​​How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs on a Mattress

  • Written By Dan Edwards on January 8, 2018
    Last Updated: December 29, 2020

When bed bugs invade your mattress, not only can it make for a sleepless and worrisome night, but you may also wonder if you need to throw out your mattress.

Every bed bug infestation is different, and some can be easier to manage than others. From positively identifying a bed beg to getting rid of them, I will tell you everything you need to know to eliminate bed bugs from your mattress and bedroom successfully.

Do Bed Bugs Always Live on Mattresses?

Given their name, many assume that bed bugs always live on mattresses. If bed bugs only live on mattresses, they would undoubtedly be easier to manage, but bed bugs will go almost anywhere, as long as they can fit into their mode of transportation (such as luggage).

Bed bugs prefer mattresses because it makes it easier to feed off of you, their host. Remember, bed bugs can’t fly, and they can only crawl relatively slowly, so they’d much rather live as close as possible to their main food source so they don’t expend too much energy.

Bed bugs will most likely reside in your mattress after they have entered your home after hitching a ride on luggage, clothing, second-hand furniture, and even a weekend guest in your home.

Although humans act as hosts, bed bugs don’t like to live on your hair or skin, as they would rather travel in your backpack or purse. This is because bed bugs prefer a moderate climate. The average human body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit- pleasant for you, but it’s a tropical heatwave for bed bugs.

Even though bed bugs have a long history and strong association with filthy motels, apartments, and low-income housing, bed bugs may reside anywhere from a five-star hotel to your neighborhood coffee shop.

Once bed bugs enter your home, they are likely to hide in your mattress, box spring, or bed frame right away. Yet over time they may venture out and spread out all over your home. Keep in mind that you can also transport them from one room to the next if you move bedding and other items from your bedroom to other parts of your living space.

Many people assume that bed bugs might only take up residency in soft furnishings like mattresses, couch cushions, or the tight crevices in a backpack. Though, in instances of heavy infestations, bed bugs may hide in dresser drawers, curtains, behind wall hangings, and virtually anywhere they can fit.

Still, it’s safe to assume that if you have bed bugs in your home, they will live on your mattress at some point during their life cycle.

How To Tell If Your Mattress is Infested With Bed Bugs

If you have no experience with bed bugs, it may be more difficult to determine whether or not your mattress is harboring them. One of the first steps in finding out if your mattress is infested with bed bugs, is to be able to identify them accurately.

Despite what many people think, bed bugs can be spotted with the naked eye, especially if you know what you’re looking for when you flip over your mattress. An adult bed bug is about the size of an apple seed.

When a bed bug has had a recent feeding, the body is more balloon-like and appears to be reddish-brown. A bed bug that has not eaten recently will look more elongated, oval, and brown. Bed bugs have “true bug” characteristics which include non-flying wings, six legs, four-part antennas, and a beak with three segments.

These bugs also emit an odor that is often described as “musty, yet sweet,” and some describe a bed bug body as looking a little like crinkled paper. Nymphs, or baby bed bugs, are smaller versions of adults and are often lighter in color.

Bed bug eggs are white and about one millimeter in size. Although they can be tricky to spot, you may see them more easily if you know what you’re looking for and suspect a problem with bed bugs.

Bed bug eggs – CC Image courtesy of British Pest Control Association

Carpet beetles, cockroaches, fleas, and lice are often mistaken for bed bugs, so if you’re unsure, a quick online image search can be useful.

Now that you know how to identify a bed bug, what’s the next step? What if you suspect bed bugs but don’t see any? One of the best times to look for bed bugs is at night as this is their feeding time.

If the bed bugs remain elusive (which they are often known to do), look all around your mattress, including the bed frame and headboard.

CC Image courtesy of louento.pix

Signs of bed bugs which may include:

  • Dark blood spots on bedding
  • Dark spots or smears on bedding or mattresses
  • Reddish-brown clusters of spots or staining on the mattress
  • Cast skins (or empty shells) of the bugs
CC Image courtesy of AFPMB

Another way that you may be able to tell if you have bed bugs in your bed is by examining your own skin. In my experience, checking your skin for bed bug bites isn’t the most accurate way of determining whether or not you have bed bugs in your bed, but it can be a good starting point.

