The Ultimate Guide to Killing Bedbugs

The ultimate guide to killing bed bugs yourself

You can get rid of bed bugs without an exterminator. Don’t be overwhelmed! Bed bugs can lead to a lot of anxiety. But with diligence, it is 100% possible to get rid of them without using an exterminator. If you follow these DIY bed bug extermination methods carefully and exactly, you will be bed bug free in no time.

Three simple steps to kill bed bugs on your own.

Quick start guide

This guide is over 4000 words long. If you would like to take a deep dive, feel free to read the whole thing. If not, here are the 3 most important steps to follow:

Get rid of bedbugs!ImageProductHow to useLearn more
Step 1kill bed bugs on your ownBed bug interceptorsIsolate your bed from the floor with bed bug interceptorsCheck price
Step 2DIY bed bug treamentBedbug-proof mattress coverUse a bed lock system to kill bed bugs already in the bedCheck price
Step 3get rid of bed bugs without an exterminatorCimeXa dessicantUse a safe desiccant like CimeXa to kill bed bugs elsewhereCheck price

  1. Isolate your bed from the floor with bed bug interceptors
  2. Use a bed lock system to kill bed bugs already in the bed
  3. Use a safe desiccant like CimeXa to kill bed bugs elsewhere

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are wingless, rust-colored insects approximately the size of the seed of an apple. If you have found one – sorry, there are probably more. Professional pest control treatments can start at upwards of $1,000. However, it is possible to treat bed bugs without an exterminator, (with some diligence and the right tools) for well under $100. You don’t even have to use dangerous poisons or noxious fumes, you can use organic, non-toxic products to kill bed bugs that are derived from safe, naturally occurring materials. According to NPMA’s 2011 Bed Bugs in America Survey, 20% of Americans have either had a bed bug infestation in their own home, or knows someone who has encountered bed bugs at home or while traveling. Unlike roaches, bed bugs don’t just live in dirty places – they can live anywhere there are people. Many people live with bed bugs for weeks and weeks before they even notice that they have an infestation. Furthermore, one discovering the infestation, it might take multiple treatments before finally exterminating them for good. Bed bugs are so difficult to get rid of because they have the ability to hide within minuscule cracks in almost any area of your home, including between floorboards, under the molding, in the seams of furniture and bedposts, even in electrical outlets and light sockets. They also only feed at night while the prey is asleep, and they can continue to live from 8 months to 1 year without a blood meal.

How to tell if you have bed bugs

Is this a bed bug? Since they are great hiders, you may not even know right away – they may be hidden in cracks in floorboards or behind molding, inside light sockets, or even in electrical outlets. Common signs that you may have bed bugs are:

Bed bug bites

Unfortunately, it is incredibly tough to identify the type of insect from the bite alone. However, bed bug bites most often present as small, raised red bites that can become inflamed, itchy, red or blistered. Bed bugs often bite multiple times, so it is common to see a cluster of similarly sized bites. Visible signs of the bite may not show up right away; sometimes it takes as much as a few days to appear. Since not everyone reacts to bed bug bites in the same way, this is not the most reliable method of determining if you have an infestation. Selective biting is a known phenomenon with bed bugs, meaning that one person in the house (or even in the same bed) may get bitten while the other is virtually ignored. If you have bites that you cannot identify, but have not seen a live bed bug, you should also be on the lookout for other signs of a bed bug infestation.

Spots on the sheets

Bed bugs may leave dark spots on the bed sheets that look like small spots of blood, or streaks from bed bug droppings.

Bed bug odor

A particularly heavy bed bug infestation may cause an odor that is often described as musty.

Bed bug exoskeletons and casings

Bed bugs can leave discarded recognizable shell casings.

