“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
We’ve all heard those seemingly harmless words as our parents clicked off our bedroom light and quietly closed the door—they are meant to be comforting, in some way, but if you’ve ever dealt with bed bugs there’s likely nothing worse to hear as your head hits the pillow. Bed bugs are one of the biggest fears for many sleepers, but knowing how to handle them (And better yet—how to prevent their damage.) should put your mind at ease and make drifting off to sleep a little more comfortable.
Where Do Bed Bugs Come From? Many believe that bed bugs are a result of dirty environments, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Bed bugs are master hitchhikers and love to cling to anything and everything, and they can survive over a year without feeding on their preferred snack—blood. They are often a result of recent traveling and love to hang out in hotels and apartments. While beg bugs have been pestering us for thousands of years, the prevalence of international travel has allowed them to spread rapidly and increase in number since the 1990s. They've spread from Europe to the US and tend to be concentrated in densely populated areas or cities with high tourism rates, though that doesn't mean they can't live in more rural areas.
The story behind their name is enough to give anyone nightmares. These tiny vampires are drawn to the emission of carbon dioxide that we give off during sleep, which is why they tend to live near or in our beds. Once we’re asleep, they go on the attack. They release a numbing substance that prevents you from feeling the bites or the crawling, ensuring they don’t get caught.
The myth that bed bugs only exist in dirty places often means that they aren’t the first suspect when bites show up—if you travel or live in a shared space, your likelihood of a run-in can increase significantly. Some people also believe that bed bugs are too small to be seen or that they only come out in the dark, both myths lead to misinformation and confusion about the pests.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have Bed Bugs? If you think you may have bed bugs, there are a few things you can check to confirm. Remember that they aren’t always on your mattress—they can hide in walls, bedding, and in the things you keep under your bed. Bites are typically several dime-sized spots in a linear formation, sort of like a trail, often in 3-5 bite lines. They itch and swell, but sometimes not for days after the initial bite, giving these little guys plenty of time to hide. Bites are almost always the first indication of an infestation, and as soon as you notice them you should take action.
If you don’t see the bugs immediately when inspecting your bed (They are bigger than you’d think, and resemble apple seeds in color and shape.) try running a credit card along the seams of your mattress. They like to hide along zippers as well, and you should be able to find either a live bedbug or the thin, brown exoskeletons they leave behind. Check the items under your bed if you sleep on metal as they tend to prefer surfaces they can grip easily like wood or linens.
If you do find a bed bug, don’t panic. It will feel overwhelming at first, but there are plenty of resources and companies that specialize in this kind of infestation.
Before you do anything else, find an exterminator to come and determine the best treatment for your home. If you live in an apartment or you rent your home, contact your landlord right away. They will need to know so they can properly diagnose the situation and ensure they aren’t in other units. The exterminator will instruct you on how to proceed, but you’ll probably need to remove your linens and get them in the washer and dryer, on the hottest setting you have. Heat is one of the only surefire ways to get rid of bed bugs, and everything you own will likely need to take a spin in the dryer.
Depending on the size of the infestation, you may need to bag your items and have your mattress treated with heat or a chemical solution. It can take up to two weeks after your first treatment to know for sure what your next steps will be, but at-home remedies may not be enough to tackle the issue and a professional will probably be much more effective.
Do Bed Bug Mattress Covers Work? The best way to deal with bed bugs on your mattress is to prevent their damage in the first place. You’ll have plenty to deal with if you find a bed bug, you don’t want to worry about replacing a mattress on top of it. A bed bug mattress protector can do a lot of the work for you when it comes to protecting your investment.
How do bed bug mattress covers work? Mattress and box spring covers for bed bugs are slightly different than your typical fitted-sheet style mattress protector. The best bed bug mattress cover is also referred to as an “encasement” as it keeps everything out and is the only type of cover that can truly protect against bed bugs. Any cover with an open side will easily let them in, so look for a protector with a zipper.
Where to buy bed bug mattress cover accessories? You can find a mattress cover with zipper for bed bugs online, like this one on Amazon. You should also be able to find them at your local Walmart or Target, but ensure that the packaging says the cover will protect against bed bugs, and its not just a dust mite mattress cover. Most mattress companies will also sell protectors, but not all of them are full encasements.
If you’re looking for a mattress cover to kill bed bugs, you can certainly encase your mattress and attempt to keep them in, but there’s no guarantee that this will work. An encased mattress that hasn’t been treated is less likely to allow bed bugs to get out, but as they can survive for over a year without feeding, you’d have to hope that they don’t keep laying eggs or escape, starting the infestation over again. A mattress that has been encased prior to an infestation can simply have the cover replaced to continue protecting it.
Additional Resources & Tips: Bed Bug Registry: Once you’ve dealt with bed bugs, the fear of getting them again can consume your nights. When traveling, you can check this website for hotels that have been reported as infested. This can go a long way to ease your mind before a big trip!
EPA Bed Bugs Guide: The EPA has a ton of information on what to do if you find bed bugs and how to approach the topic of bed bugs, as well as tips and tricks for making sure they are gone for good.
How To Avoid Bed Bugs During Travel: Once you arrive at a hotel, don’t set your baggage on anything other than the luggage rack until you’ve checked out the mattress and ensured there are no bed bugs. Check the linens and curtains, and sometimes framed art above the bed. If you think you may have stayed in a room with bed bugs, before bringing your luggage inside, throw everything washable into the washer and the dryer on high heat, including your baggage. This will kill anything that might be hitching a ride!
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