When I was a child, bed bugs were considered to be a rather disgusting nuisance written about in classic novels that no longer existed anywhere in the modern world.
The truth is that humans and bloodsucking bed bugs made strange but regular bedfellows for centuries until shortly after World War II when strong pesticides like DDT and chlordane came into widespread use. Heavy pesticide use nearly eradicated bed bugs for over 50 years with most people living today having little to no memory of the major pest threat they were in the past.
The knowledge that pesticides damage the environment and contribute to health problems resulted in the banning of DDT in 1972 and chlordane in 1988. In addition, the changing attitude toward the use of chemicals along with bed bugs developing an increased resistance paved the way for a slow but steady resurgence. Bed bug problems are now commonly found even in the most modern and sanitary living environments including four and five star hotels!
How to Know if You Have a Bed Bug Problem
Bed bug bites typically manifest as tiny, itchy bumps that seem to come out of nowhere. They may resemble bites from other types of insects which makes diagnosing bed bugs as the source of the problem particularly difficult. People usually figure it out over time when they notice that the bites occur whether or not they have been outdoors and exposed to other insects. So, the bites occur regardless of season, weather or the amount of clothing worn when outside.
Compounding the problem is the extremely tiny size of bed bugs (they are about the size of an apple seed, flat, and brown in color) and their ability to stay hidden. If you suspect you have a bed bug problem, search around the seams and tags of your mattress and box spring. Cracks in the bed frame and headboard are other common places they hide.
According to the EPA, a better way to identify a possible bed bug infestation is to look for physical signs of their presence. While cleaning or changing the bedding, look for:
- Reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed (gross!).
- Dark spots (about this size: •), which are bed bug excrement. These dark spots may bleed on the fabric like a black marker would.
- Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and pale yellow skins that immature bed buds (called nymphs) shed as they grow larger.
Definitely Have Bed Bugs? The Nuclear Approach
The good news is that you don’t have to fumigate your home with who knows what chemicals to get rid of the bed bugs. There are natural ways to get rid of them without endangering your health or that of your family even though an infestation with bed bugs is so much worse and seemingly intractable compared with any other pest!
Note that if you live in an apartment, flat, or townhome, the problem becomes more difficult as bed bugs seem to be able to move around a building with relative ease. According to a friend who experienced a very bad infestation in a large city apartment building, the only thing that seemed to work was an expensive heat treatment where all affected apartments were treated simultaneously by experienced professionals. The heat treatment method usually requires 2 or 3 sessions to be completely effective.
If you live in a standalone house, the problem is a bit easier and cheaper to handle as you can treat it yourself in most cases (see DIY ideas below). Just keep the heat treatment idea from experienced professionals in your back pocket in case nothing else works!
Natural DIY Bed Bug Removal Methods
The DIY method for bed bug removal should ideally involve multiple approaches used at the same time as bed bugs are notoriously difficult to eradicate.
First, try BontaiGard, a product that contains a special type of fungus (Beauvaria bassiana) which kills bed bugs (1). This fungus grows naturally in soils throughout the world and acts as a parasite to bed bugs eventually killing them. This is not an overnight solution but effectively works over time. Note that this fungus is safe for people although those with mold allergies should consult with their practitioner before using.
Next, try CimeXa, a nontoxic insecticide dust made of engineered silica powder which is more effective than diatomaceous earth. The exoskeleton of the bed buds is scratched by the dust when they crawl over it, which causes them to quickly dehydrate and die. CimeXa will remain viable for up to 10 years as long as the conditions are not damp and it is left undisturbed.
How to Trap Bed Bugs
Finally, you can use the trapping method. Bed bugs locate their human hosts via attraction to carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted during exhalation. This can be used to trap them for easy elimination. There are two ways to accomplish this. First, you can make homemade CO2 traps for less than $20 (see video or written instructions for how to make using a yeast ferment).
The second method is perhaps a little easier. Just buy a small hunk of dry ice, which is frozen carbon dioxide that emits the gaseous form as it melts. Find companies that make dry ice in your area and most will be happy to sell you a chunk for a reasonable price. By the way, using dry ice to get rid of ticks in your home works too as ticks are also attracted to CO2.
Place the dry ice in a glass bowl that has a paper towel or cloth wrapped around it for the bed bugs to easily climb up on. Slide the bowl under the bed or whereever you suspect the bed bugs are hiding. The bed bugs will climb up the side of the bowl on the fabric, fall into the bowl and be unable to escape. Repeat process as necessary until all bed bugs have been removed. Note that one pound of dry ice will last for about 5-8 hours at room temperature.
If you absolutely cannot find any company in your area that makes dry ice, you can buy a machine to make it (this is one of the cheapest). While a bit pricey, it’s certainly less expensive than calling in the professionals for 2-3 treatments.
Healing Bed Bug Bites
If you are already suffering from bed bug bites, the best way to heal them quickly is using a natural herbal salve. This is the one I use (with easy recipe). For quick relief, rubbing the inside of a banana peel on insect bites is the best mosquito bite remedy I’ve found, but I don’t know if it works as well for bed bites. It’s worth a shot since you probably already have some in your kitchen.
Have you battled a bed bug infestation where you live? Did you manage to get rid of them without resorting to chemicals? If so, please share with us the methods you used!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
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