No matter what you do, inevitably, you’ll end up with a pest problem, whether it’s ants, fruit flies, or something worse. The latter for many people, is bed bugs. Just the thought of them in your house, let alone your bedroom is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. As they say, knowledge is power, and that can help you identify and get rid of a problem for good.

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Bed Bugs 101

It used to be that bed bugs were something you thought only infested crummy motels. Unfortunately, bed bugs have left the Bates Motel and have invaded other living quarters, such as:

  • Hospitals
  • College dorms
  • Nursing homes
  • Offices

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are part of a family of insects known as bloodsuckers. That’s how they feed and live. It’s not just humans, either. This group will also target other mammals and birds. These insects are tiny and look like small pudgy ants. They are also survivors. Evidence suggests bed bugs have inhabited North America for at least 11,000 years. They can live up to a year with a blood meal.

Red Flags

Unless you have a bad infestation, you might not see bed bugs since they’re only about ¼ inches long. You’ll likely find other evidence of them, namely, on you. Symptoms typically include red, itchy spots on your body. Surprisingly, some people don’t react as strongly to them as others. The other telltale sign is the pattern of bites, which are usually in batches.

The bed bug’s small size allows it to hide just about anywhere, which can make getting rid of them more challenging. Of course, the bed is Grand Central Station. Other places you may find them include:

  • In outlets
  • Between seat cushions
  • The space between the mattress and boxspring
  • Curtains
  • Draw joints

You may even see them under rugs or behind frames. The other obstacle is that bed bugs are active at night, making it even more difficult to spot them. Unfortunately, another surefire sign is the disagreeable odor they emit when crushed. Some liken it to the smell of rotten fruit.

Getting Rid of a Bed Bug Problem

We won’t pull any punches. You’ve got a battle on your hands if you have bed bugs in your home. We recommend a three-prong approach: kill the pests; treat yourself if needed; and prevent a recurrence. We’ll cover each part of your game plan in detail with one caveat. If you have a serious infestation, you should consider calling in a professional. There’s a good reason it’s a $16.9 billion industry.

Kill the Pests

The first thing to do is control the existing population and prevent it from spreading. You can use non-chemical means, pesticides, or a combination of both to get the job done. Each approach is effective to varying degrees, with its set of pros and cons.

Non-Chemical Control

Begin by throwing out the things you can part with that are infested with bed bugs. Put the items in garbage bags and tie them closed. Next, strip the bed and remove the sheets. If there is furniture in the room, take off any removable covers. Wash everything in hot water.

Then, break out the vacuum and give the room a thorough cleaning. Remember the places where we said bed bugs could hide. Use a crevice tool around all walls. Make sure to empty the vacuum and seal the contents in a plastic bag. You’ll have to repeat this routine frequently. Bear in mind that we’re talking at least a year, based on their survival rate.

Big Guns

You can cut to the chase with pesticides. Be sure to use products approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) specifically for bed bug use. Insecticides that have shown promise include:

  • DEET
  • Pyrethrins
  • Cold-pressed neem oil
  • Desiccants like boric acid
  • Icaridin

Recent research has also shown cinnamon oil to be an effective repellent. The researchers confirmed that DEET worked the best. It’s worth noting that pyrethrins and icaridin are well-used repellents. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions to the letter when using any pesticide. We also recommend keeping small children and pets out of the room while treating it.

Treat Yourself

Luckily, bed bugs don’t carry any diseases. However, that doesn’t mean that bites can’t cause secondary bacterial infections. Taking an antihistamine or using hydrocortisone ointments can help control the itching. If you’re having a severe reaction, see your doctor promptly. You may need an antibiotic to get your symptoms under control.

It’s not unusual to feel paranoid after dealing with an infestation. It is upsetting and stressful. We suggest discussing the issue with your doctor if you have difficulty coping with the aftermath.

Preventing Infestations

The vacuuming/cleaning routine we described will go a long way toward preventing a recurrence. However, it’s still wise to take some precautions when traveling. We suggest checking your bed when you arrive at your hotel. Do a cursory look around the room for signs of an infestation. Don’t be embarrassed about requesting a new room if you find any signs of bed bugs.

Undoubtedly, you have a laundry bag in your suitcase. We strongly urge you to wash the load as soon as you can in case of hitchhikers. After all, that is probably how they made it to North America in the first place.

The same precautions apply when buying secondhand furniture. Make sure to look over the piece, particularly under the cushions. If possible, do your inspection outside before bringing it into your home. We also suggest vacuuming it thoroughly to find any bed bugs you may have missed.


The bed bug problem isn’t likely to go away any time soon. Nearly 70 percent of industry professionals said that it’s been increasing. That’s what makes prevention so imperative. The extra time you take vacuuming and cleaning can help keep your home safe from these pests. The best advice we can give you is to stay vigilant. Check your home often for signs, and don’t ignore any symptoms.