How to identify bed bug

If you find an insect that you suspect may be a bed bug, try to catch it with a piece of clear scotch tape. You can then take it to a professional or compare it to photos online to identify it. Generally speaking, you can identify a bed bug by the following features: a flattened, rusty brown body, with thin 4-segmented antennae, 11-segmented abdomen, 6 short legs, and reduced wings incapable of flight. Finding a live bed bug is almost always a sure sign of an infestation. Even if you only see one, it is very likely that there are more. Bed bugs are notoriously good at hiding and spread quickly. Since their reproductive cycle is so short, the infestation can exacerbate rapidly. If you have not yet found a bed bug but are concerned that you may have an infestation, it’s a good idea to invest in some bedpost interceptors. These are very inexpensive and incredibly reliable monitoring tool that also isolates your bed from the bed bugs. They will help you determine conclusively if you really have an infestation.

Where do bed bugs come from?

Bed bugs have seen a major resurgence over the past years, particularly in major cities and metropolitan areas. Unfortunately, it is often incorrectly assumed that bed bugs only reside in houses or apartments that are unclean. For this reason, there is a negative stigma surrounding bed bugs. However – unlike other pests like mice and cockroaches, which can feed on discarded food – bed bugs are blood-obligate insects (they require blood from their hosts in order to reproduce). Thus, you can have a spotlessly clean home and still have a bed bug infestation. You may not even know about it for a long time. They typically enter an apartment through a neighboring unit, or they can be picked up from homes, hotels, offices, hospitals, cabs, movie theaters, public transit, etc. Bed bugs (or their eggs, which are very sticky) can accidentally get caught up in belongings such as suitcases, purses, laptop bags, and clothing. Unfortunately, if you find a single bed bug, it is very likely that there are more in hiding. A single pregnant female can lay five eggs per day, and she can procreate with her offspring. They are persistent, reproduce incredibly quickly, hide very well, and can survive months (possibly up to a year) without a feeding. Ignoring the problem won’t make it better, only worse.
Where do bed bugs come from?

Why are bugs so hard to get rid of?

To understand why bugs are so hard to kill, you first must understand the concept of the fecundity of species. What this means is that nature understands that many bugs will be killed; so in order to guarantee the continuation of the species, they will make thousands more offspring than they really need. Basically, individual bugs are easy to kill, but it’s hard to wipe them all out because of their reproductive redundancy. A single female bug can lay thousands if not millions of eggs in its lifetime. Thus, it is completely useless to try to kill them one by one. Squishing, vacuuming, etc – it’s bound to fail. Rather than attack them on an individual level, you have to use pest control methods that will either eradicate them all, or cut them off from their food source so that they starve. Most pest control professionals will employ a combination of both methods in order to ensure an effective treatment. If you want to emulate this on your own to avoid paying for an expensive pest control treatment, it is possible to do so. That said, you will want to make sure that you do it right the first time. If you miss even a small number of bugs, they will continue to breed and your problem will eventually return. Many people believe that they have taken appropriate measures only to find that they have bugs again in a few short weeks or months. In some cases, an ineffective treatment will only drive them deep into the walls or neighboring apartments where it is much more difficult to eradicate them. Then they can return later on down the line. It’s overwhelming, but definitely possible to get rid of them.

How to get rid of bed bugs – home treatments that actually work

Bed bugs will not go away on their own. Without action, the infestation only gets worse. Unfortunately, if you have found one bed bug in your home, it is highly likely that there are more in hiding: bed bugs can lay 1-5 eggs every day and over 500 during their lifetime. It is recommended to begin treating as soon as you find a bed bug. While professional exterminators can cost from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars, you can treat for bed bugs on your own for much less money. There are many success stories out there on the internet, and it tends to be much less expensive. That said, you must be diligent and persistent. Even if you or the landlord hires an exterminator, you may want to take extra precautions to ensure that the problem is 100% taken care of the first time around, and you do not have to go through the turmoil again. Below are all of the steps you can take to get rid of bed bugs for good, in descending order of importance and effectiveness. If you decide to attempt bed bug home remedies (whether on their own or as a supplement to professional treatment), you should attempt to follow as many of these steps as is possible and affordable.

Use bed bug interceptors.

