Bed bugs: How to identify bed bugs and how to get rid of them

Bed bugs can hitch a ride from one invested home to another, travelling by furniture, bedding, luggage, boxes, and clothing.

rumpled-sheets

Creepy but true – bed bugs are usually found close to where you sleep. Picture: Getty

Gross alert! These little critters feed on blood every five to 10 days but have been known to survive up to a year without feeding. And, a single female can lay a whopping 500 eggs. Eek!

Before you consider burning the house down, try these quick tips to banish these bed bugs in your home and prevent its uninvited return.

What are bed bugs?

© gettymages

Bed bugs are a type of blood-eating insect that usually comes out at night. These parasitic insects are brownish in colour and they’re about the size of an apple seed. The most common type of bed bugs found at home — Cimex lectularius and Cimex himipterus — and can lay over hundreds of eggs over a lifetime.

Unlike other bloodsucking insects like mosquitoes and ticks, bed bugs can’t fly to their food source or live on their host, so the best thing they can do is to live near their food source and wait till it’s safe to come out and feast.

Here are some interesting facts about bed bugs:

  • The life cycle of a bed bug ranges from four to six months. Some may even live up to a year in a cold environment.
  • They can live literally anywhere, including cars, hotel rooms and work desks
  • Bed bugs can ingest seven times their own body weight in blood.
  • Bed bugs have extremely sharp instincts
  • They only feed on a live host. Spilled or cold blood do not appeal to them.
  • Their saliva contains a mild anaesthetic.
  • To produce, male and female bed bugs must feed once every 14 days.
  • They can survive in temperatures as low as 7°C (45°F) and as high as 45°C (or approximately 120 degrees Fahrenheit).

What is the difference between bed bugs and fleas?

Oftentimes it’s hard to differentiate between bed bugs and fleas as both of them share similar characteristics. Not to mention, both insects feed on blood too. Take a look at the table below to find out how to set bed bugs apart from fleas

Bed Bugs Fleas
Prefer human blood Prefer feeding on hairy or furry animals such as cats and dogs
Adult bed bugs can live up to six months Adult fleas can live only up to two weeks
One bed bug can lay 200 eggs in a lifetime Lay between 150 and 300 eggs every week
Can’t fly or jump. Can jump as far as 30cm (200 times their body length)
Reddish-brown colour, flat and seed-shaped Reddish-brown in colour but have a more oval shape that appears skinnier and longer
Range from 1.5 mm to 5 mm long Range from 1.5 mm to 3.3 mm

How to treat bed bug bites?

Unlike fleas, bed bug bites are neither contagious nor dangerous. What you’ll be getting instead is itchiness, or in some cases, an allergic reaction. Try not to scratch it or you’ll risk getting an infection.

© Parinya Binsuk/ 123rf

What do bed bug bites look like?

Bed bug bites are often confused with flea bites because of how similar both symptoms are. Unlike flea bites that are typically found on your feet and lower half of your leg, bed bugs can bite anywhere on the body and they tend to occur on areas like:

  • neck
  • face
  • hands
  • shoulders
  • arms
  • legs

Read more: How to get rid of cockroaches in 5 steps

What are the symptoms of bed bug bites?

Many people don’t develop symptoms after getting bitten (other than a red bump on your skin), but if you’re allergic to it, you may experience these:

  • Itchy bump with a clear centre
  • Red itchy bump with a dark centre
  • Burning sensation
  • Small red bumps surrounded by blisters
  • Small red bumps arranged in lines or zigzag patterns

How to get rid of bed bugs bite?

Fortunately, treating bed bug bites are uncomplicated. The first thing to do after getting bitten is to clean the wound with soap and water. If itchiness persists, consider relieving your skin with these:

  • Over-the-counter hydrocortisone
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Antihistamines

Wounds will heal on their own within a week, but if swelling, inflammation or itchiness persists, you should go to the doctor.

How long can a bed bug live within a mattress without food?

