If you’ve been dealing with a bed bug problem, you’ve likely heard of mattress encasements. These are large, zippered covers that completely enclose your mattress. They’re designed to trap pre-existing bed bugs, and prevent new ones from reaching your mattress.
Mattress covers trap bed bugs inside your mattress, so they can’t bite you. Eventually, the trapped bugs starve and die. Encasements are also flat, so you can easily spot new bed bugs. However, mattress encasements won’t prevent bugs from living elsewhere in your home.
Let’s take a look at what bed bug mattress encasements are, and how they work. You’ll find out how they kill bed bugs, and whether they can stop you from being bitten. We’ll also look at the difference between mattress encasements and regular mattress protectors.
What Are Bed Bug Mattress Encasements?
Mattress encasements are a cover for your mattress that bed bugs can’t get through. They’re usually made of a material like cotton, and they have a zip that goes around the whole mattress.
Encasements offer many benefits, and can be used in three distinct ways.
- For pre-existing bed bug infestations. Mattress encasements trap and kill bed bugs that are already living inside your mattress. The bugs can’t get out to feed, so they eventually die.
- To help prevent new infestations from taking hold. While they can’t prevent bugs from entering your home, they can stop them from hiding inside folds of your mattress. Mattress encasements make bed bugs easier to see. The sooner you see the signs of an infestation, the easier it is to deal with.
- To protect a new mattress from being stained with blood or fecal spots from bed bugs. Many people use them as a precaution when they’re living in a furnished rented apartment.
A bed bug mattress encasement can be used alongside a bed bug box spring cover, to protect the whole bed.
Do Bed Bug Mattress Encasements Kill Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs can survive for a long time without oxygen. When inside a completely airtight container, they can live for up to 5 days. And of course, if there’s even the smallest hole in the container, this will provide them with enough air to live on.
Mattress encasements are not airtight. They’re usually made of a breathable material such as cotton. So, inside a mattress encasement, bed bugs won’t suffocate.
They will, however, starve. Mattress encasements are specifically designed so that bed bugs cannot escape them. They fasten with a zip, so that there are no gaps for them to get through.
When trapped inside a mattress encasement, the bugs can’t feed, so they will die. However, it won’t be instant, as bed bugs can survive for a long time without food.
How Long Does It Take for Bed Bugs to Starve to Death?
Bed bugs need to drink human blood to survive. It’s where they get 100% of their nutrients, including water. They feed more often in warmer weather, and less frequently during the winter.
On average, a bed bug will try to feed at least once a week. Nymphs (juveniles) may need to feed more often than this.
However, they can last for an impressive amount of time without a meal if the need arises. It’s not known exactly how. Their bodies go into a dormant state, a bit like hibernation.
In some studies, bed bugs have been documented to live for up to 18 months without feeding. In other studies, they’ve lasted only 4-6 months.
Once you put the mattress encasement on, you should never take it off. This will ensure that all the bugs trapped inside will eventually die.
As a minimum, leave the encasement on for at least two years. If you need to transfer it to a new mattress, wash it and dry it at 140 degrees Fahrenheit beforehand. This will kill the remaining bugs and eggs inside.
Do Mattress Encasements Stop Bed Bugs Biting You?
If your mattress is infested with bed bugs, encasing it will stop the bed bugs inside from biting you.
As we’ve discussed, mattress encasements don’t have any gaps large enough for bed bugs to fit through. Once they’re inside, they’re trapped.
Because they don’t have teeth, they can’t chew holes in the encasement. And their proboscises can’t penetrate the fabric, so they can’t bite you while they’re inside. The only fabric that they can penetrate is thin mesh, like tulle used for bridal veils.
So, in one way, mattress encasements can stop bed bugs from biting you. However, if bed bugs are living in another area of your home, you might still get bitten.
Mattress encasements cannot prevent new bed bugs from climbing into your bed and biting you. If a bed bug is living in your headboard, for example, it could still crawl into your sheets and bite you.
That being said, mattress encasements do make it much easier to see bed bugs. If you see one early enough, you can get rid of it before it bites you.
Do Mattress Encasements Prevent Bed Bugs?
Many people choose mattress encasements to protect their new, clean mattresses from bed bugs.
Encasements are great for this. They prevent bed bugs from coming into direct contact with the mattress. Bed bugs can’t access the folds and crevices where they typically love to hide.
For example, the piping around the edges of the mattress. The encasement also protects the mattress from fecal spots and blood stains.
However, the idea that mattress encasements will completely prevent bed bugs from infesting your home is untrue.
With an encasement, bed bugs may not be able to get into your mattress, but they can still live on top.
The advantage of using mattress encasements is that they do not contain any folds or crevices for bed bugs to hide in. Bed bugs will be much easier to see when they’re on top of the encasement. You’ll be able to spot and kill them before they get a chance to breed.
