Bedbugs: Debunking Myths and Revealing Surprising Facts

In this video, the journalist takes a deep dive into the fascinating world of bedbugs, debunking common misconceptions and sharing surprising facts. They visit Rutgers University’s urban entomology lab, where they run experiments to test various bedbug remedies and treatments. The experiments show that most commercially marketed bedbug repellents, such as ultrasonic pest repellers, dryer sheets, and essential oils, are ineffective. However, they discover that diatomaceous earth and high temperatures (above 122 degrees Fahrenheit) are the most successful in killing bedbugs. The journalist also provides tips on prevention and steps to take if you have a bedbug infestation.

Author Icon

Our Summaries are written by our own AI Infrastructure, to save you time on your Health Journey!

How does this happen?

Key Insights:

  • Bedbugs can be a source of fear and misinformation, but debunking misconceptions can help understand and effectively deal with them.
  • Bedbugs have a lifecycle that takes a few months to mature from egg to adult, and they go through five stages of growth.
  • Bedbugs have unique features, such as superhuman antennas that allow them to detect body heat and carbon dioxide emitted by potential hosts.
  • Bedbugs can survive without feeding for several months, and their lifespan ranges from three months to a year.
  • Bedbugs do not transmit diseases, which is one reason why eradicating them does not receive much research funding.
  • Bedbugs are attracted to vertical objects and generally crawl up to find warm-blooded hosts sleeping at higher elevations.
  • Bedbugs can reproduce through traumatic insemination, a means of reproduction that damages the female and shortens her lifespan.
  • Various remedies and pesticides marketed to kill bedbugs have limited effectiveness, with some strains of bedbugs developing immunity to chemicals.
  • Diatomaceous earth, a natural substance that dehydrates bedbugs, and high temperatures (above 122 degrees Fahrenheit) are the most effective methods for killing bedbugs.
  • To prevent bedbug infestations, be cautious when traveling and inspect hotel rooms. Additionally, regularly washing and drying clothes on high heat, decluttering, and using mattress encasements can help reduce the risk.
  • If bedbugs are present in your home, implementing defense (encasements, regular cleaning, decluttering) and offense (vacuuming, using diatomaceous earth and steam) measures can help eliminate them.
  • If the infestation is severe and long-lasting, professional help, such as whole-house heating treatments, may be necessary.


This is me subjecting my body to science. Oh my gosh. By letting a bedbug eat me. That’s my blood! Because for four years now, I’ve been wanting to make this exact video taking a deep dive into the fascinating world of bedbugs. There’s a lot of fear and miss out there regarding dealing with bedbugs. And today we’re going to debunk nearly all of them, heading out in the field with the experts, and running some experiments. So if you could power through your squeamishness and spend the next few minutes here with me, I promise not only to blow your mind with some facts about bedbugs you definitely don’t know, but I’ll make you a bedbugs expert, knowing exactly what they look like, how not to get them, but most importantly, what to do if you do get them. Because the punchline is it’s actually not that hard to get rid of them, as long as you ignore all the bad advice out there, and follow the surprisingly simple steps I’ll demonstrate in this video. So let’s get right to it. And head across the country, all the way to Rutgers University to visit their urban entomology lab, which basically means bugs you don’t want in your house, to meet with Dr. Wong, the world’s foremost bedbug expert. And the main reason for visiting his lab was to run a bunch of experiments to test all the things you read online that people swear will get rid of bedbugs. But before we got to that, I wanted to meet some of the little guys myself. – We have thousands of bedbugs here. It’s an incubator. Probably more than 20,000. – Oh my gosh. This is like the Fort Knox of bedbugs. Okay, can I pick up one of these? – [Dr. Wong] Sure. – Okay, I cannot drop this, I feel like. – This one probably has four or 500. – Four to 500 in this. – Yeah. You want open it, or you want me to open? (uneasy music) – I’ll open it. This is my first time ever seeing a real bedbug. Here we go. (foreboding music) – [Dr. Wong] Do you want to use gloves? – Should I use gloves? – [Dr. Wong] We always use gloves. – I should use gloves then. (cheerful whimsical music) Wow. I just got to go for it. It’s like ripping off a bandaid. Oh, gross. Wow. Oh man, there’s so many of them. So this is what bedbugs look like. I just never knew. Alright, so