This simple, inexpensive device helps isolate your bed from new bed bugs and keeps the bed bugs from spreading to other parts of the house. This incredibly reliable monitoring tool also isolates your bed from the bed bugs. They have 3 immediate benefits:

  1. You can determine whether you have bed bugs.
  2. You can prevent additional bed bugs from getting access to your bed.
  3. You minimize the risk of bugs spreading from your bed to other parts of the house (and then possibly returning to your bed after treatment).

Climbup Interceptors are the second line of defense for keeping bed bugs out of your bed. They will trap any bugs that attempt to scale the legs of the bed in their wells, preventing them from gaining access to their blood meal (you). Interceptors are also a useful method for determining if you have completely eliminated the bed bug infestation after you have completed your treatment with CimeXa. Buy bed bug interceptors here.
get rid of bedbugs cheap

Use a BugLock system on your bed

Purchase box spring, mattress, and pillow covers. Bed bugs trapped inside will starve to death, and new bed bugs cannot move in. This is extremely important, as any bugs that are not killed (or eggs that remain behind) may reproduce, necessitating additional expensive treatments. It is important to purchase mattress covers that are approved for bed bug protection. You want to ensure that new bed bugs do not enter the mattress to avoid your treatment, and that bed bugs already in the mattress are trapped and do not re-emerge after the CimeXa application. Do not remove the mattress cover under any circumstances for up to 6 months, to ensure that all of the trapped bugs have starved. One of the most common places for bed bugs to colonize is within the box spring, so you may also decide to get rid of your box spring altogether. With most modern mattresses, a box spring is not actually necessary: you can place the mattress directly on the bed using a center post and horizontal slats. Do not place your mattress directly on the floor, as this gives bed bugs easy access. If you throw out your box spring or mattress, be sure to encase and seal it completely with a mattress protector like this.

Launder all bedding

Bag, wash, dry, and re-dry all of your bedding clothing, and fabrics. Grab enough quarters, because fabrics have to be heated at 120 degrees F for at least 40 minutes to kill all bed bugs. This can be a hassle, but it is absolutely necessary, as bed bugs can be living in the fabrics and coming out at night to bite.

Apply CimeXa

Cimexa (Amorphous silica gel) is a desiccant, or a non-poison treatment that kills bugs by adhering to their exoskeleton and dehydrating them. ASGs are fatal to bed bugs but not harmful to humans (risks are extremely negligible if applied in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions on the label). Unlike other highly toxic pesticides (which may take days or even weeks for their toxic properties to degrade bed bug populations), the desiccant powder dehydrates and kills the bed bugs before they are able to reproduce. These treatments are preferable because they are simple to apply, and are fatal to bed bugs but safe for use around the house. In fact, it is food-grade and FDA approved, as well as certified by the EPA. It is even OK to use if you have pets in the house (Verify all manufacturer’s instructions!) ​[This] is the easiest way to apply CimeXa, since bed bugs can be hidden in many places including small crevices. Applying an even, light coating is best, since bed bugs will avoid large clumps but will walk right over a fine powder. You will want to avoid breathing in too much of the dust when you are first applying it, and it can be a mild irritant for the lungs and eyes. It is advisable to buy goggles and a mask. However, generally speaking, with sufficient respiration these treatments are very safe to apply. Once they have settled they are completely safe for humans. Even after a professional treatment, this is an inexpensive item that is great to keep on hand for your own peace of mind. Important Note: Recent studies have shown that CiMexa is more effective than Diatomaceous Earth, another popular desiccant. If you want to read a comparison of the two, read our in-depth CimeXa vs Diatomaceous Earth review.
kill bed bugs

Steam clean anything that cannot be laundered

An inexpensive steam cleaner is effective at treating fabrics or materials that cannot be laundered. While steam cleaners are less effective than other methods of exterminating bed bugs, they are useful for treating delicate fabrics or materials. We have a full write-up on the best steam cleaners for bedbugs here.

