What To Do With Your Mattress If You Have Bed Bugs

Bed Bug

Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed on the blood of mammals. This is not a fun thought. What is even worse is that bed bugs prefer human blood to the blood of other mammals! They prefer living in dark places close to their host, and they are only active at night, making the spaces in and around your bed their perfect home.

Don’t throw away your mattress if you have bed bugs. Remove the bedclothes, pillows, and stuffed toys. Wash these on high heat and put them in a hot dryer—vacuum and steam the mattress and box spring. Treat the mattress and box spring with appropriate pesticides and put them into bedbug-proof covers for a year. Isolate the bed from the walls and floor, and treat the whole room or house for bed bugs.

Mattresses are expensive. It is also hard to find the right one, and it takes time to mold it into the perfect shape for your body. Thus, you will probably be happy to know that you do not need to throw away your mattress just because you have a bit of a bed bug infestation.

But how do you know you have bed bugs, are they dangerous, and what should you do with your mattress to get rid of these pests? In this article, we address all these questions and more.

How Do You Know If You Have A Bed Bug Problem?

1. Sighting Bed Bugs

Obviously, if you see a bed bug, you will know you have a bed bug problem. However, if you see a little insect on your bed, it may not necessarily be a bed bug. Other insects and pests, such as carpet beetles and ticks, can also find their way onto your mattress, although they are less likely to infest your mattress. This means that you will need to know what a bed bug looks like to identify it correctly.

  • Bed bug species: There are two main types of bed bugs responsible for the infestations of our homes. The first is the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius), and the second is the tropical bed bug (Cimex hemipterus). These species look relatively similar.
  • Bed bug morphology: Bed bugs resemble apple seeds in size (approximately 4-5mm for adults) and shape. They are a reddish-brown color, and their abdomens appear banded. Their six legs are the same color as their bodies and are grouped closely on their thorax. They have no wings for flight, but they are quick little pests and can run up walls and over ceilings.
  • How to find bed bugs: Bed bugs do not sit in the open. They find a dark place where they will gather and hide when they are not feeding. They also don’t necessarily stay on your bed when they are not feeding. You need to go over your mattress, bed base, and bedclothes carefully and closely; use a torch and a magnifying glass if possible. But it would be best if you also looked behind paintings on your walls, any cracks in the baseboards or floors, flaps of wallpaper, headboards, bed frames, etc.
  • Call in a specialist: Exterminators can help you to identify bed bugs if you catch one and take it to them.

2. Finding Bites On Your Skin

Bed bugs painlessly pierce their host’s exposed skin and suck the host’s blood through an elongated mouth structure. Once fully engorged, they crawl away to hide. This feeding leaves small red dots on the skin, which can inflame welts that itch badly, although not everyone will have this reaction.

However, just as you can find other insects on your bed, many insects can bite you while you sleep. Fleas, ticks, spiders (not insects), mosquitos, etc., can also bite you, causing little red and itchy bumps to appear on your skin.

Sometimes it is difficult to know if your bites are from bed bugs or another type of insect, but if they start appearing on you overnight, it’s time to check the mattress. And if you find a bed bug, you can know for sure.

3. Other Signs Of Bed Bugs

  • Bloodstains on your bedclothes. These will not be huge stains. Maybe only pinpricks from your skin before the spot closed up. Alternatively, they may be slightly more significant if you crushed an engorged bed bug onto your bed.
  • Tiny dark spots on your bedclothes, mattress, and possibly even the surfaces around your bed. These spots are bed bug fecal matter.
  • Pale shells, which shed by maturing nymphs.
  • Tiny yellow or white eggs. These eggs look like poppy seeds.

Why Are Bed Bugs Bad?

Bed bugs don’t typically carry infectious diseases like fleas, ticks, and mosquitos can. They also don’t have venom like spiders, but this doesn’t make them pleasant or harmless.

Itchy welts: Bed bug bites cause red spots, which may turn into red and itchy welts, and these bumps are uncomfortable and itchy. Some people may even scratch them until they form sores, which can then scar or become infected.

Allergies: Some people can become sensitized to the saliva of bed bugs, and subsequent bites will cause an allergic reaction, manifesting as a rash or hives.

