There are many insects which invade your home, but one of the most frustrating is the bed bug. These pests usually go unnoticed, but once they make their presence known, they can spread quickly wherever you go. Do-it-yourself methods have limited effect, and usually only by working in conjunction with a professional exterminator service can an infestation be completely eliminated.
Understanding Bed bugs
Unlike other pests, a single bed bug may invade your home and never be noticed. Unfortunately, once they begin to breed, the infestation will grow quickly. Learning to identify the signs of bed bugs early on can help to shorten a sometimes long and arduous extermination process.
What Are Bed bugs?
The bed bug (Cimex lectularius) is a parasitic insect which has been spoken of since Ancient Greece. They feed on blood and have gained their name from one of their most common dwelling places. Adults are reddish brown to light brown in color. They measure .16 to .2 inches long and .059 to .118 inches wide (about the size and shape of an apple seed), making them difficult to spot. During the 1900s, bed bugs were nearly eliminated from developed countries, but populations of pesticide-resistant bed bugs have exploded since the 1980s for reasons unknown.
Able to survive temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit, it is possible to kill up to 95 percent of bedbugs after freezing at a constant 10 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of three days, although this is impractical.
However, a seven minute or longer exposure to temperatures of 115 degrees or 13 minutes at 26 degrees will kill a bedbug at any life stage. They are tolerant to low humidity, but cannot survive long periods of time exposed to high amounts of carbon dioxide.
The Bed Bug Life Cycle
Bed bugs start off as tiny, milky eggs about the size of a period. These eggs hatch into tiny nymphs which must molt six times before reaching the adult stage. They must feed in order to prepare for each molting, and the shed exoskeletons are often one of the first signs of a bed bug issue. Female adults lay four to five eggs every day and can live up to nine months in warm conditions.
Bed Bug Feeding Habits
Beginning with their first nymph stage, bed bugs will feed exclusively on blood. Contrary to popular belief. they are not entirely nocturnal, feeding whenever opportunity strikes. Once a nymph has found a viable food source, it will nest somewhere close. This is the primary reason bed bugs are usually found in beds.
When a bed bug feeds, its mouth parts penetrate the host painlessly and blood is pushed up through the feeding tube using natural pressure from the pierced blood vessel. A secondary tube injects anticoagulants into the hosts skin to prevent clotting. Once full, the bed bug retreats in order to molt or digest. Contact with the host is generally less than 20 minutes long, and feeding between five and ten minutes.
Unless a bed bug has been spotted, the first sign of an infestation is usually the presence of skin irritation. This may be a rash or blister, although some people do not manifest visible signs. Bed bugs may become infected by at least 28 human pathogens, although there are no clear findings that they can transmit these pathogens to humans. In some rare cases, a bite may result in a severe allergic reaction which requires medical attention.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From
Bed bugs are small and adept at sneaking into your belongings. They can be picked up in hotels, gym, schools, offices, or anywhere else an infestation may be present. They have also been known to be present in refurbished mattresses, although regulations have greatly reduced the risk of purchasing a bugged bed.
How to Identify a Bed Bug Infestation
Bed bugs are small and very difficult to spot. In addition, they resemble many other species of household insect. One of the quickest ways to identify bed bugs is to check for rashes or other skin reactions in the morning. Also, check your headboard, mattress, and linens when changing sheets for any bugs or tiny black spots of dried blood. If you spot any bug that resembles a bed bug or identify signs a bed bug has been feeding, it is best to call a professional exterminator to inspect your home.
Bed Bug Extermination Costs: Inspection & Treatments
There are three phases when dealing with a bed bug infestation: inspection, preparation, and treatment. The overall process can be quite costly, but the price is not necessarily from the inspection or treatment itself. You may have to destroy some of your furniture and discard many other items. Furthermore, if you do not properly prepare, the treatment may not be fully successful.
Getting a Professional Inspection
Upon spotting bed bugs, the first step is to contact a professional exterminator and report the sighting. It is important to have your whole home inspected, as the infestation may be confined to only a few rooms or throughout the house. This step may end up saving you a lot of money if the bed bugs are in a limited area.
