Q. I am confused about finding bedbugs with the technique you described. Do you put the cooler in its plastic dish directly on top of the mattress? Does it have to be at night? Should the jug be upright or lying on its side?
I was in Africa and have been itching since my return. I do have small welts and don’t know what they are, so I am anxious to find out if my bed is infested.

A. Despite the name bedbug, these insects are not limited to the bed and can travel around the room. That’s why the “detector” developed by Rutgers scientists and described in Science News (Jan. 16, 2010) can be set up in a corner of the bedroom on the floor.
Here’s the technique: bedbugs locate people by sensing carbon dioxide, so to trick them you will offer them a source of carbon dioxide. Two pounds of dry ice in a third-gallon cooler (like a Coleman jug) with a flip-up spout will do that. With the spout slightly open, the gas leaks out slowly.
Place the cooler in a plastic pet-food dish and tape a piece of paper to the outside of the dish as a gangplank for the bedbugs to climb. Dusting the dish with talcum powder makes it hard for them to get out. Within 12 hours there should be bedbugs in the bowl if you have them in the room.

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  1. GH

    My family and I are going through something like that now. We first found bed bugs in our daughters bed. We have no idea how she got them. We’ve steaming and spraying for a month now. We seem to wipe them out and then after a week to 10 days, we’ll find one or two crawling around in there. We’ve thrown out her bed and box springs and bought a new one and bed bags to protect them when we first found them. (That was expensive). I think I’m going to rip out the carpeting next. We’ve been using the steamer on that too and that does a pretty good job but I don’t feel 100% about it. Removing the carpet and putting down wood flooring or laminate flooring would be better.
    We’ve been using this spray called Eradicator that kills them on contact and kind of helps keep them away. We’ve tore the house apart looking for the source of the infestation but can’t find it anywhere.. I’m not sure where else to look other than tearing down the walls and looking in there..

  2. GH

    Steam cleaners kill bed bugs instantly and will kill their eggs too if the heat hits them as well. You can used a steam cleaner to kill in the furniture and the bed. You just have to get to them. To get to them in the box springs, its best to rip the protective covering off of the bottom and it the inside with the steam. Get a steam cleaner that gets really hot and gets down in crevices where bugs may hide. Instant death to the bug.

  3. LRH

    My husband and I came back from a trip to the Carolinas in March 2010. It took 2 nights of bug bites for me to figure out what was wrong. I bought HotShot Bed bug and flea spray and their room bomb. I sprayed our bedroom everywhere!! Then, that night, we set off the bomb and sealed off the room. We had Terminix, our pest control people, come out and they checked everywhere for the bugs. We had them out again a week later just to be sure. They couldn’t find any. He told me that my prompt action probably stopped them from traveling to another room.
    He also told me that since they can’t fly or jump, they got into our bed by crawling up the bedskirt which was touching the floor. No more bedskirts! It has been over a year, and there has been no further sign of them. They can live a year on one feeding. The eggs can live a year as well. Terminix told me our suitcases probably picked up the bugs in the hold of the plane on our trip home. They travel from one suitcase to another while in the hold. They can also be found in the overhead storage for your carry-on’s.
    He told us that when we come home from a plane trip, DO NOT bring the suitcases into the house. Take them out on the back patio and unpack from there. Put everything into the washing machine first. I plan on spraying the empty suitcases with HotShot Bedbug spray, and leaving them outside for 24 hours. When guests come to visit, via the plane, they will be putting their suitcases outside as well. Having bedbugs once is more than enough for me. I will also be using the Rutgers trap as well.

  4. GJO

    I was bitten only one time at home in Sept. 2009. The night before we had gone to an outside wedding at a Virgina winery. The week before I had stayed a hotel for one night for a business meeting. I’m not sure which one was the culprit. I did find one dead one on my sheets. I had dusted my sheets, mattress and behind the bedboard carpet with Sevin dust. Maybe that was toxic to me, but I was desperate. Maybe that did the trick. It’s been one year and no bites.
    I looked up the subject on the internet once I suspected I was bitten. This article told how to keep them off your bed. It said to put a dish or pan under each bed leg. Pour olive oil in each pan or dish. They will drowned in the oil pool before they can climb up the bed legs. I travel on business several times a year. I unpack my suitcase outside in the yard. But, then I am scared to bring it in and store it till next time. Next time, I’ll put the suitcase in a bag and freeze it in an unused freezer before unpacking.
    It was about 5 months before those bites cleared up. I have been afraid to sleep. I wake up all night and look in the bed sheets a every little tickle or itch. It was about ten months before I could sleep normally again.

  5. ebm

    You obviously don’t carry dry ice around with you if it takes up to 12 hrs to attract bedbugs. This system was meant for home use to see if you have the
    critters. Perhaps reading more carefully would help you understand. I am very grateful to PPH and Rutgers for suggesting this clever trap.

