If you’re hiring an exterminator to eliminate a bed bug problem then it’s really important you know what bed bug treatments are available and what to expect BEFORE and AFTER any treatment. Some may choose to use insecticides, while others may opt for heat treatments. It’s important to know what to expect from each method so that you can make the best decision for your home and your budget.

Written by: A O’Neill, Licensed Pest Management Professional

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image of reddish-brown adult bed bug
Photo of adult bed bug

How do exterminators get rid of bed bugs?

Exterminators offer bed bug treatment options which can include using dogs to sniff out these pests, although this isn’t provided by many pest control companies yet. The two most commonly used methods of bed bug removal are heat treatment and conventional insecticide treatments. Let’s look at both of these in more detail so you know what you’re getting.

What you need to know about bed bug heat treatment

We are nearly always asked the question: What kills bed bugs instantly and fast? The answer is heat treatment because it kills bed bugs instantly.

How does heat treatment for bed bugs work exactly?

Heat treatment, or Thermal Remediation Heat Treatment as it’s officially known, consists of the exterminator strategically placing commercial heaters, fans, temperature sensors, and other related electrical equipment throughout your home.

The heaters raise the temperature to above 125°F (51°C) in your home or infested room for a prolonged period of time to ensure all bed bug life stages die, that includes eggs, nymphs, and adults.

Adult bed bugs die at 119ºF (48ºC) but their eggs can withstand temperatures up to 125ºF (51ºC), so exposure to this temperature is vital to eliminate the infestation.

If you are going with the heat treatment option, make sure you choose a pest control company that is licensed and specializes in heat treatments. Look at our guide on choosing a pest control company.

Hiring a company that claims to be able to heat treat and offers to do it at a much lower price than other companies should be avoided. Inadequately trained exterminators could cause heat damage to household items, fail to eliminate the infestation, or worse, cause a fire in your home.

How long does the heat treatment take to kill these pests?

Heat treatment can take up to 8 hours depending on the size of the property and infestation, and also if the house has been properly prepared.  The pest control company you are using will be able to tell you how long it is likely to take. 

There are a number of items that will need to be removed from the treatment areas, and here are a few examples:

  • Pets should not remain inside the room/home.
  • Heat-sensitive items should be removed before treatment begins.
  • Items not being heat-treated, and this includes the clothes you are wearing on the day of treatment will need to be treated by a different method, which your pest control company will go over with you, but will usually just be washing and drying on the hottest setting possible. 

A list of what needs to be removed will be provided by your pest control company, so you don’t have to worry about missing anything.

Pros and Cons of a bed bug heat treatment

Unfortunately, heat treatment is more expensive than conventional insecticide treatments, but it is an extremely effective bed bug control method that eliminates an infestation in just a few hours, instead of several weeks like insecticide treatments.

One potential downside to heat treatment is there are no residual effects, meaning if it doesn’t 100% eliminate the infestation at the time, then your bed bug problem continues.

The other downside of there being no residual effect is your home could quickly become infested again if you don’t know where the bed bugs are coming from (this is common if you live in an apartment block), or how you are bringing them in.

As a precaution, the exterminator will often apply a residual insecticide (if you are happy with chemicals) close to the room’s perimeter, which treats any bed bugs coming from other apartments or rooms. This combination of heat and insecticide can be the most effective bed bug treatment.

It should be a one-treatment service and has a 100% success rate if carried out properly, but it’s important to know that sometimes bed bugs are able to hide out of the way in cooler spots if some areas of your home haven’t reached the required temperature.

Can bed bugs survive heat treatment?

If the treatment hasn’t been carried out correctly, then yes, bed bugs can survive. As I said above, they will look for ‘cold spots’ to hide in, such as in walls and furniture where the heat is not reaching the required temperature to kill them.

This is why the technician will suggest combining the heat treatment with an insecticide application. Limited amounts of insecticides are applied only in those areas where bed bugs are likely to go to get away from the heat.

If the cost of heat treatment is too expensive, then bed bug removal with conventional insecticide treatments will also get the job done.

What are insecticide treatments for bed bugs?

Insecticide treatments are a more cost-effective and conventional bed bug treatment as they provide residual action, this means they are able to kill bed bugs long after the insecticides have dried.