They breed rapidly and indiscriminately: Bed bugs not only feed on human blood, but they will also live and reproduce in the immediate areas surrounding their food source. Female bed bugs can lay up to 500 eggs in their lifetimes.

Furthermore, bed bugs will breed with any available bed bugs of the opposite sex. They are not designed to avoid mating with closely related bed bugs, and the offspring of incestual mating are not infertile or genetically unsound. 

This means that ignoring bed bugs, if you can handle the idea of tiny insects feeding on your blood each night, is not an option. You could be facing an extreme and horrifying infestation within a few months if you do not act immediately.

Psychological implications: The thought of having bed bugs is very distressing to most people. It can even result in insomnia, anxiety, and paranoia.

Now that you have confirmed you have bed bugs and you know why you don’t want them in your home, let alone your mattress, let’s look at what you should do to get them out of your mattress, home, and life!

Why You Should Not Throw Out Your Mattress

You may still be tempted to throw out your mattress, but this is not a solution. Bed bugs are not only going to live on your mattress if you have an infestation. They will be on other furniture, especially upholstered pieces, carpets, and even hiding in the cracks of wooden furniture, walls, floors, etc. If you throw away your mattress and buy a new one, the new mattress will become infested as well.

Another reason not to throw out your mattress is good citizenship. Infested mattresses, even ones that you personally take to a dump, can find their way into someone else’s possession, spreading these rapidly breeding insects even further. If you are going to throw out your mattress, you should treat it first.  

How To Get Bed Bugs Out Of Your Mattress

1. Strip Your Bed And Wash The Bed Clothes, Cushions, And Stuffed Toys

You will first need to carefully strip your bed of its bedclothes, not forgetting the bed skirt. Do this gently so that the small bugs are not flung off if they hide in the folds. Also, try not to hold the material close to your body as you remove the covers from the bed. If given the opportunity, the bugs will escape by running onto you.

Do not throw the bedclothes onto the floor or another piece of furniture, and do not carry them straight to the washer. It would be best if you bundled them up into a plastic bag to ensure that no bed bugs drop off on the way to the washer.

In addition to all the removable bedclothes, you need to wash pillows, cushions, throws, and stuffed toys. Wash these items and the bedclothes in hot water. You should also put them into a hot dryer for at least thirty minutes. Remember to throw the plastic bags away immediately and empty out the washer and dryer filters afterward.

2. Clean The Bed And Accessories

Using the hose attachment, vacuum your mattress, box spring or bed frame, headboard, and bedside tables thoroughly. Go over each area in multiple directions and pay special attention to folds, seams, cracks, etc. It would help if you emptied the vacuum into a plastic bag, tightly sealed it, and threw it away. Wash the vacuum cleaner well to ensure no bugs are lurking there. If your vacuum cleaner uses a bag, you should seal the whole bag into a plastic bag and discard it.

Use a steamer to clean your mattress and box spring. Remember to go over all sides of the mattress and box spring. You can also leave it for a few hours and go over it again. It would be best if you steamed at a high temperature, 160-180 °F.

3. Treat The Bed And Accessories With Pesticides

If you are not averse to using chemical pesticides, you can buy a bed bug aerosol pesticide spray and spray it over your mattress, box spring or bed frame, headboard, and bedside tables. Speak to a store worker and ask them which bed bug pesticide usually works the best or has the best reviews. You can also search online stores for the most popular options. Ensure you follow the pesticide application instructions correctly, as these chemicals can be toxic to humans and pets.

You also need to isolate your bed. Move your bed away from any walls, don’t allow your covers to hang onto the floor, and put the bed’s feet into bed bug interceptors to prevent the bed bugs from crawling up onto your bed.

There are many options for bed bug interceptors. You can make your own at home by filling plastic tubs with liquid or powdered pesticides. You can also buy different kinds of bed bug interceptors online.

4. Use Bed Bug Proof Covers

Bed bugs are annoyingly hardy insects. It can take a few weeks or even up to several months to entirely rid yourself of a bed bug problem. One helpful tool for passive, long-term bed bug extermination and prevention is buying a bedbug-proof cover. Bed bug-proof covers are made out of a material that the bed bugs cannot chew through, and the zipper is explicitly designed to prevent these bugs from slipping in or out.

