Sleep Resources

Home Remedies for Bed Bugs

If these creepy crawlers end up in your home, you'll want to get rid of them as fast as you can. Read on to find out which home remedies work, and which ones might be a waste of your time.

By Helga George

Bed bugs – so tiny yet so frightening. I have a background in entomology and adore many types of insects, yet bed bugs top the list of creepy crawlies that I want crawling in the other direction. That would never happen, however. Nature can be diabolical, and bed bugs are attracted to us because of the carbon dioxide that we exhale when we breathe. 

Not only are they attracted to us, but they also pump a natural painkiller in when they bite, so we don’t even feel the bites until the next morning. Surely you are familiar with infestations in furniture, but used clothes? And laptops? They stop at nothing. That just seems wrong.

What’s a person to do when they wake up with a row of small itchy red bed bug bites in a straight line up their arm? It depends on how much of a DIY pest control person you are. There are a number of home remedies for bed bugs – some of them are fabulous, and others that should be consigned to the dustbins of history. 

In this guide, let’s review what gets rid of bed bugs and what does not.

Signs of Bed Bugs

But first, let’s make sure you have them before you panic. And what better thing to cause an anxiety attack than a bed bug infestation?

  • Itchy red bites – in a row as described above. No – the insects don’t have a fetish for an order. They just like to crawl up your arm and feast as they go.
  • You may also have rust-colored or red blotches on you – either your blood or that of squashed bed bugs. 
  • The insects are flat, brown, and about the size of a grain of rice. Their white eggs are even smaller. 
  • They like to hide in cracks and crevices, so you may have to do some detective work to find them. 
  • If you put double-stick tape on your bedposts and keep your blankets from touching the floor, any bed bugs that are on the march to suck your blood will get trapped in the tape.

Tried and True Methods

Here are the methods that the pest control experts swear will help you to get rid of bed bugs.

Vacuuming

You may not have believed your mother when she insisted you get a vacuum cleaner, but now is the time to be thankful for her advice! Vacuuming your bed and furniture will suck up those nasty critters. Make sure to vacuum your bed frame, mattress, baseboards, carpets, and any furniture like sofas or chairs. Pay close attention to the seams in your mattress.

Hopefully, your vacuum cleaner is one with bags and not one of the ones that you just shake out. Because it is critical to dispose of the bags – double bagged! And dispose of them outside – as far away from your home as you can. Another option is to put a knee-high stocking over the end of the vacuum tube. Put a rubber band over it, and only then put the attachment on. 

This technique will prevent the bugs from infesting your vacuum. When you are done, remove it, and seal it in a bag before throwing it out. Vacuuming is great at removing living and dead bugs, but it won’t do anything about their eggs.

Washing and Drying

It may seem low tech, but washing your clothes and bedding in hot water and then drying them at high heat will kill the insects – and their eggs! 

In fact, you may have to do this frequently to purge the bed bugs. Items like clothing and blankets cannot be treated with insecticides, so it’s a good thing that washing and drying work on them!

Freezing

Freezing works great for small items like books, shoes, and telephones. Make sure that your freezer is set to 0ºF. Leave the items in your freezer for 4 days. Let’s hope you don’t have a large library!

Store Items in Plastic Bins

Plastic storage bins come in handy once you have killed the bed bugs. The insects can’t climb up the sides, so your things will be safe from reinfestation.

Steam Cleaning

Since hot steam (close to 212ºF) will instantly kill bed bugs, heat treatment is an option for furniture and other large items that you can’t put in the washer or the freezer.

You may not have to rent a steam cleaner – home versions are effective, too. Be sure to read the owner’s manual to make sure that you won’t be damaging your furniture or fabric. Use the steamer on the areas that you vacuumed, and then steam under the furniture to catch any bed bugs that fell to the floor during the process. Do this every few days until you can’t find any more of the insects.

Home Remedies To Avoid

You can find a number of home remedies on the internet that seem really easy to use, but they may not work!

Rutgers University summarized the effectiveness of several key methods that are said to be effective at killing bed bugs and found them lacking.

Rubbing Alcohol

Using a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol is often promoted as a useful method to help control bed bugs. However, lab studies at Rutgers University showed that spraying the insects directly with rubbing alcohol killed half of them at most. Not only that – rubbing alcohol is flammable and can pose a fire hazard, so please don’t spray it around your home.

Diatomaceous Earth

Another home remedy advises you to spread diatomaceous earth in the cracks and crevices and leave it there for 10 days. One problem with this approach is that the microscopic shards are very bad for your lungs when you breathe them in.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree is an essential oil – a concentrated oil derived from a plant – that has been recommended as effective on bedbugs. The problem is that full strength has been recommended to kill bed bugs, and as the label on the bottle states, you should dilute it before use. Full strength is not safe to use on humans. Diluted tea tree oil will make your home smell pleasant and do no harm, but it is not likely to help against bed bugs.

Lavender Oil

Some sources recommend that you spray another type of essential oil – lavender oil – to repel bed bugs. However, that is not likely to help you in the case of a severe infestation. A recent paper reported on tests of a number of essential oils and found that most were ineffective on bed bug eggs.

Pyrethroids

These are all-natural insecticides derived from a type of Chrysanthemum. Sounds great, right? Because they worked so well, that they were used a lot to control insects, and now most bed bugs are resistant to them! Unfortunately, that puts them in the list of ineffective control methods.

Methods That May or May Not Work

There are a couple of DIY home remedies recommended that are not mentioned in the scientific literature but are harmless to try.

Baking Soda

Some sources recommend spreading baking soda in the cracks and crevices to suck the moisture out of the bed bugs, vacuuming it every few days, and reapplying it. It’s a pretty harmless substance but not likely to get rid of a full-fledged infestation of bed bugs.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper repels some types of insects, but it is not likely to kill them. And do you really want a fiery spice loose in your home?

Make Sure the Bed Bugs are Gone

After you have knocked down the populations of bed bugs, you will need to check for them regularly. Even a few individuals that survived your efforts could cause a population rebound.

You can buy commercial bed bug traps for a small price. Expect to put a lot of them out – you might need 8-12 traps for a one-bedroom apartment. Put the traps under the legs of furniture, and then put a few along the edges and corners of the room. Check them every 1-2 weeks.

One caution if you live in an apartment is that bed bugs can travel between units through cracks in the wall. It is critical that all the units that could have bed bugs be treated at the same time.  

Remember, there is nothing wrong with bringing in professionals if you are unsure about using home remedies! 


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