Yes, we had bed bugs. No, we aren’t dirty or gross. Yes, we clean our house regularly. But still, we got bed bugs in our home and dealt with the nightmare of getting rid of them. Here is our personal story of how we identified bed bug bites and then got rid of the bedbug infestation in our home.
Before I begin, I’m going to be honest and tell you that I really hesitated to write this article. My husband encouraged me to do it, and I immediately said no. The absolute disgust I felt when I found the first bed bug was overwhelming, and it make me feel so icky to even think about it. (It has actually taken me a year to complete this.)
If I felt so completely grossed out by my own home and even myself – I figured that surely everyone else would judge us and think we are gross people too!
After a couple weeks of me cleaning, purging, bleaching, vacuuming, decluttering, organizing, and nonstop GOOGLING to try to find all the answers to my million questions (and let me tell ya, it is NOT easy to find good information on dealing with a bed bug infestation), I decided to share our family’s dirty little secret with y’all.
It still makes me feel itchy just to talk about it, but I know how desperate I felt trying to find answers – especially when I had to wait over a week for the pest control company to start treatment. My hope is that by sharing our story and experience, you can have a little peace of mind while you get things taken care of. And most importantly, you can know that you aren’t alone.
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How We First Knew We Had a Problem
In early June, I started noticing red bumps on my 5 year old daughter. School had just gotten out at the end of May, and we were spending time outside and at the pool most evenings.
I assumed they were mosquito bites. Although… she wasn’t itchy and they didn’t quite look like mosquito bites to me. And they couldn’t be flea bites because we didn’t have fleas.
I brushed it off and a couple days later I noticed more insect bites on her. This time, she had bite marks on her face. While I knew mosquitoes could bite anywhere, it just didn’t seem right for her to have so many red dots – and so close together.
I posted a photo in a local mom’s group to see if anyone had seen something like this before. Someone suggested they were bedbug bites, but we hadn’t traveled anywhere recently. Our last trip out of town was 2 months prior when we went to visit family.
I checked over her bed just to be sure. I saw nothing. Stripped her sheets and blankets and gave them a good hot wash with some bleach. I put different bedding back on her bed just in case she was having some sort of allergic reaction.
It seemed to help for a little bit, but the bites came back.
How We Discovered Bed Bugs in Our Home
We left on June 15 to take a family vacation at the beach. During the 5 days we were gone, I noticed that Aren didn’t get any new bites — even though there were definitely some mosquitoes outside where we were staying.
We came back home on June 19. Just 6 days later, on June 25, I took these photos of Aren. Since we had been back home, the bites had gotten worse. They still didn’t seem to bother her and she said they weren’t itchy bites, but I had to figure out what was going on.
Still not convinced it was bed bugs, I did some research on ways to find out if you have bed bugs and how to catch them. I found these BuggyBeds Bed Bug Glue Traps at our local Walmart and went out to pick up a pack. I was so embarrassed, that I used the self-checkout so that nobody would see what I was buying.
I put two under her mattress (which was directly on wood slats, not a box spring) and the other two under her bed against the baseboard.
The next day I checked the traps. All empty. For the next few days I checked. Nothing.
On July 10, I found one. I found one bed bug and that’s all it took. I knew then that it had been bed bugs all along.
My daughter had been an all you can eat buffet for these disgusting critters for the past month and I didn’t know and didn’t stop them. I was so horrified that I wanted to vomit.
Our DIY Bed Bug Treatment
Upon realizing what was going on, I immediately called a local pest control service that had experience (and good recommendations) with bed bugs. It would take a couple days for someone to come assess the situation, and then it would take another week before they had availability to come and do the heat treatment.
Knowing that we’d had bed bugs in our house for over a month, plus knowing how quickly they can multiply, I couldn’t just sit and wait. I HAD to try something.
I considered doing some sort of heat treatment on my own, but I was afraid of making matters worse. That’s also why I avoided trying any sprays or other poisons; I had read that sprays were typically ineffective and often caused bed bugs to scatter.
That was the LAST thing I wanted at this point. Since no other family members had any bites, we concluded that this bed bug infestation was contained to Aren’s room – and I wanted to keep them in there.
