Although bed bugs are a major problem in some urban areas and hotels, the good news is that they don’t carry any diseases.

Some people don’t even know they are getting bitten.  When my wife gets bitten she breaks out in a pretty impressive rash.  When I get bitten, there are no marks at all and I don’t feel anything.  Everyone reacts differently to bed bug bites.  This is one reason it is impossible to diagnose them as a problem based on bites alone.

bed bug home control

Bed bugs have been in the news quite a bit in recent years.  Stories that they are increasing in numbers and becoming more widespread are common.  In reality, they have always been around and always will be.  The reason they are getting so much press is because we have so much news media.  They were just as common before CNN and all the cable stations came into existence as they are now, but they weren’t getting the press.

Also, living in a litigious society, we are more prone to sue hotels and motels that have these “dangerous” pests present.  As a result of this, bed bugs have become the No. 2 structural pest in the country, right behind termites.  They have almost created an industry by themselves as many pest control companies are charging ridiculously exorbitant fees to control them, usually using toxic pesticides.   Bed bugs are all over the internet and are getting pretty well known.

They may be the best known bug in the country next to the cockroach.


Bed bugs are, as stated earlier, true bugs.  They belong to the Order Heteroptera and family Cimicidae. They have piercing mouthparts that they use to suck blood out of its prey.  Sometimes they get a little excited and will climb on the back of another bed bug who is engorged with blood, pierce it and suck out the blood from that bug.  The bottom bug will keep sucking on the person as if nothing is going on and both bugs will let go when they are both engorged, although the bottom bug may leak a little.  Like most blood-sucking insects, bed bugs inject an anti-coagulant into the bite site during feeding to prevent the blood from clotting while they are dining.


They are attracted to sleeping people by the warmth of the person and the carbon dioxide given off.  They almost always feed at night and hide during the day, but they will feed during the day if they are starving.  They are a secretive insect and will hide in areas close to the food source, mostly where people sleep but sometimes in furniture.  They will live under mattresses, in voids in wooden floors, behind paintings, along baseboards under the carpet, various cracks and crevices in walls, behind pictures hanging on walls, in furniture near the bed and behind loose wallpaper.  They do like to congregate and you will often find several or more together depending on the size of the infestation.  You will also see small black specks on the mattress (fecal matter) or blood spots on the sheets.

Bed bugs are wingless, oval in shape and 4-5 mm long when grown.  They are brown in color but change to a deeper reddish brown after feeding.  They are flat from top to bottom which makes it easier for them to hide in cracks and crevices in your home or hotel room.  They are fairly prolific in that the female will lay 2-3 eggs every day after mating for the rest of her life.  The cream-colored eggs are attached to rough surfaces and will hatch in about 10 days of room temperature.  Usually many eggs are laid in the same area as a cluster.  There are five nymphal stages they go through before reaching adulthood.  Each nymphal stage requires at least one blood meal in order to molt to the next stage.  It takes less than 10 minutes for a bed bug to complete a meal.  The entire five juvenile stages take 6-8 weeks and the adult bed bugs will live between 6 months and a year, depending on food.


Bed bugs have a very unusual sex life.

Although both sexes are equipped with normal sex organs, the male bed bug pierces the females abdomen with his penis and injects his sperm through the wound into her abdominal cavity.  The sperm works its way through the female abdomen finally reaching the ovaries and resulting in fertilization.  The female survives this indignity and continues to live and lay eggs although it may be detrimental to her health.  It creates an open wound that may become infected.  This type of sex is the reason females leave the groups of bed bugs in a hiding place and find a solitary place of their own a fair distance away from the others.


These interesting insects rarely travel far from their food source, but if they haven’t fed in about two weeks, they will migrate somewhere else.  If they are in an apartment complex, condominium, hotel or motel, they will work their way to adjacent rooms in search of food.  This is one reason why innkeepers should inspect rooms as they are vacated and treat them if necessary. If the rooms have bugs and they aren’t dealt with, they will spread to other rooms looking for food.  They can go without a blood meal for about six months, depending on the humidity (longer with higher humidity, shorter when dryer conditions exist).


They have few natural predators.  Several species of ants, including the pharaoh ants (Monomorium pharaonis) and the Argentine ants (Iridomyrmex humilis) are known to feed on bed bugs and the American cockroach (Periplaneta Americana) is said to like them although that hasn’t been proven.  Most folks don’t want ants or cockroaches in their beds anyway, even if they are looking for bed bugs.



God gave us Dominion over all of the other animals, including bed bugs, but He didn’t require us to poison ourselves or pollute the planet with dangerous pesticides in order to accomplish this goal.