let me just cover some bedbug basics. It takes a few months for them to mature from egg all the way to full grown male and female. And in those few months they pass through these five stages of growth. You could see the relative size here compared to a credit card. And as humans we have five senses, but their superhuman antenna give them two extra senses, allowing them to detect both body heat and carbon dioxide being breathed out by a potential host. Then once they get close, they use their sense of smell also on their antenna to lock down the exact final position of the person, which is all to say if you exhale your smelly warm breath on them (exhales), they get real excited. That is crazy. They’re so stoked right now to eat. Sorry, guys. Their lifespan is anywhere from three months to a year, and ideally they like to feed about once a week, but there’s this unsettling fact. – Without feeding, they can leave three to six months. – What? Because they just don’t move very much? – ‚Cause blood is a highly nutritious material. So they can stay in the resting stage for three to six months. – [Mark] And the professor says three to six months here. But for my first of five super wild bedbug facts, if their environment is relatively cold, they can survive up to 300 days without eating anything. They’re really flat. – [Dr. Wong] ‚Cause they’re hungry. – So when they’re hungry and they haven’t fed, they’re going to be more flat? – [Dr. Wong] Right. – I’d love to get a shot of it going from flat and brown to (slurps). – Oh, if you want to do that, put it on the arm. You could see. (Mark laughs) – Which meant I had a decision to make. Okay, I’ll do it. For science. We’re going to make a brown bed bug red. – So average feeding time is about five to 10 minutes. – I feel like I’m at the red cross here. Let’s do this. Oh my gosh. Oh. Oh. – [Dr. Wong] Look, it’s started feeding. – It’s already feeding? – [Dr. Wong] Yeah, this is feeding. – [Mark] So right now I feel nothing. – [Dr. Wong] So you are not very reacting to the bites. – [Mark] The butt’s sticking up in the air now. Wow. Yeah, it’s getting bigger. And there’s just something about seeing another organism steal your blood that sharpens the focus and leaves one to start pondering some questions that probably should have been pre-pondered. And they don’t carry diseases, right? I should have asked this- – [Dr. Wong] They don’t. – 10 minutes ago. And this is my second super wild bedbug fact, they don’t actually carry or transmit any diseases, which sort of serves as an evolutionary advantage in the world of coexisting with humans, because the government doesn’t really support research to eradicate them, since they don’t really pose a widespread health threat. When it’s done, will it start running real quick? – [Dr. Wong] It will run slowly. ‚Cause it is bigger, fatter. – They’re easily crawling the walls of this dish, by the way. – [Dr. Wong] Right, so we tend to put a talcum powder in the interior walls so they cannot escape. I think we have some talcum powder. – You think? This the think is the part that I’m concerned about. Oh gosh, he’s moving. – [Dr. Wong] Moving. Okay, finished. – What do I do now? – [Dr. Wong] Nine minutes, finished. Don’t worry, I’ll put it in a dish. So nine minutes. – [Mark] Normally after I give blood, I get juice and cookies. And when we put my new blood buddy next to an unfed bed bug, gross, the difference was astounding, which made me really curious what it would look like under the microscope that was just sitting there, begging to be used. Oh my gosh. Wow. Those are my red blood cells. Oh, are those bubbles even? No way. Life is amazing. I don’t think I reacted, right? – That’s good. So you are not as reactive as me. – So I could put even more on my arm, then. – You can try. („Ride of the Valkyries“ by Richard Wagner) – I’m taking one in the name of science, and we’re going to load up 10 bedbugs on my arm. That’s one. Two. We’ve also put some DEET, which they don’t like, to kind of make a barrier so they stay in the middle. This is like Thanksgiving. There’s one down there. Can you get that one. – [Dr. Wong] Six. – [Mark] Please. – [Dr. Wong] Seven. – Oh, I can feel them bite, like if I don’t look. – [Dr. Wong] Nine, 10. – [Mark] Okay. – [Dr. Wong] 11. – I said 10, Professor. – [Dr. Wong] One bonus. – Oh, that one’s turning red already. Could you imagine just, some people who have a bad infestations every night? Like, this is what their leg looks like. – [Dr. Wong] They could get thousands of bites. – A night? – [Dr. Wong] Yeah, a night. – They’re getting bigger and bigger by the second. Oh, you better not start mating on me. – [Dr. Wong] This one finished. – Okay, I don’t like your attitude. Let’s get rid of this guy. Professor, professor. (uneasy music) Professor. As they finish, I vote them off the island. I don’t want