Vacuum all rugs

Ensure that the vacuum bag is completely sealed before starting. Vacuum up a small quantity of CiMexa or diatomaceous earth so that any bed bugs that are caught by the vacuum will die in the bag. Make sure you use a powerful, upright vacuum with a bag or removable canister so you can dispose of the used bag or clean the canister when you are done. Vacuum up a small quantity of CiMexa to ensure all captured insects die within the vacuum. Empty after cleaning.

Bug ovens

As a last resort for items that cannot be laundered or steamed, you can try a bug oven. They are completely non-toxic and safe (no pesticides, no chemicals, just heat). They are 100% effective in killing bed bugs of all life stages, including eggs, nymphs, and adults, and there are multiple sizes for different sized items. It only takes one person to set-up and folds flat for easy storage. The downside is that they are a bit more expensive than other methods, but still less expensive than most professional exterminators.

Bed bug treatment methods that don’t work

The following methods are considered to be ineffective methods of bed bug home treatment:

Boric acid

Boric acid can only be used as a pesticide if it is ingested by the insect. Bed bugs only utilize piercing and sucking mouthparts to blood from a live host, therefore boric acid is not effective against them.

Sonic repellent devices

Electronic devices that produce an ultrasonic frequency are often touted as an alternative method of repelling bed bugs. These methods are also sometimes referred to as high-pressure ultrasonic sound waves. Some claim to utilize your house’s existing wiring to send electromagnetic waves flowing through the wiring, thus repelling pests nesting within the walls, or emit a stream of negative ions which force them to vacate their nests. (There is no independent scientific data, and scarce anecdotal evidence, that these claims are true.) Others claim to utilize ultrasonic, or very high pitched, sound. They are most typically plugged directly into an electric wall outlet or via an adapter cord. These devices have been debunked as virtually useless against bed bugs. The Journal of Economic Entomology has repeatedly proven them to be ineffective, and in fact, the heat emitted can be a short-range attractant to bed bugs. The vast body of evidence indicates that these sonic repellent devices are virtually useless at managing a bed bug infestation. Electromagnetic, sonic and/or ultrasonic energy will not kill bed bugs, and there is no scientific data that substantiates the claim that they are not even effective repellents. On May 3rd, 2001, the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Enforcement (which exists in part to protect the consumer from fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices) warned more than 60 manufacturers and retailers of ultrasonic pest-control devices for making claims without substantiated scientific evidence, citing the FTC Act, which prohibits false and deceptive advertising. Specifically, explicit claims about the products’ ability to eliminate rodents or repel insects were not adequately supported. [www.ftc.gov]. [WedMD] reports that according to new research in the Journal of Economic Entomology, researchers from Flagstaff, Arizona observed “no differences in the number of bed bugs in the area” when using 4 different ultrasonic bed bug devices in accordance with manufacturers instructions.

Over the counter foggers

Rather than killing bed bugs quickly, these simply cause the bugs to vacate. Although seemingly counter-intuitive, repelling bed bugs is not what you want. Bed bug repellent devices will only force the bed bugs deeper into the home, or into a neighboring unit where they can quickly reproduce and eventually return. If you simply repel them but do not address the source of the issue, the infestation will simply grow out of hand. A truly effective treatment will kill all of the adult bed bugs, nymphs, and eggs, so that the population is completely decimated and cannot simply return over and over again.

