FTC Warns: Ineffective Bed Bug Treatments Can Take a Bite Out of Consumers' Wallets

Tips for Consumers

With the resurgence of bed bugs in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission urges consumers to be cautious when shopping for products that are touted as remedies or ways of preventing bed bug infestations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that an increasing number of marketers are making unrealistic claims about their abilities to control or eradicate bed bugs.

The FTC, the nation’s consumer protection agency, offers these tips to consumers who think they might have a bed bug problem:

General Information on Bed Bugs

  • Bed bugs can come into homes on or inside luggage, furniture, bedding, or clothing.
  • Inside homes, bed bugs can hide in small cracks and crevices, such as behind a bed headboard, in the seams and tufts of a mattress, inside a box spring, along the cracks of a wall’s baseboard, behind wallpaper, and in clutter.
  • Bed bugs do not transmit diseases.
  • While they typically feed on blood every five to 10 days – leaving red, itchy welts – bed bugs can live for a year or more without eating.  They also can survive temperatures ranging from almost freezing to almost 113 degrees F.
  • Bed bugs leave feces about this big • on mattresses, box springs, and other furniture.  The feces may bleed on fabric like a felt-tip marker.
  • When bed bugs are crushed, they leave rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses.
  • Bed bug eggs and eggshells are tiny (about 1 mm) and white.
  • Live bed bugs have flat bodies, antennae, and small eyes, and are visible to the naked eye.  But many other bugs may look like them, so getting an expert’s identification is key.

Treating Bed Bug Infestations

  • Bed bugs can be controlled through a combination of techniques known as integrated pest management, or IPM.  An environmentally sensitive approach, IPM includes prevention, monitoring, and limited use of chemical pesticides.   
  • Some populations of bed bugs have developed resistance to common pesticides, making some sprays ineffective.  Alternative treatments include heat and steam.  Bedding, clothing, and electronic items should never be treated with pesticides, but can be treated with heat.
  • Consumers who wish to control bed bugs themselves should consult the EPA for products that meet their needs.  Consumers should not attempt to control bed bugs inside their homes with products that are made for outdoor use.  They should avoid bombs and foggers, and should not spray pesticides in areas occupied by children or pets, or on top of mattresses, sofas, or other upholstered furniture.

When Hiring a Professional

  • Make sure that bed bugs and not some other pests are present.
  • Hire a company with specific experience in bed bug control.
  • Be wary of exterminators who show up uninvited, offer a free inspection, or exert pressure for authorization to provide immediate and costly treatments.
  • Deal with a qualified and licensed pest-management company.  State pest control regulatory agencies have information about the status of pest-management companies.  In most states, the regulatory agency is the state department of agriculture.  Other resources include state attorneys general, local consumer protection agencies, the Better Business Bureau, and Internet search engines.
  • Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations on pest control companies that treat bed bugs.  An online community bulletin board or neighborhood listserve can help.
  • Get bids from several companies.  Ask about their training and the approach they take on controlling bed bugs.
  • Be wary of choosing a company based on price alone.  Quality control is the most important factor.
  • Before signing a contract, get details on the extent of the infestation, the proposed work plan, and the number of visits required and anticipated to solve the problem.  A reputable company will provide an inspection before quoting a price or beginning treatment.  The company also should provide a written inspection report, and a plan for preparing for treatment and preventing further infestation.
  • A written “guarantee” should explain what it covers, how long it lasts, what the consumer must do to keep it in force, and what is required for continuing control, prevention, and management.
  • Find out if the pest control company has liability insurance to cover any damage that occurs during treatment.
  • Read the EPA’s Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety, which offers more tips for choosing a pest control company.

Keeping Bed Bugs Out of Your Home

  • Inspect secondhand furniture, beds, and couches for signs of bed bug infestation before bringing them home.
  • Enclose mattresses and box springs in covers labeled “allergen rated,” “for dust mites,” or “for bed bugs.”  Periodically check for rips or openings and tape them up.
  • Reduce clutter to minimize hiding places for bed bugs.
  • Repair cracks in plaster, repair or remove any loose wallpaper, and tighten light-switch covers.
  • Apply caulk to seal crevices and joints in baseboards and gaps on shelves or cabinets.

Taking Precautions When Traveling

  • Use luggage racks to hold suitcases, rather than setting luggage on the bed or floor.
  • Check the mattress and headboard before getting into bed.
  • When arriving home, unpack directly into a washing machine.  Wash all items showing bed bug stains, and dry on the highest setting for at least 20 minutes.  The heat from the dryer kills the bugs.
  • Inspect and then vacuum luggage.  Empty the vacuum or seal and dispose of the vacuum bag in an outside trash can after each use.  

The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a new video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by more than 1,800 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Contact Information

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