Across the United States, everyone is checking under the covers before jumping into bed to avoid snuggling with an unwelcome bedfellow - the bed bug! While New York City has garnered the most attention for their onslaught of bed bug infestations, these parasites are popping up in American cities from coast to coast. In fact, a recent study identifying the top cities for bed bug infestations listed among them Columbus, Ohio, Los Angeles, Louisville, KY, and even more unlikely bed bug hotspots.
By educating yourself on bed bug signs, symptoms, prevention methods, and management options, you can keep your home safe and secure. Below you will find some of the most frequently asked questions about bed bugs. These answers can help guide you to the best bed bug control options for your home and family.
Q: What are bed bugs?
A: Bed bugs are tiny, wingless insects with flat, brown, oval-shaped bodies. Large enough to be seen, these parasites, which are between 4 and 5 millimeters long, often come out late at night to feed on their human hosts' blood and hide in mattresses, dark crevices, suitcases, purses, or even behind loose wallpaper during the day. According to Orkin experts, these insects often emit sweet but unpleasant odor.
Q: Where did they come from?
A: For the latter part of the twentieth century, most Americans believed bed bugs to be a thing of the past - largely destroyed by the widespread use of DDT and other toxic pesticides. However, the use of DDT was banned in 1970. This restriction combined with increased international travel, including travel to countries that still have bed bug problems, are what many experts believe to be the cause for the rise in bed bug infestations.
Q: What are the signs of a bed bug infestation?
A: Although bed bugs can be seen with the naked eye, these pests are relatively stealth. That's why it is important to look for warning signs, rather than waiting on the bed bugs to show themselves. One of the first indicators of a bed bug infestation are spotting and staining on your sheets, box springs, or mattresses. In a University of Kentucky article focusing on bed bugs, Michael F. Potter, extension entomologist, points out that dark brown spots on bedding are common and typically the result of dried bed bug waste. Potter also reports that bed bugs leave behind the brownish molted skins of maturing nymphs, eggs, eggshells, and even reddish blood smears on sheets and mattresses when human hosts unknowingly crush one of the blood-engorged insects.
Another red flag for a bed bug infestation is, of course, the bites. Bed bug bites typically occur at night while you are sleeping. These "feeding" sessions can take up to 10 minutes; however, Potter states that people are rarely aware they are being bitten. Symptoms of bed bug bites vary widely among individuals. Some people experience little or no reaction to bed bug bites, others may endure several bites before experiencing a reaction, and many develop symptoms after only a day. Commonly found on areas that are exposed while you sleep like the face, neck, shoulders, and arms, bed bug bites cause itchy, red welts, minor skin infections, possible embarrassment, and that's about it. While unnerving, these pests do not carry or transmit diseases.
Q: How did bed bugs get into my home?
A: Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers. They can catch a ride inside your suitcase from an infested hotel room, inside your purse from an apartment, inside a friend's jacket, in a coworker's car seat, and many other ways.
Many people assume that bed bugs are the result of a dirty home, but this simply isn't true. Unlike cockroaches that feed on garbage and decaying debris, bed bugs are only in search of blood meals. However, an MSNBC bed bug article points out that a cluttered area provides ample hiding spaces for the pests. So keeping your home, office, or other area clean and clutter-free is still a good idea for bed bug prevention and overall health.
Q: My house is infested. How do I get rid of the bed bugs?
A: If you are concerned that your home, office, or other area has a bed bug infestation, consult a licensed pest control professional before attempting any bed bug home remedies. A pest control professional can help you determine the severity of your bed bug problem as well as a plan for eliminating your current bed bug problem and preventing future infestations.
One bed bug management solution to ask your pest control professional about is an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. Endorsed by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an IPM approach is a comprehensive pest control program that incorporates the appropriate pest management options with the least hazard to you, your home, and the environment. Oftentimes, an IPM approach includes components such as removing clutter where bed bugs can hide, sealing cracks and crevices to eliminate hiding spots, vacuuming to remove dead bed bugs and debris, and careful use of pesticides.
Another major component of treating any infestation is heat. As bed bug populations continue to build up their resistance to chemical treatments, adding a heat treatment to your IPM approach is vital. There are a variety of ways to eliminate bed bugs with heat. For example, laundering bedding and linens at temperatures exceeding 120 degrees F can help and many pest management companies are using professional thermal treatments as well. Steam cleaners are another effective solution for eliminating bed bugs without the use of chemical pesticides.
