Ballpark Estimate: $1,000 to $5,000
No one ever wants to hear the words “bed” and “bugs” in the same sentence. But if you’ve ever experienced bed bugs first hand, the combination of words probably strikes real fear in your heart.
An Epidemic Is Born
In some parts of the country, bed bug infestations have been a serious concern in recent months, even reaching epidemic proportions. These tiny insects (also known as Cimex lectularius or Cimicidae) feed on human blood and can easily invade your home by coming in on a new mattress, bedding or even in your suitcase if you’ve been in a hotel or staying at someone else’s home.
Once bed bugs move in, they quickly spread, laying as many as five eggs a day. This means that no matter how hard you try, it can be difficult to get rid of them on your own. That’s why most people need to call in a professional exterminator to get the job done.
Where Bed Bugs Lurk
If you’ve got some lingering childhood images of bed bugs as big flying creatures, the characteristics of the bed bugs in real life are actually much less remarkable than this. In fact, these are actually tiny, wingless insects that don’t grow to more than ¼ of an inch. They are also usually quite flat, which is what enables them to slip into the smallest, deepest cracks. Couches, beds, chairs and other soft furniture are favorite nesting spots, although few places are off limits so the range of possibilities of where you can bed bugs can be quite extensive.
Other places bed bugs lurk include in the seams of your mattress, in the cracks of your headboard, underneath your bed, couch or chair, underneath your rug or in the edges, inside your drawers, behind your electrical outlets or light switches, inside your phone, in your TV or radio, in your picture frames and even behind your wallpaper.
Coming Clean About Bed Bugs
You might be comforting yourself with the idea that bed bugs probably only take up residence in places where poor hygiene is practiced so your home is safe from their presence. As nice as this concept sounds, the experts stress that cleanliness has nothing to do with the matter. Bed bugs exist in even some of the finest luxury hotels and department stores and can easily get into your clothing, purse or suitcase to travel to your home, which makes almost anyone at risk for becoming a victim.
The Ugly Truth
If you have bed bugs in your bed, they’ll be likely to feed on your blood at night. Their mouths act as piercers that go right through your skin so they can suck their nourishment. Adult bed bugs usually feed for about 10 or 15 minutes every several days, although they can only go for long periods of time without eating when necessary, which makes them especially difficult to shake.
Bed bugs are also quite good at hiding and in some cases, they aren’t easily felt, either. Therefore, you may wonder how you’ll even know when they’ve moved into your home. The bed bug bite is often the telltale sign. It usually starts at night or in the morning after they’ve feasted on your skin and may leave some unsightly marks and/or itching. (However, not everyone reacts to a bed bug bite, which can explain why some people in your home may have marks and others may not.)
Another sign that bed bugs may exist in your home can be tiny mold-like spots on your mattress, which can actually be the bugs themselves. This visual image can be a good warning sign if you’re staying in a hotel or on cruise ship. Therefore, when you travel it’s a good idea to always examine the mattress closely before you lie down on it. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution. It’s always better safe than sorry.
What To Do
If you do suspect that bed bugs are an unwanted guest sharing your space, you’ll probably be tempted to leave your bedroom or even your home. However, it’s important to know that neither approach will solve the problem. Wherever you go, the bed bugs will likely follow in your luggage, and will end up being even more difficult to get rid of later. In addition, those bed bugs you leave behind can remain dormant for as long as 18 months without feeding, so no matter how long you’re gone, unfortunately they’ll still be waiting for you when you return.
The best way to treat bed bugs is to take all of your clothes and bedding and wash them in very hot water and then dry them on high for several hours. (You’ll want to keep them in for a while even after they are dry, since this can be key to ridding them from your home.) Then you should seal the items in airtight bags until you’re ready to use them.
You can also cover your mattress and pillows with a hypoallergenic cover to seal any bed bugs inside. Just remember that the bugs can live for more than a year without eating, so you won’t want to remove these covers anytime soon.
Also keep in mind that it’s not only the softer materials you’ll need to worry about. Some research has shown that more than half of bed bugs in your home will be centered in your mattress and box spring section of your bed and the rest will usually be somewhere in close vicinity.
How to Find an Exterminator
You should know that while doing-it-yourself efforts are a good first step to get rid of bed bugs, you’ll also need an exterminator to professionally treat the rest of the affected furnishings.
To find bed bug expert, you can do a search online, look in the yellow pages or ask family or friends for recommendations for certified exterminators in your area. Make sure that anyone you hire is licensed to work in your state and has a good reputation. You’ll also want to ask how they deal with bed bugs. Some companies use dogs to sniff them out, since canines seem to have the ability to narrow in on where the bed bugs are located in your house. Just make sure that the company has been in business for a while and has expertise to deal with all sorts of bugs, not just bed bugs. This will ensure they are experienced in performing a range of extermination techniques.
For more information about hiring a qualified exterminator and what to look for, you can visit the National Pesticide Information Center. You should also check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure that there are no complaints about any company you’re considering.
What It Costs
What you can expect to spend on an exterminator can span a wide range of prices. Some companies may be willing to do the initial evaluation for free, while others may charge up to $200 for a basic visual inspection. However, if they bring in sniffing dogs to help them identify exactly where the bed bugs are concentrated so they’ll know where to focus their efforts, this usually comes at a higher price, ranging from about $300 to $600 for the initial evaluation.
Once the bed bugs are located, you’ll want to also find out what techniques the company plans to use to evict the bed bugs from your home. A popular approach is using a combination of steam heat and pesticides. How many rooms need to be exterminated will also affect the bottom line.
You can expect to spend between $250 and $1,000 to exterminate each room. Often, several rooms will need to be done.
You should also check with your exterminator to find out what’s included in that price. Many homes need at least two or three treatments, as well as a follow-up visit to confirm that the extermination was successful. Always ask the company if this is included in the price, or if you’ll be charged for each individual visit.
If you have special furniture that’s been exposed to the bed bugs that you don’t want to lose, you may want to consider paying to have it professionally fumigated to remove any bugs and eggs that may be lingering there. This can cost up to $1,000 or more to take care of such special items.
With all of these factors considered, you can assume that the cost to get rid of bed bugs in your home can start at about $1,000 if the problem is contained in a very small space and you catch it early enough, and can go up to about $10,000 for a good-sized home with bed bugs that have become a wide spread problem.
You can assume that an average size home will be somewhere in the middle, costing in the $5,000+ range for the entire process to get rid of bed bugs.
Some people decide to try to treat bed bugs themselves rather than spending the money to hire a professional to handle the job. You can find a range of products in your local hardware store that advertise the ability to help you get the job done. These can cost between $50 and $200 for a do-it-yourself approach. Just keep in mind that most of these won’t be effective and by delaying getting the problem taken care of by an exterminator in an early stage, you can end with a much more serious infestation on your hands by the time you realize you need to hire a professional and can end up spending much more in time, money and inconvenience in the end.