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Treating Your Bed for Bed Bugs

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In most cases of bed bug infestation, the bed is the epicenter of the population. The concentration of bed bugs usually will be higher in the mattress, box spring, and bed frame than in any part of the room or the house. Paradoxically, that's why you should treat the bed last. When treating for bed bugs, conventional wisdom is to start with the uninfested or minimally-infested areas of the house, and finish in the most severely-infested area.

The reason for treating in this order is to establish chemical barriers between the infested and uninfested areas before you start stirring up the bed bugs in the area with the worst infestation. If the adjacent areas and furnishings haven't already been treated by the time you start treating the bed, you will wind up scattering the bed bugs and making the problem worse. So we start with the uninfested areas and work our way in to the infested ones, this way the bed bugs we stir up will have no place to go that hasn't already been treated.

That's also one of the reasons why you should read this page, this one, this one, this one, and this one, in that order, if you haven't already read them, before treating your bed. The other reason is that a lot of people land on this page because a search engine brought them here, without the benefit of having read the rest of the pages. Reading the other pages first will help this one make more sense to you and will improve the odds of your bed bug control treatment being successful.

Treating the Bed Frame, Head Board, and Foot Board

Close-up of a mattress with bed bugs on it

The mattress and box spring usually have higher infestation densities than the bed frame and its parts, so following our rule of treating the most-infested area last, we're going to start with the bed frame, not the mattresses and box spring.

Remove the mattresses and box springs (if any) from the bed and place them on the floor or lean them against a wall. Then using your treatment method of choice, treat the entire bed frame, head board, foot board, and any drawers, shelves, or storage compartments built into the frame.

Treat anywhere on the bed frame where you see droppings, as well as every single crack and crevice into which you can stick your fingernail, a grocery store loyalty card key ring tag, or a thin guitar pick. Then when you're done, turn the frame upside-down and do it all over again. You must treat every single nook and granny. You do not want to have to do this job again, so do it thoroughly the first time.

If you have decided to use a completely non-chemical approach, then using a bed bug steamer is your best option for treating the frame and accessories. You basically aim it at all the joints, inside the drawers, around the wheels, and anywhere else bed bugs might be hiding, and move along as if you're slowly "painting" the entire frame with steam. Don't move too quickly: You want to give the steam enough time to cook the bed bugs and their eggs, which is basically what you're doing.

Most people prefer using a liquid insecticide for this part of the treatment, however; and unless you have some medical reason why you need to do it non-chemically, I advise using insecticide to treat the bed frame and its parts.

Using a liquid insecticide applied with a sprayer is the easiest way to treat a bed frame. I like either Harris Bed Bug Killer or EcoRaider Bed Bug Killer for this part of the job. Harris Bed Bug Killer used deltamethrin, a synthetic pyrethroid, as its active ingredient. EcoRaider Bed Bug Killer is an all-natural, plant-based product. I think the Harris product and its deltamethrin have a slight edge in terms of residual effectiveness, but the EcoRaider's 14-day residual makes it a perfectly suitable alternative if you want to use an all-natural product.

Using low pressure, use the pin-point nozzle setting to treat every crack and crevice in the frame. Then use the fan sprayer to spray the broad surfaces, inside any drawer or shelf compartments, or any upholstery on the head or foot boards. Basically, you want to treat it everywhere, using the pin stream for the cracks and crevices and the fan spray for the surfaces. Don't over apply the insecticide, however. We're not trying to drown the bed bugs. If you start getting excessive dripping or puddling, then you're over applying.

If there are any tubular parts to the frame, examine them very closely for possible ways that bed bugs could get inside. Very often there are small gaps by the welds or empty screw holes in the tubing that could allow bed bugs inside of them. If there are, then you'll need to get some insecticide inside the tubes. A dust or aerosol insecticide (especially an aerosol with a thin plastic nozzle extension) is the easiest way to do this.

Treating the Box Spring

Close-up of a technician's gloved hand spraying an aerosol insecticide into a box spring

If your bed uses a box spring, that will be the next step in your treatment. Unlike the mattress, box springs are usually treated both inside and outside.

To get started, lean the box spring against the wall with the bottom facing you, or set it on the bed frame upside-down. If you set it on the bed frame, you may want to position it sideways to the frame to get easier access to the ends.

