3d rendered illustration of a bedbug on human skin

How Exterminators Get Rid of Bed Bugs

By Sarah Horvath

If you suspect that you have a problem with bed bugs or even a bed bug infestation, how do you know if you should hire an exterminator or if you should attempt to handle the issue yourself? There are a few DIY methods you can use if you think you have a bed bug problem, such as using bed bug sprays and traps. However, in many cases, like if the infestation is severe and has spread all over your home, if you and your family have welts or bed bug bites, or if you’ve already tried what you can and the bed bugs persist, it’s time to call a professional exterminator.

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Why Hire an Exterminator for Bed Bugs

You can and should hire an exterminator if your bed bug infestation continues despite employing the following methods to get rid of the pests. Although there are several DIY methods listed online for taking care of bed bug treatment yourself, these can be, well, inconvenient and frankly disgusting. If you would rather not get up close and personal with these little bloodsuckers, you need to hire an exterminator to do the job for you. They are trained and they have the right equipment for the job, whereas you may have never dealt with this issue previously and you would have to purchase and figure out how to use specialized equipment.

Although bed bugs do not carry diseases like mosquitoes or ticks do, they still cause painful and itchy bites and it’s horrifying to think that they’re invading what should be the safest and most personal area of your home. Since they have five stages in their life cycle, a professional eye is helpful and necessary to identify and then eradicate your bed bug infestation. A bed bug exterminator knows just what to look for, and you can’t enact bed bug control without being able to discern which places are infested areas.

How Exterminators Identify Bed Bug Infestations

There are several ways that exterminators can identify bed bug infestations. The obvious signs of bed bugs include welts and red itchy areas of the skin where bed bugs have bitten you during the night. They can tell if you have a bed bug infestation just by seeing these particular bites, but they do also need to do a visual inspection.

To the naked eye, adult bed bugs resemble apple seeds in shape and size. They are dark brown to black in color, and they have a rounded abdomen with a tiny little head at a point. You and the exterminator will likely see these pests in their favorite hiding places — cracks and crevices in the headboards of beds in infested rooms, in the box springs and seams of mattresses, and even in other furniture, like couch cushions. Besides adult bed bugs, you will likely see nymphs, which are baby bed bugs and are smaller than the adults as well as translucent rather than brownish black. Bed bug eggs are the size of a pin head and difficult to spot, but your exterminator will definitely know what they’re looking for.

There are other visual and even olfactory indicators of the (heavy) presence of bed bugs. First are their characteristic fecal stains, which are red or reddish brown spots where bed bugs lurk. You may also discover their molted skin, which is simply an empty exoskeleton. The final sign of a heavy bed bug infestation is an oddly sweet smell in the air. It takes an enormous presence of these pests to create this smell, which is the pheromones the insects use to communicate. Some people think it smells similar to cilantro; some say it’s more like berries. You will not likely encounter this indicator of bed bugs as a homeowner unless you’ve vacated the house for a while. This is more of a problem present in hotel rooms that haven’t been effectively cleaned.

Canine Inspection

Besides using visual inspections, exterminators also use canine inspection dogs in order to sniff out and find bed bug infestations that may not be so obvious to the naked eye. These dogs are extremely accurate, just like narcotics canines, and can find bed bugs hiding in bed frames, baseboards, linens, and even in mattress linings. Two huge benefits to using bed bug canines to find bed bugs are that they can detect all life stages, including the tiny eggs, and they can provide early detection of these nasty pests so you can go over your treatment options and start the treatment process as soon as possible.

Professional Bed Bug Pest Control Methods

There are several different treatment methods exterminators and pest control companies use in order to rid your home or property of bed bugs. There is a differentiation between exterminators and pest control — exterminators and pest control companies have similar outcomes but very different methodologies when it comes to ridding your property of pests.

Exterminators aim to, well, exterminate. They tend to use copious amounts of pesticides and leave no crevice untreated, and this often means that you and your family cannot stay in the dwelling while these treatments are occurring. The insecticides and chemicals most exterminators use can be caustic and harmful to children or pets. Exterminators are also not contractually obligated to do a follow-up after the initial treatment.

