Bedbugs are a nightmare for apartment and home-dwellers alike. Just the thought can have you totally buggin’… and scratching and just FREAKING OUT. But if you suspect you have bedbugs, or already found these little creeps, how do you get rid of them?!

Here’s how to spot bedbugs and kick them to the curb.

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Illustration by Maya Chastain

Bedbugs are small but mighty. Adults are about a 1/4 inch long, so they’re definitely easy to spot… if you can find them. Bedbugs are crafty little creatures and hide themselves in all sorts of places to avoid detection.

They’ve got six legs and a flat, oval-shaped body that help them move quickly to their hiding places. And, bedbugs don’t have wings, so they can’t fly 🙏 . Bug color can vary, ranging from white to brown. After feeding, they plump up and become more of a reddish color.

Much like Dracula, they only feed on blood and generally feast at night. They can survive for long stretches without feeding, sometimes going over a month or 2 between meals (that’s you and your pets!).

Bedbugs can live for several months, and a female can lay up to 500 eggs during her lifetime. You can spot tiny, white oval eggs sticking to whatever surface they’re laid on 🕵️‍♂️ .

Baby bedbugs (aka nymphs) are only about 1/16 of an inch. These not-so-cuties go through a molting process in their first 5 weeks of life, where they shed their skin several times before reaching adulthood.

Bedbugs don’t discriminate and can pop up in even the cleanest of homes. But where TF do bedbugs come from? If you visit an infested location, they usually hitch a ride via items they can easily hide in, including:

  • clothes
  • luggage
  • secondhand furniture
  • pet carriers

Once inside your home, bedbugs can find their way to any small crack or crevice. They can even find their way to neighboring rooms or apartments (sorry, neighbors and roomies).

They can also reproduce quickly, increasing their numbers before you may even realize they’re there.

Think you’ve got a case of the bedbugs 🔎 ? Here are some common signs:

  • You’ll see actual bedbugs (yes, this is super obvious, but also super important).
  • You’ll see shed bug skin or even eggs or eggshells.
  • You’ll notice reddish stains on your mattress from bugs that have been squished.
  • You’ll find bedbug bites on your body.
  • You’ll notice tiny dark spots, aka bedbug poop 💩 .

As soon as you realize you’ve got bedbugs, you’ll want to get them O-U-T ASAP. There are several steps you can take to give these bugs the boot.

1. Get the wash cycle going

Bedbugs hate high heat and temps up to 115℉ (46℃) will stop those bugs dead… literally.

Wash your bedding (and clothes, because you never know what those little pests have gotten themselves into) in hot water for at least 30 minutes. Then pop them in the dryer at its hottest setting for another 30 minutes.

2. Remove it, bag it, toss it

Any infested items that can’t be thrown right into a hot wash cycle needs to be bagged and sealed up.

Use black trash bags for bedding, clothing, cushions, curtains, or anything plush (yep, that includes your fave childhood teddy bear). Seal the bags tight and leave them outside in the heat or your garage.

During cooler times of year, bagged bugs can take several months to die. But bedbugs do hate intense cold as much as they hate high heat, so if you’re in a place with some arctic temps going on (we’re talking 32℉ (0℃) or lower), then they may die faster 🥶.

You can also put smaller bags in your freezer for at least 4 days, but be sure to monitor the temp inside.

When removing items from bags, be sure to seal the bags back up and throw them away. Wash the items inside immediately in hot water.

3. Take furniture apart to clean

It’s deconstruction time! Remove drawers from all the things and take apart your bed frame, headboard, and any other easily disassembled furniture. This will help you scrub down all of the tiny nooks and crannies that bedbugs love to hide in.

4. Vacuum, scrub, and steam!

For these bulkier items, start by vacuuming to get rid of any visible bedbugs. Be sure to empty the vacuum outside. You don’t want the bugs crawling back out of the trash!

Then, give them a good scrub down. You can buy special cleaners for this step, but be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for any deets on products to avoid.

Unfortunately, tossing your mattress, couch, or carpet into the washing machine isn’t an option. Steam these areas with cleansing heat (remember, bedbugs hate high heat!). Let them fully dry after cleaning before using again. Make sure to attack an upholstered headboard or bed frame, too.

