How to Eliminate Bed Bugs

There is only one way to eliminate bed bugs: Stop feeding them.

This is inexpensive and not too difficult, but it has one prerequisite: Everyone in the house must participate. If there is anyone in the house who doesn't think bed bugs are a big deal, then you might as well stop reading now because you're going to have bed bugs forever. That one person will keep feeding the bugs, and the bugs will reproduce, and the new bugs will replace any that you eliminate. So step one is to kick that person out of the house. Once that is done, the rest will cost you about $50 and require a few hours of work.

Limiting Bed Bug Mobility

If the bugs cannot get to you, then they cannot bite you, and they will starve to death.

Your ally in this effort is the fact that bed bugs cannot jump. They have to walk everywhere they go, and walking requires a surface that offers some friction, especially where they must walk vertically.

So bed bugs cannot climb smooth plastic, such as this stuff which is what we used, and is almost certainly stocked in your local Walmart in the paint aisles. Just make sure you get the correct dimensions, 10 ft. by 25 ft., as you need it wide enough to completely cover the tops of beds and hang down the sides all the way to the floor, and so you need the 10 ft. width.

The bugs especially cannot climb smooth plastic when it is covered with talcum powder, a.k.a. baby powder. So buy some of that too and use it wherever you can, e.g. applying it to already relatively smooth surfaces will prevent the bugs from climbing those surfaces.

Since the main goal is to not feed the bugs, you have to deploy this technology everywhere people are being bitten. Killing the bugs is pointless if you are still feeding them, as they will reproduce faster than you can kill them.

Keeping Bed Bugs out of Beds

First, cover the bed legs with smooth plastic sheeting. Set each leg of the bed on top of a piece, then pull it up on all sides and duct tape it as high as possible from the floor, so that the bugs have to walk up a lot of plastic. I suspect they can't walk on the stuff at all, but the more of it they have to walk on, the more opportunity they have to slip fall back to the floor. This will prevent them from climbing up the bed posts. Thus, any bugs that leave your bed cannot return.

If you suspect your mattress is heavily infected, wrap the entire thing in plastic and seal it up with duct tape as best you can. There's no point in throwing it out as the bugs can move into the new mattress just as easily as they moved into the old one. So just seal them up inside and they'll all starve to death over the next few months. After a year, if you're not totally used to a plastic wrapped mattress at that point, you can then unwrap it. If you don't suspect your mattress is infected, you can skip this step as everything else is effective even without doing this, but if your mattress is heavily infected then you might as well seal the bugs inside, thus killing a lot of them in one easy step.

Then, cover your whole bed with a large sheet of plastic which hangs down to the floor on all sides. If your bed has a headboard, make the plastic go over top of it and then down to the floor. The goal is for you to be sleeping on a sheet of plastic that isolates you from the rest of your house. On top of the plastic, put clean sheets (the heat from a clothes dryer kills the bugs) and make sure your new clean sheets never touch the floor, otherwise they provide a path for the bugs to climb into your bed. As long as you have the plastic between you and the rest of your house, the bugs cannot get into your bed unless they're on you when you get into your bed.

So finally, before you get into bed, make sure that you're bug-free. To do this, you need to basically do the same to the rest of the furniture in your house, so that anywhere you might sit during the day will be free of bugs as well, so that they don't end up on your clothing.

In practice, however, you likely don't need to do it to all of your furniture, just where the bed bugs are a problem. Where this method was used (I'm not making this all up, it comes from experience) only some of the beds and none of the furniture in the house was given this treatment, though the living room furniture, where the person who didn't care about the bugs was sleeping, was simply thrown away as it contained so many bugs that everywhere you looked you could find them.

As for the bugs that now remain in your bed under the plastic, they will either die of starvation, or drop down to the floor to look for food, at which point they'll be unable to return to your bed and far more vulnerable to the traps you're about to set up.

Bed Bug Traps

Now that the bugs cannot feed on you while you sleep, they'll be forced to roam your house looking for new sources of food, and so they'll be quite vulnerable to being caught in traps.

