Least-Toxic Control of Bed Bugs Choose a different pests

Factsheet: Got Bed Bugs? Don't Panic


Pest type: Insects

In-depth Information
The first clue suggesting that you may have a bed bug infestation is often the presence of itching bites. However, bite reactions are quite variable and may not be due to bed bugs at all. Be aware of the other signs that bed bugs leave behind: fecal spots, molted skins, and aggregations.

Alternatively, adults can easily be seen with the naked eye. Adult bed bugs are reddish brown in color, wingless, and are about the size of an apple seed. Bed bug eggs are more difficult to see: about the size of the head of a pin. The eggs are a pearl-white color and have obvious eyespots if they are older than 5 days.

Bed bugs can look somewhat different depending on their feeding status. If an adult bed bug has not fed recently, it is long and oval in shape. In fact, an unfed bed bug can look like a flat disc. However, once it takes a blood meal, the body blows up like a balloon. The bed bug elongates so that it looks more like a torpedo than a disc. The color also will be a bright red if the bed bug has fed within the last couple of hours. The bed bug will darken and flatten again over the next couple of days as it digests the blood meal. 

Is it a problem?

There are no documented cases of bed bugs transmitting diseases in humans, and they are not effective vectors of disease. Their medical significance is mainly limited to the itching and inflamation from their bites, which can be addressed with antihistamines and corticosteroids to reduce allergic reactions, and antiseptic or antibiotic ointments to prevent infection.

The stigma associated with bed bugs can cause some to panic and spray toxic pesticides, without being educated on the problem. Even registered pesticides are linked to a variety of health effects, and because many of them are sprayed in areas where there is continuous human contact (beds), there is elevated concern for exposure.

Pest prevention practices

Dispose of trash
Remove potential habitat
Remove clutter

In-depth Information
People can get bed bug infestations in their home by visiting other infested homes or hotels where the vermin hide in mattresses, pillows and curtains. The bugs are stealth hitchhikers that climb onto bags, clothing and luggage.

Monitoring and record-keeping

  • Detecting bed bugs may be as easy as realizing you are waking  up with sore spots or itchy welts, often in a line.
  • To see bed bugs while active, use a red light. If you are unable to see them, look for evidence of bed bugs; carefully check furniture, linens or luggage brought into the house for bed bugs or rusty-orange stains from their fecal matter.

Non-chemical and mechanical controls

Seal cracks and crevices
Create a barrier
Remove clutter
Steam treatment

In-depth Information:
A thorough cleaning of the premises will make bed bug control efforts more effective. Strip all beds down to the bare sleeping surface. Bedding (sheets, blankets, comforters, covers, and shams) should be washed in very hot water. Very hot water (120+degrees) will kill the bed bugs. Clutter should be removed from furniture tops, bed stands and under/around the bed.

In severe infestations, clothing should be removed from dressers and chests. Use a crack & crevice vacuum tool to remove bed bugs from areas such as: under baseboards; under carpet edges; around switch plates (you may have to remove the plate first); from the bed frame; inside box springs; inside furniture; and from floor cracks.

Use a hand-brush attachment to vacuum up most of the bed bugs. Vacuum mattresses and box springs (especially along seams and folds); upholstered furniture; and behind drapes. Also vacuum the floor completely. After vacuuming, remove the bag from the vacuum, tie it tightly, and remove it from the premises ASAP. Remember, really infested bedding may have to be completely discarded.

Indirect measures can go a long way in controlling bed bugs: keep bats and birds away from houses; clean furnishings, launder bedding and mattress pads, and steam-clean mattresses.  You may also prevent bed bugs from getting into homes by removing debris from around the house, repairing cracks in walls, and caulking windows and doors.

Simple physical control methods include standing the legs of beds in soapy water, coating the legs with petroleum jelly or double-sided sticky tape. Bed bugs cannot climb polished glass or metal easily and they don't fly, so that the legs of beds can also be placed inside glass jars or metal cans. Move the bed away from walls and furniture.  Do not use bedding that touches the floor.

Biological controls

Natural enemies of bedbugs include ants, spiders, mites, centipedes, and the masked bedbug hunter (Reduvius personatus). Pharoah ant venom is lethal to bedbugs and rodents also eat bedbugs. However, biological control is not very practical way to eliminate bedbugs indoors.

Least-toxic chemical options as a last resort

  • Open wall voids and treat with boric acid or food-grade diatomaceous earth. Wear a dust mask when handling powder formulations. Seal void completely. The diatomaceous earth works by abrading the waxy cuticle that covers an insect's exosekeleton, causing them to die of dehydration. Bedbugs exposed to diatomaceous earth typically die within two days of contact, but may survive (and lay eggs) for up to 10 days.
  • Clean vacuumed areas with diluted sodium borate (2 oz per quart of water).
  • Another least-toxic method that might be useful in controlling bedbugs is the use of neem oil, which can be sprayed on carpets, curtains and mattresses.

Boric Acid

Chemicals to Avoid

Look at your product labels and try to avoid products containing those chemicals listed below:

(A = acute health effects, C = chronic health effects, SW = surface water contaminant, GW = ground water contaminant, W = wildlife poison, B = bee poison, LT = long-range transport)

Acetamiprid (A, C, GW, W, B)

Allethrin (W, B)

Bifenthrin (A, C, SW, W, B)

Chlorfenapyr (A, C, W, B)

Chlorpyrifos (A, C, SW, GW, W, B, LT)

Cyfluthrin (A, C, W, B)

Cypermethrin (A, C, W, B)

Deltamethrin (A, C, W, B)

Esfenvalerate (A, C, W, B)

Fenvalerate (C, W, B)

Imidacloprid (A, C, SW, W, B)

Lambda-cyhalothrin (A, C, W, B)

Permethrin (A, C, GW, W, B)

Piperonyl butoxide (PBO) (C, W)

Propoxur (W, B)

Pyrethrins (C, W, B)

Resmethrin (W, B)

Thiamethoxam (C, B)

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