On the other side of the coin, pest control companies will usually return to your home if you notice an increase in pest activity even after they’re finished with their treatment. Rather than harsh chemicals, pest control companies tend to lean more toward integrated pest management, which combines environmentally friendly pesticides with sustainable pest control practices. Another difference between the two is that pest control companies will often perform services based on a subscription plan, while exterminators employ a more slash-and-burn methodology during their one or two visits to eradicate your household pests.

Heat Treatment

One technique employed to get rid of bed bugs is heat treatment. In order to prepare your home for heat treatment, professional exterminators will place portable heat chambers over the furniture and/or spaces that are affected by bed bug habitation. These are large box-like insulated zip-up pieces of equipment that completely encase the affected area or piece of furniture (couch, mattress, entire bed) so that the exterminator can pump in heated air and localize it around the affected area.

Heat treatment can also be used when washing infected bedding in hot water and drying the pillowcases and bedding on high heat. You may not have to throw out your infected bedding because of this; however, you still may want to, just to be safe.

Why and When to Use

Heat treatment is an excellent treatment method for bed bugs because exposing bed bugs to high heat kills all stages of life, including the eggs and nymphs. Everything dies at 118 degrees Fahrenheit, but exterminators have been known to use convection fans to heat the bugs rapidly even when the heaters are only set to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Both temperatures are extremely effective at killing bed bugs.

The best time to use the heat treatment method is if you and your family can vacate the premises for a few hours or possibly the day. It’s also a great option if you’d rather avoid pumping toxic chemicals into your home.

Cost

Because the exterminators are heating your home up so that it becomes unlivable for bed bugs (or really any other living creature within), it can be pretty pricey. Heat treatment normally costs between two thousand and four thousand dollars. The cost is typically between $1 and $3 per square foot. You should be able to get a free quote before you begin the process.

Time

It can take an hour or two for the extermination team to set up their equipment, and then they need about two hours to perform the heat treatment. It takes another hour or so to break down the equipment and do a sweep of the house. Heat treatment typically takes half a day total, but you may want to set aside a whole day for the treatment.

Chemical Treatment

Chemical treatment is the most traditional extermination technique for dealing with any pest, and with bed bugs, the exterminators apply pesticides like pyrethrins, which are made from chrysanthemums. This is the kind of insecticide that complies with the integrated pest management ideology. These are typically safe for children and pets, but your home does need time to air out and become habitable again — you cannot simply go right back inside as soon as the exterminators are done applying the insecticides.

Why and When to Use

If you want to make sure to have the most effective treatment plan against re-infestation, chemical treatment is probably the way to go. It provides the most long-lasting anti-bed bug effects, but the issue is that it often requires more than one application, so the disruptions to your daily life increase when you go with this option. Chemical treatments also do not kill bed bug eggs, so you will probably have to combine chemical treatment with another one. If you don’t mind combining treatments, this can help to be an effective solution to prevent future bed bug infestation.

Cost

Chemical treatments are typically cheaper than heat treatments, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be costly. The average national cost for chemical treatment to eradicate bed bugs is $1,750. However, according to This Old House, the treatment can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to five grand.

Time

It should take the exterminator at least two visits to your home, possibly up to three, in order to complete the chemical treatment. This depends on how severe the bed bug infestation is and how many rooms they’ve infiltrated. Chemical application for each room can take between half an hour to several hours. Prepare to vacate your home overnight at least for each treatment.

Fogging and Fumigation

Foggers, colloquially known as bug bombs, are not a super effective way to exterminate bed bugs. They work well for other pests, such as ants and cockroaches, but their use for bed bug eradication is low on the list. However, fumigation is a common technique employed to get rid of bed bug infestations, and here’s what it entails.

Fumigation’s execution is extremely similar to heat treatment. Tents and plastic bags are set up around infested mattresses and other furniture. You and your family can prepare for a fumigation treatment by putting away sensitive items, especially kitchenware so that they are unaffected by pesticides. Fumigation works the same way heat treatment does in that the equipment is similar and the focal points (infected areas) are systematically targeted in order to kill the bed bugs. However, the difference is that heat treatment uses heat with the absence of insecticides. Fumigation uses pesticides/insecticides rather than heat to target bed bugs and get rid of them for good.

Why and When to Use

Even if you have pets or small children, fumigation doesn’t present harm to anyone as long as you stay away during the treatment and possibly overnight, just to be safe. This process is extremely effective, but it’s also costly. If you want one of the most effective pest control methods on our list, go with fumigation, especially if you have a severe infestation.

