How to kill bed bugs naturally—without using harsh chemicals or pesticides

Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite. That old adage seemed quaint until the nasty critters started staging a stealthy comeback. A 2008 survey of pest control pros revealed that 91 percent of them had encountered bedbug infestations in the preceding two years, up from just 21 percent a decade ago.

"Bedbugs are a pest like no other, showing up in homes, hotels, retail stores and theaters," says Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, Ph.D., an urban entomologist at Cornell University.

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The Bed Bugs Problem

Today's increasingly pervasive problem is due to a combination of factors, Gangloff-Kaufmann says. Increased travel is one; we unwittingly transport any bedbugs from hotel rooms back to our homes in suitcases. In addition, over the last decade, some too-toxic household pesticides, such as diazinon and chlorpyrifos, were taken off the market. Used to kill roaches, they may also have kept bedbugs in check.

Today, most people kill pests by feeding them poison (in products such as Combat), but that doesn't work on bedbugs, which feed on blood. Bedbugs are also somewhat resistant to pyrethroids, a common class of still-used pesticides.

As icky as they are, though, bedbugs aren't dangerous. They don't transmit disease, and having an infestation isn't a sign of poor housekeeping. Still, you want to keep them out or get rid of them if they've found a way in. Here's how:

Bed Bugs Warning Signs

Bedbugs live within five to 10 feet of beds, where they feed on you while you sleep. In the morning, some people develop painful welts that resemble mosquito bites. If you're welt-free, small bloodstains on your sheets can be a sign of infestation. Also, check your headboard, mattress and any furniture near your bed. The adult bugs are reddish-brown and about the size of an apple seed; they also leave behind poppy-seed-size feces and shed light-brown skin casings.

3 Ways to Get Rid of Bedbugs

If you think you have bedbugs, hire a bedbug control expert who's familiar with environmentally-sensitive or natural pest control techniques. Gangloff-Kaufmann also advises these three strategies:

  1. Trap them. Isolate live bugs and eggs by putting all your bedding into large plastic trash bags; seal tightly. Untie the bag and toss it into a hot dryer for 20 minutes on high heat.
  2. Use air power. Vacuum the bed frame, baseboards and all furniture thoroughly. Seal the vacuum bag inside a plastic bag and toss it away outside of the house.
  3. Try a natural pesticide. Diatomaceous earth is an organic, nontoxic powder made from tiny fossilized water plants, available at most home-supply or gardening stores. It dehydrates and kills bed bugs. Sprinkle it in cracks and crevices around floor moldings. Although diatomaceous earth isn't toxic, the fine dust can be irritating, so avoid using it directly on your bed.

Prevent Bedbugs from Entering Your Home

  • Seal those holes and cracks. Reduce opportunities for bedbugs to get into your home by sealing holes where pipes and wires penetrate walls and floors. Fill cracks around baseboards and moldings with caulk.
  • Isolate your bed. Bedbugs can't fly or jump, so moving your bed away from the wall will make it harder to get to. Tuck in bed linens so they don't touch the floor. Place the legs of beds in cups or cans filled with soapy water (tuna cans work well).
  • Declutter. Reduce the number of bug-friendly hiding spots by removing extraneous items on, around and under your bed. Bedskirts, canopies, curtains, picture frames, chairs, storage boxes and area rugs are all bedbug hot spots.

From our sister publication, REMEDY's Healthy Living, Spring 2011

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 08 Feb 2011

Last Modified: 03 Nov 2014