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Home Remedies for Bed Bugs

Lara Vargas


Of all the pests you can get in your house, bed bugs are some of the worst. They hang out in the places you like to rest and relax, and they feed on you while you sleep. What’s even worse is they don’t just hide in your bed—they can hide all over your house! To top it off, they’re stubborn and hard to get rid of once they’ve made your house their home.

If you’ve got a bad enough infestation, it’s probably better to call the exterminator, but if you’ve just discovered a couple of bed bugs in your mattress or your clothes, it’s important to nip the problem in the bud as quickly as you can. Bed bugs breed like bunny rabbits, so it won’t take long for a couple of bed bugs to turn into a major infestation.

Bed bugs are becoming resistant to a lot of common household pesticides, so store-bought bed bug sprays really shouldn’t be your first line of defense. The good news is there are other remedies that can be a lot more effective. Below, we’ll go through a few solutions you can try to kill the bugs in your bed before they get out of hand.


Surprisingly, vacuuming is actually one of the best ways to get rid of bed bugs. Take off your bed linens and suck up those bloodsuckers with as powerful of a hose attachment as you can. Vacuum both sides of the mattress and all of its folds, making sure to get any crease or seam where bugs could be hiding.

Don’t put your bed linens back on until you’ve given them a good washing. Also, make sure to vacuum around and under the bed as well, and be especially thorough if you have carpet, as bed bugs can hide out under rugs, between rugs and rug pads, and inside carpet fibers. Make sure to remove your vacuum bag and throw it away outside, and clean the filter thoroughly, too, to ensure bugs can’t crawl out of the vacuum later.

Extreme Temperatures

Bed bugs can’t survive extreme heat or extreme cold, so washing, steam cleaning, and freezing will be effective against them. Anything that can go in the wash—like bed sheets, comforters, clothing, etc.—should be washed in the hottest water possible and tumble dried on the highest setting. Even if your fabric’s care instructions tell you not to wash it on a high setting, it’s vital to do it anyway. If you don’t, you’ll have to throw the clothing or bedding out, as only temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit can kill bed bugs. You should also wash your pillows in a washing machine at a high-temperature regardless of what the laundry care instructions state.

Steam clean your mattress and other furniture at a temperature above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, as well. Make sure to run the steam cleaner over the pieces several times, since bed bugs need to be exposed to the heat for several minutes to die.

Items that can’t be washed or steamed can be placed in a freezer, instead, and the cold temperatures should kill the bed bugs. Make sure to put infested items in freezer bags, though, and leave them to sit for at least 24 hours before removing them.

Herbal Remedies

While most herbal remedies can’t kill bed bugs on contact, the smell of a lot of different herbs can repel them. Spray bed sheets, mattresses, and other furniture with undiluted or slightly diluted essential oils like:

  • Tea tree oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Cinnamon oil
  • Clove oil

Whichever of these scents you find most pleasant will work just fine. Just make sure if you dilute these oils, you’re not making a solution with more than 50 percent water, as it won’t be as effective. However, keep in mind if you have a bed bug problem, these solutions aren’t going to solve it—they’re only going to help keep bed bugs out of your bed while you find a way to kill them.


Also called sodium tetraborate, this white mineral powder is a common laundry additive used to whiten whites and get out stains. And it’s also great for killing bed bugs.

A thick coating of borax over your bed can help suffocate bed bugs because they can’t dig out from under the powder. Pour copious amounts of borax over the whole surface of your mattress, and leave it on for at least 24 hours. Add borax to your washing machine when you wash sheets and bedding, as this mineral is caustic enough to kill bugs in the wash.

One thing to keep in mind about borax is it may cause a reaction in sensitive individuals. Exposure to large amounts of it may cause skin and eye irritation, rash, and airway aggravation; that’s why you need to make sure to vacuum your mattress thoroughly after using borax and avoid using it if you’re worried it could cause a reaction.


Bleach will shrivel bed bugs up where they sit, but it will also take the color out of fabrics, and it can stain whites, so you’ll need to be careful using this one as well. Since bleach will stain pretty much everything, you shouldn’t spray your whole mattress with it. Rather, wash bleach-safe clothes and bedding using the directions on the bottle, and use bleach as a contact spray to kill individual bugs by finding them and squirting only them with it.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl or rubbing alcohol can kill bed bugs the same as it kills bacteria and viruses, but you’ll need a strong concentration of over 90 percent. Don’t dilute your solution. Just pour it in a spray bottle and squirt it on bed bugs wherever you find them. Spray a good coating inside crevices and cracks in your mattress, under buttons, and anywhere else bed bugs like to hide or lay their eggs.

Use caution while spraying alcohol. Not only is it dangerous to breathe, but it’s also a fire hazard, so be extra careful with space heaters and other sources of heat in the bedroom while working with isopropyl alcohol.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is a rough, sand-like substance made from the remains of tiny, fossilized aquatic algae called diatoms. There are several types of diatomaceous earth, so try to get one specifically made for insect control—insecticidal diatomaceous earth will be clearly packaged for that use.

