You’ve spent months killing every last bed bug that you can find. You can sleep safely at last. But you’ve just heard from a friend that they’ve recently developed an infestation, and a neighbor has too. It’s hardly surprising that you’re deeply concerned about bed bugs entering your home.
Bag and wash any outside clothes that you wear to prevent bed bugs from coming inside the home with you. Use lures and traps to stop bed bugs getting in your mattress, or from biting you. And use a mattress encasement to cut off their favorite hiding place.
There are many more techniques you have to use. You can get bed bugs from where you work, from a neighbor, from the gym, or even from the bus. So, discover proven ways to stop bed bugs.
Table of Contents:
How to Keep Bed Bugs Away from Your Home
The bed bugs that live in your mattress and box spring are the easiest to contain—because you can quite literally contain them in an encasement.
The ones that live underneath your furniture, in the walls, and even in the carpet are more difficult to kill. But they can be kept away from you.
1) Bag Your Clothes When You Come Home
Immediately strip and bag your clothes when you get home. Imagine you’ve just come home from work; eager to make some food or hop in the shower, you pile your work clothes in the corner of your bedroom to sort them later. It’s the quickest way to get changed, if a little lazy; but the problem is that it can start an infestation in your home.
Now, that isn’t because being messy and dirty will attract bed bugs. That’s not true. But if you happen to have accidentally picked up a bed bug on public transport or in a friend’s car, or even from your workplace, they often hide in a person’s clothes. Pockets, for example, are perfect for a bed bug. So, if you put your clothes down in the corner, you give the bed bug free rein to find somewhere else to hide.
To avoid this problem, bag your clothes when you get home. This needn’t be restrictive; use the bag as a makeshift laundry basket. Every day that you come home from work, bag your dirty clothes as soon as you come through the door. Keep the bag sealed so that any bed bugs can’t get out. Then, when it’s time to do the laundry, dump the whole bag straight into the machine. The water and heat will kill them.
The same applies to coats and bags. Keep these in a sealed plastic bag near the door, and only take them out when it’s time to go to work. It’s easy to get bed bugs from work environments, including:
- Offices, which have plenty of places for bed bugs to hide, and maybe even feed.
- The service industry, where occasionally people will get changed at work, and leave their clothes in the coat room.
- Anywhere that has dorms or places to sleep. It’s common for patients at hospitals and guests at hotels to get bed bugs, but also for the people who work there.
By bagging your clothes and belongings, though, this helps you quarantine your home.
2) Use Sprays for Bed Bugs to Keep Them Away
There are many substances that bed bugs have been clinically proven to avoid. These come in all different kinds: desiccants, solvents, chemical pesticides and more. While older kinds—like DDT—are toxic to human life as well as insect life, there are plenty of “home remedy” style solutions out there for you to use.
- Starting with the most commonly available, you can use essential oils on bed bugs. On contact, tea tree oil can kill them, and they avoid any trace of it they can find.
- Specially developed sprays containing fungal biopesticides, like Aprehend or Suspend SC. According to a paper in Pest Management Science, these sprays are highly effective.
- DEET is highly effective at repelling bed bugs. It’s a chemical used in mosquito sprays that can keep them away for hours at a time.
- Diatomaceous earth is a natural desiccant. It’s made from ground up soft stone, and when bed bugs walk across it, it scratches their outer shell. This leads to them drying out quickly.
The idea is to spray your car, coat or bag with these substances to stop bed bugs from being attracted to them. This is especially useful if you go to somebody’s house and you know they have bed bugs, or you have to use or ride along in their car. Ideally, you would want to avoid these situations together—but that’s not always possible, so if you have to, use a spray.
3) Use Lures to Kill Bed Bugs
The only way to take stop bed bugs from biting you at night—aside from killing them all—is to use a lure. Lures work by mimicking the signs of a sleeping person: carbon dioxide, warmth, and the chemicals that human skin gives off. Some lures only use carbon dioxide, while others use a combination of two or all of the above to lure bed bugs in. Once inside, the bed bugs are usually killed in a little pool of water. They can’t swim, and the sides of the inside of the lure are smooth and can’t be climbed. During the night, the bed bug will drown.