One downside to insecticide applications is there is no single insecticide that can eliminate a bed bug infestation by itself. That’s why this treatment method usually uses several insecticides, each having a different purpose, which we look at next.

Insecticide treatment methods used to successfully kill these blood-sucking insects

A bed bug exterminator will use a combination of the following:

  • An insecticide spray that kills on contact.
  • A residual insecticide, which has long-lasting effects and kills bugs during exposure to it.
  • A dust treatment that is applied in cracks and crevices, electrical sockets, and behind baseboards where bed bugs are often found hiding.

Bedbug-proof mattresses and box spring encasements are often recommended to trap the bed bugs inside your bed so they can no longer feed and will eventually starve.

The encasements also prevent bed bugs from other areas from getting into your mattress or box spring. They will be easily spotted on the surface of the encasements where they can be removed and killed.

This is the range I recommend to my customers and I also have these on the mattresses in my home. 

SafeRest Premium mattress encasement to protect against bed bugs
Mattress encasement on Amazon

Pros and cons of insecticide treatments

Insecticide treatments are effective as long as they are carried out properly and are a lot cheaper than heat treatment. However, this type of bed bug treatment usually requires an additional 2-3 follow-up applications to interrupt their reproduction and life cycle and to kill any surviving bed bugs.

An insecticide treatment can take up to 2 hours per room.

How long after an insecticide application can you return home?

You’ll need to stay out of your home until the treatment has completely dried. Again, your PMP will tell you when you can return home, and this usually depends on the size of the room or home, and also how much furniture or clutter it has in it.

As we know, bed bugs are extremely resilient and can hide in areas that are not easily accessed by insecticide dust or sprays. As bed bugs do not feed every day and hide in between feeds in harborage areas, it’s doubtful they would have come into contact with the insecticide when it was first applied, hence the need for follow-up visits.

Another downside to the insecticides used is they do not kill the bed bug eggs (heat treatment does).  Once they hatch they immediately search for a blood meal which is when they come into contact with the residual insecticide and die.

Other factors influence how soon an infestation is eliminated, and these include such things as how much clutter is in the room which provides areas for bed bugs to hide. For example, the exterminator cannot treat under the bed properly if there are boxes full of items and other stuff stored under it.

Declutter as much as you can otherwise there might be an increase in the number of follow-up visits needed to completely get rid of the infestation, which will also increase the amount you will have to spend!

Regardless of which treatment you choose, you’ll need to comply with the instructions on the pre-treatment checklist supplied to you beforehand.  This not only ensures your home is prepared, but it enables the pest management professional (PMP) to carry out the bed bug treatments effectively.

As long as you’ve carried out what is on the checklist, the bed bug treatments should be successful in 3 visits or less.

When can I return home after a bed bug treatment?

If you’re having a heat treatment then you might not be able to return to your home for around a total of 12 hours.  I know this sounds like a long time but this is needed so the required temperature in your home can be reached, which takes time. 

And then it also takes time for the inside of your home to cool to an ambient temperature that is safe for you to return to.   

The pest control company you are using will give you a timeframe but just be prepared for a long day.

For conventional chemical treatment, then you have to wait for it dry as I mentioned above.  Again, your pest professional will let you know. 

What happens after a bed bug treatment?

Knowing what to expect after a bed bug treatment will depend on certain factors, such as how big the infestation is, and whether it was a pesticide treatment or a heat treatment. But let’s address some of the common questions we get asked.

Is it normal to see bed bugs after treatment and for how long?

People often think that bed bugs are worse after an insecticide treatment and that it hasn’t worked, but it is perfectly normal to see an increase in bed bug activity after the initial insecticide treatment, but you should start to see them less and less after each follow-up application. 

There are a number of reasons why you might see more of them, and one reason is already mentioned and that’s because bed bugs don’t feed every day.  When they’re not feeding, they stay hidden away, so a bed bug will only come into contact with the residual application once it comes back out of its harborage to take a blood meal.  

Can I sleep in my bed after the bed bug treatment?

This question is always asked when we carry out bed bug treatments, and it’s a valid question especially if pesticides have been used in your home. But the answer is yes, you should continue to sleep in your bed after treatments.

