Bed Bug Extermination

- Find their hiding places then clean 'em out! -

Summary: Bed bugs can be safely eliminated from homes, motels/hotels/hostels and other high traffic rooms with proper cleaning and relatively low toxicity insecticides applied to their hiding places.

Bed bug control = clean & treat hiding places

While bed bugs are generally only a problem in hotels/motels, hostels, and other high traffic establishments these same procedures can be used in homes to eliminate these pests. Infestations get started when a few bed bugs that have hitched a ride on belongings are accidentally brought into a room (see How to Clean Belongings). These bugs were probably picked up at the last place the person stayed overnight.

Bed bug infestations develop slowly so if rooms are cleaned regularly, especially between guests, the chance of an infestation is greatly reduced. Unfortunately many rooms are not cleaned this well and bed bugs become established (see How Do Bed Bug Infestations Start?).

If a bed bug infestation is found the following steps should be taken: First, repair any loose wall coverings or cracks where bed bugs can hide. Second, remove bed sheets/mattress covers and inspect and vacuum the mattress surface and seams. If soiled with bed bug droppings you should thoroughly clean the mattress (see below). Third, wash bedding in hot water. Last, treat areas where bed bugs may hide with a low toxicity insecticides (see below).

pictures of bed bug hiding places and bed bug bites

Bed bug hiding places (top). Red arrows point to places where bed bugs hide during the day. Black spots are fecal matter (digested blood). Bed bug bites (bottom). Drawings by E. A. DeAngelis.

Mattress cleaning

Ordinary upholstery shampoo can be used to clean a mattress, and hand-held steam cleaners can be used to kill all stages of bed bugs. Follow directions exactly and be very careful not to get the padding inside the mattress wet. There is no need to discard a bed bug-soiled mattress if it can be cleaned.

Treat hiding places

A number of bed bug sprays and insecticidal dusts can be safely used to treat hiding places. First, clean under and around bedroom furniture especially areas that seldom get cleaned. Apply a very light application to mattress seams, bed frame, crevices, and any cracks that cannot be repaired (caulk baseboard cracks). Follow label instructions carefully when applying any insecticide to, or around, bedding. See Bed Bug Spray and Dust for more information.

Botanical (plant-based) dusts

There are several natural dust and wettable powder insecticides that are safe enough to use on, and around, bedding to control bed bugs (see below). Most can be used in homes, offices, hotels, motels, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and day care centers. Always check the product label because instructions can and do change.

Checking a motel room for bed bugs

It takes only a few minutes to check a motel room for bed bugs before moving in for the night. Lift up the corners of the bedsheets and look for dark spots or stains (bed bug droppings) along the mattress seams. Next, run your fingers along the underside edges of bedside tables and along the back edge of the headboard if it is not attached to wall. Wear a clean dust mitt if you are squeamish. Any evidence of bed bugs should be reported immediately to the front desk and you should ask for a new room.

Don't get carried away with this inspection since most rooms are not infested, but a quick look around won't hurt. The second indication left by bed bugs is a distinctive room odor produced by the bugs themselves. The odor is sometimes described as "sickly sweet" or similar to fresh raspberry. The odor will only be detectable in a heavily infested room.

Bed Bug Control In Homes, Dorm Rooms, Motels/Hostels

Use the following steps to easily clear and prevent most bed bug infestations so long as you catch the infestation at a relatively early stage. If you find an infestation ...

  • Launder bedding as usual.

  • Treat cracks and crevices around beds with a dust-type insecticide. "Crack and crevice" treatments should include baseboards and furniture, and other protected places where bed bugs can hide during the day. Dusts should be applied with a duster that allows you to puff the insecticide into small spaces (see Supplies below).

  • Clean soiled mattress fabric with steam or upholstery shampoo (see Supplies below).

  • Apply an approved aerosol spray or wettable powder insecticide to mattress surfaces and seams, follow label instructions for approved uses (see Supplies below).

  • Supplies and equipment for these treatments as well as Bed Bug Control Kits are available here (

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