Bed bugs are fragile, and crawling over the sharp shards of diatomaceous earth can cut them to pieces. Coming into contact with this substance can also remove the waxy outer coating from their exoskeleton, which will lead them to “bleed” to death since their bodies can no longer retain fluid.

Sprinkle diatomaceous earth on your mattress and any other infected furniture. Leave it for at least 24 hours, though 48 is best. Afterward, vacuum both the diatomaceous earth and the dead bed bugs off your mattress.

A Note on Treatment

Bed bugs are master hiders, able to conceal themselves in even the smallest spots. They can be found in places like the insides of appliances, behind light switch covers and loose wallpaper, and even under keyboard keys! They also won’t just be sitting on top of your mattress as soon as you pull the sheets off—they’ll be hiding in the creases, under the buttons, and any other nook and cranny they can find. They might even be in your headboard and bed frame.

That means you need to thoroughly examine your bed to make sure you’re finding and eliminating every bed bug. When you treat for bugs, don’t just spray or dust the top of your mattress; pull the seams apart and treat between them; get under the buttons, and flip the mattress to ensure you’re getting the underside and the box springs or foundation.

Give your house a thorough cleaning as well. While you’re cleaning, inspect other possible bug hiding places besides the bed. Check carpets, appliances, and furnishings for signs of bugs. Once you know where the bugs are hiding and roughly how many there are, you’ll be better prepared to treat them.

Choosing the Right Treatment

The right treatment for you depends on how big your infestation is and where it is. A thorough vacuuming and steam cleaning of infested furniture, combined with a high-temperature wash for your clothes and bedding, is usually a good start.

Next, you’ll want to treat any bugs the vacuum or steam cleaner didn’t get. A lot of the spray treatment options are going to depend on your personal preference, as well as the type of bedding and furniture you have.

If you need to treat large surface areas like a whole mattress, it’s probably best to stay away from bleach in favor of borax or diatomaceous earth. And don’t forget essential oil sprays will not kill bed bugs on contact; they’ll only repel them. Also, in areas that might be hard to vacuum later, it may be a good idea to avoid powdered treatments. Use an alcohol spray instead.


What do bed bugs look like?

A lot of people think bed bugs are microscopic, but they’re not. While adults are only between 1 and 7 millimeters in length, that’s perfectly visible to the naked eye. Bed bugs are normally tan or reddish-brown, and they’re insects, so they have six legs. They’re also oval-shaped, with a small head and thorax and a large, nearly round abdomen. When they eat, they elongate and become more cylindrical in shape.

What are some signs of bed bugs?

Bed bugs are good at hiding, and a lot of people first start thinking they might have bed bugs when they wake up in the morning to bed bug bites. These bites are usually small, pink or red, and clustered in groups along the edge of your body that came into contact with the mattress.

Other big signs to watch out for include:

  • Small round bloodstains on your sheets left by bed bugs after they feed
  • Bed bug exoskeletons
  • Tiny balls that look like poppy seeds through a magnifying glass (bed bug eggs)

How can I avoid bed bugs?

Two of the biggest risk factors for getting bed bugs are traveling and secondhand shopping, so it’s vital to be extra careful when you’re doing either of those things. When you’re secondhand shopping, check all items (including things like appliances and electronic devices) for signs of bugs. If you see things like eggs, stains, exoskeletons, or actual bugs, don’t buy the item.

When traveling, check your hotel mattress and other furniture for signs of bugs. Never lay your luggage or belongings on the bed, carpet, or cushioned furniture. Use the tables or shelving in the closets instead. Wash and dry clothing on the highest heat setting possible when you get home, and make sure to check your luggage for bugs before bringing it into the house.

Also, be aware of other bed bug hot spots such as busses, trains, bus and train stations, laundromats, and rental cars. Basically anywhere people congregate in large numbers while toting luggage or laundry has the potential to harbor bed bugs.

You can also safeguard your mattress at home from bed bugs by using a waterproof mattress protector. Dense mattresses, such as memory foam mattresses and latex beds, are resistant to dust and dust, and are, therefore, less likely to develop bed bugs. It is also a good idea to avoid placing your mattress on the floor.

When do I know if I need the exterminator?

If you try several different remedies, but the bugs keep coming back, chances are you’re not killing them all. At this point, it’s better to start making calls to pest control companies because your bed bug infestation is probably a lot worse than you realize.

Do bed bugs spread disease?

No, there’s no evidence to suggest human-to-human transmission with bed bugs is possible. However, bed bugs can cause physical symptoms that don’t have to do with pathogens. For one thing, knowing you’re going to be bitten while you sleep can give you anxiety, and it can also interfere with your sleep, leading to insomnia and sleep deprivation. In some severe cases, enough bed bug bites can even cause anemia.

Bottom Line

It’s safe to say bed bugs are bad bugs, and you really don’t want them. The good news is, there’s a lot you can do to avoid getting them, and also plenty you can do if you wind up with an infestation. Just remember, professional bed bug treatments can be expensive and invasive, so it’s important to be on the lookout for bugs and ready to get rid of them before they grow into a serious problem.

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