Neem oil

Neem oil is an essential oil extracted from the different components (chiefly bark, leaves, fruits and seeds) of the neem tree. It is often utilized as a natural remedy for fungi, viruses, bacteria, inflammation, and microorganisms. Neem oil has been shown to kill bed bugs on direct contact, and even has some repellent properties. But neem oil (or other neem products with neem extracts as an active ingredient) will not eliminate your bed bug problem by itself. The repellent effect will only last for up to 1 week at the longest. This means that the bed bugs can just remain in their hiding places until it is safe to emerge once more. Even, if reapplied, Thus, using neem oil as a sole method of bed bug extermination is not only a poor use of your time but can also potentially allow the bed bug population even more opportunity to get a foothold, eventually making it more challenging to exterminate. Neem oil will not stop bed bug bites. Neem oil is a mild repellent but will not prevent a hungry bed bug from attacking its prey. Although some sources claim that bed bugs mistakenly ingest neem oil, mistaking it for natural hormones, and blocking their real hormones from working properly, there is no evidence that bed bugs ingest neem oil or that it works as anything more effective than a mild repellent. Unfortunately, since neem oil does not have residual fatal effects on bed bugs, it will not exterminate the population. This is due to an important principle in biology known as fecundity. Fecundity means the ability to produce abundant healthy growth or offspring. In other words, fecundity is the natural tendency of bed bugs (for one) to produce many more offspring than they will ultimately need, with the assumption that the majority of them will die off. Any bed bugs that you manually kill will not affect the health of the overall population, as it was already built into the fecundity, nor would you be able to keep up with the new offspring being produced. Simply put, techniques that simply repel and kill individual bugs, such as neem oil, are not sufficient for handling bed bugs. It is not practical to apply a contact-only bed bug treatment method on every individual bug, egg, and nymph; yet if you do not, they will only keep returning, despite your best efforts. Furthermore, it is debatable whether neem oil has any effect on the bed bug nymphs and eggs. If adults are killed, but eggs remain, the bed bug population will never truly be exterminated and the problem will return again and again until it is handled properly.

Hair dryers

Hair dryers can technically get hot enough to kill a bedbug (if you point it at one for long enough), but it’s not going to be an efficient way to kill bedbugs. Read our full write-up on killing bedbugs with a hairdryer.

Paint thinner

Again, paint thinner or turpentine would kill bedbugs, but it’s simply not a good idea to use it in your home. Read more about why you should not use paint thinner for bedbugs.

Rubbing alcohol

The main problem with utilizing rubbing alcohol as a bed bug treatment is that it will fail to continue to kill the bed bugs one it has already evaporated or dried. Additionally, the use of rubbing alcohol in the home to eliminate bed bugs has been classified as an extreme fire hazard. The user should be made aware that even when used in a spray form, the application of rubbing alcohol significantly increases the risk of accidental fires. Furthermore, there are no residual effects when using rubbing alcohol as a sole method of bed bug extermination, (this means that it does not continue to kill bed bugs after it has already been applied, so every single insect must be contacted by the rubbing alcohol in order for the treatment to be effective.) Due to the principle of fecundity, or the fact that bed bugs produce many more offspring than they actually need, such a method will never be completely effective in the long-term treatment of pests. It is not feasible either to expect to contact all of the hiding bed bugs, or to keep up with the rapid growth of the bed bug population with such manual method extermination. It should be noted that bed bugs can reach a population size of over 5,000 bugs in under six months from an initial population of less than 40 bed bugs. Not only is it not feasible to hit all of the bed bugs with the spray (because they are notoriously good hiders and have been known to wedge themselves into small cracks in floorboards, electrical and light sockets, etc.), bed bugs reproduce in significantly higher quantities than replacement level. Constantly, the majority of bed bug larvae will simply be expendable surplus. You can manually remove or kill bed bugs all day and you will have no impact on the ultimate health of the population; those fatalities are already accounted for by the fecundity of the species.

Is my landlord responsible to pay for a bed bug exterminator?

First things first, if you rent you should talk to your landlord right away. In many jurisdictions, it is the landlord’s financial responsibility to provide a safe and habitable environment, which includes one free of infestations. Although the law can vary from state to state, generally speaking, a landlord must pay to exterminate pests, such as bed bugs, that a tenant has not introduced. In some municipalities, the landlord is only responsible if more than one unit is affected. First – check your lease. Then do some research on your local laws. Unfortunately, in the case of multi-unit buildings, it is exceedingly difficult to determine who introduced the bed bugs (and consequently, who is financially responsible for the extermination). If you are a long-term tenant in a single-unit building, it will be especially challenging for you to prove that you did not introduce the bed bugs to the unit, and you are more likely to be responsible for footing the bill. Regardless, contact your landlord or manager immediately, as they may be able to determine if the infestation came from another unit. They may also arrange for an exterminator to inspect the unit, which can help determine when a particular rental unit became infested and thus the financial responsibility for the extermination. If you or your landlord determine that you are responsible, you can contact a professional exterminator for a quote (maybe a few hundred to over a thousand dollars), or it is possible to try bed bug home remedies to kill bed bugs yourself.