him crawling up my arm. He is full, and you’re off the island. Oh, and you’re off the island. And he’s done. Peace. Down to two. This is like a MrBeast’s challenge. Last to leave the arm wins a gallon of rabbit blood. Oh, we have a winner! I think it’s dead. Oh, there he goes. And so once again, by way of comparison, here are the 11 bedbugs that just spend some quality time with me, versus 11 unfed bed bugs of similar ages. All right, so they’re all done feeding. There was 11 total. It took about 10 minutes, but I would have no idea they just made a meal out of me. Like, I felt a tiny prick on one of the 11. But other than that, like, it’s a tricky little parasite. And I’m not alone. Half of all people have no reaction to a bedbug bite, whereas the other 50% of the population will have some kind of reaction to their saliva that will look something like this in the morning. So having survived the bloodletting, it was time to run our experiments and head into the vault, sealed by the huge wooden door. All right, so we’re here in the bedbug test chamber and we’ve set up a bunch of tests in here. So for example, in these two we have these dishes basically that can climb up the wall. Then they get stuck in this trough. It’s too slippery to climb out. Inside each of these troughs, there’s a little vial, this good smelling stuff that to bedbugs smells like a human. So they’re going to go to either one of these. So this one in this corner is a control, whereas in this corner, we have an ultrasonic pest repeller. So we want to see if this actually does anything or not. So at the end of 24 hours, we’ll come back, we’ll count the number of bedbugs in this dish versus this one. If there’s way more in the control, then this is actually doing something. But if there’s the same number of each, then this is nothing more than a gimmick to steal your money. In addition to testing the ultrasonic bedbug repeller, we use an identical test setup to investigate some of the other supposed remedies to bedbugs commonly found online, including dryer sheets, moth balls, baking soda, and essential oils. And just for the sake of my curiosity, we also placed this vertical post in a ditch. For my super wild bedbug fact number three out of five, the professor told me that bedbugs are attracted to vertical objects because if you think about it, humans generally sleep at the highest elevation in any given room. So their logic is just crawl up any vertical object you see until you eventually find a warm-blooded meal at the top. So this is to mimic a bed post. And we do have an attractant in both trays. The hypothesis is that they will actually be more bedbugs in this tray, because you have that vertical post. And if that turns out to be true, that’s pretty wild. And in addition to those six tests, we set up some residual effects tests where we treated a surface with each of these three products you could buy at the local hardware store, specifically marketed the kill bedbugs. And then finally we tested this fogger spray, also specifically designed for killing bedbugs, Godspeed, little fellas. And then we set it off, leaving three dishes of exposed bedbugs at different spots in the same room. And so as a final step, we placed the bedbugs at the center of each of the six trays in the bedbug vault, and we were underway. The experiment’s all set up, we’re going to close the wooden vault, do a final bedbug check, let her run. And now that the experiments were running, Professor Wong invited us to join him on a research visit to an apartment building nearby that had been receiving frequent reports of bedbugs. So him and his team were going out to collect some samples, and to try out some new treatment approaches. And after entering the apartment, it didn’t take long to find our first culprit. – [The bedbug here. – [Mark] Which the professor told me was dead. – [Dr. Wong] He’s dead, yeah. – [Mark] When in fact, he was just a good faker. By the way, this is a bit of a warning that some people might find the next few minutes a little gross. So skip ahead a bit if you just want to see the results of the test. It turns out one in a thousand houses or apartments have bedbugs in the US today, which might sound bad, but for my super wild bedbug fact number four, before 1950, it was one in three houses that had bedbugs. Hence the origin of the saying, „sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.