To stop bed bugs from entering your apartment, place a lure near a known entry point, e.g., the crack under the front door. If your neighbor has bed bugs, and they cross the hall to your home, they won’t make their way to you; they’ll find the lure, climb inside and die. Meanwhile, you can be sleeping peacefully in the next room. This is a risky strategy, though, because you’re still attracting bed bugs into your home.
4) Use Basic Traps to Kill Bed Bugs
You don’t need an expensive lure. Plastic traps are often good enough to kill a substantial amount of bed bugs. They work similarly to lures, just without the lure. The bed bug tries to climb up the legs of your bed, but find something in the way—the trap. They can climb the outside, but not the inside, which is slippery and filled with water. Unable to swim, they drown quite quickly. You can also buy/use traps that don’t have water in, but these aren’t as effective.
The problem with traps is that they don’t work with every species of bed bug. Native Cimex lectularius find it difficult to climb smooth surfaces like those on the inside of traps. But tropical bed bugs don’t. This species wasn’t native to the U.S., but have been introduced to southern states like Florida, and are quickly spreading. So, traps can’t do anything to combat certain species.
Not only that, but they only stop bed bugs getting to you from elsewhere in the room. They can’t stop bed bugs in your mattress, or in the bed frame itself, because they don’t need to climb up the trap. So if your mattress is completely infested, the trap will hardly do anything to stop you being bitten.
However, traps are also the cheapest help you can get to keep bed bugs away from you. Use a cup or a bowl that is filled with water, to stop a significant amount of bed bugs from reaching you at night. Voila: free bed bug traps. Any bed bug that makes its way into your apartment won’t be able to feed, and therefore won’t hang around trying for too long.
5) Place Tape Around Known Entry Points
So, say your neighbor across the hall has bed bugs. You know that they’ve tried to cross the hall before, and get through the crack under your front door. Using a lure next to the door would stop them from getting to your bedroom, at least, but you’re still attracting them into your apartment.
Some tape is the cheapest and easiest option. To be clear, bed bugs won’t get stuck to it like flies on flypaper. They might not be a smart as we are, but they’re not that stupid. When they move towards a sticky, uneven or impassable surface, they’ll quickly realize and turn around. But even though they won’t stick to it, that’s the point: they’ll turn around.
What you have to do is place an unbroken line of tape on the floor next to the door. Even a little on the wall next to it. This is like a big border that the bed bugs can’t get around, so they’ll turn right around and leave. If there are cracks in the wall that you know they come through, you can place tape around those, too. Any known entry point can be taped, and this should stop them from being able to get in. The only problem is that it’s a temporary solution, not a permanent one.
6) Use a Mattress Encasement to Kill Bed Bugs
Mattress encasements are like big, thick plastic casings designed to fit around a mattress or box spring. The mattress is the most common place bed bugs hide, for several reasons:
- It’s in an area that never gets too hot, and never gets too cold.
- It’s rare for the area underneath a mattress to be disturbed, so they can hide there for weeks or months without any threats approaching them.
- There are plenty of crevices and folds in a mattress that bed bugs can hide under.
- The mattress is the closest you can get to a sleeping host.
But a mattress encasement stops them from being able to get to you. It’s like a sizeable airtight bag with a zipper. Once you zip it up, there’s no way for the bed bugs to get out. And because they don’t have teeth, they can’t gnaw through it to escape, or bite you through the plastic. They’re entirely hermetically sealed.
The only problem is how long it takes them to die. Bed bugs can live for a year without feeding, because they have very slow metabolisms. They also don’t need water, or all that much air. As such, it’s vital that you never open the mattress encasement, and leave the bed bugs entirely isolated. The same goes for your box spring; it’s perfect for bed bugs to hide in, either because of the wooden slats that make it up, or because of creases and folds in the fabric. Fortunately, they make box spring encasements too. Put an encasement on both, plus traps on the feet of your bed. If you do, it’s difficult to imagine how any bed bug could reach you.