You'll be treating the bottom and the inside of the box spring first. On many box springs, there's a cloth cover over the bottom that can be removed. If you are using a liquid insecticide and a sprayer, then you will need to remove that cover so you can treat the inside. You can re-attach it with staples or glue when you're done.

An easier way to do it, however, is to use a dust like Drione, Delta Dust, diatomaceous earth, or an aerosol dust like Tri-Die. If you do it this way, then you don't need to remove the whole cover. You just peel up a small section of it on each side of the box spring, slip the tip of your duster inside, and apply a few puffs or sprays into the box spring from each direction. It's simple, quick, and effective. The accompanying picture was of a technician using an aerosol dust.

When you're done treating the bottom and the inside, flip it right side-up and treat the top and sides of the mattress. In my opinion, using a liquid insecticide labeled for bed bug control on mattresses is the easiest way to do this, but you can also use steam or an aerosol or dust labeled for that use. Pay special attention to the upholstery, seams, and tufts.

Once you're done treating the box spring (and once it dries if you used a liquid insecticide), you should enclose it in a mattress encasement. This will both prevent any survivors from getting out and prevent any "new" bed bugs from getting in.

Treating the Mattress

Close-up of a mattress that is severely infested with bed bugs, showing the bugs and fecal stains

The first decision you have to make about treating your bed for bed bugs is whether to do it at all. Aside from just being gross, bed bug droppings can give off a foul smell, and some people are allergic to their shed skins. So if the mattress is severely infested and looks like the one in this picture, then maybe you'll just want to replace it.

If you decide to go ahead and replace your mattresses and box springs, then make sure you treat the rest of the house and that the treatment is successful before you bring your new mattresses inside. You wouldn't want to take a chance on your brand-new mattress becoming infested.

If you decide to keep your current mattresses and box springs, then you have to decide how you want to treat them.

Non-Chemical Approach Approach to Mattress Treatment

If you want to treat your mattress entirely non-chemically, then the best option is to use a bed bug steamer. This non-toxic method will kill bed bugs on contact and will leave no pesticide residue behind. But because it leaves no residue behind, that also means that there will be no ongoing protection against reinfestation, which in turn means that you have to do a very thorough job with the steamer. Any bed bugs that you miss will not die. So be thorough.

Basically, you'll be working your way around the entire mattress, pointing the steam nozzle at it from a few inches away so the steam penetrates at least an inch or two into the mattress, and making sure to remain long enough at each point to assure a good kill. You want the contact period to be enough to cook the bed bugs and their eggs, but not long enough to soak the mattress.

The instructions for your particular steamer will have more detailed directions based on your device's output rate. But basically, think of it as if you were slowly painting your entire mattress with steam.

Treating Your Mattress Using a Liquid Insecticide

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Another way to treat the mattress is by using a liquid insecticide. Unless you have allergies or some other medical reason why you can't do this, it's the method that I recommend. Most people find it faster and easier than steaming, and the insecticide residual should kill any bed bugs that you miss or that hatch from eggs after the treatment.

If you decide to treat the mattress this way, I suggest that you consider using EcoRaider Bed Bug Killer. It's an all-natural product with extremely low toxicity, but it has a 14-day residual. That's long enough to kill any missed or hatchling bed bugs in a room-temperature environment.

To treat a mattress using a liquid insecticide, spray the mattress in accordance with the label instructions, paying special attention to the upholstery, seams, and tufts. You want to use enough spray to barely wet the mattress, not soak it. Treat the top, bottom, and all sides. Then allow it dry thoroughly and enclose it in a bed bug-resistant mattress encasement. If the label for the product you use requires a specific drying or airing-out period (or if it contains any special instructions that I haven't mentioned), then follow those instructions. The label is the law.

Bed Bug Traps

Once you're done treating the bed frame, box spring, and mattress, the last step is to install bed bug traps under the legs to help keep bed bugs from climbing up into the bed.

I personally like Climbup Insect Interceptor Bed Bug Traps, but there are others that are also very good. They just install under the bed's feet to trap bed bugs that try to climb up. It's not unusual for a few bed bugs to survive the treatment of a few days, so these are good to have. They're also a good monitoring tool to make sure you killed all the bed bugs. I recommend using them for at least two months after you perform your bed bug treatment.

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