5. Cover that mattress up

For your mattress (and box spring!), it’s a good idea to use a mattress cover once they’re clean. This will help keep any remaining bedbugs in and any new bedbugs out.

If your mattress is severely infested and the bugs just won’t leave it, it may be time to toss it. Be mindful of how you dispose of your mattress so that you don’t share your bedbugs with an unsuspecting stranger!

6. Caulk and seal things up

Bedbugs love to hide in any crack or crevice they can find.

Look for any cracks or gaps in your walls or baseboards, particularly in the areas most infested. Using caulk or other sealants to seal these spots up and prevent bugs from going in and out (this will help keep out more than just bedbugs!)

7. Kill ’em with chemicals

The only way to truly get rid of bedbugs for good is murder. (We know, that went from 0 to 60 real fast). While there are nonchemical options, insecticides are often a more effective option.

Use caution when dealing with chemical treatments like insecticides. Wear gloves, a face mask rated for gases, and work in a well-ventilated area. And, carefully read and follow all directions on the product label for best (and safest!) use.

Common options available include:

  • Pyrethrins and pyrethroids. The most commonly used pesticide for treating bedbugs, pyrethrins and pyrethroids attack the bugs’ nervous system. Some bedbugs have developed resistance to these chemicals, however.
  • Pyrroles. These pesticides, which include chlorfenapyr, disrupt bedbugs’ cells to kill them. While slow acting, it’s efficient and bedbugs haven’t built a resistance to it.
  • Neonicotinoids. This man-made version of nicotine damages bedbugs’ nervous systems. It’s very effective, including on bugs who’ve become resistant to other chemical options.
  • Desiccants. Though slow-acting, this substance is effective. It attacks bedbugs’ outer coating and once the coating is destroyed, the bugs dry out and die. Desiccants have a low toxicity for humans and certain pets, making them a great preventative option as well.
  • Foggers or bug bombs. Foggers and bug bombs can be toxic when not used correctly, so they’re best left to the pros. While they may be able to kill bedbugs, they don’t reach all of the nooks and crannies where they hide.
  • Oil-based plant products: For less toxic options, look for products like EcoRaider and Bed Bug Patrol. These work to kill bedbugs with fewer (but still some!) harsh chemicals.

When choosing a treatment, find an EPA-registered product targeted for bedbugs.

8. Monitor the situation

Bedbugs don’t give up easily. Check infested areas weekly for signs that they’ve returned (or never left). You can also use bedbug interceptors to catch any remaining bedbugs. Simply place them under the legs of your bed and check on them often.

Even if it seems like your buggy buds have disappeared, it’s good practice to continue monitoring for up to 1 year. It takes time to completely get rid of them.

You might have to try several treatment methods to find the right route to booting bedbugs for good. But if you’ve tried everything to no avail, it may be time to call for reinforcements.

If your visitors continue to overstay their welcome, it’s time to call in the pros. Don’t just hire anyone. Do your homework and make sure to use a licensed exterminator.

Exterminators have access to treatments and chemicals that aren’t available the rest of us, so they can attack those hard-to-find bedbugs that just won’t leave.

Be prepared that it may take multiple treatments before you can fully bid bye-bye to your bedbug friends (er, enemies).

The best defense against bedbugs is early detection. The sooner you realize they’re an issue, the better. But you can also do your best to keep them from infiltrating your space in the first place.

  • Always double-check when you travel. Inspect the hotel or space you’re renting for bugs and eggs before you unpack. Lift up the mattress, inspect the furniture, and check the walls! Check again for hitchhikers before you leave.
  • Inspect any used furniture you buy. We all love a great thrift store find, but check for bugs before you bring that Pinterest-worthy piece into your home.
  • Keeping your home clutter-free. Make sure things aren’t piling up on the floor or creating those secret spaces bedbugs love.
  • Clean often. Regularly washing your bedding, furniture, carpets, and even curtains can keep them free of bedbugs.
  • Cover your mattress. Using mattress and box spring protectors can help keep bedbugs out.
  • Seal up cracks. Use materials like caulk, plastic, or metal to seal any cracks that might make a nice home for bedbugs.