Don’t panic, bed bugs aren’t the end of the world! Just because you’ve got an infestation, that doesn’t mean it’s game over. You might feel like nuking them from orbit is the only way to be sure those monsters are gone, but in reality, there are some extremely effective all-natural solutions to wipe them out for good. So let’s go through, step by step, how to crush your unwelcome house guests!
1. Determine the extent of the infestation
Before you can start your bug hunt, you’ll need to know just how bad your infestation is. Severe infestations often require professional attention, but most mild cases can be resolved on your own.
Start by checking beds and other furniture for the telltale signs of bed bugs. The most obvious signs are black stains or smears, which can appear on furniture, mattresses and other material around the home. It may almost look a bit like some kind of secreted resin or feces, bug shells and other organic material. Pay careful attention to seams, where they like to hide.
You’ll also want to look for any other, less obvious spots where bed bugs might be hiding. Despite their moniker, bed bugs don’t actually live in beds all the time. Instead, they often hide in cracks or crevasses, carpet, clothing – pretty much anywhere with small gaps where they can hide. Any space thicker than a credit card is enough for a bed bug, so be sure to inspect the corners of your bed frame, office drawers, closets and even electrical appliances. They can even come out of the walls.
The next thing you’ll want to do is contain your problem and minimize its spread. This is extremely important because a small bed bug infestation is pretty easy to deal with. On the other hand, once those little guys get dug in, clearing a major infestation can require professional help.
To slow their growth, start by vacuuming everything; carpets, furniture – even curtains! Empty the vacuum cleaner into a plastic bag, seal tightly and dump immediately. You may also want to consider throwing out any infested furniture, depending on how bad the infestation happens to be.
3. Don’t keep it a secret!
Yes, there is still an unfortunate stigma around bed bugs; but remember, an infestation can happen to anyone. You’re not dirty or irresponsible — you’re just unlucky. So tell your neighbors, your housemates, your friends and family. Most importantly though, tell your landlord. In some jurisdictions, landlords are required to pitch in to the de-infestation effort.
Likewise, ensure everyone knows that your garbage is infested. This is particularly important if you dispose of any furniture or mattresses. Mark all hard refuse clearly, either with a permanent marker, spray paint or something similar.
4. Turn up the heat
Now that we’ve (hopefully) identified the extent of the problem, let’s rock! The easiest way to kill bed bugs is with heat and lots of it. Drop your linen, clothing and other potentially infested items into water at a minimum of 60-degrees Celsius/ 140-degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re lazy, this could mean just piling as much stuff as possible into your tumble dryer, and letting it run for half an hour or so.
Anything that can’t be put in the dryer should ideally be steam cleaned. Handheld steam cleaners can be a bit of an investment, but do have some advantages. For one, they’re great at penetrating deep into the material. Moreover, a handheld steam cleaner can even be used to blast into the cracks and crevasses where bed bugs love to hide. So remember: heat, heat and more heat.
Whatever you do though, don’t try killing them with fire.
5. Bring out the baking soda
After steaming everything, your next step should be to lock down any remaining bed bugs by minimizing their movement. The easiest way to do this is by sprinkling a layer of baking soda throughout infested areas. Layer baking soda around doorways, in cracks and around anywhere you suspect they could be hiding. After a week or so, vacuum again, following the instructions above. Bear in mind that you might want to do this a few times, to ensure you catch any survivors.
Another popular alternative is Diatomaceous Earth, a powder that is great for killing bed bugs. Use it just like baking soda, applying anywhere bed bugs might live. However, you should be aware that although Diatomaceous Earth is marketed as an all natural product, it cannot be inhaled. Wear a mask while applying, as it can damage your lungs.
You’ll also need to leave it out slightly longer than baking soda, with ten days being the sweet spot. As with baking soda, you’ll need to reapply Diatomaceous Earth two or three times. Now, you just need a deck of cards; sit back, relax and cross your fingers.
Whether you use baking soda or Diatomaceous Earth, the mechanism is the same: both products work by sapping the bugs of moisture, dehydrating and eventually killing them. Make sure to thoroughly apply to any potentially infested area; because if just one of those things gets through, then you can kiss all your prior efforts goodbye.
6. Make your house inhospitable to bed bugs
Hopefully, you’re making progress by this point, but the job isn’t quite over. Even if you can’t see any signs of bed bugs, you’ll want to do everything you can to give the little monsters every incentive possible to get lost. To do this, add around 20 drops of tea tree oil to a standard-sized spray bottle and spray everything. Bed bugs despise tea tree oil, and you should apply the spray even for a few weeks after the infestation appears to be gone.
If you don’t have tea tree oil on hand, both lavender and peppermint oils can work just as well. Add around 15 drops of each to a spray bottle, and go to town on any suspected infestation areas. Worst case scenario: your house will smell delicious!
7. Bed bug-proof your home
Even after the infestation is defeated, you might want to consider taking measures to stop future outbreaks. Encase your mattress in a protective plastic cover, which can be purchased from pretty much any store specializing in bedding. Bed bug traps are also extremely effective and can be placed beneath the supports of your bed frame.
If you’re still worried you might not have eradicated the infestation, leave a few glue traps around potentially infested areas. The monsters mostly come out at night — mostly, but not always. Either way, glue traps can serve effectively as a kind of motion detector, letting you when if, when and where your bed bugs are moving around your home.
8. Call in the pros
Bed bugs are tough little monsters, and sometimes infestations are simply too stubborn for us mere mortals to handle. Don’t be afraid to call in backup, as some jobs are best left to a professional. The longer you leave it, the harder the infestation will inevitably become to clear out.
Do you have any good solutions to bed bug infestations? Let us know in the comments below!
— Ryan Mallett-Outtrim