Unfortunately, five months. Yes, those pesky little buggers can actually survive up to five months without food! And you thought cockroaches are tough. But nymph, newly hatched bed bugs, can only survive up to a few weeks without food. So the key takeaway is to find them and get rid of them before they proliferate.

Read more: How to get rid of termites

How to find bed bugs?

Bed bugs are tiny, and that makes it hard for us to catch them. The worst thing is, they can fit into cracks and hide until you’re deep asleep. Find out how to look for signs of infestation.

One easy way to identify if your home (or bedroom to be specific) has been invaded is to look for physical signs of bed bugs like these:

  • Live bed bugs
  • Dark spots (Excrement of bed bugs and they bleed on the fabric like how a marker would)
  • Eggs and eggshells (These are not easy to spot as they’re about 1mm in size. Watch out for pale yellow skins)
  • Rusty or reddish stains (After they feed, they’ll leave behind blood stains resembling small rust spots)

Where do bed bugs hide?

Bed bugs usually keep away from humans during the day and they only come out at night to feed. Your mattress is, of course, one of their favourite hiding places as it’s cosy and provides them with easy access to your exposed skin. But where do bed bugs live besides your comfy bed? Here are some of the commonly infested areas

  • Between cushions
  • In the folds of curtains
  • In drawer joints
  • In electrical outlets
  • In furniture crevices
  • Under loose wallpaper
  • Behind the baseboard
  • Mattresses and box springs
  • Behind picture frames
  • Door frames
  • Bed legs
  • Edges of carpets

Bed bugs are also known to survive in temporary or alternative habitats, such as backpacks and under the seats in cars, buses and trains.

How do you get bed bugs out of hiding

To lure bed bugs out of hiding is no easy feat. After all, they are photophobic and will stay in hiding when they’re well fed. If you want to fish them out of their hiding places, take advantage of the time when they’re already out of their hiding spots. Besides waiting, one of the most effective ways to lure them out is: heat. They can survive in cold temperatures, but not so much in hot places. 

Heat treatment is one of the most effective methods for bed bug control. Use a steam cleaner or a hair dryer to chase them out of their hiding place. Wave your hair dryer or place the steam cleaner at the suspected hiding spot and they’ll make a run for it in no time. Crush any emerging bed bugs before they find a new hiding spot. 

Read more: 12 ways to remove lizards from your home permanently

Alternatively, you can also use pyrethrin- or a pyrethroid-based pesticide, they’re lethal to bed bugs. Spray the pesticide in places that tend to offer sanctuary to the greatest number of pests. However, it’s important not to use it on your bed. Though most pesticides are marketed as safe to be used at home, it’s still not a good idea to spray it on your sleeping area. If you want to flush bed bugs out of your bed, use the hair dryer method.

How to get rid of bed bugs? 

Bed bugs will continue to haunt you (both physically and mentally) if you don’t obliterate them. Aside from bed bug sprays and hiring a professional pest control service or professional exterminator to do a chemical treatment, there are easy ways to banish them. Here are some ways to get rid of them with natural methods:

  1. Wash your linens

Wash clean bedding, linens, curtains, clothing and other fabric-based items in hot water or the washing machine and place them into a tumble dryer on the high heat setting for at least 30 minutes. Or, you can get all of these infested items dry cleaned. This will eliminate bed bugs or their eggs hiding within your linen.

  1. Freeze it

Seal the items in a plastic bag and place this in the freezer for a minimum of 10 hours. Just make sure the item is suitable for freezing.

  1. Use baking soda

Pour baking soda in a bowl and dust the powder over hard surfaces and into cracks with a paintbrush. Then liberally dust across the mattress, between the springs and around the frame. Leave the baking soda for a week to dry kill the bed bugs and their eggs.

  1. Vacuum your home

Vacuum your bed and furniture as often as possible. After vacuuming, toss the contents of your vacuum cleaner bag in the garbage bin outside of your house immediately. Repeat treatment if you want bed bugs to stay out of your home. 