Bed Bug Bites

Much like bed bugs themselves, the bites they leave are often mistaken for a different kind of bug bite, such as from a mosquito or a flea. Some people don’t have a reaction to bed bug bites at all, so even if you don’t have red and itchy blotches, it doesn’t mean that bed bugs aren’t present.

How To Get Rid of Bed Bugs on a Mattress

Once you spot a bed bug or two on or around your mattress, you’ll want to act quickly to resolve the issue. Some people, when discovering just a few bed bugs wait until they find more or don’t take bed bugs seriously.

It’s safe to say that if you find just one bed bug, there are and will be more. Early detection can help manage your infestation much easier than if you spot bed bugs crawling all over your walls and out of your electrical outlets.

Getting rid of bed bugs may feel somewhat of a daunting task but acting fast, patience, and being vigilant can make the process easier. After dealing with bed bugs more than once, here are some methods that work well. Keep in mind that the efficacy of each method greatly depends on the severity of your infestation.

Remember, getting rid of bed bugs fast is the best way of stopping an infestation from spreading to other areas/rooms.

Don’t Throw Your Mattress Away

It’s not uncommon for people, who discover bed bugs on their mattress, to promptly throw their beds to the curb. Though, in many cases, removing bed bugs doesn’t require getting rid of your mattress.

As mentioned, bed bugs can live in your curtains, carpets, and in and around your electrical sockets. Therefore, throwing out your old mattress won’t stop your new one from becoming infested. 

Not only that but hauling a mattress around can not only be inconvenient and unnecessary, but you may also unknowingly transport bed bug eggs to another area in your home thus making your problem larger.

With this in mind, be careful that you try to keep the mattress isolated to your bedroom. Especially as in order to gain better access to the bed bugs for inspection or extermination, you may have to move your mattress, box spring, and bed frame.  

Clean Your Bedding and Clothing

As I stated earlier, it would be so much easier if bed bugs actually confined themselves to our beds, but once they get established in your bed, they will branch out in other parts of your bedroom.

Since you’re trying to get rid of bed bugs on your mattress, taking care of your mattress will be your number one priority, but you will also need to clean your bedding, clothing, and other items in your bedroom.

Even if you have a washer and dryer in your home, you may want to take advantage of a laundromat because there are more washers available and they can accommodate bedding and other bulky items a little better than home washing machines. When drying clothes and bedding, dry at the highest setting possible.

Anything that cannot be washed, such as shoes, purses, or other items, can go in the dryer on a high setting for at least 30 minutes. If you have items that cannot be treated with water, heat, or both, you may want to try putting them in a sealed bag and place in the freezer. If none of these methods work, you may have to part with these items.

Declutter Your Bedroom

If you’ve got clutter in your bedroom, the presence of bed bugs is a good reason to get rid of stuff. Clutter makes for great hiding places and will make managing your infestation even more difficult.

This is NOT how your room should look during an infestation. Keep the area tidy to minimize potential hiding places.

Anything that you plan on keeping should be put in a plastic bag, sealed and set aside. It’s important to note that bed bugs can live for a long time without food so I would recommend, along with other experts, that it’s a good idea to keep some items sealed for up to a year. If you can’t part with an item for a long period of time, you may want to explore other options.

Anything that you are willing to part with should be thrown in a trash bag and removed from your home immediately.

As you are de-cluttering your bedroom, pay attention to any places along the baseboards, flooring, and even wallpaper where a bed bug may like to hide. Fix these areas to make it more difficult (if not impossible) for bed bugs to make these areas a place of residency.

Cleaning Your Mattress

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could launder our mattresses along with our bedding? Unfortunately, that’s not a viable option, so how do you clean your mattress? I’ve had a lot of luck using a stiff brush (such as a scrubbing brush) to scrub down the surface of the mattress before vacuuming. There’s no need to use water, just scrub all the surfaces including the crevices around the edging or braiding.