  6. JF

    My daughter used a commercial steam cleaner to get rid of her bedbugs. She kept getting outbreaks of a strange “rash” and went to a dermatologist who did not recognize them as bedbug bites. She went thru several series of expensive medication treatments. When she found a bug, finally, it was three months later and her apartment was infected.
    She used an Internet bedbug pesticide, and would steam everything every day with a commercial steamer (like they use in stores to steam clothing). She steamed the floors, the baseboards, the carpets, the furniture, the beds. She also washed everything constantly. She had to get rid of her couch and chair, but was able to eradicate the darn things after a long, tough fight.
    She felt they came to her apartment from a friend from NYC, who didn’t have bedbugs, but whose apartment building did have an infestation going on (signs were posted). This happened last year (2009) — the bedbug outbreak was not well known, and in our city you weren’t hearing about them. She was mortified, and thought her landlord would evict her if she found out.
    They do travel easily. When I found two bites on me, in my house, I borrowed the steamer and steamed the area I was sitting in when bit. That seemed to fix it for me. I watched my granddaughter’s clothes and backpack for hitchhikers, and found some two different times. Washed and dried them the clothes, and saved the dead bodies for ID.
    I hated seeing the bites on my granddaughter. It’s horrible. Just horrible. Just hearing the saying that we used to toss off so casually with a smile, “Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” makes me shudder.

  7. nancy U

    We traveled in Ohio and Pennsylvania the last 2 weeks. Both states were experiencing bedbugs at epidemic proportions. I tried to check behind headboards and pictures on the walls, but found that all of the hotels had them so securely fastened they could not be removed. We had all of our clothes in zipped plastic bags in our suitcases from home. Instead of using the luggage racks we kept our suitcases in the bathtubs, to be placed on counters only when we showered. I think we were lucky that we just didn’t come in contact with Bedbugs.
    In 6 months we go to Australia, I think we will only take clothes that can easily be left behind if
    there is a problem.

  8. MA

    How do you use the diatamacous earth?

  9. REM

    I am employed by a large company that houses international students. We get a turnover of residents every semester. Students from foreign countries occasionally bring along hitchhiking bed bugs in their luggage. We have developed a method of dealing with these critters that rarely fails.
    We purchase special mattresses that have no corner or edge seams. We use two sets of fitted sheets. One on the bottom of the mattress, one on the top. If bedbugs are found students personal belongings are plastic bagged and placed in a deep freeze for 24 hours (freezing kills ’em), then laundered in hot soapy water. Other clothing is plastic bagged and dry cleaned. Books and other personal items are placed in the deep freeze along with the clothing, then blown off with compressed air. The room is then thoroughly steam cleaned, including all furniture. Our pest control contractor then makes a visit and treats the room with a pesticide.
    This method works, although it cannot be used by everyone in all circumstances. Parts of it may be adapted and used in residential circumstances with success.

  10. NP

    I get mine at HomeDepot.
    Lowes used to carry Haggerty’s, they don’t anymore.

  11. FC

    You may try diatamacous earth. That helped my son who had bed bugs in Boston. The best spray however, was one we Googled on the internet. The diatamacous earth is used by pet stores to control flees. It is harmless to people and and animals. Actually there is a kind that is used in our foods, cereals to control insects. That is the kind that I buy.
    It is prehistoric shell material and when the fleas touch it they are scratched. I never see it advertised, likely as it is very cheap and no patent is necessary for it. Get it on the internet. I first used it for flea infestation and my daughter uses it too. I think it works on other insects, like bedbugs.
    You should not use a vacuum to clean it up as the tiny scratches could hurt it.

  12. Betty

    This comment is a negative reply to a serious problem. I think the homemade bedbug detector is a good idea. Is N.E.O. implying that once you know you have bedbugs, no further action is necessary? Talk about useless comments.

  13. Chuck

    There was a program about bedbugs on the radio show Fresh Air last night (9/8/2010). The expert recommended heating in the dryer to kill bedbugs in clothes, linens, etc. He said that exterminators use the heating technique to treat the whole living space by heating the entire space. You can listen at

  14. Jeb

    Can you get bed bug infestation from sheets that have been dried on the clothes line outside????

  15. Jim T

    Dry ice, which is the common name for solid carbon dioxide, is used for the bedbug trap because the “ice” warms up and turns into carbon dioxide gas,which the bedbugs can sense. You can often get dry ice at large grocery stores to keep items very cold–frozen. Wear gloves when handling the dry ice because it is so cold it can cause freezer burns.

  16. VikkiV.

    Lowe’s Home Improvement sell’s HOT SHOT brand Bedbug and Flea killer. It’s in a purple spray can. We just moved. Our furniture was on the moving truck over night. I also was getting bug bites. I found one bug that looks like a bed bug however everyone said it is to large. I sprayed anyhow. Also, had another thought. It is common for people to use used boxes at moving time and that could be another source of transportation for the bugs.

  17. N.E.O.

    This was less than informative. Less than helpful. Why use dry ice? Where can you get it in a strange city. If you find the bedbugs after 12 hours, doesn’t that mean you’re already contaminated/infected? Useless, Useless, Useless!!!

  18. JM

    When purchasing new beds, transport it yourself. Companies not only charge you to transport the new bed, but use the same truck to take away old mattresses; putting them right next to new mattresses, which is how I got bed bugs in my new mattress.

