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Bed Bugs

Treatment and preventing spread of bed bugs

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How do bed bugs move around?

Bed bugs can only crawl. They will crawl from room to room or from suite to suite in multi-family buildings. They travel along pipes or crawl into and out of spaces in walls. To go long distances (like from building to building) bed bugs need help from people.

New infestations start when a person moves items to a new place. This could include:

  • furniture or decorative items
  • clothing or linens​
  • backpacks or handbags
  • books or cardboard boxes
  • any other item where a bed bug could be hiding

Treatment​

A bed bug infestation is not simple to deal with. You will need to do several things at the same time.

Call a pest control operator (PCO):​

Have the area treated.

De-clutter:​

This means to throw away everything you don't need any more. Don't throw away your furniture until you talk with the PCO. The PCO will tell you what items can and can't be treated.

Clean:

Use a vacuum cleaner and the crevice tool for the vacuum and vacuum all the possible places bed bugs hide.

Wash:

Wash off any signs of bed bugs as best you can. This makes it easier to see new signs of bed bugs on your next inspection.

Laundry:

The heat of a hot dryer will kill all stages of bed bugs.

Isolate:

Once items have been cleaned and there are no more bed bugs on them, keep them away from areas that may still have bed bugs in your home.

Treat your sleeping place:

Remove bed bugs from your bed.

  • Remove the bed skirt to prevent bed bugs from using it to climb.​
  • Vacuum all areas of your bed. This includes all surfaces of the mattress and box springs, the bed frame (including the underside), the headboard, and the back of the headboard.
  • Kill any bed bugs hiding in the sheets, blankets, bed spread, and pillows by washing them and treating with heat in a hot dryer for 30 minutes. Don't over-fill the dryer or your things won't get hot enough.

Protect your bed.

  • Encase the mattress and box spring. This means that you use a special cover (like a big bag) that has six sides and is closed with a zipper. It should say “bed bug proof" on the outside of the package.
  • Once you have covered your mattress, don't open it for at least 1 year. You can also use the cover as a mattress cover and leave it on.
  • Bed bugs can't chew holes in things so once this bed bug proof cover is in place any bed bugs that are trapped on the inside will die and no new bed bugs can get in. These covers don't have seams or piping on the outside so there are no places on the outside for bed bugs to hide.

    Interceptors for your bed

  • An interceptor is a low dish-like thing made out of heavy, smooth, shiny plastic. It has a well in the centre where the leg of the bed goes and a moat or channel around the well. These trap any bed bugs that manage to crawl up the outside edge of the interceptor.
  • Interceptors take advantage of the fact that bed bugs don't like crawling on smooth, shiny surfaces or on sticky ones.
  • You can buy them from pest control companies.
  • Home-made interceptors can be made by:
    • ​​​wra​pping double sided sticky tape around the legs of the bed
    • covering the legs of the bed with petroleum jelly such as Vaseline
    • placing smooth-sided containers (like a margarine dish or short glass jar) under the legs of the bed. Put something in the bottom to trap bed bugs (vegetable oil, talcum powder, or a layer of petroleum jelly)
  • Don't put anything toxic in the bottom of the well. Insecticidal dusts work well to kill bed bugs but may cause breathing problems especially if you are exposed for a long time.

​Isolate your bed

  • Keep your bed at least 15 cm (6 inches) away from the walls.
  • Don't store anything on your bed.

Keep protecting your bed

  • Don't put anything on your bed that may have hidden bed bugs. For example, bags, coats, ​or any other items that have not been inspected or cleaned.
  • Heat treat all bedding at least once a week until all the bed bugs are gone.
  • Inspect your bed at least once a week for any new signs of bed bugs. Vacuum the bed and bed frame at least once a week.

You'll need to clean and inspect at least once a week until you are sure the bed bugs are gone. This may take weeks, depending on how bad the infestation was, and, in a multi-family building, on how well everyone co-operates.

Chemical controls

for bed bugs​

 

Chemical treatment is best done by a PCO. The PCO should give you written information that tells you:

  • what time the treatment will be
  • what chemicals will be used
  • how long you will need to be out of your home
  • what you need to do ahead of time to prepare 

The written information should also tell you what cleaning you will need to do afterwards. Ask the PCO or your landlord if you aren't given this information.

There should be information for precautions for people who are sensitive to the smell of chemicals. Check with your doctor if you're concerned about people in your home that are in poor health or who are especially sensitive . This includes infants, seniors, or those with weak immune systems.

If you want to do the chemical treatment yourself, you need to know that using the pesticides incorrectly can make you sick. Use all chemicals properly. Follow the directions on the label carefully and ask questions if you don't understand the instructions.

Not using insecticides properly may only cause the bed bugs to move to a new area to get away from the insecticide. Some chemicals that are licensed for use against bed bugs are only available to a licensed PCO.

If you feel that you've been exposed to the chemicals for too long or if you have symptoms, call the Poison and Drug Information Service (PADIS) at 1-800-332-1414.

Using pesticides in dwellings in Alberta is controlled by Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and regulations. Pesticides in Canada are licensed for use by Health Canada.

Non-chemical controls for bed bugs

Heat treatment

Heat treatment is a specialized process. The rooms with bed bugs are heated to a high temperature with special equipment. If the room doesn't get hot enough the bed bugs may move to a new, cooler area. Heat treatment doesn't take the place of de-cluttering, cleaning, and ongoing monitoring.