The best thing is that a mattress encasement also stops any fresh infestations from hiding in your bedding. So even if you did manage to bring a few bed bugs home, they wouldn’t be able to hide underneath your mattress.
7) Prevent Physical Contact with Bed Bugs
Bed bugs usually get into your home because someone or something brought them there. That’s either you, a friend or a family member who already has them introducing them, before the infestation grows from there. It’s best that you limit contact with people that have bed bugs.
Let’s say you know for a fact that your friend has bed bugs. Until they can get rid of them, it’s best to stop them from coming to your house. The same applies to family members that have them. If their ‘carrier’ can’t come to the house, then neither can the bed bugs themselves.
This puts you in an awkward position; nobody wants to say no to a friend or family member. But imagine you’ve had an infestation for years, gotten rid of it, and had it reintroduced by a friend. It would be incredibly frustrating. People who’ve never had them don’t understand the mental impact that bed bugs have, and nothing is worth that.
The best thing you can do is to explain to your friend or family member what’s going on.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs from Spreading to Another Room
Probably the number one way that bed bugs spread is from room to room. That’s why infestations are so common in apartments/apartment blocks, dorm rooms, hostels, hotels and so on. They can easily fit into cracks in the wall, or under the sideboard; or worse still, they can cross the hall to get to you from a neighbor.
It’s also important to stop an infestation from getting worse by allowing it to move from the room in your own home. If it’s in one room, you can keep them contained, and you stand a good chance of killing the whole bed bug population. But if they’re on the sofa and chairs, in every bedroom, and even in rooms like the kitchen, then they’re challenging indeed to get rid of.
8) Seal Up Cracks in the Wall
Seal up any cracks you can see in the baseboard or the wall. Bed bugs can travel between apartments through the walls, but by sealing up any gaps, you can stop them from even getting close to you. You have a few options for sealing up a crack in the wall:
- You could use caulk. Caulk is the stuff that painters and decorators use to seal up joints, seams, and gaps, e.g., between the baseboard and the wall. While it won’t work as a structural fix against cracks in the wall, it will at least seal them up, and stop any bed bugs (or other pests) from moving from room to room.
- If you’re not willing to try DIY, or you don’t have permission, there are simpler fixes. Take some paper and place it over the crack. Tape it down on each side without missing any gaps. While a piece of paper or card might not seem like much of a defense to you, it would be more than enough to stop bed bugs in their tracks, provided that you tape it down securely on each side.
This will stop the bed bugs from escaping into the wall, or from coming back in once your bed bug treatment is complete. Bed bugs are even happy to live inside gaps in the wall ‘full time,’ provided that they’re close enough to you when you sleep at night that they can feed.
9) Don’t Let Anybody In Your Home
Once you’re sure you’ve sealed up the room, it’s time to start quarantine. Quarantine must be absolute—that means you’re not allowed back in. So you have to prepare before you start. To prepare for quarantine, you’ve got to:
- Clear out all of the clothes in your wardrobe. Store them in sealed plastic bags for the time being, and store them outside.
- Spray every part of the room with an anti bed-bug spray, be it something you bought from a store, or something you made at home (e.g., essential oils). In particular, spray areas where you can ee bed bugs: under the mattress, for example, or under furniture.
- Allow the oil or spray to dry in place. While the liquid itself might dry, the molecules that deter the bed bugs will remain for quite a while.
- Don’t let anybody in or out of the room for at least a week, while the spray takes effect. For it to harm them, the bed bugs have to come into contact with it.
- After the week is up, open up the room so that one person can check inside (preferably yourself). Check each harborage you initially found, e.g., under the mattress, inside the box spring, under furniture, etc. See if there are any visible bed bugs, and if there are any that have been killed. Dead bed bugs are easily distinguishable from cast shells, as they look much more solid.
Unfortunately, since bed bugs can survive for so long with no host, quarantine for just a week or so won’t kill them. However, not using the room while you wait for the spray/oil to take effect will stop them from spreading, especially if the infestation is only a small one.