“ Midnight to 3:00 AM is typically their most active time, and it takes a little more than 10 minutes to get to you, a little less than 10 minutes to feed, as you saw with my arm, and a little more than 10 minutes to get back to their hiding spot. If you’re suspicious you’re sleeping on a mattress with bedbugs, just check under the mattress in the corners and look for bedbug poop stains, like this. Just remember, this is more of an extreme case, so yours might not look quite this bad. These two here are actually mating, which we saw quite a bit in the lab too, which actually leads to my final super wild bedbug fact, and buckle up, ‚cause this one’s a doozy. Typically in nature, in order to make a baby of a thing, you have a male, which, let’s say, is represented by this plug and a female, which let’s say is represented by this outlet. And if you plug in the cord, you get an adorable little baby. And just like in pretty much all the rest of nature, female bedbugs totally have an outlet, except male bedbugs prefer to take this approach. (hammer bangs) The scientific term for this is called traumatic insemination. And just like my wall is now damaged, it actually damages the abdomen of the females, leading to significantly shorter lifespans. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why they’ve evolved to use this alternate approach, but it must offer some kind of overall advantage, leading females to lay up to five eggs every day. And you can see their handiwork here on that same chair we saw before. Like all insects bedbugs have an exoskeleton. So what you’re seeing here is as they grow bigger from stage to stage, they molt, and leave behind their old exoskeleton. How bad is this infestation relative to most you see? – [Dr. Wong] Yeah, moderate. – [Mark] Moderate? – [Dr. Wong] Heavy ones, you can see tens of thousand bugs. – [Mark] To prove his point, he later sent me a video of this house with the charming exterior, which they had treated a few months ago. The truly staggering part about this place though, was that only one person lived there. He just wasn’t allergic to their bites, and he just learned to live with them. Back at our thankfully moderate infestation, the professor and his team took some samples for study later and started treating the room. Unsurprisingly, the apartments both above and below this one also had some minor bedbug issues. So if you’re working to get rid of bedbugs in your apartment, just make sure you let your landlord know what’s going on, in case the unit next to you happens to be the primary source, to prevent you from getting a second wave. And as we were wrapping up, the professor dropped a bit of a bombshell about how it was pretty likely we had at least some bedbugs on us at this point. Even if you can see they, you may not see like? – [Dr. Wong] Yeah, they can, they can. – [Mark] Which is why he always plays it safe. – [Dr. Wong] Well, actually I have spare clothing. I always, when I go home, I always wash it. – [Assistant] These shoes, only for bed bug shoes. – What? Nobody told us any of this! We unfortunately, were not told to bring, nor did we have a spare change of clothes. What have I done? So we do the next best thing by steaming ourselves, which instantly kills the bedbugs from the heat. That is, until the professor decided he should check his shoes, and found this. (tense suspenseful music) Is it alive? – [Dr. Wong] Yeah, he’s alive. – Oh my gosh, no way. At which point, just steaming ourselves seemed wildly insufficient. Because apparently it’s illegal in the state of New Jersey to just publicly chill in your underwear, me and my crew hit up the local Goodwill to wait things out in style. So the next day, we headed back to the lab to check on our results in our freshly laundered clothes. But can I just take a moment to say it’s the best to hang out with bug people ‚cause they have cool door knockers and interesting magazine subscriptions. The only downside being they like to study more than just bedbugs Aw, it smells. This is where they keep the cockroaches. And as you might recall, I really, really don’t like cockroaches. (Mark shrieks) Shamo, get it off me! – [Dr. Wong] Each one has thousands of roaches. – Wow. That’s so disgusting. Aw, these are the kind I hate. – These are the American, largest ones in the US. – [Mark] Their freaking antenna. That’s the worst sound in the world. Wait, they have wings? – [Dr. Wong] Yeah, they have wings. In Florida they can fly too, but here temperature is cold. – So if it was a little warmer in this lab, they would fly. – [Dr. Wong] They will fly. – Oh my God! Okay, let’s get out of here. So we made our way back upstairs, where I felt much more comfortable. Time to check the results. So this ultrasonic pest repeller did nothing. If anything, it attracted them. We had 120 bedbugs with the ultrasonic sensor, over here for the control, we had 101. Clearly that does nothing to repel bedbugs. And of course, that confirms our hypothesis, considering bedbugs don’t even have ears. Not to mention that apartment we visited had a couple plugged into the wall themselves. So definitely save your money on that one. Next up was the vertical post test. That is wild. There are so many over here by the vertical post, literally none over here on the other