A Persistent, But Not Dangerous Menace

Everything Your Ever Wanted To Know About Bedbugs… and Some You Probably Didn’t

Updated 10 weeks ago
Dorsal view of an adult, Cimex lectularius, a bed bug
Dorsal view of an adult, Cimex lectularius, a bed bug
Public Domain

Here on Roosevelt Island, bedbugs are a serious issue with an infestation in at least one building and another including certifications about their absence in lease documents. Let's take a closer look.

For most of us, it's a question of when, not if we’ll need to get rid of bedbugs. When we make that depressing discovery in our home, it’s extremely helpful to know there are effective do-it-yourself actions we can take right away, 

First thing to remember: Bedbugs are not dangerous. They're just ugly nuisances.

Bed bugs are clever survivors you can't ignore. They’ll find your mattress, your rug or your laundry, even if they need to hitchhike on someone's shoes to get there.

How Did I Get Bedbugs?

Good question, and the simple answer is, it's so easy for them to get into your home you may never figure out how they did it.

Ease of travel is great these days. Bed bugs come from all over the world with little we can do to stop them. It has little to do with hygiene or careful housekeeping.

Bedbugs attach themselves to luggage, laundry and clothing, looking for a place to make home.

Fortunately, you can get rid of them permanently when it happens. Follow along.

Lesson #1 in getting rid of a bedbug infestation is: don't panic. Bedbugs don't carry diseases and, in general, are no more harmful than mosquitoes. You still don't want them around.

The second most important thing to keep in mind is that having bed bugs is nothing to be ashamed of. As with the common cold, you’ll probably never know the source, just the result.

(The most likely culprits are used furniture and luggage brought home from another country.)

Some people inadvertently spread them by taking their clothes to a dry cleaner, thinking that the high temperatures will kill the insects. And they're right, it does. But it may also spread the bugs to other garments in the facility.

Bed bugs are clever and adaptable. Their saliva even includes a numbing agent, so that, when they bite you, you don't feel it. You just wake up with itchy bumps, often in a series, a half-inch or so apart.

For the last several years, here in New York, the incidence of bed bug infestations is so high, you see ads on television all the time and in the subways.

Companies are prepared and ready to help, including one that has a really cool bug-sniffing dog.

Our landlord thoughtfully sent an exterminator around to offer free treatment. Having pets in our house, we chose to decline the chemicals. We are also do-it-yourselfers, capable of doing most things ourselves and learning in the process.

Although hiring a professional firm is the easiest way to get rid of bed bugs, it's also the most expensive and, if you're averse to using insecticides for any reason — as we are — there are steps you can take to get rid of any infestation you find or suspect. No expertise required.

Tips for a Bedbug Free Happy Home

Step One - Dealing With Bed Bug Hiding Places, Mattresses, Box Sprints, Carpets, Clothing

Getting rid of bed bugs permanently requires killing them where they're most likely to live. For all but the most extensive infestations, you can probably save your bed frame and headboard. Here's what you have to do.

  • Encase your box spring and mattress in plastic containers designed specifically for this purpose. (See easy to buy options below.) You'll leave these airtight containers in place for at least a couple of months or until you believe bed bugs elsewhere in your home have been eliminated. Bringing the insects back is frustrating and demands all that work again. My advice: once the encasements are on, leave them for one year. There’s no downside to overkill.
  • Any fabric — bedding, clothes, etc. — that have come in contact with the bugs can be treated by running them through a clothes drier at the highest temperature setting for at least twenty minutes. (If you have dry clean only clothes, use a moderate setting and be sure the clothes are dry before starting.)
  • For anything that can't go in the drier, you can freeze (or steam, see next bullet) in a bag. A woman I know took paper instruction manuals that had been stored in her bedroom, put them in plastic bags and put them in her freezer for a year. It doesn't take that long, of course, but overkill grows more appealing once you’ve had an infestation.
  • To get rid of bugs in more difficult places, like headboards and bed frames, steam them with an easy to buy handheld steam cleaner (see below). Do all the cracks and crevices, even the ones where no infestation of bed bugs is visible. Make sure you inspect baseboards and other potential hiding places. Be diligent.
  • Vacuum all of your rugs and furniture thoroughly. That includes enhancing the cleaning action by scraping the surfaces with an attachment or something like a putty knife. Bed bugs are harder to remove than dust and dirt.
  • This bullet is more about what not to do. There are chemicals that can be very helpful in removing infestations. LEAVE THEM TO THE PROFESSIONALS.

Vacuuming Well Gets Rid of Insects and Keeps Them Out

Here are a few things you can use:

McCulloch MC1275 Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner with 18 Accessories – All-Natural, Chemical-Free Pressurized Steam Cleaning for Most Floors, Counters, Appliances, Windows, Autos, and More

A good steam cleaning will do the trick thoroughly. 

EcoGecko Ultra Portable Handheld Vacuum Cleaner with UV Light for use on Mattress & Bedding Removes Dust Mites, Bacteria, Germs and Harmful Allergens

Designed specifically for this purpose but handy to have around form many others. 

Verilux CleanWave Sanitizing Portable Vacuum – UV Technology – 400-Watt Motor – Cyclonic Action

This is a multipurpose vacuum that will help you now as well as in the future.

SafeRest Premium Zippered Mattress Encasement - Lab Tested Bed Bug Proof, Dust Mite and Waterproof - Breathable, Noiseless and Vinyl Free (Fits 9-12 in. H) - Queen Size

An encasement designed specifically for this purpose. Other sizes available.

DBTech Handheld Multi-Purpose Pressurized Steam Cleaner for Stain Removal, Curtains, Crevasses, Bed Bug Control, Car Seats and More

A steam gun is essential if you want to kill bed bugs without chemicals. This one is multipurpose, inexpensive and easy to use.

Things To Consider — Where To Look for Bedbugs 

You should never feel bad about a bedbug infestation. These insects are really smart and adapted to human communities. Remember, they’re so smart their saliva contains an anesthetic that numbs you so you don't feel it when they bite you.

They’re also smart about hiding. They may have a sizable colony in your mattress, but unless you look carefully, you won't see them.

They hate daylight. Unlike ants, for example, you won't find them crawling around openly.

Used furniture is suspected of being the most frequent source of bed bug transmission. Sadly, the last owner may have gotten rid of his furniture because it was infested but kept it quiet to make a sale.

Another really easy way bed bugs have to get into your home is on your clothing.

Say, you go to a medical appointment, sit in a chair in the waiting room without realizing the person before you had bed bugs in their clothing. You end up taking some home with you.

Transmission by contact with others is probably a leading cause, but the bugs are nearly invisible in fabric. You can't do much to stop it.

Another strongly suspected source of transmission is in luggage brought in from another country through an international airport.

Outside the U.S., infestation rates may be much higher, and any apparel you carried may have picked up bed bugs from a hotel, storage area or a guest apartment. You'd never know.

The bottom line is, don't feel bad about something people catch as easily as a common cold. 

All Set In Your Bed Bug Free Home

Now, you know that eradicating bed bugs is not too difficult for DIY types or, really, for anyone else. You can rid your home of these pests permanently by following the steps above and reducing your risks in the future.

Important note: there are many good professional companies that deal with bed bugs. Nothing here is intended to discourage you from using one. My intention is to let you know you have options. If you're unsure of your ability to follow any of the steps, call an expert, and make it easy on yourself.

Bed bugs are a menace, but if you stay aware of how they spread and how you can get rid of them if your best efforts fail, you can keep the worst of it under control.


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