes. If a few treatments go by and you are suspicious, post a question in our forums with these details– experienced Bedbuggers and reputable PCOs read this site and may be able to offer advice as to whether you’re getting good service or not. Stay on top of what’s happening, but be honest with the PCO about what you’re doing, and ask what you can do to support treatment. If they are good, they will welcome your involvement. Vacuuming every day in some cases is a good idea, in others, it may sabotage the work of certain substances left down to kill bed bugs. The same is true of bagging everything you own, as above. Never assume that you should do what someone online is doing, since they may be working with a different pest control protocol.

Do use bed bug monitors to try and determine if bed bugs are present initially and after treatment. We have a FAQ on bed bug monitors. The beenfit to monitors is that you’re more likely to catch a sample or see signs if you are using monitors.

Last updated 3/16/2015.

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