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How Do I Get Rid of Bed Bugs?

If you have the means, hire a licensed professional to inspect for bed bugs, define the extent of the problem and make an integrated plan, with multiple strategies, that works for you. This will still require efforts on your part. Bed bugs cannot be treated with a single technique or a one-step application of pesticides. Many things in the home cannot be treated with pesticides and must be handled differently.

If you do not hire a professional there are steps that can be taken to minimize and possibly eliminate bed bugs, but it is difficult to do it alone. Cleaning, organizing, constant monitoring, repeat visits from a pest professional and some type of insecticide are usually required. Other options include steam and heat that kill bed bugs and their eggs. Bed bug control takes time. You can learn more about integrated bed bug control at Bed Bugs are Back! An IPM Answer.

Whether or not you hire a professional, you will need to clean and organize the places where bed bugs have been found. The best approach to bed bug control uses the following steps:

Identification

You need to make sure you really have bed bugs. Have you found an insect and wonder if it is a bed bug? Bring samples to your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office for reliable ID. Note if you have found young or adult bed bugs, fecal stains or eggs.

looking at the back of a reddish-bown insect with legs folded under it and the hairs on the shoulders longer than the eye
If the hairs on the pronotum (the shield-looking part below their head) are the same length or longer than the eye - it is a bat bug.  Photo: NYSIPM
looking at the back of a reddish-bown insect with legs folded under it and the hairs on the shoulders the same width as the eye
If the hairs on the pronotum (the shield-looking part below their head) are shorter than the width of the eye - it is a bed bug.  Photo: NYSIPM

Inspection

You will need to do a thorough inspection to see which areas or rooms are affected. Start with bedrooms, focusing on the mattress, box spring and frame. Have a vacuum handy to capture anything that moves. (Vacuuming is described in this handbook  and also here). Next check the living room furniture or any place where people lounge. If you find bed bugs, avoid the area while preparing next steps.

one arm holding a flashlight and the other swiping a card through a wooden bed frame
One inspection tip is to use a business card to flush bugs out of spaces near where people sleep, aided by a flashlight. Photo: NYSIPM

Cleaning and Organization

  • Start cleaning and organizing the area where bed bugs have been found. Have the vacuum by your side as you remove items from the area and inspect them. Isolation of belongings is one of the easiest and cheapest methods for controlling bed bugs. Consult the handbook for more information about isolation. Take the bed apart piece by piece and vacuum the parts. Inspect the wall base or moldings and electric outlets for bugs and signs of bugs.
  • Make your bed an island.

Management

Follow the control steps:

  • Trap bed bugs with special pit fall traps
  • Hot, low-volume steamer to kill live bugs and eggs on furniture and mattresses
  • Heat, but only certain applications are safe. Read more here. And here.
  • Sealing gaps between walls and moldings, around outlets, in furniture, if possible
  • While many over-the-counter pesticides can help manage bed bugs, the type of product and the way it is applied can affect the success of a treatment. Bed bugs are secretive insects that hide in cracks and crevices. To be an expert in bed bug management requires an understanding of their habits and the time and patience to do a thorough, targeted treatment in areas where bed bugs hide.
white insect interceptor
Pitfall-style insect interceptors can be used to monitor for bed bugs. Photo: NYSIPM

Do not:

  • Do not use “bug bombs” or total-release foggers. They are dangerous and research has shown they do not place insecticide where it needs to be to kill bed bugs.
  • Do not try to rely on insecticides alone. Cleaning and organizing the room or home and isolating belongings to be treated or stored are all necessary steps.

Hire a professional when…

  • There are multiple units involved, for example, in an apartment building. In fact, landlords in New York are generally responsible for bed bug treatment due to the “warranty of habitability” clause in every lease.
  • You are overwhelmed with bed bugs and cannot get control of them.
  • You or someone needs help with tasks related to bed bug control, such as moving furniture or washing clothing and bedding.
  • Follow up with regular inspections for 3 months.