Bed bugs are parasites that belong to the cimicid family. They are small, oval, brownish insects that feed exclusively on blood. While there are quite a few parasites of the cimicid family that feeds on animal blood, the cimex lectularius, the common bedbug, is the famous one as it prefers feeding on human blood. While an adult bed bug has a flat body, and looks pretty much like an apple seed, after feeding, its body swells and also turns a reddish color. Bed bugs usually feed on their hosts quite unnoticed.
Though bed bugs are believed to be more active during the night, they are not nocturnal creatures. A female bedbug can lay hundreds of eggs in its lifetime. These eggs are usually the size of a speck of dust and can be brought into your house along with adults, via luggage, used furniture, used beds, clothing, etc. Bed bugs cannot fly. However, they can move quite quickly over floors, walls, and ceilings.
While some adverse health conditions may be caused as a result of bed bug bites, like skin rashes, allergic symptoms, and even psychological problems, bed bugs are unknown to transmit any disease pathogens.
Ways To Exterminate Bed Bugs
Once you have identified a bed bug infestation in your house, it is understandable that you want to jump right in and eliminate them. But this will be a long, drawn-out battle, and there is nothing like patience and preparation to win it.
Getting rid of bedbugs begins with cleaning up the places where bedbugs live. Now, this is not an easy task as it includes washing and drying bedding, linens, curtains, clothing, etc. in hot water and then meticulously checking that it is indeed bed-bug free. The cleaning up process also calls for some heavy-duty vacuuming. The entire house, furniture, linens, furnishings etc. need to be regularly vacuumed. After each vacuuming session, ensure you remove the vacuum cleaner bag into another plastic bag and place it in the garbage bin outside the house.
Another way to get rid of these bugs is to freeze them. Although bed bugs can live for up to a year in a cool room, they cannot withstand freezing temperatures. Freezing infested items for at least two hours at -17°C should kill them off.
Like cold, steam too can help get rid of bed bugs. Steam can penetrate mattress linings, crevices and cracks effectively and efficiently. Steam cleaning infested items and rooms at about 140°F (60°C) can destroy bugs as well as their eggs without damaging the surroundings.2
Home Remedies To Get Rid Of Bed Bugs
You can also try out some natural insecticides to get rid of the bed bugs and their eggs. In this regard, plant essential oils have gained importance as a significant natural source of pesticides. They represent a market estimated at $700 million. The total production of essential oils in the world is estimated to be around 45000 tons.3 Most essential oils affect the inner cell membranes of insects, causing cytotoxic effects. It is this property that proves beneficial when tackling any kind of bug or insect infestation.4 And while the essential oils are toxic to the bugs, they are safe for humans. Here we look at some essential oil based natural insecticides as well as some other less harmful repellents to help get rid of bed bugs.
1. Tea Tree Oil Spray
Studies show that tea tree oil is an effective insecticidal. The essential oil of tea tree effectively disrupts the permeability barrier of cell membrane structures, thus resulting in the loss of chemiosmotic control and fatality. It is this membrane-damaging property of tea tree oil that makes it an effective natural insecticide in fighting bed bugs. You can use the homemade spray in hard-to-reach places, like cracks, crevices, and furniture joints.5
To Use: To make a natural insecticide with tea tree oil, mix two teaspoons of tea tree oil with 50 ml of water. Pour it into a spray bottle and shake well. Spray liberal amounts of the natural insecticide in all areas where you think bed bugs are living. Use this application daily until all the signs of bed bugs have disappeared. Remember to shake well before each application.
2. Lavender Oil
Like tea tree oil, lavender essential oil can also be used as an effective natural insecticide to kill bed bugs. Lavender oil is also believed to destroy bed bug eggs as well. It is also said that it is the smell of lavender that kills the bugs. \However, the oil probably acts as a cytotoxin and thus kills the bed bugs.6
To Use: To make a spray, mix 10–15 drops of lavender oil with 50 ml water. Shake well, pour into a spray bottle and use in areas where the infestation is seen. You can also use lavender soap or powder as a spray. Another method is to place fresh lavender leaves or flowers in and around the infested areas to get rid of the bed bugs.
A combination of lavender oil and peppermint oil was also found to be highly beneficial in exterminating bed bugs.7
To Use: Add 10–15 drops of lavender essential oil and 10–15 drops of peppermint oil into a spray bottle. Fill it with water. Then shake well and spray in affected areas.
3. Citronella Spray
Citronella, or lemongrass as it is more commonly known, is another essential oil that can repel and kill bed bugs as well as its eggs. Citronella oil is believed to increase the acidic condition within the bugs, thus effectively eliminating it. Like lavender, the smell of citronella is also believed to help get rid of bed bugs.8
To Use: Add 10 drops of citronella oil to a small bowl of water. Pour it into a spray bottle, shake thoroughly, and spray in affected areas to get best results.