What Do They Do?
Starting in the bedroom, the inspector will examine each piece of furniture, rugs, and the area immediately surrounding it for any signs of infestation. In some cases, they may probe cracks and crevices looking for hidden bugs. These signs include:
- fecal material
- molted shells
- live or dead bed bugs
Upon completion of the inspection, the exterminator will be able to confirm whether there is an infestation and, if so, how extensive. From there, they will be able to recommend the best possible treatment method.
An alternative method of inspection uses dogs trained to detect bed bugs. The accuracy of canine inspections may be as high as 96 percent. Note that not every extermination company will offer this service.
How Much Does an Inspection Cost?
The cost of an inspection varies depending upon the size of your home and local rates. In some cases, you may be able to get the inspection at no cost. However, it generally costs between $50 and $200. Canine inspections typically cost between $300 and $600 for the average home. Larger buildings such as apartments or hotels will run between $900 and $1200 for a canine unit.
Preparing for Treatment
Dealing with bed bugs is a complicated process, and the exterminator will require extensive preparations. As with many other aspects of bed bug treatment, the requirements may vary from one exterminator to another. The following items may or may not be required, depending upon the company you’re dealing with.
Removing potential infestations from fabrics is an involved but necessary measure. Bed bugs are known to hide within the material, and must be eliminated before reusing cloths, curtains, linens, etc. The process must be carefully followed to avoid any cross contamination.
- Gather all fabrics and washable cloth items, even those in storage, place them into garbage bags. Remove these from your home if possible, but DO NOT take to another home.
- Wash the fabrics with the hottest water possible. Seal and dispose of the emptied garbage bags carefully.
- Dry on the highest heat setting the fabrics can handle for at least one hour.
- Bag the clean fabrics in fresh plastic bags and store somewhere offsite until after the extermination.
Steam clean and/or use a heavy suction vacuum on all furniture, carpets, and unwashable cushions. If you use a vacuum, carefully dispose of the bag. Any furniture which is in poor condition or infested should be bagged carefully using storage bags available from a moving store, then disposed of. If you are willing to part with any furniture, then dispose of them in the same manner. Pull any remaining furniture away from the walls and vacuum around the edges of the room.
Any wooden bookshelves, desks, or other wooden furniture must be cleared off, as the bed bugs will attempt to hide between the boards. The exterminator will remove the bottom cover of box springs and couches to access potential hiding spots.
Depending upon the exterminator, you may not be permitted to use any boxes. Some companies will permit plastic or Tupperware, but cardboard is porous and provides places for the bed bugs to hide. Clean any plastic bins to store items in and seal tightly.
It is important to carefully bag or box all loose items when preparing for an extermination, as the bed bugs will attempt to hide in any available space. These items should be treated and/or inspected before placing them back in the rooms. All electronics and appliances will also need to be unplugged and moved away from the walls.
The Treatment Process
Bed bugs are resistant to pesticides and home remedies tend to scatter more bugs than they kill, making treatment more difficult. Instead, professional exterminators use a combination of methods to eliminate the infestation. The success of these methods may be adversely affected if you do not properly prepare for the treatment.
There are a number of treatment methods available. Some methods work well on their own, although some may require multiple applications or work best in conjunction with other methods. Note that any given treatment may not be available through your local extermination companies.
Fumigation is a complicated process usually associated with termite extermination. During a fumigation, your home will be covered in tarpaulin, which is generally anchored using large containers of water you must provide. Vikane gas is then pumped into the house where it is distributed throughout the structure by strategically placed fans. The use of fumigation has numerous advantages and disadvantages which you should consider before selecting this type of treatment.
