collage showing bedbugs in bed on sheets and mattress

Bedbugs: How to DIY to Get Them Out and Stay Out Naturally

It was a silly bedtime rhyme we said when we were kids—a line that meant nothing to me other than it was funny. Goodnight, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite! Years later, I would learn that bedbugs are real and no laughing matter.

collage showing bedbugs in bed on sheets and mattress

Bedbugs are a nightmare. They’re parasitic insects of the cimicid family that feed exclusively on blood. Tiny and nocturnal, bedbugs hide in cracks and crevices. They are also really good hitchhikers, jumping into luggage from an infested hotel room or hiding in the seams zippers of clothing manufactured in an infested factory.

Bedbugs are resurging worldwide, causing property loss, expense, and inconvenience. The good news, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is that bedbugs do not transmit disease. But they can torment their blood hosts in ways I won’t go into here.

Regular inspection

The best way to prevent bedbugs is with a regular inspection for signs of an infestation. Signs of bed bugs include visible bugs that look like apple seeds, rashes and bites, a musty odor, seed-sized eggs, skins and shells, and black spots on surfaces. Look for droppings and mysterious bloodstains on bedding—particularly in the ribbing of the mattress. When you see evidence, act immediately and then practice good maintenance and cleanliness.

Do it yourself

While hiring a professional pest control service specializing in bedbugs might appear to be the best way to go, it can be very costly. The typical range for bedbug treatment cost in the U.S. is $300 to $5,000, with a national average of $1,750.

You can do this yourself with remarkable and long-lasting success. It takes diligence and tenacity, but you can do it for far less than the thousands you’ll end up paying a professional bedbug service.

Diatomaceous earth

Food-grade Diatomaceous Earth is the only effective option. It is all-natural and safe. DE acts like shards of glass to puncture bedbugs’ exoskeletons. It then absorbs their internal fluids dehydrating them quickly and effectively. If you are experiencing a bedbug infestation, you need these full instructions for how to treat bedbugs with food-grade DE.

To get started you will need food grade diatomaceous earth, often referred to simply as DE, and a powder duster. Look for diatomaceous earth in garden centers, home improvement stores, and Amazon.

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous Earth (DE), an off-white talc-like powder, is the fossilized remains of marine phytoplankton that have been ground to a fine powder.

If you could take a look at it through a microscope, you’d see that it resembles shards of glass. It comes in bags and is easily found online and in the garden department of stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and Tractor Supply.

Safe around pets, kids

The most amazing thing about DE is that it kills bugs but doesn’t hurt mammals. You and your pets could eat it without harm. In fact, many people add food-grade DE to their daily diet to promote good health.

What kind of DE?

It is critical to understand DE is available in two grades:

Food-grade DE

For this application of killing bugs and insects, you must use food-grade Diatomaceous Earth. Make sure it reads “food-grade” on the label. Only food-grade Diatomaceous Earth will rid of centipedes, spiders, bedbugs, ants, silverfish, cockroaches, fleas, and all other creepy crawlies.

Pool-grade DE

Swimming pool supply stores sell Pool-Grade Diatomaceous Earth for DE pool filters. This DE has been treated chemically for this specific use—to be used in a swimming pool DE filter. The pool grade DE is calcined, which changes the chemical compound from silicon dioxide to crystalline silica. Pool-grade DE will not work to kill bugs and insects. Worse, pool-grade DE is very toxic and should be handled with extreme care, to be used only in a DE-specific pool filter.

Step 1: Steam clean

Steam your home with a good portable steam cleaner. Bedbugs cannot tolerate heat above 130℉. If you do not have a steam cleaner, borrow or rent one for now.

Start by thoroughly steam cleaning the room(s) where you’ve found evidence of bedbugs That means every nook and cranny, along baseboards in the corners. Clean high and low. Move the furniture. Clean the underside of the bed, the legs, and feet.

Step 2: Launder all washable fabrics

Launder everything that is washable, including but not limited to curtains, bedding, pillows, and clothing. Wash them in hot water—above 130F. You may need to adjust your water heater to accommodate. Dry on high heat and then store all washed fabric items in sealed plastic bags or containers.

Step 3: Vacuum the entire home

You want to remove every bedbug and egg from every crevice, crack, corner, and place a teeny tiny bug could be hiding. Vacuum even if you don’t see any—their eggs are not visible to the typical naked eye.

Vacuum and steam clean carpets thoroughly. Dismantle furniture as much as possible, then steam clean and vacuum every surface. Pull the drawers out, turn items upside down to vacuum underneath. Looks for cracks in the wood and get into all the tight spots with a good hose attachment. Consider a total encasement mattress cover for every bed that is or may become infested.

Step 4: Apply DE to kill bedbugs

You are going to apply food-grade diatomaceous earth for both immediate treatment and eradication and for prevention, which means you’ll be killing the eggs, too. Follow these instructions carefully.

