Do's and Don'ts of Bed Bug Control

Bed bugs on a bed sheet.

Roger Eritja / Getty Images

As tiny as they are, bed bugs are one of the most troublesome and difficult-to-control pests.

According to a survey by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA):

  • Twenty percent of Americans have encountered bed bugs in their home or hotel, or know someone who has.
  • Seventy-six percent of pest professional consider bed bugs to be the most difficult pest to control.

Treating Bed Bug Infestations

Bed bugs can be controlled, however, warning that "ineffective bed bug treatments can take a bite out of consumers' wallets," an FTC web page includes information on bed bugs, advice for treatment and prevention, and recommendations to follow if you choose to hire a professional.

FTC advises consumers who wish to control bed bugs themselves to use an Integrated Pest Management strategy, which included prevention, monitoring, and limited chemicals, and to check the EPA product list for products registered for the planned application. The EPA product page includes the ability to search products by a number of factors.

Warning

Consumers should not attempt to control bed bugs inside their homes with products that are made for outdoor use. They should avoid bombs and foggers, and should not spray pesticides in areas occupied by children or pets, or on top of mattresses, sofas, or other upholstered furniture.

Before using any pesticide, read the label and follow all directions. Other methods of control include heat and steam.

Avoidance of bug bombs and foggers is recommended because studies have shown that there is resistance to pyrethroids in these products and because they can cause the insects to scatter, making the problem worse.

Bug Bombs

A 2012 study by Dr. Susan Jones, associate professor of entomology at The Ohio State University, showed that over-the-counter bug bombs and foggers had little effect on bed bugs, even through direct exposure for two hours.

The total release foggers that were tested were Hotshot Bedbug and Flea Fogger, Spectracide Bug Stop Indoor Fogger, and Eliminator Indoor Fogger, all of which are aerosolized pyrethroids. With some species, mortality did increase with longer exposure, however, if the bed bugs had any possible harborage, even that of a thin cloth layer, very few of the bed bugs were affected or killed by the pesticides.

In homes and businesses, there is virtually always available harborage and most bed bugs tend to hide in protected spots where they would not be directly contacted by the fogging mist.

Thus, Jones concluded from the study that total-release foggers should not be recommended for bed bug control because many are resistant to pyrethroids and are not affected by the low concentrations of foggers and the fogs have little to no penetration into the spots where the bed bugs harbor.

In fact, when a pyrethroid product does penetrate a harborage, it is more likely to cause the bed bugs to scatter than it is to kill them, thus making the problem worse by dispersing the bugs around the room or area.

Hiring a Professional

When deciding to hire a professional to treat for bed bugs or other pests, it is important to ensure that the service company you select is fully qualified and licensed.

A few resources for finding service professionals include:

  • National Pest Management Association: Find a licensed pest control expert to assist in proper identification and treatment of household pest problems. Enter your zip code to locate pest control companies and pest removal services near you.
  • Better Business Bureau: BBB assigns ratings by evaluating businesses in the following categories reflecting its degree of confidence that the business is operating in a trustworthy manner and will make a good faith effort to resolve any customer concerns filed with BBB. Fill in your location and the type of service you are seeking.
  • State Attorney General Offices: Search companies for consumer complaints or find a consumer advocate if necessary. The national association site includes links to specific state sites.
  • State pest control regulatory offices: This site includes listings of all the state offices, each of which offers a variety of resources on pest control in that state.
FAQ
  • What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?

    Bed bugs are very small, just over 1/8-inch long, and light to deep brown with flat, oval bodies. They are sometimes mistaken for ticks. After feeding, it will swell up and become red in color. The eggs are translucent and barely visible, and newly hatched bed bugs are about the size of a poppy seed.

  • Can Bed Bugs Fly?

    No. Bed bugs cannot fly. They "travel" by hitching a ride on people's belongings when they are set down in infested areas, then moving with them to a new location to start a new infestation.

  • Will Bed Bugs Bite During the Day?

    Yes. As nocturnal insects, bed bugs are most active at night. However, they will also move around during the day, and if they need to feed and a person is nearby, the bug is as likely to bite during the day as at night.

  • Do Bed Bugs Only Live in Beds?

    No, bed bugs can live in upholstered furniture, behind headboards, baseboards, and even pictures on the wall. In fact, second-hand furniture should always be thoroughly inspected and/or serviced for bed bugs before bringing it into your home.

  • Why Are They Called Bed Bugs If They Can Live Anywhere?

    Bed bugs need blood meals in order to develop and live. They are attracted to humans by the carbon dioxide we breathe and the warmth we put off. When we are in bed sleeping, we are an easy target, less likely to feel the tiny bugs on our skin and brush them off. And once they finish feeding, bed mattresses have plenty of hiding places for the little bugs to hide and procreate.

  • How Do I Know If I Have Bed Bugs?

    Signs of bed bug presence include live or dead bugs, shed skins, and blood spots on mattress or bed linen are signs of a bed bug infestation. Bites leave small welts, similar to that of a mosquito, on exposed skin.

  • Will Keeping My Home Clean Prevent Bed Bugs?

    No. Bed bugs do not discriminate between dirty and clean homes, rich or poor, young or old. If they are carried into your home, they will seek out a place to hide and begin to breed. However, having a clean home will provide fewer places for bed bugs to hide, thus making service easier should you get an infestation.

  • Why Have Bed Bugs Reappeared All of a Sudden?

    Although no one is completely sure why bed bugs reappeared in such numbers beginning in the 1990s, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspects that the resurgence is associated with increased resistance of bed bugs to available pesticides; greater international and domestic travel; lack of knowledge regarding control of bed bugs due to their prolonged absence; the continuing decline or elimination of effective vector/pest control programs at state and local public health agencies.