10) Use Lures During Bed Bug Quarantine
Another method of using lures is to place them at strategic points, not just so that the bed bugs will stop biting you, but so they won’t want to leave the room. If you’ve identified there are bed bugs in your room, and you don’t want to sleep in there anymore, it’s crucial that you offer them something else—otherwise, they’ll just come looking for you.
A well-placed lure can do just that. Place a lure on the bed in your quarantined bedroom, after you’ve done everything else you can to kill them (e.g., sprays, heat treatment, or whatever else you do). By leaving the lure there, the bed bugs won’t even realize you’re gone. The lure also acts as a useful test, because if there aren’t any bed bugs in there after a few days, then it’s possible that all the hatched bed bugs are finally gone (although the eggs might remain).
What Can Be Done If Your Neighbor Has Bed Bugs?
If you know for a fact that a neighboring apartment has bed bugs, it’s highly likely that they’ll spread to your apartment soon enough. Bed bugs are the same as cockroaches and other pests: they’ll scuttle across the hallway, make their way through the walls, or even the floor or ceiling. So what should you do if your neighbor has bed bugs?
11) Talk to Your Neighbor About the Problem
Start by having a chat with your neighbor about how they plan on resolving the problem. It’s not as if they want bed bugs, so they’ll be glad of any help they can get.
Don’t go into their apartment, naturally, but ask them for a quick chat in the hall about how they’re trying to get rid of them. Share some hints and tips with them on how best to tackle infestations, and point them in the direction of relevant local laws (more on that in a second).
Apartment blocks have to work together to get rid of pests like these, because if just one apartment isn’t treated, then the infestation will come back faster than you can say ‘bed bugs.’
12) Get Their Landlord to Pay for Bed Bug Removal
To help out your neighbor, look up both municipal and state law. Across the country, there are legal requirements incumbent on landlords to tackle a bed bug infestation in their properties.
Any landlord that receives a bed bug complaint is also liable to treat the apartments next to, above and below yours. So, if your neighbor has bed bugs, their landlord might be responsible for killing an infestation in your apartment, too.
13) Pay for Preventative Bed Bug Spraying
If nobody else is obliged to foot the bill, you’ll have to. Preventative spraying from an expert exterminator will cost between $100 and $300. However, it’s important to note that spraying isn’t an effective tactic against the modern bed bug.
We almost eradicated bed bugs in the 20th century using DDT. However, DDT was found to be a carcinogen; not only that, but the bed bugs began to develop an immunity to it. The same happened with the next insecticide we used, and the next. Bed bugs are rapidly becoming immune to whatever we throw at them.
That’s the real problem. You can kill 99.9% of any infestation with an insecticide, but the few bed bugs that survive can start a new colony—one that’s immune to whatever you used. That’s why physical methods of killing them like heat, water, and starvation are more effective (because no bed bug can become immune to starving to death).
14) Move Somewhere Better
Your last option is to move away. Unfortunately, this is the option that most people are left with if their neighbor has bed bugs. That’s because they’re tough enough to eradicate as it is; but all too often, people can give up trying to get rid of them, and the infestation will start again through no fault of your own. Worse still, many landlords refuse to accept the problem, and claim that you must have introduced them (meaning that they’re off the hook).
Your only option is to move somewhere else. Of course, you could pay for the exterminator yourself. But you’d be throwing money away, because no sooner would the infestation be dead that another one would take its place. So, you’re going to have to move. But it’s vital to move right, though. Don’t just pack up your things and head out, as quick as you can. You have to make sure that you don’t bring them with you. Follow these guidelines:
- Wash and dry clothes on the highest settings. Once done, bag them immediately and seal the bags. There’s no way there could be bed bugs or eggs in there.
- Spray any furniture, and leave it outside for a while before you move. Check for any bed bugs or eggs in it; you may have killed them all. Bear in mind, though, that it’s tough to kill bed bugs in furniture. You might have to get rid of it all.
