Bed bugs have become quite an issue. To make matters worse, they are becoming resistant to chemical treatments; for the same reason bacterial infections have become resistant to antibiotics. This is a wake-up call. I believe the only time we should resort to chemical treatments is only after all other methods have failed. This would also mean that a bit of knowledge and taking a ‘pro-active’ approach should help considerably in preventing bed bugs and eliminating potential infestations.
Until recently, bed bug infestations were thought to be associated primarily with unclean, crowded and dilapidated housing. However, such bed bug infestations have undergone a resurgence and can be found even in the finest hotel and living accommodations, in your suitcase after a trip, and living in the brand new furniture or clothing you just brought into your home.
First, there are five important things we need to become aware of and consider if we are to get control over the problem;
- What is the ‘life cycle’ of a bed bug?
- What do bed bugs do that we notice?
- How do we find bed bugs if they are present?
- How do we prevent a bed bug infestation?
- What are the top 10 chemical-free ways to get rid of bed bugs?
Bed Bug Life Cycle
Being a landscaper and avid gardener I am extremely interested in knowing an insect pests life cycle and using IPM (Integrated Pest Management) techniques. Integrated Pest Management, or “IPM,” is a process you can use to prevent and/or solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment. I believe that knowing an insect pests life cycle plays a large role in helping us to use natural treatments, and sometimes even safer chemicals, less often and more effectively. So here’s the scoop on bed bugs…
The female bed bug lays 200 to 500 tiny, white eggs in batches of 10 to 50 on rough surfaces such as wood or paper. A glue-like material covers the eggs, which hatch in about 10 days. After hatching occurs, the eggshells frequently remain stuck in place.
There are five progressively larger nymphal stages, each requiring a single blood meal before molting to the next stage, which is where we come into the picture!
The entire life cycle from egg to adult requires anywhere from 5 weeks to 4 months, depending on temperature and availability of food (blood). When temperatures are in the range of 70° to 82°F, development occurs most rapidly.
Nymphs and adults generally feed at night and hide in crevices during the day. Common hiding places include seams in mattresses and box springs, cracks in bed frames, under loose wallpaper, behind picture frames, and inside furniture and upholstery. Occasionally people pick up bed bugs in theaters or on buses and trains. They also can bring them into their home on clothing, bedding, luggage, or firewood.
Bed bugs can go without feeding for 80 to 140 days. Older stages of nymphs can survive longer without feeding than younger ones, and adults have survived without food for as long as a whopping 550 days. A bed bug can take six times its weight in blood, and feeding can take 3 to 10 minutes. Adults live about 10 months, and there can be up to 3 to 4 generations of bed bugs per year, at which point you’ve got a big problem if you haven’t addressed the infestation yet.
What Do Bed Bugs Do That We Notice
A bed bug bite feels like a pin prick, but because feeding usually occurs at night when we are asleep we’re not aware we’ve have been bitten until afterwards. In the meantime, the bed bug saliva has been injected during the feeding and can later produce large swellings on the skin that itch and may become irritated and infected when scratched. Swelling may not start until a day or more after feeding, and some people do not show symptoms. Currently, bed bugs are not considered to be disease carriers.
Distinguishing bed bug bites from the bites of other arthropods such as mosquitoes, fleas, and spiders is difficult. People often confuse itching bed bug welts for mosquito bites. The only way you really can confirm that you have been bitten by bed bugs is to find the bugs in your bed or bedroom. Often people are bitten when traveling, making diagnosis even more difficult, this is also one way that we can introduce bed bugs into our own homes.
In addition to the direct injury to humans, bed bugs have stink glands that leave odors. They also leave unsightly fecal spots on bed linens and around their hiding places. These spots are darkish red in color, roughly round, and can be very small.
Playing Detective: How do you Find Bed Bugs
There are some things to search for the pests: look for them, their fecal spots, egg cases, and shed skins (exuviae). This might be a bit challenging for some because bed bugs and their eggs are so tiny.
Current research reports more than 85% of bed bugs are found in or near the bed, so inspections for infestations should focus on the mattress, bed frame, and headboard areas.
Lift your mattress and inspect all seams and surfaces as well as the box springs. You may need to dismantle the bed and use a flashlight and magnifying glass to aid the inspection process.
Although you can see adults and aggregations of nymphs with the unaided eye, seeing the eggs require a magnifying glass for most. However, it may be easier to detect dark spots of dried bed bug excrement or the insects’ light-colored shed skins. Sometimes a foul, rotting, bloody-meat smell might be present in heavily infested areas, let’s hope your home doesn’t fit into this category!
In addition to the bed area, the remaining 15% of infestations usually are in upholstered furniture other than beds, bedroom closets, along baseboards, under wallpaper, in carpets, in filing cabinets, behind wall hangings, to name a few.
Bed bugs prefer fabric or wood surfaces to metal or plastic.
For heavy infestations; adjoining rooms, and clutter can be out-of-way shelters. It takes patience and perseverance to find low-level infestations.