Here’s what I did do:
- Stripped the bed of all linens and washed them in hot water, then dried on high heat
- Threw away the pillows (they can also be dried on high heat, but they were old enough to just toss)
- Put all the toys, stuffed animals, books, shoes, things lying around on the floor, etc, into black lawn garbage bags – then put those black bags on our back deck
- Put these bed bug interceptors under the legs of every bed in our house (they trap bugs who try to climb up or down from the bed)
- Ordered bed bug proof mattress encasements for every mattress and box spring in the house
- Sprinkled food-grade diatomaceous earth on the floor at Aren’s doorway – in case any bugs tried to crawl out
- Destroyed the bed
Disclaimer: You don’t have to actually destroy a bed. You don’t even have to get rid of your mattress. We actually kept Aren’s mattress (more on that later). However, because of the type of bed Aren had, I just didn’t feel comfortable keeping it. And when I saw how many bed bugs were in it, I wanted it out of my house ASAP.
Where We Found Bed Bugs in Her Bedroom
As I mentioned, I found the first bed bug in the BuggyBeds Glue Trap. I didn’t see any new ones in the traps for a few days, but I did find a couple inside the interceptor traps a couple days later.
At this point, Aren was safely sleeping in our bedroom on a cot. Her bed was still in her room, but had been stripped. I had removed her clothes and toys from the room, bagging everything up in large black garbage bags to heat up in the sun.
Once the floor was clear, I gathered the courage to deal with the bed. I was NOT prepared for what I would find.
Bed bugs are known to hide in mattress seams. However, Aren’s mattress is very thin (only about 5 inches) and doesn’t have any seams. I took it off the bed and propped it against the wall, seeing no signs of bugs on the mattress.
Under the mattress was a different story.
Now that I had seen a couple of trapped bed bugs, I knew what I was looking for. Aren’s bed frame was upholstered (more on upholstered furniture later too), and had multiple wooden slats across the bottom for her mattress to rest on.
I don’t have pictures of this because I was so disgusted and my skin felt like it was crawling. I just had to get the bed OUT of my house. But there were SO MANY bed bugs down in her bed frame, hiding near the frame and the end of the wood slats.
And those wood slats had signs of bed bugs too. Dark spots from bed bug poo. If you’ve ever seen a felt tip pen bleed on a t-shirt, you know what it looks like. A dark spot with sort of lines spreading out from the middle.
I disassembled that bed in record time. Luckily for me, our windows have screens that easily slide up and down — and I sent each piece of that bed flying out the window onto our front lawn. Garbage pickup was the next morning. Perfect timing.
Unfortunately, even with the bed gone – there were still bugs in the room.
I saw a couple on the wall. On her beautiful ruffled curtains that hung to the floor. Later, when I opened the black bags of toys, I found a couple that had died in her fabric bin full of stuffed animals.
As I found them, I used tweezers to pick them up and put them in a jar with rubbing alcohol. They died immediately, and I had evidence to share with the pest control guy when he came over.
Getting Professional Bed Bug Treatment
On July 14, which felt like 82 years at this point, the pest control company showed up. (BTW, if you’re in the north Atlanta area, I definitely recommend Bug Busters for this.)
He walked in to Aren’s room and saw my forbidden cocktail of rubbing alcohol and critters. He confirmed they were indeed bed bugs. I didn’t tell him that Google Lens had already told me all about cimex lectularius from the photo I had taken, but that’s ok.
He also confirmed that I had done all the right things. He recommended heat treatment for complete removal of all the adult bed bugs as well as to kill off any eggs. That meant they would heat up our entire home to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 hours. Because bed bugs aren’t able to survive such high temperatures for an extended period of time, they die.
Heat is the most effective way to get rid of a bedbug infestation, as pesticide application doesn’t always work. Many bed bugs have actually become resistant to pesticides anyway.
Heat also is effective in every affected area of the home, including cracks and crevices where large numbers of bedbugs may hide but pesticides may not be able to reach and saturate.
Because their schedule was so full, we couldn’t get an appointment for the treatment until July 25. That’s one WHOLE MONTH after I knew there was a serious problem, and almost TWO WHOLE MONTHS since my daughter started showing symptoms of bed bug bites.
It felt like eternity, but what else could I do? We would have to deal for another 10 days.
In those 10 days, I got new metal beds for both Aren and Rowen. That’s right, we got rid of Rowen’s bed too even though he had no bites or signs of bugs. Both bedrooms remained clear of any toys or clutter.
Beds were placed in the middle of the room, away from the wall, with interceptor traps under every leg of the bed. We made sure that no blankets, sheets, or stuffed animals touched the floor for any length of time.
