Knowing how to prevent bed bugs from entering your home can protect your family from discomfort and expense. As with most household pests, they 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. Nowadays, 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.
How To Prevent Bed Bugs
Bed Bug Life Stages
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. They spend 2 to 5 minutes eating, the hide and remain inactive until their next meal.
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. Those itchy spots could 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.
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 carcasses.
Don’t Carry Them into Your Home
To keep bedbugs from entering your home, you need to be vigilant.
1. Don’t “dumpster dive” or scavenge curbs for mattresses, upholstered furniture, clothing, or anything soft.
2. Clean 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.
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. When moving, skip the cardboard boxes from behind the liquor store. Either buy your own or get donations from bedbug-free friends.
5. Don’t put things on your bed, including backpacks, shopping bags, purses, or other items. (This includes guests’ coats when you’re throwing a party.)
6. If your area has a bed bug 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 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 them in the bathtub until you’ve had a chance to inspect the room.
2. Check for signs of bed bugs 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.
3. 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.)
4. Freeze what can’t be laundered. For items that can’t be washed or subjected to heat, freezing for three days also kills bed bugs. Be sure to wrap the thing in a tightly sealed plastic bag first.
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. 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.
DIY steam treatments don’t remain at the proper temperature long enough, and homemade bed bug sprays don’t penetrate the bugs’ exoskeletons. Most DIY bed bug treatments send bed bugs looking for other hiding spots in your home, making it that much harder to get rid of them.
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.
Remember: diligence is your friend when it comes to knowing how to prevent bed bugs. So, “Night night, and don’t let the bed bugs bite!”