Step 3: Self-help advice for bed bug control

Bed bugs always prefer to hide in clusters, somewhere close to the feeding site. They look for hard cracks and crevices in sheltered locations, usually in and around the bed structure. Their hiding places tend to be heavily soiled with black faecal material, as well as eggs and cast skins.

Before you start

You will need:

  • heavy duty refuse sacks
  • a good torch
  • tweezers/forceps
  • tools for dismantling the bed
  • vacuum cleaner with crevice tool
  • encasement for the mattress
  • encasement for the bed base (divan / box frame beds only)
  • Silicon sealant (optional, for frame beds only)
  • desiccant dust (diatomaceous earth or silica dioxide)
  • bed isolation device (e.g. ClimbUp Interceptor)

Declutter around the bed

Start by decluttering around the bed. Place any items that cannot be easily inspected into refuse sacks for later disinfestation. In most cases items more than two meters from the bed are not likely to harbour bedbugs, however, this will depend on the severity of the infestation. Some space around the bed will make it easier to work and also make it easier to spot any bugs that try to run away from the bed due to the disturbance.

A vacuum cleaner can be useful for quickly sucking up any bugs that are uncovered, but be aware that they are likely to survive inside the vacuum cleaner, so this will need to be emptied out into an outside waste bin immediately after use.

Remove bedding and other soft furnishings

Start by carefully removing and isolating the bedding. This can be carefully bundled into refuse sacks and later washed and/or tumble dried on a hot cycle to make sure it is bug-free. Sometimes removing the bed sheets can dislodge bugs that are hiding under the mattress, causing them to run away. Collect wandering bugs as you spot them and try to avoid any escaping.

Inspect the mattress

Carefully inspect the top side of the mattress while it is still on the bed. Pay particular attention to the piping around the edge of the mattress and any other features, such as labels and grab handles. Bedbugs often like to squeeze up next to these.

Stand the mattress against the wall and complete the inspection of the underside, including the piping around the bottom edge.

Mattress encasements can be purchased to eliminate potential hiding places on the mattress and seal in any bugs and eggs that were missed during the inspection. This is not always necessary if the outside of the mattress is intact, but if there are any holes in the outside of the mattress that could allow bed bugs to get inside, then a mattress encasement is a good alternative to disposing of the mattress entirely.

Inspect the bed base / frame

Frame beds – If possible, remove the bed slats and carefully inspect them. The ends of the bed slats, particularly at the head end of the bed, tend to be a haven for bed bugs.

Some beds can be easily dismantled, allowing for easy inspection of the joints and screw holes where bedbugs tend to hide.

Silicon sealant can be used to fill joints and fixing holes. This may result in some bugs being trapped inside the joints. As long as the sealing is sufficiently thorough, the bugs will be trapped and die eventually.

Divan / box-frame beds – If there is a headboard bolted to the bed, remove it and inspect the headboard separately.

Beds with inaccessible voids are particularly difficult to inspect. Bed bugs often manage to squeeze inside. In this situation it is usually best to install a bed base encasement. It is necessary to remove the castors or feet from the bed base, install the encasement, and then replace the castors on the outside of the encasement. This may require small incisions to be made in the encasement, to allow access to the fixing holes.

Desiccant dusts – Desiccant dusts are white or off-white, very finely ground silica. The natural form is called diatomaceous earth and the synthetic equivalent is called silica dioxide. Both can be effective for bed bug control if used correctly. They are relatively safe to use, although care should be taken not to inhale the dust, which can become airborne quite easily.

Desiccant dusts are good for treating any cracks and crevices in the bed structure. They provide some lasting protection against re-infestation and are particularly effective against small nymphs, which are most likely to be missed by an inspection. Desiccant dusts can be applied with a purpose build applicator or a soft paint or make-up brush.

Turn the bed into an island

The final step is to isolate the bed from the rest of the room. There are several devices available over the internet (e.g. ClimbUp Insect Interceptor). Bed bugs find it very difficult to walk over shiny surfaces, which means that any bugs that attempt to climb onto the bed via the legs will fall into the dish and be trapped. For this approach to be effective, it is essential that the bed is pulled slightly away from the wall and that no bedding is allowed to touch the floor. This effectively turns the bed into a giant bed bug trap. Any stray bugs that were missed or harbouring off the bed will be attracted back to the bed by CO2 and body heat as soon as it is occupied again.

If bed bugs can’t feed, they can’t reproduce. So even if there are stray bugs somewhere in the property, they will not be able to establish an infestation without regular access to a source of blood. In time, stray bugs will tend to migrate towards the sleeping areas, so as long as all occupied beds are fitted with bed isolation devices, the bugs will either be captured or (eventually) die of starvation. Isolating the bed in this way is the best option for people living in multiple occupancy buildings, where re-infestation from neighbouring rooms or apartments is likely.

Bed isolation devices tend to become ineffective when they gather too much dust and debris from the room, enabling the bugs to climb out. It is therefore important to clean the bed isolation devices every couple of weeks and to give them a light dusting of talcum powder or desiccant dust.