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How to Deal With Bed Bugs

Pro tips for kicking out these buggy bed companions

After decades of lying low, bedbugs made a major comeback in the late 1990s and liked what they saw: a world of globe-trotters blithely unaware of how they could further the bedbug cause. In 1999, just a quarter of polled U.S. pest pros were battling the little biters; in 2014 it was all of them, with summer the busiest season for many. The first global bedbug summit, held this year, floated such desperate measures as deploying bedbug-eating pharaoh ants indoors. Short of that, a certified, licensed pro can help, along with these tips.

They like to Travel

This pest's preferred mode is hitchhiking—in your suitcase, for example. They will also move around inside walls and even down the hall, making treatment of multifamily housing tricky: They can decamp quickly, leaving behind eggs.

They Can Go for Months Without Food or Drink

If bugs move in, you may be tempted to simply move out. But take your time: You'll need five months to starve out bedbugs, whether you're abandoning your home or isolating a suspect chair in the shed. Any less and you will likely find the same hungry pack, much hungrier now, of course, given your absence.

They are Better Vampires

Before settling down for a blood meal, they inject their victim with a pain-killer and an anticoagulant. Clever! Bites continue to sleep peacefully but will probably awake with itchy welts, an allergic reaction. Luckily, these suckers don't transmit disease.

Darkness is Their Old Friend

When exposed to light, these tiny, wingless insects flatten themselves and wiggle into cracks, crevices—anyplace that's dark and protective. Bedsprings, mattress seams, and upholstered furniture are favorite spots, but they have also been caught red-bodied in dressers and behind switch plates and artwork.

They Have Crazy, Productive Sex

Picture a needle-like male appendage that bypasses the female's genitalia, piercing the exoskeleton and filling its cavity with sperm, which somehow finds its way. Females have a defense mechanism, but it's a losing battle: Other males line up, one thing leads to another, and may the best sperm win. The methodology seems to serve the species: Females lay one to five eggs per day—per bug.

Take Back the Night

An invasion big enough to feel and see is big enough to warrant a pro. While awaiting treatment:

  • Hunt and peck. Use a flashlight and a credit card to pry into mattress seams. Attack with a vacuum cleaner equipped with a bag and a crevice attachment. Put the vac bag in a sealed plastic bag, and ditch it far away from human homes. Then scrub down the attachment.
  • Freeze or Bake Bag small items, like books and shoes, and store at 0°F for four days. Bedding and clothes can be tossed in a dryer set at 115°F to 120°F (medium to high) for at least 30 minutes. Low-vapor commercial steamers can kill the eggs as well as the bugs, but only on contact.
  • Use protection. Zip mattresses and box springs into bug-blocking covers. Outfit the legs of bed frames with special preventive bedbug-interceptor cups.
  • Poison. Pros rely on specially formulated insecticides and desiccants, like diatomaceous earth and boric acid, to get into crevices and other places where bugs and their eggs may nest. Foggers don't work; and, no matter how tempting, don't reach for a blow torch.