Knowing how to prevent bed bugs from entering your home can protect your family from discomfort and expense.
Night, night. Don’t let the bed bugs bite! How many times did we hear that as children and wonder what on earth bed bugs were? That’s because at one point they were almost eradicated in the developed world.
Around the mid-90s, bed bugs became big news again, thanks to a combination of increased international travel, changes in domestic laws about pesticide use, and because they grew resistant to allowed pesticides.
Bed bugs are now such a widespread problem that entire websites are devoted to maintaining databases of infested hotels and apartment buildings. Unfortunately, those databases rely on independent reports, so they’re not always accurate or even up-to-date. Plus there are many other ways that bedbugs can enter your home.
I learned this the hard way in college when my roommate and I were giddy over finding a gorgeous tufted velvet sofa on the side of the road. Free furniture! Well, it was “free” in the sense that the owners didn’t want a cent for it, but that thing wound up costing us a small fortune to launder all of our clothing, replace our beds and bedding and, yes, buy a new full-priced sofa from a reputable furniture store.
Back then, there weren’t companies dealing with bedbug infestations as there are now, but it’s still an expensive process. Depending on where you live, the cost of hiring professionals to treat a bedbug infestation can run from $1,000-$1,500!
That’s why it’s important to know how to prevent bedbugs: because protecting yourself is the best way to keep them from entering your home.
How To Prevent Bed Bugs
A Bit About Bed Bugs
Bedbugs have three life stages. The eggs hatch in 2-6 days from breeding. Once hatched, they become nymphs which molt around five times before becoming adults, always after a feeding. Oh, and nymphs can go several months between feedings! As adults, they typically live 2 to 4 months — but under ideal conditions, they can live up to a year.
Signs of Bedbug Infestations
Bedbugs are active at night when they scurry out from their favorite hiding places to feed on blood — yours as well as your pet’s. Feedings last 2 to 5 minutes, after which they hide again and remain inactive until their next feeding.
Many people don’t realize they have bedbugs until they wake with itchy red bites, usually in clusters of three. These often appear on the head and neck or other places where the edges of bedding touched their bodies.
While those itchy spots could easily be mistaken for spider or mosquito bites, if you wake with them more than once it’s time to start looking for other evidence of bedbugs in your home. One of the telltale signs is dark spots and smears on sheets and pillows which are left behind by the bugs as they feed. In severe infestations, you may also discover molted bug skins and dead bugs.
Be Careful What You Bring Home
To keep bedbugs from entering your home in the first place, you need to be vigilant.
Don’t “dumpster dive” or scavenge curbs for mattresses, upholstered furniture, clothing, or anything soft.
Clean other second-hand furniture outdoors when you buy it. Be sure to remove all drawers before cleaning, inspect all crevices, and clean underneath the item, too.
Wash all purchased clothing (new or old) immediately and run it through a hot dryer for at least 20 minutes to kill bedbug eggs. If you can’t launder it right away, seal it in a plastic bag until you can.
In apartments, use caulk to seal cracks around wiring and plumbing fixtures to keep bedbugs in neighboring units from entering yours.
When moving, skip the cardboard boxes from behind the liquor store and either buy your own or get donations from bedbug-free friends.
Don’t put things on your bed, including backpacks, shopping bags, purses, or other items. (This includes guests’ coats when you’re throwing a house party.)
If your area has a bedbug problem, consider putting bedbug interceptors at the base of your beds’ legs. If bedbugs do make it into your home, interceptors make it more difficult for them to make their home in your bed.
Don’t Bring Them Home From Vacation Or Summer Camp
Since bedbug-reporting websites aren’t always reliable, and summer camps aren’t required to divulge if they have bedbug problems, you should take additional measures to avoid bringing bedbugs home from your travels.
Don’t put your suitcase on the bed. Either use the bag holder if there is one or put them in the bathtub until you’ve had a chance to inspect the room.
Check for signs of bedbugs such as dark spots and smears, or dead bugs that look like squashed watermelon seeds. Look on the mattress, especially around the edges and on top of the box spring, behind artwork and headboards, on curtain liners, and in dresser drawers or closets.
Immediately launder clothing upon return. Use the hottest setting the fabric can handle and run everything through the dryer where heat will kill eggs. (Temperatures of 122°F for 20 minutes will kill all stages of bedbugs in clothing, while other items require greater heat.)
For items that can’t be laundered or subjected to heat, freezing for three days also kills bedbugs. Be sure to wrap the item in a tightly sealed plastic bag first.
Vacuum your suitcase and wrap it in a plastic bag before storage, then clean your vacuum cleaner.
Don’t DIY Bedbug Infestation Control
If you’ve found bedbugs in your home, it’s time to call the professionals. I don’t say that often — in fact, I recommend DIY methods for dealing with cockroaches, spiders, mice, and pantry moths. But when it comes to bedbugs, home treatments don’t cut it and usually send bed bugs deeper into hiding elsewhere in your home, making it that much harder to get rid of them.
Professional treatments involve steaming or heating an area to 118°F and keeping it constantly at that temperature for 70 minutes, something virtually impossible for non-professionals. They also have specialized tools for eradicating bedbugs in hard to reach crevices where they love to breed.
That said, there are two things you should do in conjunction with professional bed bug treatments:
- While waiting for your appointment, give your mattresses a thorough cleaning and enclose them in mattress protectors.
- After professional treatment, vacuum your entire home weekly for the following three months, including all soft furnishings and curtains, to ensure you’ve eliminated any remaining eggs and nymphs.
Remember: diligence is your friend when it comes to knowing how to prevent bed bugs, and that is how you go night-night without letting those bed bugs bite.