Install the bedbug-proof encasements mentioned above.  Read my guide on how to choose an encasement

Sleeping in your bed and not sleeping in other areas of the home such as on the couch prevents spreading the infestation to other areas. You want to keep the infestation as contained as possible.

Bed bugs leave their hiding areas when they detect the carbon dioxide we breathe out. If you leave the infested room to sleep elsewhere, the remaining bed bugs are unable to find a blood meal and will enter a hibernation-like state called diapause. This means the bed bugs won’t leave their harborage areas and come into contact with the residual insecticide needed to kill them.

Bed bugs can live up to a year without a blood meal (but 4-6 months is the norm), which is far longer than the effectiveness of any residual.

So, it’s important to sleep in the same bed after any bed bug treatment.

What to clean after bed bug treatment

  • If you’ve had a heat treatment, you’ll want to open the windows and doors to let the room/property cool down to a more comfortable temperature before you start to vacuum the mattress and box spring with the upholstery attachment.
  • After heat treatment you can wipe down all furniture surfaces and baseboards, pushing evidence of bed bugs onto the floor before giving the floor a thorough vacuuming to remove the dead bed bugs and eggs.
  • Open a few windows to circulate the air after insecticide treatments.  You may notice a slight chemical smell that will soon go once the windows have been open for a while. 
  • All bedding and any clothing left in the treated rooms should be washed and dried at the hottest settings possible to kill any remaining bed bug eggs.   Don’t overfill the dryer, and dry for a minimum of 30 minutes. 
  • Try to avoid walking barefoot for at least 48 hours after an insecticide application. 
  • Do not clean laminate or wooden floor edges near baseboards and avoid wiping the baseboards or you’ll wipe away the residual spray. 
  • Do not vacuum the carpet along the baseboard areas as this will remove any dust applied between the wall and the carpet.  Your PMP will tell you when the room can be vacuumed, but it should generally be avoided so the residual treatment is left in place to work.

    However, if you notice any dead bed bugs, then gently use the crevice tool to remove them.  Always make sure you thoroughly wash the crevice tool, clean the vacuum hose, and dispose of the vacuum’s contents as any live bed bugs will climb out and soon make themselves at home in another room. 
  • Do not put items back into drawers or closets until you have cleared it with the exterminator.

If you are at all unsure about anything, contact the exterminator or the pest control company and ask.  It’s better to be sure and not risk causing the treatment to become ineffective.

How do you know when bed bugs are gone?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to be 100% sure that the bed bugs have been eliminated as they are exceptionally good at hiding for months at a time. Not what you wanted to hear, I know!

But, the good news is the exterminator will continue to monitor their decline and advise you of the findings during the follow-up visits, which will be 2-3 weeks apart.

Monitoring after treatment is important, and if the exterminator placed bed bug interceptors (if not, then I recommend you buy them) under each leg of the bed, you would be able to see if there is a decline in bed bugs.

Interceptor cups trap bed bugs that have tried to enter or leave the bed. These will tell you if you still have a bed bug problem, but hopefully, you will start to see a reduction in the number of bed bugs in the interceptors until you finally reach zero.

Glue boards are also another monitoring option. These can be placed directly under the bed or other furniture items. The bed bugs stick to the board when they crawl on it preventing them from reaching you.

Over time, there should be zero bed bugs stuck to these also.

As bed bug eggs hatch approximately 10 days after being laid and reach maturity in 21 days and can then reproduce, follow-up insecticide applications will be scheduled around these times so the newly hatched bed bugs and any adults that escaped the initial insecticide application can be treated.

Your PMP might decide they need to do a third visit, and will again schedule a follow-up treatment for 2-3 weeks after the second.

Can bed bugs come back after treatment?

If you still have bed bugs after three treatments, then it usually means they are not from the original infestation and are being re-introduced somehow.

There are many ways that you can bring these pests into your home, which could be from staying in a hotel or bringing used furniture into the home, or perhaps you live in an apartment block and they are coming in from an adjacent neighbor. 

This will need to be discussed with your PMP to investigate further and find a solution.

Hopefully, by the third visit, the bed bug infestation has been eliminated, but you will still need to continue monitoring the interceptor cups and monitor boards. And if by week 8 there are no further signs of bed bugs or bites, then your bed bug problem should be gone for good. 

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