Is Do-it-yourself Bed Bug Extermination Possible?

Getting rid of bed bugs can be a challenge. You might want to call a pro.

Bed bug exterminators I’ve spoken to all agree that bed bugs are not something the average person can handle on their own. There is a proverb to the effect:

Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.

If you ask the barber, chances are he will say yes, right? It is natural to assume that if you ask an exterminator if you need to hire them in order to eradicate bed bugs, chances are they will also say yes. So, how do you make the decision to proceed on your own or hire a professional bed bugs exterminator?

To make such a decision, you need to consider two things:

  1. Your specific situation.
  2. The process of exterminating bed bugs.

Your Situation

Condos, dorms and apartments:

If you are staying in a multi-unit dwelling under professional management such as a condominium, dorm or an apartment complex, DIY is a bad idea for two reasons.

First, you have legal rights in that situation. Most likely, the property manager is legally obliged to contract with and pay for a Pest Control Operator (PCO) to handle the situation. In this case, it doesn’t make sense not to get a pro involved.

Second, say you are successful in ridding your unit of bed bugs. What about the other units?

If only your unit is infested and you treat it, chances are you will drive the infestation into other units. You will be spreading the infestation. This isn’t fair to property management and it certainly isn’t fair to the other tenants. And it also means there is little to stop the bed bugs from coming back into your unit down the road.

Hotels and hostels:

If you are staying in a hotel/hostel, you simply inform management of the problem and move to a different room or a different location entirely. But be careful how you move as you don’t want to infest the new location with bed bugs or bring them home. Read Bed Bugs in Hotels and Hostels for more details on dealing with bed bugs in hotels.

A house you rent or own:

If you are renting a privately-owned house, the owner may not have the legal obligation to hire and pay for (or subsidize) a bed bug exterminator. This situation can be similar to owning your own house in that you may be completely responsible for handling the bed bug problem. Your contract and local laws will determine where responsibility lies. But this is the situation in which DIY is probably most appealing for financial reasons.

The Process of Bed Bug Extermination

Although different bed bugs exterminators might use different strategies, the process of bed bug extermination goes something like this:

  1. Make a positive identification.
  2. Prepare home for treatment.
  3. Perform initial treatment.
  4. Perform follow-up treatments.

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Snuffing out a bed bug infestation is not something you should take lightly. It’s not something you can do half-way. It is either a success or it’s a failure. It requires a methodical and thorough approach. If you are not a patient, detail-oriented person, forget about DIY now and call a professional bed bugs exterminator.

If you are a patient, detail-oriented person on the other hand, and you have a very minor (new) infestation, there is a chance you can do it yourself.

Positively Identifying a Bed Bug Infestation

Imagine how you would feel after spending a week’s worth of time exterminating bed bugs then finding out that you never had them in the first place. On the other hand, imagine that you determined you did not have a bed bug infestation but you actually did. Meanwhile, the infestation is building in the background. Then you realize you do in fact have a problem and now it is so far out of control you feel hopeless. To avoid these nasty feelings, you need to be absolutely positive you do in fact have bed bugs.

How do you know for sure? You find and positively identify bed bugs.

To start, you’ll need to inspect your bedding, your mattress, your boxspring, your headboard and bed frame. You’ll also have to look at nightstands, TV remote controls, curtains and blinds, picture frames, floor boards, seams in wall trim, rips and tears in wallpaper, etc.

Your inspection must be thorough.

Read 5 Signs of Bed Bugs and How to Trap Bed Bugs so you know what to do. You need to find a live bed bug. You want to be sure you really do have bed bugs. If you can’t find a live bug and you’re unsure of whether you have them or not, guess what—you probably need to call in a pro.

Prepare Home for Treatment

Whether or not you hire a pro or try a DIY approach, you will have to do a certain level of preparation. This will include putting all your bedding and clothes into sealable plastic bags and washing/drying them at the hottest settings to kill any bed bugs they’re hiding. You’ll have to keep them isolated from the infested environment until after the extermination.

You will have to pull furniture away from the walls. Inspect items. If they are 100% bed bug free, they can be removed from the infested environment. You have to be sure though. Any mistakes and you risk a reinfestation. If the items are infested, you have to figure out how to treat them or you have to dispose of them. How to treat different items is a subject in itself as is safely disposing of infested items you no longer want.

In addition, you need to patch or remove peeling wallpaper, caulk cracks in trim/flashing, spackle holes in walls and otherwise remove places for bed bugs to hide and block entrances to paths they could travel.

Perform Initial Treatment

This is where DIY bed bug extermination starts to get wobbly. There are several of reasons why. The bottom line though is that if your extermination efforts are not correct, you could damage household items, create health concerns for your family and on top of that—fail to eradicate your bed bug infestation.

Lets look at some of these reasons:

  • You do not have the experience and you underestimate how bad the infestation is.
  • You don’t know enough about bed bugs to plan a thorough extermination.
  • You don’t know enough about the tools of the trade or how to use them which makes it difficult to plan out the extermination.
  • You don’t want to lay out the cash for the right tools (diatomaceous earth, mattress encasements, steamer, sprays)
  • You don’t know how to use the tools properly
  • The extermination proves more time consuming than you anticipated and you have nobody to help keep you on the right track

When an exterminator prepares a treatment plan, he/she takes this all into account.

His experience tells him how bad the infestation is. He has performed exterminations before and knows everything that must be done. He already has all the tools and resources. He has developed techniques for carrying out the extermination. He creates a written plan that both you and he work off of. This keeps you both accountable.

The initial treatment must be thorough and addresses the items in affected rooms as well as the environment itself. A lot depends on just how bad the infestation is. The specifics of the treatment depend on the exterminator. Read Do-It-Yourself (DIY) bed bug extermination for an overview of a process you might choose to use at home. Remember though that a pro will be more thorough.

Perform Ongoing Treatments

There should be a few follow up treatments over the course of several weeks. This is because bed bugs are so hard to get rid of. Follow up treatments basically include another cycle of inspection and extermination, the extent of which depends on how successful the first attempt was.

Now that you have a better idea….

DIY is a viable option in some cases. If your infestation isn’t that bad, if you are the right type of person, if you are willing to do the homework and take the time to understand what must be done. A lot of “ifs” but DIY is certainly possible.

Remember that the odds are stacked against you though. Even professional bed bugs exterminators are not always successful. Bed bugs have become such a big problem today partly because of how difficult they are to exterminate. So think it through thoroughly before you go down the DIY path.

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