Cost

Fumigation is probably the most expensive treatment for bed bugs when it comes to cost per square foot. The cost averages out to $4 to $8 per square foot, totaling several thousand dollars.

Time

Because the exterminators have to seal off all openings in your home before they even begin the actual fumigation (chemical decontamination and eradication) process, it can take an entire workday, and it can even be an overnight process. You should plan to be gone from your home for between 48 and 72 hours total. This is the most intensive treatment on this list.

Mattress Encasements

Mattress encasements are exactly what they sound like. Exterminators place plastic covers over the mattress that’s infected with bed bugs and slowly suffocate and starve the bed bugs within. You can purchase these items yourself or you can have them installed by professionals. Mattress encasements create a barrier between the bed bugs and the resources they need to live — oxygen, food, and water.

Why and When to Use

In order for this treatment method to be effective, you must make sure that there are absolutely no gaps or tears in the mattress encasement, which is why it might be best to have an exterminator or pest control professional take care of the job. You can use these if your bed bug infestation has only managed to infect mattresses and no other areas of your home or furniture.

Cost

Each mattress encasement costs between $80 and $120, sometimes a bit more, so this can be a more cost-effective method for you to get rid of bed bugs. Keep in mind this is only a good option if the bed bugs are localized to your mattresses and box springs.

Time

The goal is to starve and suffocate the bed bugs living in your beds, so the mattress encasement method is best for a long-term solution. These pests do not give up easily — you will need to keep the encasements on for a good eighteen months at least, usually up to two years. The bugs can go into a near dormant state to conserve energy and survive — they will not go quietly into the good night.

Crack and Crevice Injection & Spot Treatment

Crack and crevice injection and spot treatment are slightly different in execution. Exterminators will use crack and crevice treatment for bed bugs by spraying foaming pesticides directly into small areas where they tend to nest and congregate, such as cracks in your bedframes or even in the wall near the bed, as well as electrical outlets. They will spray and apply other pesticides and deterrents such as diatomaceous earth in these problem areas. Exterminators can determine which are the problem areas regarding bed bugs by using bed bug interceptors, which are like small traps in the shape of dishes containing toxic bait. It can help them gauge how severe your bed bug problem is as well as determine hot spots for bed bugs in your home.

Spot treatment is considered concentrated pesticide application within a two-square-foot area, and it is often used in combination with crack and crevice injection, depending on your specific situation.

Why and When to Use

Crack and crevice injection as well as spot treatment is good if you have those with sensitive immune systems, like children or elderly, living with you, as the pesticides are concentrated in small, out-of-the-way areas rather than throughout the entire home. You should use this treatment for bed bugs if the infestation is extremely localized or definitely in combination with one of the other treatments on this list, especially if the chemical treatment you used before didn’t get rid of the bed bug eggs and they’ve now hatched.

Cost

It can be a few hundred dollars per room should you opt to go with spot treatment and/or crack and crevice injection. Keep in mind that if your bed bugs aren’t residing within cracks and crevices, this is not the best option for your situation.

Time

Each crack and crevice injection and spot treatment, like chemical treatments, take between half an hour to two or three hours per room.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, exterminators use a wide variety of methods to eliminate bed bug infestations based on the size and scale of the problem. Many of these methods require chemical treatments that are not available over the counter, as bed bugs are hardy pests that won’t go down without a fight. This means that when it comes to bed bug infestations, it’s important to call for professional assistance as soon as possible.

If you’re dealing with bed bugs, we recommend getting an inspection from Terminix. Terminix is one of the largest pest control providers in the country, with more than 300 locations across the country. If you enroll in a package plan, you’ll even benefit from Terminix’s Nix Pest Guarantee, which guarantees you an unlimited number of visits between services if your bed bug problem returns between visits. If you don’t actively have a bed bug problem but you’re looking for preventive treatments, we recommend exploring Orkin Pest Control’s policy options and getting a quote here.

Best Overall

  • 4.8 out of 5 stars
  • Offers free inspection
  • Excellent customer service
Best Emergency Service

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • Specializes in termite treatments
  • Offers 30-day satisfaction guarantee
Best Localized Service

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • Free re-treatment available
  • Superb mosquito abatement

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