Bed bug dogs

There are several dogs in Alberta that are trained to inspect for bed bugs. There are things you will be asked to do before the dog arrives. The dogs can find bed bugs faster than a trained professional. The dog and its handler work as a team to detect bed bugs. The dog should be trained and certified.

Prevent spread

Wear clothes that aren't infested with bed bugs.

  • Put the clothes you plan to wear in the dryer on the hottest setting for 30 minutes. Don't forget your socks, your coat, toque, scarf, and mittens.
  • When you take them out the dryer, give your clothes a shake to loosen any dead bed bugs that may be stuck on them. Put the clothes in a plastic bag right away and make sure the bag is tightly sealed.
  • The last thing you'll do before you leave your home is get dressed, so make sure you remember to do everything else beforehand.
  • Put on the clothes that you heat treated and put into a plastic bag. A good place to put on your clothes is in the bathroom or even in the bathtub. Bed bugs are easier to see on light surfaces, like a light-coloured bathtub. Dress in a place that you know doesn't have bed bugs.
  • Leave as soon as you are dressed. Don't sit down. Be careful not to brush against anything where a bed bug could be hiding.

Check your bags, purse, backpack, or briefcase.

  • Take everything out of your bags, purse, backpack, or briefcase. Check everything for signs of bed bugs. Throw out anything that can't be cleaned that a bed bug could hide in (like day timers or notebooks).
  • Vacuum or brush the bag well or put it in the dryer on the hottest setting for 30 minutes.
  • Store your bag wherever the bed bugs aren't likely to be. Your bag should not touch anything that a bed bug could hide in or that could let it get into your bag.
  • A good idea is to store your bag in a sealed plastic bag. White plastic is best because bed bugs are easier to see against a white background. Don't store it on a chair or on your bed, or you will have to vacuum or brush it every night.
  • You can also hang your bag in the closet, as long as the closet has enough room. Make sure the bag doesn't touch anything except the closet rod.

Make sure the clothes for the next day are free of bed bugs.

  • Take the clothes straight from the dryer and seal them in a plastic bag.
  • When you come home, put your coat and other outerwear (like a hat and mittens) into a plastic bag right away, and seal it tightly. This way you won't have to put them in the dryer again.

Prevent infestations when bringing items into your home

How do I prevent bed bugs from infesting my home?

You usually don't know that there are bed bugs in items you move or bring home. Taking precautions to prevent bed bugs entering your home is your best defence.  Here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Don't pick up discarded items from the street or back lane. It may have been left there because it was infested with bed bugs.
  • Take precautions when you come home if you spend any time in a place that might have bed bugs.
  • Inspect your home regularly for bed bugs. This can be as simple as inspecting your bed every time you change your sheets.
  • Talk to your landlord or property manager about what they do to prevent bed bug infestations (their protocol) if you live in a multi-family building, They should know about bed bugs and be willing to talk to you about them. It's possible to do things during a renovation to slow down or stop bed bugs from spreading suite to suite.
  • Encase your mattresses and box springs. This removes many of the hiding places on your bed. It helps to make sure that your mattress doesn't become infested and have to be thrown away. Having encasement on your mattress makes it much easier to inspect regularly.​
  • Encasement is the term used to describe enclosing your mattress in a bed bug proof cover. It is usually a 6-sided cover with a zipper. You can buy them at department stores, mattress stores, and from some pest control operators. The package should say “bed bug proof". You can wrap a mattress in heavy plastic and seal all the seams with something like duct tape. However, the plastic could get a hole in it.
  • Inspect your room when travelling and take precautions when you get home just in case.

Shopping for second-hand goods

What to look for when shopping

Bed bug droppings are reddish black to black. They look like small dots or large smears. It can look like a dot from a felt pen that has run a little around the edges. The skin they shed is a light tan—it looks like a dead bed bug.

  • Use a flashlight, as bed bugs move quickly to get away from the light.
  • Carefully look at all the surfaces of furniture including the inside and outside surfaces, the sides of drawers, joints, screw holes, backs of bookcases and any other place that could hide a bed bug. If a credit card can fit into the space, a bed bug can hide in it.
  • Upholstered furniture that is in good condition (no tears or holes) will have fewer places for bed bugs to hide.
  • Look at all household goods including items like stuffed animals, books, or DVDs.
  • When buying clothing, carefully inspect the seams and hems.

Bringing your Items home

  • Bring plastic bags with you and seal the item in before you take it home.
  • When you get home, put any items that won't be harmed by heat in the dryer for 30 minutes on high heat. It is OK to wash it first. You can also keep the item in the sealed bag until you do your laundry. The heat of the dryer will kill the bed bugs and their eggs.
  • If you bring home a larger item that can't be laundered (like furniture), keep it isolated until it can be cleaned thoroughly. It's best to isolate these outside your home. A detached garage or shed is a good place for larger items. If possible, leave the furniture outside until it can be cleaned and inspected a second time.

Cleaning your items to remove or kill bed bugs

  • For soft furniture including mattresses, couches, or chairs, vacuum all cushions and pillows, the top and bottom surfaces, and all crevices (gaps) using a vacuum cleaner crevice tool.
  • For hard furniture like dressers, TV stands, or bookshelves, wipe the inside, outside, top, and bottom with soap and water. Pay extra attention to all cracks and crevices. Seal all the joints with silicone or another sealant.
  • Throw away the contents of your vacuum cleaner outside of your home.
  • If you think you have or may have a bed bug infestation, don't give away or donate any items. Throw the item in the garbage. If possible, destroy it so it is not likely to be taken away by someone going through your garbage.
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Current as of: July 6, 2022

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services