You put your mattress and box spring into bedbug-proof covers and zip them up. Your mattress and box spring should be completely dry after the steam and or pesticide treatments before you seal them up. Leave these on for a year; bed bugs can go months without feeding, and the eggs can still hatch if they survived your previous treatments. Any bed bugs remaining on your mattress and box spring will die over this year.

What Other Steps Should You Take When You Have Bed Bugs?

Unfortunately, if you have bed bugs, getting them off your mattress and bed is not enough. It would be best if you treated the whole bedroom at least for bed bugs.

1. Examine The Whole House For Bed Bugs

Check the whole house for bed bugs. Concentrate on the rooms where people spend a lot of time, such as the bedrooms, living room, and kitchen. Bed bugs are drawn to carbon dioxide emissions from potential hosts, so they won’t be likely to live in your attic or basement (unless these have been renovated into living areas).

Spend a few days doing this, checking the likely areas multiple times. If you find a bed bug, mark that room and give it the full treatment. Thoroughly treating each infested room is definitely not an easy task. You may end up doing a spring clean of epic proportions but rather do it correctly the first time around than have a recurring bed bug problem.

2. Do Not Move Things Between Rooms

You may be tempted to take a book or another such item from a room known to be infested and move it to a clean room. This is a bad idea. You may end up carrying bed bugs around your house, making the problem more challenging to eliminate.

However, you need to separate the treated items from the untreated items in each room to prevent re-infestation, especially if the extermination process takes a few days (depending on the size and number of infested rooms).

3. Throw Away What You Can

Use this unfortunate infestation as an opportunity to purge your house of all those things you’ve wanted to throw out or you’ve been hesitant to throw out because you might be able to fix them. Items like old or replaceable magazines, broken shoes, random boxes, scratched CDs, DVDs, ugly vases, empty picture frames, etc., should be sealed into plastic bags and thrown out.

4. Wash Items That Can Be Washed

Bedclothes, mats, clothes, curtains, throws, tablecloths, etc., should all be bagged inside the room, carried to the laundry room, and washed at a high temperature. Anything that can go in the dryer should be put into the dryer at a high temperature.

Steam clean sofas, carpets, and any other fabric items that you cannot put into the wash, such as tapestry wall hangings, material-lined dresser drawers or trunks, padded chairs, etc.

Toys or items that can be washed but not in the machine washer should be bagged and taken to the bathroom or laundry room to be cleaned with hot water and soap. You can also try using rubbing alcohol.

5. Treating Items That Can’t Be Washed

You can’t wash some items in an infested room, for example, books and electronic items. If you don’t need them for a few months, you can seal them into plastic bags and leave them sealed for two to five months. Some people recommend putting these bags into the sun, proposing that heat will make the bed bugs die faster. Other people say that the outside temperatures do not get high enough to kill the bed bugs. However, depriving the bed bugs of a food source for five months will be effective.

Another option is to put the sealed bags into a 0 °F freezer for two hours to four days. You should only freeze items that such low temperatures would not damage.  

6. Treat The Room With Pesticides

The disadvantage of pesticides is that if the bed bugs are not killed outright, they may move out of the room and infest areas that have not been treated with pesticides. You can try establishing kill-on-contact pesticide boundaries at the entrances of the room (doors, windows, and vents) before treating the room itself.

Bed bugs are one of those problems that are very hard to deal with without using pesticides. If you have a problem with chemical pesticides, there are two plant-based bed bug treatments that people recommend. The first is EcoRaider, and the second is Bed Bug Control™.

You can use desiccant dust like diatomaceous earth or amorphous silica gel to dust into cracks and crevasses. These powdered pesticides have low toxicity for humans and pets. They work by drying out the insects that come into contact with them. These are also an excellent option to put into your bed bug isolators for your bed’s legs.

Pyrethroid sprays are very commonly used, although this has led some bed bugs to develop a resistance to the pesticide.

The best way to use pesticides for a room- or house-wide infestations of bed bugs is to hire a reputable and professional exterminator company. They can also avoid pesticides and use dry heat treatment.

7. Use Heat Treatment

Being the most effective way to get rid of bed bugs, you will want to use heat treatment. If your entire house is infested with bed bugs, this is the best way to get the job done. You can easily rent a propane heater out from Uhaul. If you wish to know more information on how to get rid of them with this method, you can read more in this article here.

