Bed Bugged? How to get rid of Bed Bugs
Click here to see an amazing bed bug video or to ask me a question about bed bugs.
According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, bed bug expert, Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann bed bugs will become the number one household pest within five years (supplanting old favorites like roaches, mice, and termites). Since Jody made that statement four years ago... well you can do the math.
“Bed bug-related calls to pest control companies are up across the entire U.S.” she said, “with no statistical variation between regions.”
With that fact in mind, this section has been added to assist those people who do wind up getting bed bugs (or “know someone” who might have them). For everyone else, reading this section will demonstrate once and for all why you need to do everything possible to prevent a bed bug infestation in your home.
The two most important factors to consider are: finding a reputable exterminator (or pest control specialist) with experience treating bed bug infestations and doing the prep work necessary before they arrive to treat your home.
1) Finding a reputable exterminator. First of all, if you’re a tenant, do not attempt to treat a bed bug infestation by yourself. You can be legally liable if you misapply an insecticide to someone else’s property. Instead, inform your landlord or property manager of the problem immediately - and then discuss your respective obligations. Contact your state or local housing authority for additional information concerning everyone’s legal obligations concerning bed bugs.
If you’re dealing with a bed bug infestation on your own property, it’s still better if you don’t treat it by yourself. If you do decide to take matters into your own hands, purchase pesticides from a reputable pest control expert. That way you can pump these guys for precise instructions on how not to poison yourself and your loved ones. On a related note, home remedies are to be avoided at all costs. American Museum of Natural History entomologist, Lou Sorkin, told me that misinformed people have sprayed their mattresses with alcohol, gasoline or kerosene in order to get rid of bed bugs. THIS TECHNIQUE DOES NOT ELIMINATE BED BUGS AND CAN CAUSE SERIOUS HARM. If you decide to let the experts deal with your problem, contact several pest control companies first – although getting bed bug-related customer references may be a problem (since few will want to admit that they’ve ever had them). You may want to avoid companies that don’t have much experience treating bed bugs. Have the pest control company provide you with a written plan of action – detailing what methods and specific insecticides they will be using to treat your bed bug problem.
2) Do the prep work that’s absolutely necessary before the exterminator treats your apartment. In that regard, one measure of an exterminator’s potential effectiveness will be the list of chores they hand you. Andy Linares (from Bug Off Pest Control Center, New York City) is responsible for much of the following homework assignment. Depending on your exterminator, you’ll be expected to complete some or possibly all of the following preparation before bed bug treatment can begin:
- Remove all items from drawers, closets, bookshelves, cabinets and closets (clothes, bedding, and drapes should be laundered, steam-cleaned or dry-cleaned).
- Pack infestible belongings into black plastic bags and seal them. Exposing the bags to direct sunlight for a day will usually generate enough heat to kill any bed bugs within in the bag – no matter their developmental stage. This technique only works during the summer, and so on cloudy days, Andy recommends sticking the bag into your car with the windows rolled up. “I guess the bag better not have holes in it,” I said. Andy agreed. “Yeah, maybe you should put the bag in your mother-in-law’s car.” I asked him what he would do if the infestation were discovered during cold weather. “Seal the bag good and store it until the summer – then stick it into the sun.”
- Remove as many bed bugs as possible by doing a serious vacuum job on your apartment. Use the crevice tool to vacuum furniture, shelves, inside drawers, baseboards, along carpet edges, hot air conduits, radiators, window and door frames, behind pictures and wall hangings. Then seal and toss out the vacuum bag as soon you’re done. Note: borrowing vacuum cleaners is illegal in some states.
- Strip the bed and launder sheets, pillowcases, mattress pads, blankets and comforters in HOT WATER. While you’re at it – toss in any stuffed animals. Everything should be dried on “high” for twenty minutes or more. "What about shrinkage?" you ask. Unfortunately, the answer is that "nobody said this was going to be easy."
- Remove any pets from the premises during treatment (and wash or replace their bedding). Turn off aquarium filters and air stones, cover the tanks with plastic wrap and tape it in place.
- Get rid of cardboard boxes, bags, magazines and newspapers. Bed bugs like paper and wood – not metal and plastic.
- Throw out torn or heavily infested items like mattresses and box springs and be sure to deface them so that others will be discouraged from carting them off from the curb. A pinned or taped-on warning label is not enough. Before you begin hauling your items out, consider donning gloves and a disposable suit before wrapping the bed bug-infested bedding in plastic. This will prevent you from spreading the bed bugs throughout the building or getting them on your clothes. When purchasing your next bed, consider buying one with a metal frame rather than a wooden one.
Finally, don’t even think about bringing your sanitized belongings, new furniture, or new bedding back into your apartment until the exterminator gives you the "okay". And do ask the bed bug exterminator when you should resume vacuuming (since some of the pesticides they use leave an effective residue that should not be removed).
Because most bed bug infestations are not eliminated by a single treatment, you should discuss scheduling a re-treatment to take care of new bed bug hatchlings who weren’t around for the toxic assault that hopefully left them as orphans.
“Whatever these pest control guys use, the initial treatment might kill the bed bugs but it probably won’t kill the eggs,” said Lou Sorkin. “Generally, you need a re-treatment to kill the bed bug hatchlings.”
According to Andy Linares, this will be no sooner then fifteen days after your initial treatment, since that’s how long it takes bed bug eggs to hatch. He also recommends a quarterly re-treatment until you’re bed bug free for six months.
After that, you are officially a Bed Bug Survivor.
My book, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood Feeding Creatures (Harmony/Three Rivers), has an extensive chapter detailing everything you probably never wanted to know about bed bugs including HOW TO AVOID A BED BUG INFESTATION.