  19. FDJ

    Clever device! I have used a similar device for fleas (using a nightlight to attract them to a dish) but partially filled the container with soapy water (a dash of dishwashing soap), The insect falls into the bath and is unable to swim due to the soap content. This works for fleas, and would likely work for the bedbugs. A fatal bath seems more effective than talcum powder.

  20. RB

    Thanks for all the tips through the years. What products are most effective when you stay in a motel or hotel?

  21. GLC

    I will be traveling by train. Where would I find a plastic pan and dry ice at night? I seems too impractical to bring these items from hotel to hotel.

  22. JimS

    A friend of mine in the hotel business says bedbugs are the bane of their existence. The advice he gave me when I travel is to pull back the fitted sheet and look at the cording on the corners of the mattress (and box springs) on both sides of the bed. Pull it up to expose the material at the stitching and look for any spotting (bedbug poop). If you see anything suspicious, don’t unpack, leave and get another room.
    The company he works for owns high, mid, and low end properties. The problem is across the board. Staying at a “ritzy” hotel is no protection, except that higher end properties may be quicker to respond to infestations and more aggressive in their response–discarding bedding and mattress rather than attempting to disinfect.

  23. MJL

    We think we got them from a center for behavioral health that our son goes to. One of the clients that goes there from one of the group homes was playing with one and the center found that one of their suites was infested. He is picked up by a van and transported to the center and we worry every day that one of the people will bring them back again. The group home has been treated 2 or more times already.
    We were getting bitten regularly and it was a nightmare. We found a couple of the bugs and I researched them and they were them. WE had to take everything out of the rooms and get an exterminator. All items that could be put in bags were and were treated by some kind of chemical pad that the exterminator placed in them. We still have bad feelings about them. It takes at least three treatments of the furniture and mattresses to get rid of them (approximately 7 to 8 days apart).
    We had to pull up the wall to wall carpeting around the whole first floor and the upstairs hallway and the exterminator put some kind of dust underneath (that only had to be done once). They also treated the cracks in the wood floors and the basement. All of our clothing and curtains had to be either washed and dried or Run through the dryer if it was already cleaned, or in some cases taken to the dry cleaners. From what I gather you can kill them in the dryer. They die at about 116 – 120 degrees.
    Now when ever we get even the slightest itch, you think that they are still here or back. It is a horrible situation and can be very expensive. We are now in the process of cleaning everything one room at a time. Walls, Window frames, blinds, dressers, drawers and floors. We have baseboard heat so we even took them apart and cleaned all of the elements, closet interiors as well as shelves any night stands and pictures or wall hangings. This will continue for a while until we are somewhat certain that they have been eliminated completely. It is a painstaking process and being disabled even more so. I am going to use the home detection system developed by the Rutgers Scientist to make sure that we do not have anymore.

  24. add

    What about the steam cleaners for floors and counter tops you see advertised on infomercials. Would these work, if heat kills them?

  25. SCcelt

    What name brand spray and what stores/sites can I get them?
    How effective is it? What about the rest of you dwelling? Are other rooms or furniture infected?
    Got mine in a motel also and am having a time eradicating them.
    TIA for info on the above and anything else that you can think of that will help.

  26. L

    I agree with all of you. Hotels are disgusting, and I feel gross when I stay in them. People just assume that the rooms have been “disinfected.” I have even brought my own sheets to put over the ones already on the bed. But I guess if a room has bed bugs, there’s little you can do while you’re there–I guess just keep everything off the floor and clean your belongings thoroughly when you get home.

  27. jbs

    I spent the night in a motel, and the next day I noticed bites on my body. When I got home, one day I found a tiny brown dead bug on my mattress. I called an exterminator and he took this bug and sent it to the lab. Indeed, it was a bed bug. Instead of going through the expense of hiring the exterminator, I went to the store and bought several spray cans of bed bug spray. Regular bug spray doesn’t work but if you search, you can find special spray for bed bugs.
    I sprayed the mattress, especially in the creases of the mattress. I sprayed the inside of the suitcase I had used. I sprayed everything around my bed – the floor, picture frames, etc. All on my own, I was able to get rid of any bedbugs that I might have brought home with me. The exterminator told me that when he travels and stays in a motel, he pulls back the sheets and looks at the “cording” around the mattress, as this is a favorite place for bed bugs to hide. He also said there has been an epidemic of motels having bedbugs!!!

  28. ebm

    I take my own pillow – a memory foam pillow – with me in the bottom of the suitcase so that the clothes will weigh it down. I cut the back and side off so it is travel size.
    I use a bright pillowcase so I don’t leave it in the room. I guess I may transport bedbugs home with it! but at least I don’t breathe someone else’s cold germs and sweat.

  29. Wes

    Thanks for the photo. The word instructions were kind of confusing.

  30. S.H.

    This scares me; I shudder when I travel to motels and hotels, already. I always get the hibbee jibbees when I think of the fact that the pillow and mattress was just used by someone else with only a thin bedsheet and a pillowcase between their use and mine. YUCK; knowing that these bugs can live for a year in a picture frame in the hotel room or hide or hitch a ride in my suitcase makes me not want to ever even sit down in a room, much less stay over. I am going to print out this hint and keep in my purse.

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