8. Remove Bed Bug Hiding Spots

It would be best if you caulked any cracks or crevasses in the walls and ceilings. You should seal cracks in the floor and furniture using appropriate mediums (depends on what type of floor or furniture you have). Stick down any flaps of wallpaper that have come up, and take away anything you used to store under your bed. You may also want to consider leaving your painting and other wall hangings off the walls for a while.

9. Monitoring And Re-treating

As mentioned earlier, bed bugs are challenging to eradicate from your home. You will need to monitor previously infested furniture and rooms after your first attempt at eradication. Once you find evidence of a bed bug, you will need to repeat the whole process.

Preventing Bed Bug Infestations In The Future

Bed bugs are attracted by the emitted carbon dioxide from viable hosts, such as humans. They are not attracted to waste or dirt. This is good as it means you don’t have bed bugs because your house is unclean. But it is unfortunate because cleaning your home won’t prevent them from infesting it.

However, you do need to keep your house tidy as clutter provides hiding places for bed bugs, especially around the areas you spend most of the time. Bed bug-proof covers and bed bug isolators for your bed’s legs don’t just help to kill or repel lurking or remnant bed bugs; they can protect your bed from ever becoming infested.

You should regularly wash, vacuum, and steam-clean your bed, furniture, curtains, and carpets. Immediately repair any cracks that appear in your room, especially around your bed.  

It would be best if you were careful of what furniture and clothing you bring into your home. Item obtained from outside someone’s house, garage sales, antique stores, and thrift stores should all be inspected and treated before bringing them into your home. It would help if you also were careful of staying in hostels, motels, Air B&Bs, B&Bs, and hotels.

You can inspect these places before staying in them, or you can treat your clothing and luggage to a heat wash immediately upon your return home, just in case.

Other potentially problematic places are taxi cabs, shared laundry facilities, and public sitting areas such as restaurants, airport lounges, libraries, etc. But don’t panic and become an agoraphobe. Most places are fine; you just have to be vigilant and aware.  

Good Citizenship

If you have bed bugs, avoid inviting guests over until you have done your thorough clean and treatment. Also, avoid going to someone else’s house until you have washed all your clothes. You should not feel like a social pariah; bed bugs are nothing to be ashamed of, but they are spread relatively easily, and once they settle into a home, it can be challenging to get them out.

If you sell your home relatively soon after you had a bed bug infestation, you should inform the buyers or your real estate agent. You should also call in the professionals in this case to do a thorough and expert clean.

If you live in an apartment or an attached home, you should inform your landlord and the other residents.  

Conclusion

If you discover bed bugs in your bed, you don’t have to throw away your mattress. You need to clean and treat not only the mattress but the box springs or bed frame (depending on the kind of bed you have), headboard, and bedside tables.

Clean and treat the rest of the room and other rooms in the house found to be infested. If you do not clean thoroughly, it will not eradicate the infestation, and all the areas you previously cleaned will become re-infested within a few months.

Mattresses and other bed accessories should be carefully stripped of the bedclothes, pillows, throw cushions, blankets, and stuffed toys. These should be washed and dried at very high temperatures. The mattress and accessories also need to be vacuumed, steam-cleaned, treated with pesticides, and isolated from the walls and floors. It would be best if you sealed the mattress and box spring in bed bug-proof bags.

Getting rid of bed bugs is a complex process that requires a persistent approach. One clean is unlikely to eradicate the whole infestation. It would help you employ a professional bed bug exterminator who can advise you and assist in this process.  

References

https://www.allgoodservices.com/bed-bugs/treatment/do-i-have-to-throw-out-my-bed-bug-infested-mattress/

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/bedbugs-infestation#1

https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-home-guide/how-to-get-rid-of-bed-bugs#identify

https://www.europeanbedding.sg/blogs/articles/103741958-how-to-remove-bed-bugs-from-a-mattress

https://www.domyown.com/how-to-get-rid-of-bed-bugs-a-449.html#substep-2A

https://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/biting-stinging/others/ent-3012/

https://www.bedbugs.umn.edu/bed-bug-control-in-residences

https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/what-to-do-if-you-have-bedbugs/

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and an FHA 203k Consultant. I started PestControlInsider.com to help people better understand pest control and what they can do about invasive insects, rodents, reptiles, and other mammals around their homes.

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