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National Pesticide Information Center

npic@ace.orst.edu

1.800.858.7378

Understanding and Controlling Bed Bugs

bed bug

By nature, bed bugs are stow-a-ways. They enter homes or apartments by hiding out in the cracks and crevices of luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes and other objects when they are moved between apartments, homes and hotels. Bed bugs hide during the day and typically feed at night. Since bed bugs feed on blood, their presence has little to do with the cleanliness of the home, although clutter can provide hiding spaces for bed bugs and make them difficult to treat. Bed bugs can survive for months without feeding, so they may be present in vacant, clean homes when new tenants unpack. Once bed bugs are established, they rapidly reproduce and spread from room to room.

Bed bugs can be very difficult to control, even for trained professionals. Many insecticides are not effective at killing the eggs, so a repeat treatment is often necessary to kill the juveniles after they hatch. Even worse, some populations of bed bugs have developed resistance to common insecticides, making some sprays ineffective. Alternative methods include heat and steam treatments, structural fumigations and cold treatments.

University of Arizona and collaborating researchers hope to determine the real impact and social cost of bed bugs, the risks to individuals and society, as well as the significant causes of infestations. Take their survey here.

Keep in mind these important tips:

  • Bed bugs can be easily confused with other insects such as bat bugs, so proper identification is important. Bed bugs are visible to the human eye and adults are about the size of an apple seed. There are picture-guides linked below. If you need assistance, consider contacting your local Cooperative Extension Service for help identifying a possible bed bug.
  • Bed bugs can be very difficult to control for even trained professionals. If you rent your home or live in a multi-family building, consider talking with neighbors and landlords about making a coordinated effort to treat the problem. Bed bugs are easily capable of moving through cracks and crevices of walls from one room to the next even if they cannot hitch a ride on someone or something.
  • Always read and follow label directions for any pesticide product, and make sure the pesticide is intended for treating bed bugs. The EPA has a bed bug product search tool you can use to identify pesticides registered for use against bed bugs in various locations.
  • Do not use more of a pesticide than the label directions say to use, it could make the problem worse by causing bed bugs to disperse. It could also cause health effects.
  • Avoid daily spot treatments for bed bugs. It can cause the pesticide-resistant population to grow, making elimination of the bed bugs more difficult.
  • "Bug bombs" or total release foggers are not effective against bed bugs according to the National Center for Healthy Housing. The pesticide droplets generated by foggers typically do not penetrate the hiding spaces used by bed bugs.
  • Infested items that cannot be treated with pesticides (bedding, clothing, electronic items) can be treated with heat or cold to kill the bed bugs. See the resources below for the specific methods, including the temperatures known to be effective.
  • If you discard infested items, clearly mark them to prevent others from taking bed bugs home. Consider drawing a picture of a bug, which can be understood by people who speak different languages.
  • Many experts recommend an IPM approach, which stands for Integrated Pest Management. This approach emphasizes monitoring and prevention coupled with non-chemical treatments and utilizes pesticides only as a last resort when other options have failed.
  • Remember that bed bugs are stow-a-ways that hitchhike from one location to the next, so inspect any second-hand furniture or travel bags before bringing them into your home to make sure you are not also bringing in bed bugs. The resources below discuss how to inspect items for bed bugs.

The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) received hundreds of calls last year from all over the country about bed bugs. If you have questions about this, or any pesticide-related topic, please call NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 (8:00am - 12:00pm PST), or email at npic@ace.orst.edu.

Additional Resources on this Topic:

Bed Bug Videos

Last updated June 17, 2014