Since we had only seen these small insects in my daughter’s bedroom, and she was the only family member showing symptoms of bed bug bites, the pest company determined that we should only heat her bedroom as the best course of action.
Since the cost of heat treatment was about $1 per square foot, it was much more affordable to only heat her bedroom (for $650) versus our entire house (which was over 3,000 square feet).
Hindsight is 20/20 and this was definitely a mistake.
Bed Bugs: Round 2
You probably predicted this would happen. I wish I had, but I guess I was just really optimistic.
After the heat treatment on July 25, we thoroughly cleaned Aren’s bedroom and moved her back in once we were convinced the bugs were really gone.
I slowly opened every plastic bag that I had put on the back deck and inspected every toy and item for signs of bugs. I didn’t find a lot of insects – probably less than 10 – and they had all died from the sun’s heat.
We thought we were in the clear and were cautiously moving forward… and then I saw it again.
On the morning of August 11, my 4 year old son woke up with small clusters of bites – even on his face. I knew immediately what it was just from the bite location and the zigzag line of red dots on the side of his face.
And of course I freaked out completely because he had just woken up IN MY BED. He falls asleep in his bed at night and almost always sneaks into my bed in the middle of the night. Apparently he isn’t the only thing climbing in my bed while I sleep. GAHHHH.
The first thing I did was call the pest control company back. I was not going to waste any time and my anxiety was at an all time high. In all of our bad luck with these critters, somehow we were lucky enough that they had an opening the very next day and could come do a full-house heat treatment to get rid of them all.
The next day, August 12, we evacuated our home and had our house completely treated with a combination of heat as well as pesticide application around the walls and baseboards. Combined, this was supposed to be the most effective way to ensure there were no survivors.
And the good news was… it worked.
The Growing Concern of Bed Bugs
Before we experienced bed bugs, I had no idea how big of a problem they really were. I had heard of them, but honestly didn’t really know much about them.
The resurgence of bed bugs has become a topic of increased attention and concern lately. Once believed to be nearly eradicated in developed countries, these pests have seen a notable increase in prevalence over the last few decades. This uptick has been observed not only in residential spaces but also in places like hotels, indicating a widespread issue – and right now, Paris is seeing a LOT of them.
There are several misconceptions about bed bugs that might contribute to their unchecked spread.
- One common belief is that bed bugs are only found in environments that are unkempt or unhygienic. However, bed bugs are not exclusively drawn to disorder or filth; they can infest even the cleanest spaces if they have access to a blood meal.
- Another is that bed bugs transmit diseases. While their bites may cause itchy bumps (and emotional distress), it’s reassuring to know that they do not transmit any known diseases to humans. It is possible for a secondary infection to occur with skin reactions and scratching, resulting in the need for medical care.
- Many people think that bed bugs are strictly nocturnal. Although they tend to be more active during nighttime, they can and will feed during daylight if they have a food source.
- And lastly – don’t let their name fool you. Bed bugs do not only stay in beds.
With their resurgence and common misconceptions, it is so important for everyone to be informed and aware to prevent and address infestations — FAST.
Understanding Bed Bugs
Educating ourselves more about bed bugs can give us the knowledge we need to deal with them effectively. While the purpose of this article is to tell you about our experience, I want to make sure you know a few basic facts about these bugs.
Getting to Know the Enemy
What Do Bed Bugs Look Like?
Bed bugs are small creatures, often about the size of an apple seed. They have a flattened oval shape and are usually a reddish-brown color. I think they look similar to ticks. If you’re trying to spot one, look for something tiny, brown, and flat that might be scuttling away quickly when disturbed.
What Do Bed Bugs Feed On?
Here’s where it gets a bit icky. Bed bugs feed on blood—specifically, they have a strong preference for human blood. They are attracted to carbon dioxide, which we breathe out when we exhale.
Using their beak-like mouthparts, they pierce the skin of a host and withdraw blood for about 5-10 minutes. While the idea of this is unsettling, remember that their bites, although potentially itchy, aren’t known to transmit diseases.
The Bed Bug Lifecycle
From Tiny Eggs to Nuisance Nymphs
The life of a bed bug starts as a tiny, pearly-white egg, roughly the size of a pinhead. After about a week or so, these eggs hatch into baby bed bugs, also known as nymphs. Nymphs are smaller and a bit paler than adults but are eager to start feeding right away.
