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Pest control: don't let the bedbugs bite

Once bedbugs have hitched a ride into your home, they can be tough to shift. Some of our endorsed Which? Trusted traders tell us how to get rid of these nocturnal bloodsuckers.
Bed bug

About bedbugs

Bedbugs (cimex lectularius) are oval-shaped, flat insects. They’re usually reddish-brown in colour and are up to 5mm long.

Females lay 200 to 500 eggs over a two-month period. These are like tiny, white specks that are almost impossible to spot. Once hatched, the growing insect sheds its skin, leaving behind a mottled brown shell.

It is a misconception that bedbugs are attracted to dirt. A bedbug infestation is not a sign of poor hygiene or an unclean home. In fact, it’s a simple case of the bedbugs 'hitching a ride.'

Bedbugs have something of a jet-setting lifestyle, hiding in suitcases and travelling on plane, train and bus seats, as well as on clothes. ‘They’ve become more common as we all travel more,’ said The Pest Controller’s Philip Voller. ‘When you’re on holiday, many people will store their suitcase under the bed in their hotel room. If a single female bedbug drops into that, she won’t need to feed again for up to 28 days, so you may find yourself being bitten around a month after going on holiday.’

These unpleasant pests will travel home with you and, attracted to carbon dioxide and body heat, will bite while you sleep at night.

Read advice from our Which? Trusted traders on dealing with fleas. Read on for more about getting rid of bedbugs.

Signs of a bedbug infestation

  • A skin rash or an itchy lump – note that not everyone will develop this, though.  These aren’t the same as flea bites: it’s quite a warm, red area. You’ll tend to get bitten at night. Bedbugs tend to bite you on the upper body, as they’re attracted by the carbon dioxide you breathe out and the warmth of your body.
  • Blood spots on bed sheets. Bedbugs tend to gorge themselves a little overzealously, resulting in a little bit of blood 'popping out’. These can look like black dots on the bed, mattress or other furniture.
  • Sightings of live or dead bedbugs. Check all cracks and crevices using a torch. 
  • Sightings of shells. Even if you can't see any live bugs, finding mottled brown shells suggests an infestation.

Where to find bedbugs

Bedbugs like small, dark spaces where they are unlikely to be disturbed.

Their flat bodies allow them to crawl into tiny cracks and crevices, making them difficult to see. As a general rule, they congregate on the underside of mattresses, but you can also find them around the mattress’s buttons and seams.

But bedbugs don’t just live on beds, although they tend to bite humans when they’re in bed asleep. ‘They can live anywhere,’ Pestmaster’s Greg Ferguson explained. ‘I’ve found them in a mobile phone charging point before, and they can get into plug sockets, too.’ However, bedbugs usually dislike smooth surfaces and tend to prefer wood and fabric to plastic and metal.

Favourite hiding places include:

  • underneath mattress buttons or around the edging 
  • skirting boards
  • bed frame casters
  • headboards 
  • corners of cupboards or wardrobes 
  • behind wallpaper 
  • underneath the carpet.

How to get rid of bedbugs

‘Bedbugs are notoriously difficult to get rid of,’ Greg Ferguson explained. ‘If you see more than a few live bugs, you should call in the professionals. They are becoming increasingly immune to sprays.’

‘If you discover bedbugs, don’t move the person who was in that bed to another room, because you’ll just be spreading the problem,’ The Pest Controller’s Philip Voller told us. ‘You need to wash everything they were wearing and all the bed linen first.’

There are different levels of poisons you can use, depending on how bad the infestation is. You have to wash everything in the house, because they get everywhere.

  • Wash infested clothes and bed linen at 60°C if possible. Check the care label before you shrink your favourite sweater, though. 
  • Move and dismantle your bed and furniture. Check every corner and crevice. Use a vacuum cleaner hose to suck up anything you find. Empty the vacuum outdoors, and put the contents into a plastic bag and then straight into the outside bin.
  • Use a good fly spray if you suspect bedbugs are lurking in a hard-to-reach crack or crevice. This won’t kill them, but it will be enough of an irritation that they’ll come out where you can see them and vacuum them up.
  • Kill any remaining bugs with a bedbug spray. Don’t blanket-spray your mattress; just lightly spray the infested areas, such as underneath the buttons. 
  • Check adjacent rooms. You may need to treat rooms above, below and beside the one you in which you discovered an infestation, as bedbugs often move around through wall cavities.

How does a professional treat a bedbug infestation?

‘The best way to get rid of bedbugs is a heat treatment,’ Greg said. ‘You heat the room up to about 50-55 degrees, and that kills the eggs and the bedbugs. It’s more expensive that just using a spray, but it’s more effective. Bedbugs are becoming increasingly resistant to different types of insecticides.’

He continued: ‘You can also spray the mattress and the base of the bed. I use Diamaceous Earth – it’s like a crushed coral powder that you spread around the base of the bed, and it kills them when they walk through it.’

If you need help with bed bugs, Which? Trusted Traders has endorsed pest controllers in your local area. Remember it’s always free to get a quote and you should ideally get two or three quotes to compare before engaging a professional.

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