Everything You Need to Prevent and Get Rid of Bedbugs, According to an Exterminator

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Photo: Tom Kelley Archive/Getty Images

The first step to getting rid of bedbugs is making sure you actually have bedbugs. “I would say at least 50 percent of the samples sent to us turn out not to be bedbugs,” says Gil Bloom, president of Standard Pest Management, somewhat reassuringly. But that doesn’t mean these tiny, flat bugs aren’t out there, waiting to hop onto your jacket or your roommate’s backpack and infest your mattress. “It’s unfortunately a fact of life in the city,” shrugs Bloom, an entomologist with over 40 years experience, including a stint as an appointed member of Mayor Bloomberg’s Bed Bug Advisory Board. But the ubiquity of bedbugs is exactly why it’s important to stay calm. “Yes, it’s very rough, but by dealing with it with fact and not fear, people get over it and move on.”

So no, you’re not going to get sick from bedbugs, and you will probably be able to get rid of bedbugs without throwing out all of your belongings. But knowing what you need to get rid of bedbugs and how bedbug treatment works will probably help you feel a little bit calmer.

That’s why I talked with Bloom about the best ways to kill bedbugs and some tools you can buy now to help prevent bedbugs from infesting your apartment in the first place — or, at the very least, catch bedbugs early enough that they’re not a bigger problem than they need to be.

Foam sealant

“With bedbugs, and any pests, you want to isolate your apartment from the other units as much as possible. The way to do that is by going along the edges of the apartment, and where there are gaps — where service lines come in, such as a radiator pipe, especially in high-bedbug-prone areas like bedrooms — to seal these up, either by using hardware cloth or some type of sealant. Not a regular caulk, because caulk dries up and cracks and becomes brittle and doesn’t keep anything out. In some cases, for bedbugs, you could use a foam sealant to close it up.”

Silica gel

“Into all these gaps and cracks, you might [also] want to consider an application of a silica gel. Silica gel is a desiccant. It’s a drying dust. If you look at electronics, it has a packet of silica gel. It’s [added] to absorb moisture so it doesn’t corrode whatever electronics are being shipped. Well, silica gel — which is not a gel at all — is available as an insecticide. And that should be put into the cracks and the crevices in the base of closets, along bedroom moldings. What this does is, if any bedbugs come to the area, the odds are that they’re going to have to cross [the silica gel], and that will dry them out and kill them. You cover that with sealant, and you’re really doing yourself a good preventative step toward bedbugs and number of other insects.”

Glue boards

“Passive monitor traps are the inexpensive glue boards that you can find in any hardware store, pest control store. They do not attract bedbugs at all, but if you place them around, sometimes, you will be able to detect and pick up a bedbug on it, and that will alert you. Catchmaster makes a 288I, which is one of the ones we use. It’s a low-profile, and it has lower glue. If you have a lot of glue, it becomes somewhat repellent to bedbugs. We would place them in the base of closets, behind the bed or nighttables and areas around radiators, in innocuous areas. You don’t want to go into your bedroom at night, and be surrounded by roach traps.”

Boxspring (and mattress) covers

“It should be bedbug-approved and not just any encasement, to prevent bedbugs from being able to enter into the boxspring. Mattress encasements are nice, but boxsprings, if bedbugs do get in, are the number-one harborage site and are very difficult to control because of what goes on inside of a boxspring. You have raw wood with padding, with all types of crap. It becomes a good environment for bedbugs, so we do recommend that. You might use a mattress encasing [too]. It doesn’t keep them out, but the encasement stops them from infesting the boxspring [if they are already in the mattress], and it provides a white, cleaner outer cover, so if bedbugs do show up, they’re more easily detected and found.”

Vacuum with HEPA filter

“If you do have bedbugs, if you’re in a rental unit, the landlord is responsible for the service. So you’d want to contact the landlord and let them know so they can provide for a pest control service. Then you’d want to follow the instructions and prep of the pest control contractor. Areas should be thoroughly vacuumed before the pest control service. The reason for this is that it removes dust and debris that bedbugs could otherwise find shelter in from a treatment. We recommend one that has a HEPA filter so that when you do vacuum, you’re not blowing allergens up around the house. Any vacuum will do, but it’s using the crack-and-crevice nozzle that’s going to get where the bedbugs are.”

Bedbug heater

“Sometimes if you have small items, you can use a hairdryer [to kill bedbugs if they’ve gotten in your belongings]. We recommend over the tub so if anything falls, it’s contained. If you’re going to use a hair dryer, do not put water in the tub. Listen, people do surprising things. [Laughs] There are a number of [heat tents for larger items] out there. They do become mini-heat chambers. They’re powered by electricity, and those are effective. The only thing we advise people on is to be sure they have good wiring. You want to be sure the electricity in your apartment can stand up to [it] and doesn’t keep tripping circuit breakers or fuses.”

Adjustable LED flashlight

“I say adjustable because if you get one that’s really low-light, you can’t see anything, and then they have these super, super bright ones that if you use it for this, within three or four minutes, it’s so bright, it’s giving you a headache. But quite frankly, no one should ever be anywhere without a flashlight. Not an endorsement: The one that I use is a SureFire Sidekick. It’s has three settings, it fits in your pocket, it’s USB-charging, and it gives you as little power as you need or as much power as you need. You can carry it with you all the time. It’s about the size of a key fob for a car. It’s also $70, but it happens to be, at present, my favorite flashlight.”

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Everything You Need to Prevent and Get Rid of Bedbugs