side. And the remaining four tests all had similar results. So I’ll just show the average, which was around four bed bugs trapped in the dish that was surrounded by either the dryer sheets, moth balls, baking soda, or essential oils, with around 26 bugs trapped in the control. These results clearly show bedbugs prefer to avoid these four items because they all have a really strong scent, and bedbugs have a really good sense of smell, but they don’t do anything to kill the bedbugs. According to the professor, these act more as an annoyance, but the bedbugs would gladly walk over them if it was between temporarily having to deal with the smell and starving to death. As for the residual effect test with the pesticides specifically engineered to kill bedbugs, it was even worse news. The spray aerosol and fogger bedbug killers all killed about 12% of the bedbugs after 10 days. And before you go all glass half full and think, well, 12% is better than nothing, our control, which was just water, also had a 12% mortality rate. So it’s literally not better than nothing. According to Professor Wong, part of the reason for these terrible results is that many strains of bedbugs have developed immunity to a lot of these chemicals over the years. And he thinks in 10 years, all bedbugs will be immune. And this sort of makes sense, because they’re constantly undergoing localized mass extinction events, when people try and spray them, and only the most hearty minority survive each time, and pass on their increasingly pesticide-resistant genes. There were some chemicals that on average were effective in killing about 50% if you sprayed the bedbugs directly. But if they were just hanging out in the area you sprayed later, it’s once again the same as water. The problem with this is you’ll only ever see a small portion of the bedbugs you actually have. So direct spray pesticides are sort of pointless if your goal is to eradicate the entire population. That’s the bad news. Now here’s the good news. There was a superstar in our test, and that was the diatomaceous earth, with a nearly 90% mortality rate after 10 days. This stuff is just crushed fossilized shells from tiny prehistoric aquatic organisms called diatoms. The key here is their shells were silica based. And silica is what you see in those packages you see sometimes in packages that you’re not supposed to eat. Silica’s useful because it absorbs moisture incredibly well. For bedbugs, this is a bummer because when they walk by it, it sticks to their exoskeleton, as you can see here under their microscope. And they die from dehydration in a matter of hours to days. Oh, we’re eating lunch right after this, which is a bad idea in hindsight. The best part here is they end up transferring this to each other back in their hiding spots. And since every organism needs water to live, they can never develop immunity to it. There’s also one more bit of really good news, and that’s bedbugs die at 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Like, instantly. This is also 100% effective, and there’s no way to build immunity to it. And a really easy way to get a bedbug to 120 degrees as we demonstrated earlier, is with the clothes dryer or a steamer. Or if you want the nuclear option, you could work with professionals to heat your entire house to that temperature. Now that we have a better sense of what does and doesn’t work, let’s talk about what to do if you actually get bedbugs. And the first thing to point out is the best way to get rid of them is to not get them in the first place. And the most common way people get bedbugs is through traveling. So when you get to your room, here are three simple tips. First, pull back the bed sheets and check the corners of the mattress, now that you know what to look for. Second, don’t set your suitcase on the bed or the floor. Instead set it on the luggage rack. Or for some reason you feel like you need to be extra cautious, the bathtub. And third, don’t put your clothes in the hotel drawers or leave them just lying around. Whatever you’re not wearing should just stay in your luggage or hanging up on the hangers. All right, so you were super careful when staying in the hotel on travel, but then you got back and bought that couch on Craigslist for a smoking deal, and now you got bedbugs in your home. In Professor Wong’s experience, you don’t actually need to spend $4,000 hiring an exterminator as long as you know there’s three steps for defense and three for offense. First up for defense, you put your bed in a bag. You can buy these mattress and box spring encasements off Amazon, and once you zip them around your bed, basically seal in any bedbugs currently living inside. Just remember they can live up to 300 days. So you can’t take it off for a year. And they not only trap in any current bedbugs, but they also remove all the