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How to rid your home of bedbugs

Got a bedbug problem? Here's where to start.
by Sarah Bracy Penn /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY
Bedbugs on a bed sheet
There's nothing fun about bedbugs.Getty Images

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Bedbug infestations can happen anywhere — movie theaters, hotels, office buildings, stores and even in your own home. You may be suspicious of an infestation if you experience mysterious bites on your body, find excrement or blood droplets on your bedding or even see a live bug crawling on your belongings.

If this happens to you, the first step is perhaps the most difficult: Don’t panic! The second step is to know the facts. Treating an infestation in your home requires thoughtful preparation and in most cases, patience. Bedbug infestations cannot be treated in one day.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one should thoroughly inspect the room or home in an effort to pinpoint the nesting site, find evidence if possible and verify that the insect is indeed a bedbug before taking further action.

What do bedbugs look like?
Bedbugs are brown, six-legged insects with a distinct round shape. If you suspect that you've found a bedbug in your home, save it in a plastic bag to show to your local exterminator.Getty Images

Then, call a professional.

No matter what chemical, fungal or heat treatment is recommended by your local exterminator, it’s crucial to treat the space with powerful sprays and steam equipment wielded by an expert. In some cases, an exterminator may also recommend calling a canine-detection service, which trains dogs to seek out bedbug infestations by scent.

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It’s important that you continue to sleep in the same room, rather than moving to another bed or the sofa, since bedbugs will follow you to other areas of your home.

“Professionals understand the biology of the beast,” Nina Jenkins, a senior research associate at the Penn State University entomology department, told TODAY Home. “People think (bedbugs) are really difficult to get a handle on, but it’s really about understanding everything about the pest and having access to the right chemicals.”

Bed bug protector
Removing and treating your bedding on high heat is crucial, followed by wrapping your mattress in bedbug-protective encasements.Getty Images

Your pest-control officer will alert you of all prep work necessary before he or she treats your home, which will include plastic bagging any items removed from the infected space, covering mattresses with bedbug encasements and laundering bedding and other upholstery on high heat.

Patience is key in this phase, as it could take up to three rounds of chemical treatment before the colony is eliminated. It’s also important that you continue to sleep in the same room, rather than moving to another bed or the sofa, since bedbugs will follow you to other areas of your home if that means they’re able to continue feeding.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to treat bedbugs with home remedies on your own. Upon discovering an infestation, many people rush to a home-supply store and buy aerosol treatments, similar to ant killer or roach spray. Though these products can indeed kill a bedbug, you must find and spray the pesky pest directly to be effective.

“If you’re able to spray it directly, almost always it can die,” Jenkins said. However, due to the bedbug’s mostly nocturnal, hidden nature, it’s difficult to find and target them in this way. What’s more, those chemical formulas are usually repellents, meaning bugs will flee from a treated area and potentially inhabit another spot nearby.

Bedbug pesticide
Always contact a professional to help you battle a bedbug infestation. Getty Images

If that doesn't induce enough anxiety, several strains of the bedbug species have developed immunity to popular chemical sprays used by pest-control experts. After spending countless dollars and days of preparation, what if the treatments don’t work?

“The most effective products are ones that have long-term residual effect,” Jenkins said.

To combat bedbugs’ resistance to many chemical pesticides, Jenkins and a team of international entomologists have worked for 12 years on developing a natural formula.

These researchers developed a fungal-based biopesticide now used in many agricultural regions around the world. Back stateside, her colleagues at Penn State tested the same chemical application on bedbug populations and found success in the lab. The natural, single-application treatment, Aprehend, could potentially eradicate a bedbug infestation without direct contact.

For those with little ones at home, not to worry. The EPA has strict guidelines regarding household pesticides, Jenkins said, and many are safe for homes with children and pets, leaving little to no discoloration or residue to the treated area. The government agency recommends cross-checking that an exterminator’s chosen treatments are legal with this checklist.

Dog, Bedbugs and Mattress
Specially trained dog can seek out bedbugs in a mattress.Getty Images

Finally, it’s important to take all measures necessary to ensure your infestation will not spread to other rooms, or worse, to your neighbors. There are several best practices, especially while traveling, to adopt in order to prevent another infestation.

Be sure to empty your vacuum after each use, as bugs can live in the filter and be transported to other areas of your home. If you must discard infested furniture, do so responsibly; destroy it to prevent further use, wrap it in plastic, clearly mark it as infested and arrange swift pickup by your local sanitation department.

Hopefully you'll say bye-bye to bedbugs and not have to worry about this again!

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