How To Prevent Bed Bugs

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Find out how to prevent bed bugs before you accidentally bring them into your home, because home remedies to get rid of them probably won’t work.

Adult bedbug closeup

How To Prevent Bed Bugs

As with most household pests, bedbugs are easier to prevent than eliminate. That’s why it’s so remarkable that at one point, bedbugs were almost eradicated in the developed world.

Around the mid-90s, bedbugs became big news again thanks to a combination of increased international travel and changes in laws about pesticide use. Now, the average consumer can’t buy effective bed bug killing sprays and must hire a professional. Depending on where you live, that can run from $1,000-$1,500.

Fortunately, you can take some simple steps to prevent bed bugs. Doing so will protect your home and family as well as your wallet.

Understand Bed Bug Life Stages

Bedbugs have three life stages. It’s important to know this because eliminating the bed bugs you can see doesn’t completely stop the infestation.

  • Eggs: Bed bug eggs hatch in 2-6 days from breeding.
  • Nymphs: Once hatched, bed bugs become nymphs that molt around five times before becoming adults, always after a feeding. They can go several months between feedings.
  • Adults: As adults, bed bugs typically live 2 to 4 months, but under ideal conditions, they can live up to a year.

Know the Signs of Bedbug Infestations

Bedbugs are active at night when they scurry out from their hiding places to feed on blood — yours as well as your pet’s. They spend 2 to 5 minutes eating, then hide until their next meal.

Clustered red bites: Many people don’t realize they have bedbugs until they wake with itchy red bites, usually in clusters of three. These clusters often appear on the head and neck, or where the edges of bedding touch a sleeping person’s body. 

Bites on successive nights: Itchy spots caused by bedbugs can easily be mistaken for spider or mosquito bites. But, if you wake with new ones several nights in a row, it’s time to start looking for other evidence of bedbugs in your home.

Spots on sheets: If you have bed bugs, you will probably see dark spots and smears on your sheets and pillows. These marks are sometimes your blood but can also be feces left by the bugs as they feed. In severe infestations, you may also discover molted bug skins and carcasses.

Don’t Bring Bed Bugs into Your Home

To keep bedbugs from entering your home, you need to be vigilant and exercise common sense.

1. Don’t “dumpster dive” or scavenge curbs for mattresses, upholstered furniture, clothing, or anything soft.

2. Clean second-hand furniture outdoors after you buy it. Remove all drawers before cleaning, inspect any crevices, and clean underneath the item, too.

3. Wash newly-purchased clothing immediately and run it through the 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.

4. Don’t use discarded boxes. If you’re moving, or just looking for boxes to store excess stuff, skip the ones in the dumpsters behind stores. Either buy your own or ask bedbug-free friends if they have extras.

5. Don’t put stuff on your bed, even for a minute. Never toss backpacks, shopping bags, gym bags, guests’ coats, or other items onto your bed. Covering it with a sheet or blanket doesn’t help, either, since bedbugs will just scurry to hide under the coverings.

6. If your area has an active infestation, consider putting bedbug interceptors at the base of your beds’ legs. If bedbugs do make it into your home, interceptors make it harder for them to crawl from the floor to your mattress. (Related: How to Clean a Mattress.)

Don’t Get Bed Bugs When You Travel

Hotel reviews aren’t always reliable. Summer camps aren’t required to warn if they have bedbug problems.  You should take additional measures to avoid bringing bedbugs home from your travels.

1. Don’t put your suitcase on the bed. Either use the bag holder if there is one or put your luggage in the bathtub until you’ve had a chance to inspect the room.

2. Check for signs of bed bug infestations like dark spots and smears, or dead carcasses. (They look like squashed watermelon seeds.) Look on the mattress, especially around the edges, and on top of the box spring. Also, look behind the headboard, on curtain liners, in dresser drawers, and closets.

3. Immediately launder clothing when you get home. Use the hottest setting the fabric can handle and run everything through the dryer where heat will kill eggs. (Related: How to Disinfect the Laundry)

4. Freeze what you can’t launder. For items that can’t be washed or subjected to heat, freezing for three days also kills bed bugs. First, wrap the item in a tightly sealed plastic bag, so you don’t wind up with dead insects in your frozen food.

5. Vacuum your suitcase and pack it in a plastic bag before storage, then clean your vacuum cleaner.

DIY Bed Bug Control Doesn’t Work

If you’ve found bedbugs in your home, it’s time to call the professionals. Most DIY bed bug treatments just make bed bugs look for other hiding spots in your home, so it’s that much harder to get rid of them.

Homemade bed bug sprays don’t penetrate the bugs’ exoskeletons. And using steamers to kill bedbugs yourself doesn’t work because you have to get the surface temperature to 160°F and keep it there for 2-3 minutes, which requires steam reaching a temperature around 220°F. Most consumer-grade devices don’t get that hot.

That said, there are two things you should do in conjunction with professional bed bug treatments:

1. While waiting for your appointment, give your mattresses a thorough cleaning and enclose them in mattress protectors.

2. 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. Clean your vacuum after each use, too, so bedbugs can’t live and breed in it then spread throughout your home again. (Related: How to Clean a Vacuum Cleaner.)

The Takeaway

  • Don’t bring other peoples’ discards into your home.
  • Don’t put purses, guest coats, or anything else on your bed.
  • Inspect hotel mattresses and furniture for signs of bedbugs before unpacking.
  • When you return home from traveling, launder everything immediately and vacuum your suitcase.
  • If you see signs of bedbugs in your home, call the professionals since home remedies may just send these pests into hiding but not get rid of them.

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    1. Katie Berry says:

      Thank you!

  1. thank you! does it help to spray your clothing with alcohol before going into restaurant or another place?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Joy,
      I understand the desire to avoid bringing home bed bugs, but spraying your clothing with alcohol isn’t a great idea. For one, it’s flammable. It also doesn’t have the most pleasant smell. Chances are, you don’t need to worry when visiting restaurants, anyway. If you’re traveling, though, be sure to follow the tips I described about checking your hotel room and treating clothes upon your return.

  2. Can pets spread or bring bed bugs in your home?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Mary,
      Yes, bedbugs and other insects can always hitch a ride on pets to enter your home.

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