One of the first control methods for bed bugs was to hang the foot of a stag at the foot of the bed.  That probably didn’t work very well.  One of the first exterminators for bed bugs was a company called Messrs. Tiffin and Son, known as “Bug destroyers to Her Majesty and the Royal Family.”  They apparently only catered to the “upper class” in England.  Bed bugs became a major problem after World War I.  It is estimated that one-third of all the houses in Stockholm, Sweden were infested and that 4 million people dealt with bed bugs in London at that time.  In Germany, over 700 pest control companies tried to eradicate them from that country. Unfortunately, bed bug eradication methods were generally very expensive (as they are now) and almost always failed because of re-infestations.  During the World War II era, DDT was used quite a bit but the insects developed a resistance to this toxic pesticide.  They also built up resistances to other chemicals that were used against them such as benzene, dieldrin and hexachloride, all very toxic pesticides.  Currently most exterminators use synthetic pyrethroids to control bed bugs although some have adopted a method using heat.  Heat may kill any existing bugs, but it won’t prevent a re-infestation.


Is it possible to control bed bugs with non-toxic materials?

All you need to start is a EPA Exempt pesticide, which is safe or even just a mixture of alcohol and water with a little dish soap.

Mix a gallon sprayer half and half with water and alcohol and a cup of dish soap.  Then you will need some food grade diatomaceous earth (DE).  You can get DE at a feed store or buy Fossil Shell Flour.  Greenbug is one very good EPA Exempt pesticide.  There are others.  And you will need a hair dryer.


The first step in controlling bed bugs is to completely inspect the room to determine the extent of the infestation.  Place close attention to the sleeping areas. They can be hiding anywhere but they will stay as close to the food source as they can.  Small crevices in solid structures, such as the joints in the bed’s headboard or between the wall and the base board are the bedbugs’ refuge of choice.


Strip the bed so you can inspect the mattress and box spring.  Examine the seams and buttons on the mattress as well as any labels. Bed bugs will hide in all of these areas.  Stand the mattress on end if you have to and examine the box spring if there is one.  Stand it up and look at the underside, especially along the edges.  Also look behind pictures hanging on the wall, between and behind any books or magazines in close proximity to the bed and in any furniture nearby.  You may have to turn some of the furniture over and examine the underside.


Carefully check anything that is under the bed including storage boxes. If there is any litter under the bed, it should be removed.  Also check for dried cast skins (exuviae) from the molting process and fecal matter.


Before you start the treatment, there are a few preparations you should do.  Wash all the bedding in hot water (120 + degrees).  This will kill any bed bugs in the bedding.  Personal items such as stuffed animals, blankets, etc. should be vacuumed and placed in plastic bags for a couple of weeks.  If you have a clock, phone, radio or other appliance near the bed, they should be opened and inspected as bed bugs will hide in those places as well.  Thoroughly vacuum the entire room including inside closets and dresser drawers.

If the infestation is severe, you will have to use a crack and crevice vacuum tool to suck the bugs out from along the edge of the carpet, from behind switch plates which you will have to remove, from all around the bed frame, inside the box spring and inside any furniture in the room.  If you see any eggs on the mattress along the seams, you can remove these by picking them up with duct tape.  After vacuuming the room or rooms, remove the bag from the vacuum and discard it right away.


Next, use a steam cleaner in all the cracks and crevices and along the edge of the carpet and on the furniture to get any bed bugs the vacuuming missed.  You want to get as many bed bugs as you can before the final treatment.  If you haven’t got a steam cleaner, you can use a hair dryer.


Now it is time to treat the bed.  Use a flashlight and carefully examine the seams, buttons and any folds in the mattress along with the headboard and footboard if they are present.  Check the box spring and frame as well. Use the hair dryer and aim it at any crevices or voids in the bed frame.  If there are any bed bugs hiding in the crevices, they will come out because of the heat. Spray any bed bugs you see with the EPA Exempt pesticide or alcohol and water mixture as well as all cracks and crevices in the bed.  Spray the underside of the box spring as well.  If you don’t see any bed bugs, then spray along the seams and around the folds and all the other areas mentioned.  Make sure to use plenty of solution so the sprayed surface is wet.  Then put some DE in a duster such as a catsup container and puff DE on all the sprayed areas, including under the box spring.  This method will kill any bed bugs in several hours and the DE will prevent any from hiding in these areas in the near future.  You can also sprinkle fine powder body bath powder on the mattress and rub it into the fabric.


Now you have to treat all the furniture in the room including night stands, chairs, couches, dressers, etc.  Make sure you carefully inspect all the wooden furniture and treat them as you treated the mattress, box spring and bed frame.  If any of the furniture, such as bunk beds, have metal framing, treat inside the metal tubing with EPA Exempt or alcohol solution.

Finally, you need to make your bed difficult for bed bugs to access. Tape up any tears in the box spring or mattress with duct tape or, better yet, enclose them in a zippered mattress cover used for dust mites.  Put the legs of the bed in coffee containers filled with soapy water and coat the legs with Vaseline Petroleum Jelly.  Don’t let the bed touch any walls or let the bed covers touch the floor.

You can trap bed bugs by placing a heating pad on the floor with sticky traps around it or you can use duct tape, sticky side up.  Put an Alka-Seltzer tablet on a damp sponge on a small plate on the heating pad.  The Alka-Seltzer will attract any bed bugs in the area. Used on a damp sponge they will attract bed bugs.

Richard Fagerlund