How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs: Steamers & Other Options

A close up of a bed bug on a white blanket set against a yellow background.

Bed bugs are annoying, biting insects that can wreak havoc on your home.

If you have a bed bug problem, you’ll want to move quickly to get rid of them before their population grows out of control.

How do you get rid of bed bugs? The best way to eliminate bed bugs in the home is to use a steamer. The high heat produced will kill bed bugs on contact and sanitize the area as well. Other options include machine washing and drying all contaminated materials and resorting to pesticide solutions.

Identification

Bed bugs are small insects, meaning they have six legs and a hard exoskeleton.

There are generally two types of bed bugs: one that is found in tropical areas and another that is found in homes around the world. 

As adults, the common bed bug ranges from red to brown in color, depending on when their last meal was.

They are shaped like a teardrop or a balloon and are almost completely flat. When recently fed, however, bed bugs become engorged and red in color.

A close-up photo of a bed bug on a fibrous material.

Perhaps because no one wants to admit that they may be dealing with a bed bug problem, bed bugs are often mistaken for other small pests that tend to invade our living spaces.

Head over to our article, “What Bugs Look Like Bed Bugs,” to make sure that you’ve correctly identified your target pest.

They are considered to be parasites, which means they need a host body.

This host is almost always a human but can occasionally be another mammal like a pet.

Primarily gaining nourishment from the blood of their host, bed bugs make their homes in locations where that is readily accessible.

They look for situations around the human bed that are protected, dark, and allow them to feast on unsuspecting prey.

Note that bed bug bites are rather similar to those of fleas, and people often confuse the two. You can learn the key differences by clicking here.

Bed bugs generally eat every five to ten days, but they are hardy and can survive for months without feeding.

This makes it difficult to control the population because they will not die naturally very quickly.

They also produce offspring very quickly: one female bug can produce 300 adults and 1,000 new eggs in just three months.

Look for bed bugs in the following areas:

  • Around the seams of mattresses.
  • In stitching on mattresses and box springs.
  • Behind outlet and light switch covers.
  • Underneath baseboards and in cracks in walls.

Even if you do not see live bed bugs, you can determine whether or not you have bed bugs by a few signs:

  • Blood marks on bed sheets, mattresses, and pillows.
  • Excrement marks that look like dots from a permanent marker.
  • A sweet, musty scent that has been compared to the smell of raspberries.
  • Translucent eggs laid in similar locations.

Bed bugs are surprisingly mobile and quick, able to move between rooms and even apartment units easily (more on apartment infestations here).

So, once you’ve determined that you do indeed have bed bugs, check the other rooms in your home as well, especially the bedrooms.

Removal Methods

Method Estimated Cost Natural
Steamer $100+
Mattress encasement $35
Black bags $25
Residual pesticide $15
Contact pesticide $15
Dust pesticide $15

The Best Way to Eliminate Bed Bugs

The best way to eliminate bed bugs is by treating them with extreme heat.

Bed bugs cannot survive temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit for more than twenty minutes.

They will die almost instantaneously if temperatures reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit. For most homes, this is most easily accomplished by using a steamer, like this one on Amazon.

Identify the Extent of the Infestation

Once you’ve recognized the key indicators of bed bugs (bites on skin, blood stains, excrement marks, eggs laid in inconspicuous locations), begin to search surrounding areas.

Look carefully at all furniture, gaps in walls, and any clothing.

Bed bug eggs and larvae can be translucent, making them difficult to see.

Thus, even if you do not see any bugs on an item, assume that if it has been in contact with an infested item, then it is also in danger of having eggs or larvae on it.

Stop the Spread

Isolate the room as best as you can. Do not move infested materials to other rooms. Bag and seal any clothes, blankets, stuffed animals, pillows, and bed sheets in airtight bags. 

Move beds and furniture at least six inches away from walls so that the bugs cannot crawl from their hiding spot (if that is in or on the wall) onto the furniture.

The idea is to keep bugs away from hiding places and in locations that they can be killed.

Since bed frames can have openings and gaps that provide safety for bed bugs, dismantle the frame.

Also:

  • Use caulk to seal any gaps in hiding spots (especially if you live in multifamily housing such as town homes or apartment complexes).
  • Use painters tape or electric tape around outlets and light switch covers. 
  • Remove clutter, such as books, magazines, tissues, trash, or any other item that could be a potential hiding spot for bed bugs.
  • Throw away whatever you can by using sealable bags. 

Wash Anything Removable

Using sealed bags, like trash or ziploc bags, transport all material that can be machine washed.

Wash bedding and clothes in hot water for at least thirty minutes, and then dry them in a machine for at least thirty more minutes.

If any clothing or bedding is too delicate to machine wash, seal it in black bags (like trash bags) and place them outside in direct sunlight.

This concentrated heat will kill bed bugs in four to five days.

Also, consider buying a bed bug cover, like this medical-grade covering, for your mattress and box springs.