  1. Make sure that all areas are absolutely dry and free from moisture. DE becomes ineffective if it gets wet.
  2. Using the powder duster, lightly dust all affected areas with diatomaceous earth powder.
  3. Get the fine powdered DE into every crack and crevice; behind appliances, along windowsills, and door jams. Remove the electrical switch and outlet faceplates and spray in those areas. Work DE into furniture and carpeting.
  4. Dust DE over carpets, along baseboards, on and around pet bedding; on pillows, and other soft furnishings.

Step 5: Leave the DE undisturbed

Leave the DE for 2 to 3 days or as long as possible before you clean it up, especially in areas that are not visible or bothersome, like windowsills and baseboards. After that time, vacuum up the DE.

Step 6. Repeat as necessary

Bedbugs are persistent. Your situation may require more than one treatment. Just know that repeating these steps is necessary to break the cycle of infestation. If you are diligent in using food grade diatomaceous earth in your home, it will prevent future infestations.

Resources

Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth is readily available at garden centers and hardware stores. You can get a and 5-lb. bag of Diatomaceous Earth from Amazon that includes a bulb duster. Always make certain you purchase food-grade diatomaceous earth, not the variety of DE used in swimming pools, which has been chemically altered and will not work as a pesticide. It must be food-grade, and Harris is the brand of food-grade DE you can trust. Wholly mined, produced, and packaged in the USA.

 

 

 

 


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  1. Dana says:

    Bedbugs can and will survive temps at and below freezing. I know this for a fact because I witnessed it on a box spring and mattress that were infested in our garage in December when temps were well into the 20’s. They stopped moving and seemed dead, but as the temps warmed up they slowly started moving again.

    Reply
  2. Bonni says:

    Please be aware that bed bugs can live up to 400 days without a host (no one to bite). So be sure to closely inspect clothing, blankets etc before packing them away for the season.

    Reply
  3. Suzanne says:

    We had carpenter ants for years digging into the wooden frames of our doors. They drove my husband crazy until I suggested he use DE to repel them. He used the duster, and it worked like a charm. Now he uses it outdoors wherever there are bugs where he doesn’t want them. We had some large nasty ones digging holes between the tiles he used to make the platform for our rain barrel, and they’re gone now. Just be careful where you apply DE because it can also harm beneficial insects. That’s why we don’t use it in our vegetable garden and flower beds.

    Reply
  4. Patricia Skelton says:

    Hi Mary:
    This sounds like DE would work in a crawl space to kill spiders, and all kinds of insects. Yet, it would be safe to leave the DE in the crawl space permanently. Is that correct, Mary?

    Thanks,
    Trish Skelton

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes! Make sure it is food-grade, and it will work continuously unless or until it becomes wet. Depending on your climate you might need to replace or refresh from time to time.

      Reply
  5. Dana says:

    Cold weather below 32 degrees will slow them down and stop them, but when it warms up, they come back around and start moving again. I know this from personal and very costly experience.

    Reply
  6. Jenni says:

    Before I ever ordered DE, I collected and ground up eggshells into a fine powder and sprinkled them around my house (apt house, etc) every Spring and Fall. I use the DE indoors now with the applicator and have Never had a problem with bugs. Well, there were ants in the Dining Room when we bought this house but not for long! I still grind the eggshells for the outdoors because they hold up to the rain. DE (and finely ground eggshells) can work miracles!

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      I’m not a doctor … however given that it is a very fine powder, common sense says you don’t want to breathe it. Wearing a mask would be advisable for everyone! Foodgrade DE is not toxic, but in the same way you don’t want to breathe in sanding dust when remodeling your home, you don’t want to breathe in DE either. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  7. Janet Storey says:

    Please wear a mask when applying, you do not want this in your lungs. And wash off if it gets on your skin, it is very drying.

    Reply
  8. Barbara Jackson says:

    We had cockroaches in the kitchen and occasionally in the bathrooms during the spring and summer months. Yuk! At Mary’s recommendation, I got Harris DE at amazon.com and used it as directed. DE got rid of them, and they have not come back. For maintenance, I squirt new DE around the baseboards when needed after I vacuum and mop the floors. A little goes a long way, so the small bag will do nicely. Harris DE is made in the USA, a bonus.

    Reply
  9. Amy says:

    Thank you! I like this info. I have a bad silverfish problem inside…I just can’t figure out how to use DE without it being a mess/eyesore…and then if I put it outside, it gets wet. Grr.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Use the duster to “squirt” the DE along the baseboards in the area you’re seeing silverfish. If they’re inside drawers, do the same. It is very fine like talcum powder so it will get into those cracks and crevices. You can use a soft cloth to help push it in if it is unsightly. I think you’ll be surprised by how easy and effective this treatment is.

      Reply
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