Preventing Bed Bugs From Infesting Your Home
People usually bring bed bugs into their homes, in luggage or on clothes, after visiting an infested dwelling or hotel. When you travel, watch for signs of bed bugs in your hotel room by checking under sheets and inspecting mattresses, especially if you have been bitten. If you suspect bed bugs, check your luggage before leaving and wash all your clothes in hot water as soon as you get home. Suggestion: If you do find evidence of bed bugs in a hotel room nicely inform the hotel staff, they will want to know so they can address the problem. Hotels can help prevent bed bugs by frequent laundering of bedding and placing items that could be infested in walk-in freezers during tenant change and turnover can help prevent the spread of bed bugs.
Bed bugs can also be brought into your home on bedding, furniture, or clothing (shopping for old or new clothing). If you purchase second-hand furniture, especially beds or mattresses, thoroughly inspect the item before bringing it into your home. If you remove infested mattresses or furniture from your home, do not leave it on the curb or porch, take them immediately to the dump.
It is much easier to control a population when the infestation is small. here are a few tips:
Eliminate clutter so it is easier to inspect and bed bugs have fewer hiding places.
Seal up cracks, crevices, and holes in bedding or furniture and other potential hiding sites.
Non-Chemical Solutions to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
I cannot recommend or promote the use of any type of chemical to address a bed bug infestation because there are so many kinds and an equal number of ways to handle them. I personally don’t use chemicals due to their toxicity to other living things in my home and in the environment; besides all chemicals are simple in their compound make up which means (much like we’ve seen with the over-use of antibiotics) it won’t be long before the pest becomes immune to the chemical(s) and we have a super-pest on our hands… which is quite possibly the reason why we’re seeing bed bug infestations all over the place. If you feel that you must use chemicals to treat bed bugs, hire a professional, please don’t use chemicals sold in the stores as they are toxic and have been shown to be ineffective.
10 Chemical-Free Ways to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
- A trap, Interceptor: Research showed that using these small, double-cupped monitors (that fit under the feet of furniture) are easily installed and trapped six times more bed bugs than were found from human visual searches alone.
- Essential Oils: These would need to be the superior quality essential oils; which are unadulterated and not diluted down with carrier oils and synthetic ingredients. I sell high quality essential oils if you’re interested in buying some. These would work on bed bugs in these ways; 1) Essential oils break down the waxy coating on insects bodies causing them to lose moisture and die, and 2) Scent of these essential oils does seem to discourage bed bugs, however, I wouldn’t rely on this to kill them because if you have bed bugs your ultimate goal is to get rid of them as soon as possible! So, I would diffuse Purification essential oil (more on that here), as well as; vacuum frequently (see #4 below), get rid of clutter, properly dispose of anything heavily infested, and wash anything I could in hot water and/or anything that could go in the dryer would go in there.
- Bed Bug Sniffing Dogs: Recent research has shown searching with dogs can be an effective method for finding bed bug infestations. Under laboratory and simulated-field conditions, using dogs to search for bed bugs was 97% effective.
- Vacuum really well and often: You will need to target the vacuum on the seams of mattresses and box springs, along perimeters of carpets, under baseboards, and in other areas where bed bugs live. A single vacuuming rarely gets all bugs and eggs and therefore, should be repeated.
- Heat and Bed Bugs: Portable steam cleaners can also be used to clean mattresses and furniture. Commercial heating services are available to treat entire rooms in homes for bed bug infestations. The current label use for commercial heating services is 140°F for two hours or 130°F for three hours, which will kill most bed bugs and eggs. Some states say that providers of heat services must be licensed and bonded when treating for wood destroying pests.
- Clothes Dryer and Bed Bugs: For suspected infestations in clothing or bedding, a home laundry drier is very good at killing bed bugs; only 10 to 15 minutes exposure is needed.
- Cold Treatment and Bed Bugs: Chilling to a temperature of 32°F or lower and maintaining this temperature for several days also will kill bed bugs.
- Mattress Covers: Mattress encasement’s specifically designed to keep out bed bugs are commercially available. Encasement’s are particularly useful for hotels or other facilities with many beds; however, their effectiveness at excluding bed bugs has not been thoroughly researched.
- Sealing Cracks and Crevices: This includes sealing up hiding places such as cracks and crevices in walls and around windows and doors where bed bugs can hide.
- Temporary Measures: You can exclude bed bugs from clean beds by coating bed legs with petroleum jelly, or placing bed feet inside smooth metal cans, which are too slippery for bed bugs to climb.
With this knowledge we should all sleep better knowing that there are easy and chemical-free solutions to preventing bed bugs and ways we can get rid of bed bugs safely and effectively. I think the most important thing we need to remind ourselves of, is that we do need to practice these simple methods so we can break the life cycle of the bed bug as this will keep our bedrooms clear of any possible infestations.
Native Plant Landscaper, Gardener, Labyrinth Design, Feng Shui Practitioner, Aromatherapy / Essential Oils, Big Fan of Nature and Living Simply.
"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
~ R. Buckminster Fuller