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“Bed bugs” are small nocturnal insects that feed on blood. (Cimex lectularius is the most common species of bed bug.) Some people who are bitten by them get itchy welts on their skin. However, the bugs have not been found to transit any diseases to humans.
Bed bugs are typically found on mattresses, box springs and bed frames, bedding, clothing, and in any dark cracks, seams, or crevices in beds, furniture, walls, or floors. They can travel through water pipes, wall voids, and ducts, and can spread from room to room.
Adult bed bugs are about 1/4-inch long and 1/8-inch wide; younger ones are smaller (often about 3/16 of an inch long or the size of a pinhead). They have flat, grayish-brown or reddish-brown bodies with six legs, and after feeding, they become round and red. They give off a sweet, musty odor. Their eggs are white and very small, and their excrement appears as tiny brown or black spots, which can look like small blood stains if smeared.
Here are some rules for prevention, as well as tips for getting rid of bed bugs if they do appear.
Keeping Bed Bugs Out
Getting Rid of Bed Bugs
While some pests can pose health concerns for building occupants, so can many pesticides. Pesticides and insecticides are poisons, and as such they are often poisonous to humans as well as to pests. Studies have linked some pesticides to cancer, birth defects, neurological disorders, and immune system disorders, as well as allergies. Therefore, pesticides should only be used as a last resort.
If the steps below are not sufficient to eliminate a bed bug problem and an insecticide must be used, ask an experienced professional to recommend the least-toxic insecticide that will be effective, and have it applied by a professional who will take safety precautions. The bed bugs’ eggs are not affected by insecticides, so the treatment will probably need to be applied several times to kill the hatchlings. Note: Bed bugs have become resistant to some pesticides, and using harsher pesticides could just end up making the bugs stronger, as they could build up resistance to those.
If you want to research insecticide options on your own, check out the EPA’s Bed Bug Product Search Tool. As a general rule, avoid products that are labeled “Danger—Poison,” as those tend to be the most toxic to humans. Never use pesticides indoors that are intended for outdoor use. And don’t use (or allow others to apply) any product that does not specifically list bed bugs on the product label. Some sticky traps are designed for bed bugs. (Note: Baits for ants and cockroaches will not work on bed bugs.)
But before using any pesticides/insecticides, first try these non-chemical strategies:
Consult with a licensed, experienced pest control professional for further advice and treatment options.
For additional information, go to these webpages:
Beyond Pesticides: Bed Bug Info (factsheet, articles, etc.)
New Natural Bed Bug Busters (Mother Earth News article) – Includes a non-toxic product recommendation
Nontoxic Bed Bug Control is Possible (San Francisco Chronicle article) – Includes a non-toxic product recommendation
Miriam Landman is an accomplished writer, editor, and sustainability advisor with expertise in green living, green building, and sustainable communities. For daily links to sustainable solutions and success stories, connect to her Facebook page for The Green Spotlight.