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Treating Your Bedroom for Bed Bugs

Bed bug fecal stains on wooden furniture, probably a bed frame

Before beginning to treat your bedroom for bed bugs, please look at the picture here. It may be to the right of this paragraph or on top of it, depending on what kind of device you're using. Your bedroom should look as much like this picture as possible before you start the treatment.

Specifically, everything should already have been removed from the room and treated except for the furniture. There should be no clothes in the closet, no curtains on the windows, no area rugs on the floor, no pictures on the walls, and no sheets or blankets on the beds. The carpets should already have been treated and shampooed. There also should be nothing under the bed or in the closets.

You also should have a helper with you. You'll be doing things like turning furniture upside-down, so you're going to need some help. I also suggest that you and your helper be wearing disposable coveralls, both to protect you and your clothing from the insecticides and to help prevent bed bugs from crawling into your clothes.

Finally, you should have already read the pages about safety and bed bug control methods, you should have done the work described in the preliminary bed bug control page, and you should have treated your clothing and possessions.

Assuming that all of the above are true, it's time to start your bed bug control treatment. We're going to start with the room itself (basically the walls and ceiling), move on to the furniture, and treat the bed last. This page is about the room itself, and it's the place to start. The furniture and the beds have their own treatment pages.

Step 1: Inspect

One of the reasons you need to have everything out of the room is because you're going to perform a thorough inspection. Use a bright flashlight, a magnifying glass, and a step ladder because you'll be inspecting the room from top to bottom. You'll be looking for two things: harborage areas and fecal stains.

Bed Bug Harborage Areas

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A harborage area, for our purposes, means any place a bed bug can get into or hide. Because bed bugs are so small, that means any crack, crevice, gap, or whole big enough to stick your fingernail, a grocery store loyalty card key ring tag, or a guitar pick into. This includes gaps like those between the slats of hardwood floors, behind and under baseboards and trim, behind and around door trim, behind door hinges, behind and under the shelves in the closet, and around the window frames. They all will have to be treated, and that means finding them all.

If there are gaps where pipes go through the walls and ceilings, those should be treated as well. But if it's winter, the heat is on, and the pipes are hot, then you should skip them. The heat could cause the insecticide to vaporize, which in some cases could be hazardous. Once the gaps around the pipes are treated (or even if they're not), fill them with a quality caulk or expanding filler.

Fecal Stains

If you've forgotten what fecal stains look like, you can find a picture near the top of this page. You're going to look for stains like those anywhere in the room, including in cracks or crevices, around electrical outlets and switches, on the mattress or box spring, or anywhere on the bed frame (including underneath it).

If you find fecal stains around the electrical outlets, that will require an additional treatment step. I'll talk about it a little further down the page.

Step 2: Treat the Room's Perimeter and Trim

The nozzle of a bulb duster pressed up against a gap at the joint of a wall and a floor

The next step is to treat the room's trim and perimeter, starting by treating all those cracks and crevices you found. You have to get insecticide into every one of them. You need to be very thorough and not miss so much as an inch of crack anywhere in the room.

If you're using a bulb duster or bellows duster, press the nozzle against all those cracks and crevices and puff a little bit of just into them. Not a lot, just a little. Little puffs are all you need, and what comes out should be mainly air, not insecticide.

If you're using an aerosol (whether a pressurized liquid or an aerosol dust), insert the nozzle into or up against the crack, and squirt a bit of the insecticide into it.

If you're using a liquid insecticide (which is usually the easiest way to do this), there are two steps. First you will go around the entire room with the sprayer nozzle set to it's pin stream setting and squirt the insecticide into every single crack and crevice (except those around electrical boxes, of course). Then re-adjust the nozzle to its fan or cone setting and retrace your steps, applying a band of insecticide on the surfaces adjacent to the areas you treated as well as around the baseboards and trim. Only do this step if you treated the cracks and crevices with the same liquid insecticide. If you used any other product, then skip this step. Different pesticides may react with each other in ways that could be hazardous and/or may reduce their effectiveness.

If you're using a bed bug steamer, then direct the steam into the cracks and crevices, moving at a rate that allows for several seconds of contact with each point along the crack or crevice. Think as if you were slowly "painting" it with steam.

Step 3: Treat Around the Electrical Outlets and Switches (Optional)

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This step is optional unless you saw fecal stains around or near an electrical box, like an outlet or a switch. If you did, then you need to treat all of them in the room because bed bugs often travel along wiring or conduit. (Most professional bed bug exterminators treat all the electrical boxes routinely.)

Before you do this step, turn off all the power to room by turning off the circuit breakers. But don't necessarily assume that the power is turned off once you do that. Mislabeled circuit breakers are common, so treat the electrical fixtures and wiring as "hot" even after you turned off the breakers.

There are two ways to treat around electrical outlets. One is with a bulb or bellows duster that doesn't have a metal tip (or to which a non-conductive extension like a rubber or plastic tube or hose has been attached). You don't want metal anywhere near the outlet or switch. Remove the face plate and apply a few puffs of dust into the gap around the outlet or switch. A few puffs on the bottom and a few puffs on the top are all you need. Over-applying may reduce effectiveness.

You can also use an aerosol dust like Tri-Die to treat around the electrical outlets and switches, and in my experiences, that's actually a more effective way to do it. The air pressure behind the dust blows it further inside the wall void. Just slip the plastic extension nozzle into the cap and spray for a second or two with the nozzle pointing up inside the wall, and a second or two with it pointing down inside the wall. That's all you need.

One you've treated around the outlets and switches, re-attach the face plates immediately.

Once you've treated the room as described above, you're ready to move on to the next step: treating the furniture.

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