  1. Seal it up

If your mattress is heavily infested with bed bugs, we suggest encasing the entire mattress in a zippered cover to keep them from entering or escaping. Since bed bugs can live up to half a year without food, keep the cover on for at least a year to make sure they’re dead for real. 

  1. Repair wall cracks

Repair wall cracks, cracks in the plaster ceiling and glue down peeling wallpaper to limit the number of places bed bugs can hide. 

  1. Tidy up your space

Pull a Marie Kondo and clean your room. The more cluttered your room, the more hiding places bed bugs have.

  1. Use herbs 

While herbs like lavender, mint, eucalyptus, lemongrass and rosemary are considered fragrant to us, most critters (including bed bugs), on the other hand, hate the smell. If you want to deter them from entering your home, place these fresh (or dried) herbs around your house to ward them off. 

Read more: 6 must-have herbs to grow in your kitchen garden

  1. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth

Pesticide grade diatomaceous earth also works wonders against bed bugs. Made of diatoms, this powdered form is not only deadly to bed bugs, they help keep them out too! Nevertheless, avoid sprinkling them on your bed. 

  1. Consider getting a non-permeable mattress

Another easy way to stop bed bugs from crawling into your bed is to get a non-permeable pillow and mattress cover. What makes them special is the fact that they don’t have any seams or crannies for bed bugs to hide in. 

  1. Silica gel

Yes, it’s those little packets you find in food products. Not only do they help absorb moisture, but they’re also useful for killing off insects. First, grind them up, then spread the powder around the infested room. Don’t use this method if you have kids or pets at home. 

  1. Dryer sheets

Bed bugs hate the smell of dryer sheets too. Stack a few pieces of dryer sheets on your cushion or bed to repel them. Having said that, it’s only a temporary solution, because they’ll just move on to find a more hospitable place in your home to hide. 

  1. Dry your mattress in the sun

Ask your parents and they’ll probably tell you the best way to get rid of bed bugs is to dry your mattress in the sun. While this method has been proven to be successful, it does take a longer time to work though cause the heat emitted from the sun is not hot enough to kill them off. 


  1. Rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol can kill insects by dissolving their outer cells, making it one of the effective methods to kill bed bugs instantly. It is also a desiccant (or drying agent) and can help to destroy bed bug eggs and adults by drying them out.

  1. Neem oil

Neem oil is a vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of the tropical neem tree. It’s also one of the natural ways to kill bed bugs. However, if you’re dealing with an infestation this method wouldn’t work. 

  1. Steri fab

Marketed as a disinfectant, Steri Fab is effective in killing all sorts of insects like bed bugs, lice, dust mites, roaches and more. On top of that, it’s also often used to disinfect mattresses. Though it contains a small amount of d-phenothrin (a common pesticide often found in flea and tick products), it’s safe to use at home. 

If all else fails, seek help from a professional. Bed bug infestation is not something you should tread lightly.

Read more: How to get rid of mice

How to prevent a bed bug infestation in your home? 

Bed bugs are amazing hitchhikers. They can travel from one place to another by travelling on your bags, cars, luggage, boxes and clothes. So what can you do to prevent bed bugs from entering your home? 

Here are a few things you can do:

  • If you’re buying secondhand furniture check for signs of bed bugs infestation before bringing them home. 
  • Use a protective cover that encases the mattress and box springs bed frame
  • Clean and organise your home regularly.
  • Vacuum your home frequently to draw them out of their hiding places. 
  • Seal cracks and crevices

How do I know if bed bugs are gone? 

Unfortunately, there’s no way to confirm if all the bed bugs residing in your home are gone. But if you don’t notice any signs of infestations like bites, live bugs, stains or disposed skins in more than three weeks after a bed bug treatment, chances are your home is free of infestation! 

Now you can finally sleep like a baby tonight.

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