Q: Do I have to throw away my mattress?
A: If your home is severely infested or the mattress is in poor condition, your pest control professional may suggest getting rid of it. However, for many people, purchasing a new mattress isn't necessary. While your home is being treated for bed bugs, allergy bedding, such as mattress protectors and pillow protectors, can help safeguard you against the parasites and provide a better night's sleep.
By encasing your mattress and pillows, you are trapping existing bed bugs and cutting them off from their food supply, which will eventually cause them to die. Additionally, mattress protectors and pillow protectors prevent further infestation and are a great preventative tool. Since these products are designed to keep out even the tiniest dust mites and repel allergens like pet dander, allergy bedding provides a tough barrier between you and bed bugs.
Q: How effective is steam for eliminating and preventing bed bugs?
A: A study focusing on bed bug behavior at lethal and sub-lethal temperatures conducted by the University of Minnesota, Department of Entomology found that adults and bed bug eggs could be killed upon exposure when temperatures reached at least 122 degrees F. Steam cleaning systems, such as Ladybug steam cleaners, Vapamore steam cleaners, and Reliable steam cleaners, can easily produce dry steam vapor with temperatures that exceed 250 degrees F, which is hot enough not only to kill bed bugs but also harmful bacteria and viruses. In fact, for years many pest control companies have used steam cleaning in combination with pesticides to exterminate bed bugs.
Q: Are steam cleaners a practical bed bug treatment solution for homes of those with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), asthma, or severe allergies?
A: Steam cleaners offer people with chemical sensitivities - as well as those who oppose the use of chemical treatments on their furniture - an effective chemical-free alternative for eliminating bed bugs. Steam cleaning systems, such as the Ladybug XLT 2300 with TANCS, transform ordinary tap water into a powerful dry steam that kills germs, bacteria, viruses, dust mites, and, of course, bed bugs without leaving behind any wet, sticky residues or chemicals. This makes steam cleaners safe for use on mattresses, box springs, sofas, chairs, rugs, drapes, and any other surface in your home.
In many cases, a steam cleaner may be all you need to control your bed bug problem. However, consult a pest control professional before attempting to eliminate bed bugs on your own. If a pesticide must be used in your to eliminate the bed bug infestation, use the EPA-Registered Bed Bug Products tool to find the safest pesticides to treat your indoor environment.
Q: What are some best practices for using steam cleaners to treat and prevent bed bug infestations?
A: When using a steam cleaner for bed bug treatment, take advantage of these tips for the most effective results:
- Choose a Continuous-Fill Steam Cleaner - Continuous-fill steam cleaners, such as the Ladybug steam cleaner models, require no downtime to reheat water in between steam treatments. This allows you to steam for longer periods of time - long enough to treat common bed bug hiding spots in one phase without stopping to refill the system.
- Apply Steam Directly to the Surface - When steam cleaning, apply the steam cleaner head directly to the surface you want to treat. Holding it above the surface may scatter the bed bugs to new hiding spots and make them harder to kill.
- Steam Slowly - Move the steam cleaner slowly over every square inch of the surface being treated to ensure that you're providing complete steam exposure.
- Vacuum After Steam Cleaning - After performing a steam treatment, vacuum all treated areas to remove dead bed bugs, eggs and other residue. Discard vacuum bags immediately or empty vacuum dust containers and wash them before replacing.
- Take Advantage of Steam Cleaner Attachments - Use larger steam cleaning heads, such as the Vapamore MR-100 floor cleaning head, when steaming large surface areas like mattresses, couches, chairs, carpets, headboards, and nearby flooring where bed bugs are often found. Use crevice tools to clean inside the seams of mattresses, between mattresses and box springs, in baseboard cracks, and inside bed frames and dressing tables. Use upholstery tools to steam and sanitize curtains and drapes. In addition to Ladybug and Vapamore steam cleaners, the Reliable Enviromate E5 and Reliable Enviromate E3 steam cleaners offer a variety of accessory attachments designed for any surface.
- Steam Travel Bags - Bed bugs can be transported from location to location as people travel. To prevent a repeat infestation and reduce the chance of passing bed bugs on to a new place, steam clean luggage, overnight bags, folded clothing bags, purses, and any other travel accessories that may have been exposed to bed bugs.
For more information, visit our information page on how to eliminate bed bugs with steam cleaners.
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