In terms of where you’re moving to, your best option is a house. Bed bugs spread most easily between apartments, whereas they can’t spread between houses (unless you live in a townhouse, connected to other houses). Bed bugs have big trouble surviving outside away from hosts, not because of the temperature or lack of food, but because they’re very easy prey for other animals. As such, they can’t get to your house unless you bring them there.
How to Avoid Bringing Bed Bugs Home After Traveling
Another way that bed bugs are spread is from public places. Anywhere that a lot of people congregate—and especially anywhere that people sleep—is a prime location for catching bed bugs. Try as they might, the people who do their best to keep hotel rooms and hospitals clean can only do so much (because as you know, bed bugs are incredibly hard to get rid of).
So, when you’re in dorm rooms, or you need to have an overnight stay in a hospital, how can you avoid picking up bed bugs and bringing them home? Let’s find out.
15) Keep Your Luggage Off the Ground
The first thing anyone does when they get to a hotel is to start unpacking—for obvious reasons. But an opened suitcase is the perfect place for a bed bug to hide. It has plenty of pockets to hide in, and lots of clothing to burrow under. That’s why you should keep your luggage a) off the ground, and b) zipped up and closed at all times.
Keeping it off the ground is especially necessary. If it’s on a table, for example, that makes it much harder for the bed bugs to access. It will still smell a little like you, but it’s unlikely that they’ll search it out if it’s so difficult for them to get to.
You could also go a step further, and keep your luggage in a sealed bag. There’s no real downside to doing so: all you need is a large refuse bag and some tape or zip ties. This would prevent them from even being able to sniff out your luggage, let alone access it.
16) Don’t Leave Anything Lying Around
Next, you should avoid leaving anything lying around, whether it’s on the ground or the bed. Clothes left on the floor are a perfect hiding place for bed bugs. Remember, they like quiet places with plenty of dark crevices they can hide in—and the nearer to their host, the better.
Let’s say your hotel room has a bed bug problem, and you leave your clothes on the floor next to the bed. Later on, the bed bugs come out to do what they do best, and one or two make their way somewhere new—your pile of clothes.
The next morning, in a rush, you throw your clothes into your suitcase and on you go. It is as easy as that. But even worse, bed bugs don’t just like clothes. They’ll hide in electronics and appliances too: so if you leave your laptop next to the bed, for example, they can hide in that. This especially applies at night, when bed bugs are most active.
17) Pack Your Worn Clothing in Plastic Bags
Whether or not you left them on the floor, you can almost completely negate the chance of catching bed bugs by keeping your clothing in bags: one bag for clean clothes, and one bag for dirty clothes. If you didn’t know, securely bagging clothing is highly effective against bed bugs. It’s one of the first things you should do when you notice an infestation in your home.
Why would bed bugs be attracted to your clothing? It’s because of the way they find their hosts. They primarily search out the carbon dioxide in our breath, as well as the heat we give off. But beyond that, they also search for the smell of a person. The smell of your sweat is all over your clothes after a long day. Even if you can’t smell it yourself, a bed bug definitely can.
Keep the bag securely tightened to not allow the bed bugs a chance to escape. Then, when you get home, open the bag directly into the washing machine. Turn it on immediately, as hot as it can go, and as long as it can spin for. The combined effect of the heat and water can kill both bed bugs and their eggs, and the fact that you opened the bag directly into the machine means that they never had a chance to start an infestation.
18) Don’t Leave Belongings in Storage
This doesn’t relate to traveling per se, more to do with moving home. It’s very common for storage facilities to house bed bugs. Think about it: people put all sorts of belongings in storage, including mattresses, box springs, old and infested clothing, and old furniture. If the goods were placed there for a week or two as a family figures out their house move, there’s a good chance that the bed bugs would infest the storage box generally.
As we established above, bed bugs can live for over a year without a host. So if your goods were to be used in that same storage area after the previous family was done with it, your boxes would undoubtedly become infested too. Again, anywhere that there are lots of people, or lots of people’s belongings coming and going, is a prime candidate for bed bug infestation/transmission.
