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Pest control: don't let the bed bugs bite

The misconception that bed bugs are attracted to dirty homes persists. But, as Kevin Harrison from Which? Local-recommended Pest Guard North West explains, the truth is that a spotless home is just as likely to suffer an infestation of these bloodsucking bugs.

About bed bugs

Bedbugs (cimex lectularius) are oval-shaped, flat insects. They’re usually reddish-brown in colour and are up to 5mm long.

Females lay 200 to 500 eggs over a two-month period. 'The eggs are almost impossible to spot,' says Kevin. 'They’re like tiny white specks.' Once hatched, the growing insect sheds its skin leaving behind a mottled brown shell.

It is a misconception that bed bugs are attracted to dirt. A bed bug infestation is not a sign of poor hygiene or an unclean home.

In fact, pest control expert Kevin Harrison says it’s a simple case of the bed bugs 'hitching a ride.'

Bed bugs have something of a jet-setting lifestyle, hiding in suitcases and travelling on plane, train and bus seats as well as on clothes.

'Just opening your suitcase in a hotel room while on holiday is enough,' says Kevin. These unpleasant pests will travel home with you and, attracted to carbon dioxide and body heat, will bite while you sleep at night.

How to spot bed bugs

  • A skin rash or an itchy lump – note that not everyone will develop this, though. 
  • Blood spots on bed sheets – bed bugs tend to gorge themselves a little overzealously, resulting in a little bit of blood 'popping out,' says Kevin. 
  • Black dots on the bed, mattress or other furniture – these are also blood spots. 'It can look like a child has been let loose with a black felt-tip pen,' says Kevin. 
  • Sightings of live or dead bed bugs – check all cracks and crevices using a torch. 
  • Sightings of shells – these critters shed their skin as they grow. Even if you can't see any live bugs, finding mottled brown shells suggests an infestation.

Where to find bed bugs

Bed bugs like small, dark spaces where they are unlikely to be disturbed.

Their flat bodies allow them to crawl into tiny cracks and crevices, making them difficult to see.

'The reason they’re called "bed bugs" is not that they necessarily live there,' says Kevin. 'It’s that they’ll attack a human while they’re lying in bed asleep.'

As a general rule, bed bugs dislike smooth surfaces, so they tend to prefer wood and fabric to plastic and metal.

Favourite hiding places include:

  • underneath mattress buttons or around the edging 
  • skirting boards
  • bed frame casters
  • headboards 
  • corners of cupboards or wardrobes 
  • behind wallpaper 
  • underneath the carpet.

How to get rid of bed bugs

Important: using insecticides

Before using any chemical insecticide, always read the instructions carefully. Consult the manufacturer if you have questions.

'If you see more than a few live bed bugs, you should call in the professionals,' says Kevin. 'The process is labour intensive, though, so it’s costly.'

Small infestations can sometimes be tackled without professionals.

  • Move and dismantle your bed and furniture. Check every corner and crevice. 'Use a vacuum cleaner hose to suck up anything you find. Empty the vacuum outdoors, and put the contents into a plastic bag and then straight into the outside bin,' says Kevin.
  • Wash infested clothes and bed linen at 60° if possible. Check the care label before you shrink your favourite sweater, though! 
  • 'If you suspect bed bugs are lurking in a hard to reach crack or crevice, use a good fly spray. This won’t kill them, but it will be enough of an irritation that they’ll come out where you can see them and vacuum them up,' says Kevin.
  • Any remaining bugs can be killed with a bed bug spray. 'Don’t blanket spray your mattress. Just lightly spray the infested areas, like underneath the buttons.' 
  • Check adjacent rooms. 'You may need to treat rooms, above, below and beside the one you in which you discovered an infestation as bed bugs often move around through wall cavities.'

How does a professional treat a bed bug infestation?

'A small company will charge £200-£300 for a spray treatment,' says Kevin.

'It's expensive because it’s labour-intensive. They’ll be moving furniture around.'

Some pest control companies will also offer an insecticide-free heat treatment. 'We evacuate people, move the furniture to the middle and then bombard the room with dry heat which kills the bugs,' says Kevin. Costs vary, but it’s likely to be considerably more expensive than a spray treatment.

About our expert trader

Pest control expert Kevin Harrison from Pest Guard North West Ltd

Our expert: Kevin Harrison

Kevin Harrison is the owner of Pest Guard North West, a pest control business based in Stockport.

Pest Guard North West is a member of Trading Standards' Buy With Confidence scheme.

Which? members have praised Pest Guard North West for offering advice and a competitively priced service.

Read reviews for Pest Guard North West