To prevent bed bugs from reaching your bed altogether, you can use bed bug interceptor traps in conjunction with mattress encasements.
How Do Bed Bug Interceptors Work?
Bed bug interceptors are small dishes that are designed to fit underneath your bed legs.
The outside of the trap is textured and slanted, so bed bugs can easily climb up into it. However, the inside is made of a slippery plastic that bed bugs can’t climb. They get stuck inside, and remain there until you find them.
If you put one bed bug interceptor underneath each bed leg, they won’t be able to reach your bed.
Importantly, you should also move your bed at least two feet away from the wall on all sides. Bed bugs can climb walls, so if any part of your bed is touching the wall, they could get in that way.
According to the Journal of Economic Entomology, bed bug interceptor traps are sufficient on their own for eradicating low-level infestations. Combined with a mattress encasement, this could be a great option if you can’t afford professional treatment.
Do Regular Mattress Protectors Work for Bed Bugs?
Mattress encasements that are specifically designed for bed bugs can be expensive. You might pay up to $100 for a good quality encasement, especially if you have a king-size bed.
This is a lot of money, so you may be wondering: would a regular mattress protector work?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Mattress protectors are different from mattress encasements, and they won’t keep bed bugs out.
As their name suggests, mattress encasements cover the entire mattress. They’re basically like putting your entire mattress into a huge Ziploc bag. Bed bugs can’t get in or out, as they’re too big to crawl through the zipper.
Mattress protectors, on the other hand, only cover the top and sides of the mattress, like a bedsheet. They are designed to protect your mattress from dirt and stains, not bed bugs.
As they don’t wrap all the way around the mattress, bed bugs can crawl underneath them. Even the small gap between the mattress protector and the mattress is big enough for a bed bug to slip into. Bed bugs are only about as thick as a credit card.
Can Bed Bugs Go Through a Plastic Mattress Cover?
Plastic mattress covers, or waterproof mattress protectors, are designed to protect your mattress from liquid spills.
Even though bed bugs can’t chew through plastic, they don’t need to. Waterproof mattress protectors don’t encase the whole mattress, so bed bugs can crawl underneath.
To protect your mattress from bed bugs, you need a mattress encasement that is labeled bed-bug-proof. There’s no such thing as an anti-bed bug mattress protector – look for the word “encasement” specifically.
How to Choose a Bed Bug Proof Mattress Encasement
Not all mattress encasements are the same. Some are better at keeping out bed bugs than others. When shopping for a suitable mattress encasement, you’ll need to take a few things into consideration:
- Make sure that the encasement fully encloses the mattress, rather than just covering the top and sides. Make sure you’re buying an encasement, not a mattress cover or protector.
- Search for the words “bed bug proof” on the label. Some mattress encasements are designed to be waterproof, but won’t keep out bed bugs.
- Look for a mattress encasement that is sponsored by, or certified by, a reputable pest control company.
- Research the brand name on the internet. See if studies have been conducted on the efficacy of that encasement.
- Check online reviews and testimonials. If the encasement is sold on a large and respected website, you can read about others’ experiences before you buy.
- Watch out for the price. Cheaper mattress encasements often haven’t been lab tested, or are made with poor quality materials. You don’t want the zipper to break, for example.
If you have sensitive skin, choose an encasement that is made from hypoallergenic material.
Do Mattress Encasements Get Rid of Bed Bugs Completely?
Unfortunately, mattress encasements won’t get rid of an infestation if there are other places in your home that the bugs could bite you.
Bed bugs, compared with other parasites, are extremely hardy. Fleas and lice, for example, quickly die if not in permanent contact with their host. Bed bugs can live practically anywhere, as long as they can reach you when they’re hungry.
The bed is obviously a bed bug’s first choice of habitat. However, if they can’t get to your bed, they may choose:
- Cupboards, bookcases, and chests of drawers
- Wardrobes and closets
- Carpets and rugs
- Cracks in the wall
- Behind baseboards or picture frames
- Electrical outlets
- Stuffed animals
- Couches and chairs
Bed bugs prefer to bite humans while they’re sleeping. But if they can’t reach your bed, they’ll settle for biting you when you’re sat down. They could feed while you’re relaxing on your couch, or sitting in your home office.
This isn’t to say that mattress encasements are pointless. They’re useful for trapping and starving bugs that are already living in your mattress.
They make bed bugs easier to spot if they do reach the bed. And of course, they’re great for keeping new mattresses clean and free from blood stains.
However, if you want to eradicate a large infestation, you’ll need to hire a professional exterminator. They’ll use heat treatment and pesticides to kill all the bugs and eggs in your home.