While those of us who have suffered from bed bugs know the symptoms, for someone who thinks they may have them for the first time in their house, it may be difficult for them to know if what they have really is a case of bed bugs. For example, if they have household pets, it is plausible that they may have a flea infestation. Flea bites are, in my opinion, about as itchy as bed bug bites.
So, what's the difference between flea bites on a human and bed bug bites on a human? For the answer to this question, one has only to look at the bite pattern difference between the two pests. Bed bugs tend to bite you multiple times and in a row. Bed bug bites look kind of like a stop light where the lights are all red instead of red, yellow and green. If you see 2 or 3 or 4 or more bites about the size of mosquito bites that are in an almost perfect row, you can almost bed for certain that they are bed bugs. Especially if you notice them upon waking up and getting out of bed. Bites from bed bugs are almost immediately itchy upon waking, when your blood starts circulating a bit faster and your body's reaction time quickens compared to when you were asleep.
Almost immediately after I wake up--sometimes, even when I'm still semi-sleeping--I notice the toenails of one foot digging into the ankle of my other foot in an attempt to quell an itching fit. Hydrocortisone cream or anti-itch cream with diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are fantastic at stopping the itch for several hours, at least for me. Everyone is different and so is what relieves their itches and allergic reactions.
Before I get too ahead of myself, let me tell you more about what flea bites look like. Rather than in a straight line, like bed bugs, flea bites tend to be in a scattered pattern. You might have just 1 small bite or you can have what looks like a rash going completely around your ankle, or somewhere on your leg or anywhere else the fleas might have jumped onto you. Again, I would compare their itch intensity to that of bed bugs...at least, the skin rash. Bed bugs also seem to make my nose and sinuses swell too (and for this, I take loratadine or several Benadryl tablets, both available over the counter; it goes without saying, talk to your doctor before you 'pop' anything that you're unsure about, and always have any rashes checked by a healthcare professional, particularly when it comes to anyone under the age of 18 years old.)
Back to the Bed Bugs...
Another sign you have bed bugs is that you actually see the bugs crawling in your bed, or the pieces of their outer shell that they 'shed' after filling up with your blood at night. Whichever you see--or if you see both--one immediate thing to do, WITHOUT HESITATION, is to remove your bed sheets. Put your bed bug-infested sheets into a plastic trash bag and tie the bag shut. Include your pillows, pillow cases and any other washable stuffed animals or throw blankets, shams, dust ruffles, comforters, mattress pads, or nearby curtains into the plastic trash bags as well. The trash bags are one line of defense from spreading your bed bug problem to nearby rooms. They work as a temporary way of transporting your bed buggy items to your washing machine or the laundromat for deep, thorough cleaning and at least 60 minutes on high heat in the dryer.
Also consider immediately showering and washing any clothing that you sleep in. If you don't, you could personally carry the bed bugs on you from room to room, and that's the last thing you want to do!
Any type of clothing detergent will work, but I also recommend adding Twenty Mule Borax (about 1/2 cup per large load) to the wash cycle when you do your laundry. Adding an equal amount of baking soda will also help ensure that your wash is fresh-smelling and super-clean. This is a mechanical way of removing the bed bugs, particularly the drying cycle. DO NOT SKIMP ON DRY TIME!!! Be patient about drying for the entire 60 minutes per load (more time, obviously, if your sheets and things are still damp). The extra five minutes or so at the end might mean the difference between a sound night sleep and a night of itchy tossing and turning!
Before you return your sheets and freshly laundered bedroom linens to your bedroom, I recommend the following steps that will help you contain the problem for approximately 24-48 hours. This is NOT a complete solution; rather, this is a FIX that will make life worth living. Bed bug removal is a LIFE STYLE change that must happen over the course of approximately a month. This time period is sometimes less, and sometimes longer, depending on how thorough and committed you are to your bed bug removal regimen.
Step 1: After a good shower and new change of clothes, spray yourself down (outside your house, in the fresh air) with bug spray that contains AT LEAST 25% DEET. Yes, this is somewhat nasty, but it is a temporary way of keeping the bugs off of you while you move on to step two. And, on the bright side, after you complete a few steps, you can take another shower (ideally, a cool temperature shower with a real soap, like Ivory, to help remove the maximum amount of bug spray from your skin). You may choose to leave the DEET-containing spray on your clothes if you'd like---this chemical will help prevent you from being bit by any of the bed bugs you accidentally miss during the next few steps.
Step 2: Using a vacuum with a couch or car seat attachment nozzle, vacuum each side of your mattress, paying particular attention to the ribbing that is around the outer edges. This is a favorite hiding place because it's essentially a dark crevice that's great for hiding out until you go to sleep. This is also a great opportunity to examine your mattress for the tell-tale orange splotches that are made by the bed bugs as they use your bed as their restroom after they feast on you at night. Vacuum the box spring as well, and both sides if you are able to safely pick it up and prop it against a wall to do so.
Step 3: Remove ALL CLUTTER FROM YOUR BEDROOM. This is a VERY IMPORTANT STEP!!! If you don't, you're setting yourself back DAYS from actually getting rid of all the bed bugs. Those little pests will hide in anything they can--boxes under your bed, shoes that are not properly stored, dirty laundry that is piled in a dark corner of the room, the underneath of dresser drawers, behind photo and picture frames attached to the walls...anywhere there is space that is out of site, dark and has been in place for more than 24 hours. This step includes cleaning out your clothes closet if it is in the room where you sleep and have the bed bug problems. To do this, first go through all of your clothes, take them off hangers and out of any drawers or open shelving and run as many of them as you are able through the dryer, for 60 minutes or more at a time. You don't actually have to wash all of your already-clean items; but again, don't skimp on the drying time---it's what actually kills the bugs. Using trash bags is the best way to transport anything from your closet that you can to the laundry room. They are economical AND disposable--make sure you tie them up before you throw them out, and get the used bags out of your house as soon as you empty the contents and clean them. Used bags are often an over-looked source of re-infestations.
Step 4: Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum!!! Vacuum the floor of your room, the corners, the crown/base/chair molding, window sills and window trim, doors and door trim, bedroom furniture, your headboard/foot board/bed frame, and anything else in your room. Dust electronics carefully, blowing them out with a can of pressurized air where applicable and vacuuming after you do so. Clean out pencil holders, lamp shades, shoe racks and jewelry boxes. Hint: make a check list BEFORE you clean so that you can systematically get everything without forgetting any place that the bugs might hide.
Step 5: After your cleaning is finished, I recommend another shower (and as I mentioned, if you used a bug spray on your own skin and clothes, I find that a cool-temperature shower and some Ivory soap work terrific at removing the insecticide from your skin while maintaining a normal, skin pH, which is important, particularly if you have a bed bug rash). Also, a fresh change of clothes might make you feel better as well as you set forth replacing all of your clean, dried bed sheets, curtains and pillows.
Step 6: TAKE A WELL-DESERVED NAP! :)
Step 7: Repeat steps 1 through 6 (well, at least through step 5) again in two days. Then, repeat it AGAIN two days after that. While you may have removed the bed bugs mechanically during the first pass or the second cleaning, there may still be eggs that hatch and re-start the cycle. If you do not repeat these steps every few days for about a month, it is highly likely that you will keep waking up with rows of itchy dots, cursing the critter that did it to you!
Best of Luck! And keep checking this blog for more advice, tips, photos and suggestions on how to get back your quality of life after finding out that you have bed bugs in your home.
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