- 99 to 100 percent success rate against bed bugs from egg to adult
- Will also destroy ants, termites, or other pests
- Leaves no residue, making it safe to reenter the home after the gas has been fully vented
- Use of gasses which harm the environment
- Does not prevent future infestations
- Requires additional preparations, some costly
- Takes two to three days, during which you must stay elsewhere
Bed bugs are unable to survive high temperatures, making heat a highly effective treatment method. Plastics and other items with low resistance to heat need to be removed prior to treatment. The exterminators will then pump heated air into the home, raising the temperature to 120 degrees. This method will kill everything from eggs to adults, although it leaves no chemical residue and therefore cannot prevent a future outbreak.
Your exterminator may decide to use liquid and powder chemicals in conjunction with other treatment methods. Powders are used for open, or “void” spaces, while liquids are used on cracks and crevices. Fleeing bed bugs are killed upon contact, making this a useful treatment method when used in conjunction with other methods. Unfortunately, bed bugs are becoming more resistant to pesticides, so these chemicals are not very effective on their own.
A variation on heat treatment, some professional exterminators will use a powerful steam cleaner to eradicate the bedbug infestation. These special cleaners have a high heat setting and may be used to clean everything from mattresses to curtains and even wall cracks. Water vapor penetrates materials better than other substances, and the exterminator will clean each item thoroughly, leaving no surviving eggs or bugs. While steam treatment is an effective means of exterminating bed bugs, it may take more than one pass to completely eliminate the problem.
Treatment Cost Comparisons (for an Average-Sized Home)
|Fumigation||$4-7.50/sq. ft.||Will also kill other pests.|
|Heat||$2000-$4000||Usually requires only one application.|
|Pesticides||(varies)||Supplemental treatment method.|
|Steam||(varies)||May require several passes. Used in conjunction with other methods.|
The best way to prevent a bed bug infestation is to practice caution when in areas that may contain them. If you are currently suffering from an infestation, this will include taking measures to avoid spreading them to work or school. Hotels and other places where people may congregate are common transfer points for this pest.
Using the SLEEP Method for Travel
Developed by Orkin Pest Control, this acronym helps you avoid bringing bed bugs home from hotels, motels, gyms, and other places where people congregate.
Take some time to inspect for signs of an infestation. Tiny black or rust colored spots from bed bug feces may be found on sheets, mattress tags, bed skirts, pillows, or seams. You may also spot bugs or shed exoskeletons during your survey.
Carefully lift the mattress, bed frame, headboard, and nearby objects which bed bugs may be hiding under. These insects tend to remain within five feet of a potential food source, making the search radius smaller. Again, you may locate exoskeletons, even if there are no live bugs visible.
Bed bugs cannot fly so placing your luggage on an elevated rack or shelf will reduce the risk of them hiding among your belongings. The location should be away from the bed and nearby wall. Remember that bed bugs may hide in picture frames, behind wall outlets, and other crevices near the bed.
Even if your initial inspection found nothing, there is a risk of picking up hitchhikers on the way home. Carefully examine your belongings and suitcases as you pack for any stray bugs. Packing in an area away from the bed will further reduce the risk of infestation.
To avoid the risk of eggs in your belongings, place your clothes in the dryer immediately upon your return home. Run the dryer for at least 15 minutes on the highest setting. This will eliminate any bed bugs or eggs you did not spot while packing.
Ways to Avoid Spreading Your Own Bedbugs
If you are already suffering from an infestation, it is important to avoid spreading these pests to others. Many prevention methods are simple and easy to incorporate into your daily life even when your infestation has been eliminated. Remember that bed bugs are small and may hide in tiny places you can’t see.
Daily Routine Items
Items which routinely leave your home; such as backpacks, briefcases, and jackets; should not be kept in the bedroom. When possible, keep them in an entryway or your car. This greatly reduces the risk of contamination. Avoid taking unnecessary items with you to reduce the potential number of hiding places.
If you are not required to leave your home for more than a few hours during the extermination, or if you are preparing for the exterminator, there are a few ways to avoid taking bed bugs with you. Using a spray on anything you are taking out of the house will help kill most of the bugs, but is not 10 percent effective. Carefully inspecting items will also help to catch any bugs. If you are staying with a friend, buy any toiletries on the way and take an immediate shower upon arrival, placing your clothes in the washer to avoid contaminating their home.