What to Do If You Have Bed Bugs, According to Pest and Cleaning Experts

Follow these steps to get rid of them—and prevent future infestations.

As irritating as they can be, household pests aren't uncommon. Anything from plants to your pets can attract bugs. There are, however, a few pests that seem to enter spaces at random—and some are even particularly difficult to get rid of. Case in point? Bed bugs.

This invasive species enters a house for shelter and food; the bugs are most commonly found in beds and couches, where they bite us as we sleep and lounge. If you've ever experienced them, you know that it's important to act fast to avoid a full-blown infestation. We asked cleaning and pest control experts for their advice on how to identify and remove bed bugs from your home.

What Are Bed Bugs and What Causes Infestations?

Bed bugs, formally known as Cimex lectularius, are small insects (typically between 1 to 7 millimeters in size) that feed on people and animals' blood during sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An infestation can happen for a variety of reasons, says Ben Hottel, an entomologist at Orkin. "A bed bug infestation has nothing to do with cleanliness—you can pick them up in the finest hotels, and they can hitchhike into the cleanest homes at any time," he says. "They can come from other infested areas or from used furniture."

Bed bugs can also make their way into your home by hopping in luggage, purses, backpacks, or other items placed on soft or upholstered surfaces, all as an attempt to find a food source.

Woman looking and fixing blankets on bed

Signs That You Have Bed Bugs

These bugs can be difficult to find, since they are small and hide in obscure parts of the home, says Hottel. You can tell if you have them based on markings on your bedding and mattress. "Black fecal spots can be found on bedding where bed bugs are currently present or have been present at one time," says Hottel. "Just like snakes, bed bugs must molt every time they grow, so sometimes you can find these shed skins around areas they have been living."

Bed Bug Bites

Small, itchy bite marks are a physical sign that you have bed bugs, according to the CDC. Swollen and red, they may look similar to mosquito bites and typically appear one to three days after you are bit. These bumps may either appear at random on the body or in a straight line.

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

If you know that you have bed bugs, the first step is to assess the damage and get rid of them as soon as possible. Vacuum mattresses, box springs, and headboards to remove bugs and eggs, says Vera Peterson, the president of Molly Maid. "Empty the vacuum bag or canister in an outdoor trash can immediately," she says. "Steam can be used in harder to reach areas and can be extremely effective."

Using heat is the most effective way to kill bed bugs. "Infested items such as bedding or clothing can be put in a dryer on high heat for 30 to 45 minutes to kill bed bugs that are present or may be present," says Hottel. Otherwise, enlist a pest professional. "They will inspect your home, identify the source of the problem, and create a treatment plan that will eliminate these pests," says Hottel.

How to Keep Bed Bugs Away

To prevent bed bugs, our experts recommend inspecting second-hand furniture before bringing it into your home—and never bring furniture inside that was previously thrown away. When you return home from a trip, unpack and keep your luggage in the garage or another area away from the bedroom, they say.

As another routine safety measure, keep your bed pulled away from the wall in your bedroom and minimize clutter as much as possible around your mattress to prevent a potential breeding ground for the bugs.

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