If you must put your things in storage, your best bet is to bag them up securely before you do. Leave any mattress or box spring in an encasement, for example, so that no bed bugs can get in or out. Double bag any clothes, and throw away any bags that are broken when you pick them up. Alternatively, see if you can avoid the need to put your things in storage altogether.
19) Avoid Public Transport Where Possible
According to the Huffington Post, you can catch bed bugs on public transport. It’s surprisingly common. A person will bring one or two onto the bus by accident; they’ll then make their way into the seats, or in the plastic interior walls or structure of the bus itself.
Then, it’s almost like living in somebody’s mattress for them. If they want to feed, they can come out of the seat and do just that—although they don’t like feeding on people that are awake. However, they can still make their way into your open bag, and you can bring them home with you.
There are ways to avoid this problem. First, you could avoid going on public transport altogether. That means buses, subways, trains and anything similar in your area. If you don’t get on in the first place, there’s no way to catch bed bugs from there. But if you have to catch the train, for example, there are a few ways to limit your potential exposure to bed bugs. These are as follows:
- When you do take public transport, don’t sit on the seats. If you stand up, there’s no way for the bed bugs to get to you.
- Similarly, don’t put your bags on the seats. Bed bugs climbing into open bags is the easiest way for them to hitch a ride home with you.
- Don’t put any coats, scarves, gloves, or anything similar on the seats either. These are particularly attractive to bed bugs, because they smell like a person. They can hide inside and come home in a folded up coat, just like they would in a bag.
- If you do have to sit down on public transport, avoid sitting on any fabric seats. If there are one-piece, molded plastic seats, there’s no chance of picking up bed bugs from there. It’s the fabric ones they like to hide in.
- You should especially seek to avoid any public transport that people regularly sleep on, like the subway system. Bed bugs would find it very hard to feed on someone that’s awake, but if people nap during the day or sleep during the night on the public transport you’d like to use, the chance of there being bed bugs on there is much higher.
Unfortunately, nobody thinks to avoid bed bugs on public transport; it’s a little-known fact that they’re even on there.
How to Keep Bed Bugs Off Pets
Pets are a well-known vector for many pests. Ticks, lice, and fleas are common; but what about bed bugs? While bed bugs can and will target pets for a meal, it’s unlikely that your cat or dog will bring bed bugs into your home. But it can happen. Here’s how to avoid that problem entirely.
20) Wash Your Pet and Their Collar Regularly
Bed bugs can’t hide in hair. For starters, they’re the wrong shape. Fleas and lice, for example, are tiny and can move between hairs—they’re that small. Bed bugs are the completely wrong shape and size: they’re the size of apple seeds, so far too big to fit between hairs. And they’re wide and flat, whereas to live in fur a parasite needs to be narrow and comparatively tall like a flea.
So how could a bed bug hide on a cat or dog? Potentially, underneath or inside their collar. It’s unlikely, but it’s the only place that they could feasibly hide, unless your dog wears a coat in the winter. Your dog would also only be able to catch bed bugs from somebody’s house, unlike ticks, which wait outside. Bed bugs can only live indoors. So if you only take your dog outside for their walks, and never to anybody else’s house, there’s no chance for them to ‘catch’ bed bugs.
Washing their collar is easy. Throw it in with the rest of your washing, and as we said above, the combined effect of the heat and the water will kill any bed bugs on there.
21) Avoid Bed Bugs in Kennels
It’s highly unlikely that your dog can get bed bugs from kennels. However, they do have a reputation as a breeding ground for other parasites like ticks and fleas. There might be a few bed bugs there, perhaps introduced by the people that work there.
It’s worrying enough at least that you’re not the only person to have ever thought your dog can catch bed bugs from kennels. If you’re worried the kennels can give your dog bed bugs, go there in advance for a look around.
Look at how tidy they keep the kennels, and whether the staff seems to enjoy working there. That should help you ascertain whether your dog is likely to catch any parasites from there or not.