As these nymphs grow, they shed their skin—a process known as molting—multiple times before reaching adulthood. They’ll need a blood meal before each molting stage. On average, with the right conditions (like a warm environment and plenty of food), it takes about five weeks for a nymph to develop into a full-grown adult bedbug.
Bed Bug Reproduction Rate
Once they’ve reached the adult stage, adult bed bugs can live for several months, sometimes even up to a year. During their lifetime, female bedbugs can lay hundreds of eggs. This rapid reproduction rate emphasizes the importance of early detection. Within just a few months, a small problem can quickly escalate into a full-blown infestation.
In understanding these aspects of bed bugs—their appearance, habits, and life stages—we are better equipped to recognize, prevent, and tackle any bed bug issues that come our way.
Knowledge is power.
The Hidden Paths of Infestation
Navigating through the aftermath of a bed bug infestation at home was not just about treating the problem, but also understanding how it began. Knowing the paths these tiny hitchhikers use can be eye-opening.
Sources of Bed Bug Infestation
Hotels, AirBNBs, and Other Homes Away From Home
Our family had taken a much-needed vacation to visit family, and we stayed at a hotel we had used many times before. It appeared clean and we had no reason to think there would be presence of bed bugs. However, we didn’t know at the time how important it was to thoroughly inspect every hotel bed and hotel room.
Other Possible Culprits
As I’ve mentioned before, bed bugs don’t just live in beds. They can be found inside of furniture, handbags, on stuffed animals, in books, and even in public transportation and in chairs at doctor’s offices or other public places.
Be cautious about where you sit or where you put your purse, bags, or belongings.
If you ever find yourself shopping at thrift stores, especially for furniture, I cannot stress enough the importance of checking every nook and cranny before bringing the item into your home.
Preventing Their Entry
The phrase “prevention is better than cure” rings especially true with bed bugs. Learning from our experience, here are some preventive measures to keep in mind.
Safeguarding During Travels
When we traveled, we were always careful to keep our luggage on hotel luggage racks, thinking this would keep our belongings safe. But we made the mistake of not inspecting the bed seams, headboards, and other hiding spots.
Little did we know, those tiny critters can be really good at hide and seek.
Travel Tips to Remember:
- Always inspect your hotel room thoroughly before settling in. Pull up the fitted sheets and check under the mattress. Pay special attention to mattress seams, behind the headboard, and even in drawer joints.
- Consider using luggage encasements or bags that are designed to be bed bug-proof.
- Keep your luggage and clothes off the floor and beds until you’ve inspected the room. Some people keep their clothes inside their luggage, and put their luggage in the bathtub.
Ensuring a Safe Home
One of the lessons we’ve learned is the value of reducing clutter. Fewer hiding spots mean fewer chances for bed bugs to settle in. Regularly cleaning and vacuuming, especially in areas we often overlook, can make a big difference.
After our ordeal, we’ve established a new post-travel routine. Every time we return home from a trip, all our clothes, including the ones we’re wearing, go straight into the washing machine and then into a high-heat dryer cycle. This ensures that if we’ve unknowingly carried any stowaways, they don’t get a chance to establish themselves in our home.
You can also be proactive by putting interceptors under your bed frames and/or encasements on your mattresses and box springs now. This will stop any bugs from ever finding their way into your bed.
Recognizing the Red Flags
Navigating the challenging waters of a bed bug infestation becomes a tad bit easier when you know the signs. And trust me, once you’ve experienced it, these signs become hard to forget. Here’s a rundown of what clued us into our unexpected guests.
Unmistakable Signs in Your Home
One of the first signs that made us suspicious was waking up with small red bumps. They weren’t the usual mosquito bites. The bite area was in a tiny line or cluster, almost as if something had a little feast while we slept. The pattern of the bites was distinctly different from other insect bites. For some, each red dot brings severe itching — however, neither of my children had severe symptoms. No itching at all.
And of course, my husband and I didn’t have symptoms of bedbug bites at all. Not one little red bump anywhere.
The other obvious sign of bed bugs is finding blood stains or black specks on your pillowcases, sheets, mattresses, box springs, or bed frames.These specks are a mix of bug feces and shed skins, and aren’t always noticeable if you aren’t aware of what to look for.