Next, vacuum your mattress, the box spring, bed frame and all the surfaces throughout your room. Whether you have a bagless vacuum cleaner or one that uses a bag, make sure you properly dispose of your vacuum contents and throw it away outside.

Finally, using a professional steamer to go through each and every little seam is a great way to ensure each and every bed bug & eggs is destroyed.

Skip Chemicals, Try an Alcohol Spray

As you probably know, there are plenty of chemicals and insecticides available for everyday people like you and me to purchase at your local home and hardware store. While some chemicals may be effective in getting rid of bed bugs, I believe that handling such chemicals can be too risky; I would save these types of chemicals as a last resort.

You can kill bed bugs with alcohol, which may be good when trying to destroy any of them in or around electronics (but be extremely careful).

I have had some success with putting isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle and lightly misting mattresses and other furniture. It’s best to test a small section first and use extra care when spraying on wooden furniture. The alcohol spray will kill on contact but is a temporary fix so you may want to spray often.

Although the alcohol spray is a safer alternative than other chemicals, you should always use caution, use the spray in a well-ventilated room, and don’t sleep or use a surface until the spray is completely dry.

Of course, there are also plenty of home remedies for bed bugs, but they can be a little hit-and-miss depending on what is being used, and how.

Protect Your Mattress with a Cover

You probably already have a mattress pad on your bed that you place between the mattress and the fitted sheet; this will not keep bed bugs from biting you. Look for zippered-mattress covers that can completely encase your mattress and your box spring.

There are many options available but look for a waterproof and breathable cover that is specially designed to keep bed bugs from getting in or out of your mattress. Remember, bed bugs can live a long time without food, so if you use a cover to encase your mattress, it’s best to keep it on for at least a year.

It may also be worth taking a look at our hugely in-depth article reviewing each of the best bed bug mattress covers & encasements.

Change Your Bedding Frequently

As you try to get your bed bug problem under control, don’t forget to change and clean your bedding often. Even as you continue to vacuum or use an alcohol spray, bed bug eggs, nymphs, and adults may linger.

As you change your bedding try removing the fitted sheet by rolling it down rather than simply taking it off the bed. Rolling it up is more likely to collect any eggs or bugs that may be clinging to the sheets.

What To Do If You Can’t Get Rid of Bed Bugs On Your Mattress

Getting rid of bed bugs can be a long and trying process. Once you think you have it all under control, you may see another bed bug crawl across your pillow. What should you do if you can’t get rid of bed bugs on your mattress? Here are some suggestions.

Call The Professionals

As hard as you try, you may reach a point where your efforts to get rid of bed bugs on your own becomes too overwhelming. It may be time to call the professionals.

Exterminators, also known as pest management professionals, have a lot of experience with getting rid of bed bugs and even though it’s their specialty, they understand the frustration that can go along with the arduous process of eliminating bed bugs.

Before you call the first exterminator you find in the yellow pages, it’s a good idea to ask around and see who your friends and family recommend. Since we live in a world of online reviews, you may want to do some quick research and see what others have to say about the company. While you should choose your exterminator carefully, don’t take too long to decide.

You should also know exactly what to look for when it comes to choosing a well-qualified bed bug exterminator.

Hiring professionals will undoubtedly be somewhat of a financial investment, and the cost can range anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to thousands, as it all depends on the severity of your infestation.

While it’s natural to hesitate to spend that much money, you may want to consider the amount of money you’re actually saving by not having to throw out your bed and other furniture.

Disposing of Your Mattress

If you still want to try to fix the problem on your own, you may need to get rid of your mattress. When should you do this? If your mattress is old, damaged, or becomes too difficult to clean, it’s better to throw it out than waste time and money on trying to salvage the mattress.

When disposing of your mattress, try to cover it in plastic so you can get it outside without moving bed bugs and eggs into other areas of your house.

As you should with other discarded furniture or items, it may be a good idea to “damage” the item or mark it with the words “Bed Bugs” to deter people from taking it home. Call your local sanitation company about picking up your discarded mattress.


No matter who you are and where you live, bed bugs could easily invade your living space and your mattress. While no one wants to think about sharing their bed with bed bugs, you now have the information you need in the event of an infestation in your bedroom.