Bed bugs seek out food by sensing carbon dioxide in the air and following it. So to get the bugs into our traps, we need a source of carbon dioxide.

The easiest way to get this is to use yeast. Through experimentation I found the ideal ratio of ingredients, but then I lost the recipe, as its been years since I did this. However, the ratios aren't terribly important, and so as best as I can remember is probably nearly as good:
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup of flour
1 tsp. of yeast
3/4 gallon of water
Basically, just find an old gallon jug, put the ingredients in through a funnel, and then add water until its nearly full. It's important that you not fill it all the way as the mixture will bubble and foam and you don't want the foam to come out the top. Note that this recipe is formulated to minimize the use of yeast, as it is the most expensive ingredient. By using flour, the yeast are able to reproduce, and so for the first two days there isn't much production of carbon dioxide as the yeast need time to reproduce. If you have money to burn, leave out the flour and just put in a lot more yeast. Either way, after about a week, the yeast will have produced so much alcohol as to kill itself, and so you'll need to dump out the waste and start over.

You need some way to cap the jug and feed the CO2 it produces into a trap. To do this, I used aquarium airline tubing, which I hot-glued into a hole I drilled into the cap of each jug. It is important that the connection be air tight as each jug will not produce a lot of CO2 and you want it all to go into the trap. So no duct tape, as it will leak.

As for the traps themselves, they look like this:

The bowl is a disposable bowl, chosen because its sides were particularly smooth plastic. The sides were then covered with talcum powder to make them especially smooth.

The fabric hot-glued to the brim allows the bugs to climb up from the floor into the trap, following the CO2 pouring over the sides of the bowl (CO2 is slightly heavier than air, and so in undisturbed air will tend to stay in the bowl until it spills over the sides), and once inside, the bugs cannot climb out because the smooth plastic combined with the talcum powder is impossible for them to climb.

In the center is the connection to the jug of yeast. I made this with a small piece of glass tubing bent on one end and hot glued to the center of the bowl, which the aquarium airline tubing attaches to. Glass is ideal as it makes it impossible for the bugs to climb up the tube. However, I realize most people don't have access to such supplies. Mine came from a chemistry supply web site, and was then cut to size and bent with a propane torch.

Assuming you'll want to think of something else, remember that smooth plastic is your friend. The airline tubing I suspect offers enough friction that the bugs can climb it, but if you just glue the tubing to a smooth plastic stick and then glue that stick to the bottom of the bowl, and cover it all with talcum powder, then that should keep the bugs from climbing out.

Anyway, once the bugs are in the trap, you can either freeze them to death, smash them, or just leave them to die, as they won't be able to do anything else inside the bowl.

You'll have to replace the yeast solution every week. The traps will catch most of the bugs in the first two weeks, but you'll keep seeing more now and then for a while after that. It took about three months before we were confident that all of the bugs were gone.

Seriously, everyone has to help.

At first, these methods weren't effective, as there was still someone living in the house who refused to address the bed bug problem. This person just didn't care, and refused to stop sleeping on the bug-infested sofa, refused to allow plastic to be placed over it, and refused to allow the traps to be in the same room, insisting that their smell was obnoxious. (In reality you have to get close up to them to notice that they smell like alcohol.) Since this person served as a constant source of new bugs, no matter how many were eliminated elsewhere in the house, there were always new bugs to replace them.

You simply cannot kill all of the bugs if they're still reproducing. So by far the most important step is that the bugs have to stop reproducing, and to make that happen, everyone has to stop feeding the bugs.

Eventually, after months of the bugs being a serious problem, this person moved out of the house, and the sofa they slept on was thrown away, and after that it took only about a week for these methods to control the bugs enough that no one reported being bitten anymore, and about three months before we were confident that all of the bugs had been eliminated and so we stopped setting out the traps.

So I'm not kidding when I say that the most important step is to stop feeding the bugs. If you're producing new bugs, that's your #1 problem right there, and so you need to address that problem first. Only then can any efforts at removing the existing bugs be effective.