HOSPITOLOGY PRODUCTS Zippered Mattress Encasement...

Check Price on Amazon

These are designed to keep bed bugs from making their home in your bed and often come with pesticides to kill any that try to come in.

Use a Steamer on Anything Permanent

Use a household steamer on mattresses, furniture, walls, floors, and any other place bed bugs might be hiding.

These devices have a tank into which you add water, and the water is turned into steam. Creating a surface temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit will kill bed bugs immediately.

COSTWAY Multipurpose Steam Cleaner

Check Price on Amazon

Steamers are useful products that serve more purposes than just killing bed bugs. In fact, you won’t find bed bug-specific steamers on the market. 

These machines are used to clean all types of household items, such as counters, floors, sinks, shower curtains, tubs, mattresses, grills, and clothes.

Some steamers are designed specifically to get wrinkles out of garments that are too delicate for regular irons (these are not ideal for treating bed bug infestations). 

Steamers can be used on a wide variety of surfaces such as drywall, tile, carpet, metal, stone, or treated wood.

The extreme temperatures produced by the steam are enough to kill germs and bacteria while sanitizing surfaces, while the pressure put forth is enough to bust up grime, rust, dirt, and grease.

Make Sure They Don’t Come Back

Continue watching the area for the next 10 days. Since bed bugs typically only eat every five to 10 days, it might take a while for them to return.

If you find more bugs, repeat this treatment until no more remain.

Use the preventative steps below to make sure you do not have to deal with bed bugs again. 

Basic Prevention Guidelines

Bed bugs are not necessarily an indicator of uncleanliness or lack of hygiene, meaning they can infest the home of anyone who lives in a densely populated area, or who travels regularly.

In order to prevent these infestations, vigilance is important. 

  • If you purchase any secondhand furniture, check it carefully for the indicators listed above (blood stains, excrement marks, etc.) before taking it into your home.
  • When spending the night away from home, carefully inspect the bed, underneath sheets, around seams, and inside headboards.
  • Avoid laundromats or shared laundry facilities whenever possible.
    • If you must use these services, transport your items in plastic bags (and put clothes directly from the machine into a clean bag), and do not lay clean clothes on any fabric surface in the facility.
  • If you live in a multi-family home (town house, apartment complex, etc.), work hard to seal cracks and crevices between the homes, especially around electrical outlets, light fixtures, or baseboards.
  • Apply proper weather stripping and door sweeps under any exterior door to keep dirt and pests out.
  • Reduce clutter to minimize the locations that bed bugs could hide, especially around the bed.
  • Look into buying a protective cover for your mattress and box springs. Some covers are pretreated with a gentle pesticide against bed bugs.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner in bedrooms and living rooms frequently.

Natural Solutions to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

Before seeking out pesticide options for solving your bed bug problem, consider using natural, nonchemical solutions.

Again, the problem with bed bugs is that they can survive for extended periods of time, possibly for months, without food or nourishment.

So waiting for the bugs to die can provide false hope and can be hard to measure. Thus, you must go on the offensive and assertively seek out the pests.

Steamers 

When considering which steamer to buy, there are several factors to consider. The most important factor when dealing with bed bugs is a satisfactory heat output.

Look for a steamer with at least a 225 degree output.

Some heat will be lost between the steamer and the surface, so you need an output high enough to produce a 200 degree surface temperature (i.e. the temperature on the mattress, bedframe, or floor).

Also look for the water capacity of the tank.

Because most bed bug infestations require quite a bit of time to treat, you will want a larger water tank so that you don’t have to refill constantly. 

Some handheld steamers meant specifically for garment unwrinkling have 2 1/2-ounce tanks, while other industrial level cleaners have 50- to 60-ounce tanks.

COSTWAY Multipurpose Steam Cleaner is a mid-level product that provides the best of both worlds.

Powerful enough to handle your bed bug problem but small enough to transport and store easily, this steamer is perfect for most household cleaning tasks.

The 1 1/2-liter tank provides 40 minutes of continual steam at a temperature of 226 degrees Fahreheit, and 18 accessories allow for a wide variety of cleaning tasks and flexibility.

A 16-foot power cord allows you to clean an entire room without needing to switch outlets and reposition the machine in the middle of the job.

The removable storage tray means you can keep accessories inside the device, and the wheels and handle make it portable and user friendly.

The large tank needs eight or nine minutes to fully heat and pressurize, but the longer run time more than makes up for the initial wait.

You can find a complete list of our most recommended steamers, both standard size and handheld, for eliminating bed bugs in our article “Best Steamer for Bed Bugs.”

Mattress Encasements

A mattress encasement is essentially a big, airtight bag that zips around your mattress and box springs to ensure that bed bugs cannot get in to make their nests.

It also traps any bugs that are currently in or around the mattress and starves or suffocates them.

Most encasements have bug-proof lining that makes sure bugs cannot chew through the material like they can with bed sheets and blankets.

