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What to Do About a Bed Bug Infestation

There's really only one sure way to rid your home of bedbugs: a pest-control professional.
There's really only one sure way to rid your home of bedbugs: a pest-control professional.
John Downer/Getty Images

It's official: You have bedbugs. Whether you realized it because you actually saw the brown, oval-shaped critters or because you woke up with itchy bites, you know there's an infestation. But before you panic, burn your sheets and unload a bug bomb on your bedroom, take a moment to collect yourself. There's only one thing that can rid your home of bedbugs: a pest-control professional.

Do not -- we repeat, do not -- try to handle a bedbug infestation on your own. You'd never be able to find and kill all of them, and you'd most likely make things even worse. Bedbugs are very evolved and hardy creatures that can survive pretty much any assault that isn't professionally executed. Pest-control services know way more about bedbug biology and habits than you do, and you absolutely need that knowledge to eliminate them.

But before you hire a pest-control service, make sure it actually has experience with bedbugs. And be wary of any company that says you'll be bug-free in a visit or two. Three or four treatments would be a more likely estimate, and sometimes it's just impossible to get rid of all of them -- especially if you have a lot of clutter or live in an apartment or townhouse with shared walls.

There are a few steps your pest-control service will probably ask you to take before they use any chemicals in your home. First, get rid of any clutter in your bedroom -- that's where bedbugs love to hide. But don't just move your junk and knickknacks into another room: You'll need to seal them in plastic bags. You'll also want to bag your bedding and haul it straight to the washing machine -- a high-temperature wash and dry will kill all of the bugs. You can also vacuum bedbugs, but you have to be very careful that the bugs don't end up infesting the vacuum cleaner.

In extreme cases, your pest-control service might recommend a structural fumigation, which involves tenting the area, using a whole bunch of nasty chemicals and vacating your home for at least a few days. It's pricey (generally in the thousands of dollars), but if you have money to spare -- or a particularly tenacious group of bedbugs -- it's the only guaranteed way to permanently evict those uninvited houseguests.

For more information on bedbugs, please peruse the links on the next page.