mattress hems and clever hiding spots they love to use. Number two, your clothes dryer, wash and dryer clothes and sheets at least once a week, more often doesn’t hurt. Importantly, you want to wash them in hot water and dry them on the highest heat setting because it’s impossible for them to survive this. Number three, simplify de-clutter. Simplify the room to take away any hiding spots by putting clutter into plastic bags or totes. They aren’t interested in clean clothes, but dirty clothes smell nice to them. So it’s good to also store those in a plastic bag or tote until you’re ready to wash them. Also, move your bed away from the wall, so the only way they can get on the bed is by climbing up the legs. So that’s the three steps for defense. Now, for the offense. Number one, vacuum. Make sure you vacuum the bedroom floor and the bed area once a week. Just be sure to empty anything you’ve collected into a bag, and into the trash. And number two, we’ve got diatomaceous earth, which, as you recall, was the superstar from our tests. You should definitely apply this around the bed. But it’s especially useful in penetrating the cracks and crevices close to the bed, including around and behind power outlets. The key is applying just a light dusting, like this. If you leave it in clumps, it will actually backfire and not be as effective, ‚cause they’ll just navigate around it. And finally at number three, we’ve got steam. A simple clothes steamer like this will do the job. And I think it’s great that with all the years and money spent on creating all these synthetic pesticides, the two most effective methods for killing bedbugs are just crushed up rocks and really hot water, which are by far the two most simple and natural. Use the steamer all around your bed once a week, but if you find something you want to treat, you can’t steam or put in the dryer, you can put it in a bag and then put it in the freezer for three days and that will also kill them. Professor Wong said, if you have a small infestation and you just noticed them, then using these three defensive and offensive steps will totally take care of the problem without needing to spend money on an exterminator. However, if you’ve got a lot of bedbugs and you’ve had them for a long time, then getting professional help is probably a good idea. The entire house heating option takes about eight hours, and it’s the most sure fire way to totally eradicate every bedbug, along with any eggs all at once. But it can cost up to $4,000, depending on the size of your place. Now that you’re playing both defense and offense, and things are looking good, stick these traps under the bed legs so you can monitor and have some peace of mind that they are, in fact, totally gone. All right, that’s it. You’re a bedbug expert now. I’m hopeful that at least some of you’ll have a renewed appreciation for the fascinating natural world around us, and everyone else can just congratulate yourself on making it to the end while soaking in a bathtub of Listerine. This is the world’s largest Frisbee launcher. (launcher snaps) and I invited my nephews out to demonstrate just how much more accurate it is than their mere human selves. Wow. And that Frisbee launcher, of course, is just a scaled up replica of this handheld version, which also happens to be insanely accurate with all six rapid fire shots. Then there’s this coin spinner that also gives you superpowers, this time, to spin a coin better than any mere human. That is awesome. And then of course, a mega version, which I also used to dominate my nephews. (disks clanking) Yeah! And if you want to watch both of those mega build videos, you can find them over on the CrunchLabs YouTube channel, because this is CrunchLabs. It’s an actual place with a tennis ball cannon, the world’s longest Hot Wheels track, secret passages, and a bunch more inventions. It’s where we not only build all the creations for my YouTube channel, but most importantly, it’s where we design these monthly CrunchLabs build boxes to help you think like an engineer, too. It says it right there on the box. So you get the box that has the handheld Frisbee launcher, or that handheld coin spinner delivered right to your door. But then when you open it up, there’s a link to a video, where you not only build it alongside me, but I teach you all the juicy physics of how the toys work. And the best part of it all is, every month we randomly select one box to slip in the platinum ticket. If it happens to be your box. – [Dad] Oh my gosh, you won, buddy! – Then you’re coming out right here to CrunchLabs to design with me and my team for a day. So if you want to unlock a whole world of possibilities of thinking like an engineer- – It works! – Of learning how to create and build whatever you can dream up, go to, and order your Build Box subscription today. (jaunty music)