Some encasements come with a waterproof membrane to protect the mattress. They also come in a variety of sizes, so make sure you purchase the correct one.

Look for a mattress encasement that is machine washable and has a zipper.

Other features are nice, but the purpose of the encasement is to trap bugs that are already on the mattress and to keep other bed bugs from making their nest within the mattress.

Hospitology Products Sleep Defense System is a medical-grade product from a trusted brand known for not cutting corners that is sure to keep you safe. 

The trademark Bugflap and Zipperlock design ensures that your sleep will no longer be disturbed by bed bugs.

The 100% waterproof material offers long-term protection, but the polyester fabric on top makes it cool and breathable.

This particular encasement has been lab tested to guaranty its effectiveness against bed bugs, is completely machine washable, and provides protection from dust and allergens as well.

Black Bags

One way to kill bed bugs is to place potentially infested articles, such as clothes, stuffed animals, pillows, and blankets, in black trash bags, seal them, and place them in direct sunlight for a few days.

The black color of the bag will attract and collect sunlight, creating an inhospitable environment for the bed bugs.

This is particularly useful for clothes that are too delicate to wash in hot water or for nonwashable materials, such as books, that might have come into contact with eggs or larvae.

Do not fill the bags up too much; you must be able to tie them in an airtight manner. Alternatively, you could use rubber bands to seal the top of the bags.

Muscle Bag 55 Gallon Trash Bags are industrial-grade trash bags that will not tear under excessive stretching.

In fact, they are advertised to be up to three times stronger than other trash bags. They are guaranteed to work, or a full refund will be given.

These super strong, 55-gallon bags come folded neatly and individually in a box, not on an annoying roll with the bags all linked together.

Pesticide Solutions

If you’ve attempted natural, nonpesticide options but still have a bed bug problem, consider using pesticides.

There are three types of pesticides that will work on bed bugs: residual, contact, and dust.

Residual Pesticide: EcoRaider Bed Bug Killer

A residual pesticide retains its potency for a long period of time, often for months.

This is helpful for bed bug infestations, since bed bugs are hardy and can survive long periods of time without feeding. 

Plus, even after existing bed bugs are dead, their eggs can hatch for up to two more weeks! A residual pesticide will help solve that problem. 

Apply a residual pesticide in a perimeter around the bed, border of the room, and any area where bed bugs might be a problem.

EcoRaider Bed Bug Killer is the most effective natural killer on the market.

It is a USDA-certified, biobased insecticide made with natural ingredients, so it’s safe to spray on mattresses, around the home, and even in areas frequented by children and pets.

Although the potency period (two weeks) may not be as long as some other residual pesticides, it effectively kills not just bed bugs, but bed bug eggs as well.

Contact Pesticide: Harris Five Minute Foaming Aerosol Spray

Contact pesticides kill quickly and are designed to be applied directly to the pest. These work best when you know generally where the bed bugs are.

They can be applied to most surfaces and kill “on contact.”

Harris Foaming Spray is safe for use on all surfaces, including mattresses, drywall, carpet, and cotton, though any bed sheets should either be washed to kill the bugs or sprayed and then thoroughly washed before using.

The foam reaches into hard-to-reach places like cracks and crevices, and deep into material fibers.

It’s odorless, nonstaining, and works residually for up to a month. Bed bugs, eggs, and larvae will be killed on contact.

Dust Pesticide: Cimexa Dust Insecticide

Dusts are residual pesticides designed to reach inconvenient locations. You can shoot a dust into cracks, and it will retain its power for months.

You can also use a dust on mattresses and other furniture. Most dusts are recommended for use after contact pesticides in addition to residual sprays.

Use pesticide dusts on any surface that is hard to reach or is too delicate for liquid pesticides.

Cimexa Dust is extremely powerful and resilient, lasting for an absurdly long time. Its makers advertise it as a home-safe product that lasts for up to ten years.

In addition to bed bugs, it kills fleas, ticks, lice, roaches, ants, firebrats, silverfish, spiders, mites, and dry wood termites, yet it is safe for household use, humans, and pets.

Although it is not effective against bed bug eggs, it will kill any nymphs that hatch from eggs that have been dusted.

Safety Precautions when Using Pesticides

Pesticides are intentionally toxic concoctions – this is what makes them effective on pests.

Thus, it is important to follow all instructions on the container, no matter what type of pesticide you use.

Keep all chemicals out of reach of kids and pets, and always wear appropriate personal protective equipment when using.

Do not ingest, keep out of your eyes, and call a poison control center (1-800-222-1222) with any questions.

When to Call a Professional Exterminator

Because bed bugs can cause allergic reactions and are incredibly difficult to get rid of, there is no shame in calling a professional exterminator.

Some exterminators even use dogs to detect bed bugs by their unique scent and can help you find the best solution for your problem.

Don’t miss out on important prevention and elimination tips! Check out all of our bed bug articles to find the answers you need to get rid of these pests once and for all.

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