How to Prevent Bedbugs in Your Home

Dealing with an infestation, or trying to avoid one? Here’s what you need to know.

How to Prevent Bedbugs in Your HomePhoto: iStock

Soon after moving to my new apartment in 2011, I woke with my arms inflamed. I told myself the itchy red spots were spider bites, but I’d heard of incidences of bedbugs
in the neighbourhood. Lying in bed one morning, I felt a pinch. I tore off the blankets. There it was: a critter about half the size of a ladybug by my pillow.

In the months that followed, I scrubbed my floors and baseboards. I vacuumed furniture, spread talcum powder and put everything through the dryer. I had two unsuccessful professional exterminations and lost hundreds of dollars on dryer bills and on replacing the furniture and bedding I had discarded to be extra safe.

It’s a familiar experience for many Canadians-bedbugs are on the rise nationwide. In 2013, research firm COMPAS Inc. surveyed 67 Canadian public health inspect­ors and found that, in the previous three years, reports of infestations had increased anywhere from 20 to more than 40 per cent.

Preventing bedbugs

Susan Harding-Cruz, manager of the City of Hamilton Public Health Services’ vector-borne disease program, says you can avoid bringing bugs home. She suggests checking belongings for the critters when you enter your house, since bugs can be picked up in public places.

When staying at a hotel, Harding-Cruz recommends peeling back the sheets to examine the mattress for bugs, paying close attention to the seams and corners. You should always keep your luggage away from the bed and off the floor. Once back home, wash your clothes in hot water immediately, then put them in the dryer on the hottest setting. Leave them in for an extra 15 minutes after they’ve dried. 

Identifying the problem

Bedbugs are brownish red with 1.5- to 10-millimetre-sized oval bodies. If you suspect you have them, Avery Addison, owner of Addison Pest Control in Toronto, says the best way to prevent an infestation is to catch it early.

Check underneath your mattress. “People look at the top of the bed and find nothing,” says Addison. “Then they flip it over and there’s nothing but bugs.” Another sign is the droppings critters leave, which look like blood-red, pencil-tip-sized speckles on the mattress.

Still not sure? Place glue mousetraps or containers of mineral oil underneath the bed frame’s legs to snag critters travelling onto the mattress. If you catch any, call in the professionals.

Are bedbugs harmful?

Bedbugs don’t spread diseases, so for many the worst physical side effect is a skin infection from scratching. But for some, infestations can lead to social stigma, as well as anxiety, sleeplessness or depression. “It starts to consume your thinking,” says Harding-Cruz. In order to cope, she urges sufferers not to self-blame or hide the problem. “People shouldn’t feel alone,” she says.

Zapping the bugs

If you have an infestation, call an exterminator. Bedbugs are resilient. Addison says that DIY solutions like store-bought sprays often wear off before the critters need sustenance again (they can go more than a year without feeding). Sprays or diatom­aceous earth won’t be as powerful as professional interventions and may even spread the bugs around your home. When a company is thorough, in one visit it’ll spray to poison them, use powder and do a heat treatment. Many skip the latter, says Addison, and the problem returns.

After multiple unsuccessful exter­minations, I said goodbye to my place and left the infestation behind. To avoid a repeat, I chucked bedding, furniture and clothes. I moved into a beautiful, bedbug-free house, and today I still call it home.