4. Eucalyptus Oil Spray
The evergreen, mighty trees of the eucalyptus can be seen in most places across the world. The essential oil found in its foliage is widely used in food, pharmaceuticals, perfumes, etc. It is also used extensively as an insect repellent. Eucalyptus is believed to exhibit ovicidal activity, as well as insect repellency against bacteria, fungi, insects, weeds, nematodes, and mites.9
To Use: To make the spray, take two ounces of water, 1.5 ounces of witch hazel or vodka and 30 drops of eucalyptus essential oil. Pour all this into a spray bottle and shake well to mix it. Then spray the solution on the affected areas. Repeat the spraying every two hours of so.
5. Essential Oils Of Orange
Orange oil contains d-limonene which is classified as an insecticide. This is a nerve toxin which kills the bugs and insects within minutes of contact.10
To Use: Make a spray solution by mixing 1 cup of compost tea, 1 ounce of blackstrap molasses and 2 ounces of orange essential oil in 4 liters of water. Mix all this together well and spray in the affected areas.
6. Neem Oil
For generations, neem oil has been used for various medicinal and insecticidal properties. The tree, the leaf, the seeds are all used for medicinal purposes with beneficial results. Studies show that neem oil, especially cold pressed neem oil, has high toxicity, and antifeedancy and can repel a number of pests.11 It was also shown to have high larval growth inhibition properties.12
To Use: To make a spray solution, add 1 ounce of concentrated neem essential oil to 4 ounces of water. Add ½ teaspoon of soap in order to emulsify the solution. Mix it well. Then spray and wipe down beds, sheets, walls, crevices and all other potential bed bug hiding places. Do this three times a day for the first three days. Then shift to treating your home every alternate day for a total of 18 days.
7. Sweet Flag
Sweet flag or acorus calamus, is an uncommon, semi-aquatic, perennial plant found in Eurasia and the Americas. Valued for its rhizome and fragrant oils, this plant has been used medicinally as well as for its insecticidal properties, since time immemorial. Recent studies have also revealed that the sweet plant possesses antifungal and antibacterial properties.13 The antimicrobial property makes the sweet flag effective against bed bugs.
To Use: To make a spray, boil 100 grams of sweet flag and 50 grams of turmeric powder in one liter of water. Boil this for an hour. Then keep the solution in a closed container for 24 hours. The next day, filter and dilute the solution in 10 times the water. Transfer to a spray bottle and spray lavishly in affected areas and its surroundings.
8. Bean Leaves
Did you just think “folk lore” when you read the word kidney beans? Well, push that thought aside. Studies have shown that the leaves have microscopic hairs called trichomes on its surface that entangle the bugs onto it, literally stopping them in their tracks. Unlike a Velcro effect, the trichomes actually get hooked onto bugs’ legs, trapping them.14
To Use: Scatter kidney bean leaves all over the house, especially in infested areas. You can also place the leaves under mattresses. You can either wait for a couple of days before getting rid of these leaves or opt to use fresh leaves every day for a few days. Since the bugs are stuck on the leaves, getting rid of the leaves will ensure the bugs never return.
Thyme oil or thymol concentrate are effective bed bug repellents. They are also shown to be effective deterrents for egg laying by mites.15
To Use: You can tie a thyme stick with a cotton cloth and burn it near the infested area, or in the infested room. Alternatively, place thyme leaves in net bags and place them in and around the infested areas. Remember to replace these bags with fresh leaves every third day. Continue the process for up to a month to ensure all bed bugs have been killed.
Like most other essential oils, clove oil too possesses insecticidal and insect repellent properties. It is believed that the acidic pH of cloves, as well as its pungent smell, disturbs the survival of the bugs, thus destroying them.16
To Use: Mix 1 teaspoon clove essential oil with 1 cup water. Pour into a spray bottle, shake well, and spray in affected areas.
11. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a non-toxic insecticide that is used for the protection of stored products and to control pests in the home and garden. It is a natural product that harms neither the earth nor people. It can be conveniently used in any space, even crevices on walls and other inaccessible regions. DE comes as a fine crystalline powder. Fine for the human eye, but the crystals trap and tear up the bed bugs.17
To Use: Spray or sprinkle food grade DE on the bed, the floor, the crevices, and other areas where bugs are likely to hide. Let it stay for up to three days. After three days, vacuum or broom up the entire house.
Some other products that work effectively against bed bugs are baking powder and boric powder. While boric powder is toxic, baking powder is harmless for humans.
Also, remember that most essential oils should be effective in getting rid of bed bugs. This is because, as mentioned, the oils function as cytotoxins, destroying the membranes of the bugs. So, go ahead, get started on ridding your home and hearth of those pesky blood suckers.