How can I prevent bed bugs?

It is important to know how to prevent a bed bug infestation from occurring. Prevention is 100x easier than spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on professional extermination! Follow these steps to help protect yourself from a bed bug problem before it ever starts. If you have traveled somewhere you suspect was infested with bed bugs, follow these steps as preventative measures:

      1. If you know ahead of time, buy a travel-sized bed bug spray. While not a particularly effective method for home treatment, these are your first line of defense when traveling. You should spray your suitcase and clothes before returning home.
      2. Wash anything you had with you on the trip and dry on high heat for at least 30 minutes after it is completely dry. (If you cannot wash the suitcase, you can bag it up and don’t use it for 12 months minimum. Otherwise, get a steam cleaner like this one for under $30 and steam it thoroughly.)
      3. Order bedpost interceptors. They are the cheapest, best (and most commonly recommended) bed bug prevention and monitoring method
      4. Keep some CimeXa desiccant on hand, it is safe for humans (and pets) but kills bugs by dehydrating them. You can prevent and treat bed bug infestations by applying CimeXa with a duster around the house.

    If you have a neighbor or adjacent unit that you suspect has bed bugs, follow these steps to help prevent an infestation in your house:

      1. Apply CimeXa under and around beds, sofas, and recliners, along common hallways/corridors, and beneath unit entry doors.
      2. Order bedpost interceptors.

how to prevent bed bugs

Does CimeXa really work to kill bedbugs?

Recent studies by Booth, et al (*bed bug prevention information sources: Booth, W., V.L. Saenz, R.G. Santangelo, C. Wang, C. Schal and E.L. Vargo. 2012. Molecular markers reveal the infestation dynamics of the bed bug (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) within apartment buildings. J. Med. Entomol. 49: 535-546.) which examined the genetic makeup of several generations of bed bugs have determined that infestations in multi-unit buildings are more often due to active dissemination between apartments than a new introduction by occupants. In laboratory and field studies, applying a fine coating of CimeXa around the perimeter and baseboard areas of apartments was extremely effective in reducing the propagation and spread of infestations between units. The proactive application of CimeXa is recommended if an infestation is suspected in adjacent units. If you follow these guidelines and instructions carefully, there is no reason that you shouldn’t be able to handle most bed bug infestations. If you continue to see a few slow-moving bed bugs even after the first application of CimeXa, this is normal. When the CimeXa begins to work they typically will begin to move at a slower pace until death. But, it is still advisable to do a second and third application to ensure that you have killed any stragglers that could remain and reproduce, negating all of your hard work.

Can I really get rid of bed bugs without an exterminator?

There are a lot of websites on the internet that claim that the only effective way of getting rid of bed bugs is to hire an expensive exterminator to do multiple rounds of heat treatment. The truth is, most of these sites are probably created or funded by bed bug extermination companies. There is a lot of money to be made in the exterminator business; the last thing these companies want is to lose business when people research DIY methods of bed bug extermination. That being said, there is no magic solution for bed bugs. Whether you treat yourself or how an exterminator, it may take a few tries before you get them all. It’s important to be diligent and careful so that you eliminate any insects that you miss on the first treatment before they reproduce. But, it is possible to completely get rid of bed bugs yourself without an exterminator, and we hope that this guide helps. Don’t forget, ignoring a bed bug infestation is a surefire way to make certain that the problem only gets worse. You will want to take immediate action to make your job easier in the long run.

get rid of bed bugs without an exterminator
Independent pest control information

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