Where To Find Them
Now, bed bugs are sneaky little things. While the bed is their favorite hangout, they aren’t confined to it. Here’s where we found ours and where you might discover them too:
Beds, obviously: This is ground zero. Check the seams of your mattress, the folds in your bed linens, and even within the tiny cracks of your bed frame.
Furniture: They’re not picky about where they settle. They can get in your couch, especially in the seams and underneath cushions. If you have any upholstered furniture, give it a good inspection.
Curtains: Yes, you read that right. We found some nestled in the thick folds of our daughter’s drapes. Bed bugs can climb across the carpet and up the walls.
Clothing & Closets: Bed bugs can latch onto clothes and hide in dark corners of closets. Always a good idea to periodically shake out and inspect your garments.
Electrical Outlets & Appliances: You can take off outlet covers and switch plates and sometimes find bed bugs hiding inside where it’s warm.
Wall Hangings & Picture Frames: We didn’t think we would have them here, but our exterminator mentioned it’s a good place to check, especially if these items are near the bed. I did find one behind a frame in Aren’s room.
Remember, bed bugs are adept at hiding, and they prefer dark, snug places. It requires a keen eye and a little persistence to spot them, but knowing where to look is half the battle.
Bed Bug Treatment and Battle Strategies
DIY Treatment Options
Based on a recommendation from a friend, we bought diatomaceous earth, spreading it on the floor around the baseboards and the doorway. Diatomaceous earth is abrasive and it will scratch the bugs’ bodies and cause them to dry out and die. While this may kill some, this method alone wouldn’t be enough.
We also bagged up everything and put it out in the sun. Having items inside black plastic bags in the sun creates a greenhouse effect, heating the inside of the bag to a high enough temperature that kills the bugs.
This was effective for small items, but won’t work for your whole house.
We also unfortunately had to throw some things away after a surprise rainstorm leaked inside of a couple of bags and created mold on a few toys.
Another heat method is putting bags inside your trunk for a few days, or drying things on high heat in your clothes dryer. An opposite method is freezing items for a few days, which would kill the bugs. We didn’t try this, but it can work.
Some people have reported spraying rubbing alcohol (the kind you probably have in your first aid kit) to kill bed bugs. While alcohol does kill them, you’d have to spray it directly on them — which makes this method less reliable than others.
Bed bugs are resilient. While DIY methods can somewhat reduce their numbers, total eradication often requires a more comprehensive approach.
Heat treatment is the gold standard when it comes to bed bugs. It isn’t cheap, but is one of the most effective methods. Exterminators will heat your home to a temperature lethal to bed bugs but safe for your belongings. (We found some melted crayons and marshmallows — so be sure to remove anything valuable that could melt.)
The treatment lasts for several hours. We had to vacate our home during the process. Following treatment, we found dead bugs on our bed and in our bedrooms. After not finding another living bug or seeing any bug bites, it became evident that the heat treatment was worth every penny.
Recovery and Emotional Healing
Once we were confident the bugs were gone, we began the massive task of cleaning. Toys were unbagged and washed, and we adopted a new rule – keeping under beds clear and clutter at an absolute minimum.
We stayed vigilant. We weren’t taking any more chances. Bed bug traps were kept under every bed frame, serving both as a detection method and peace of mind. I checked those interceptor traps for months and didn’t remove them until a year later when we decided to sell our home.
Though the bugs were gone, the trauma lingered. I had sleepless nights for quite some time, with every little itch or imagined “bug” making me double check our bed.
Time slowly eased the anxiety, but I still get nervous every time we travel.
Conclusion – Knowledge is Power
Our battle with bed bugs taught us the value of awareness and quick action. While we hope never to face this again, we’re better prepared and want to ensure others are too. Even though I’ve had a hard time sharing our story, I do so with the hopes that others can be informed.
If you’re dealing with this, I want you to know it’s ok.
Knowledge, vigilance, and community support are your best allies in this fight. Always remember, you’re not alone in this.
For those looking for more information:
- National Pest Management Association’s Bed Bug Guide
- EPA’s Bed Bug Information
- Recommended bed bug interceptors and bed bug proof mattress encasements
Amanda is a mom of 4 living a mostly crunchy lifestyle outside of Atlanta, GA with her husband, 2 dogs, and a cat. As a former special education teacher who also has her personal training certification — Amanda really enjoys teaching others how to do things!
When she’s not working, Amanda enjoys DIY projects, exercising, photography, hiking, and long walks through Target.