A Modern Scourge: Bed Bugs

Lately I’ve  been seeing and hearing a lot about bed bugs. Some of my friends in the computer have had to treat time after time before they finally got rid of them. This is an important issue for me because my www.airbnb.com guests often stay in hotels on their way to my house, and bed bugs love to travel.

A friend shared her experience with it. She went to a do-it-yourself pest control store and bought Zenprox EC solution which contains Etofenprox (CAS#80844-07-1)……….16.2% and Piperonyl butoxide (CAS#51-03-6)…..64.8%, and Delta Dust dusting powder. These stores rent sprayers too. The products had very clear instructions. If you know where their main nest is (usually a bed), start there and then start at one end of the house and work methodically to the other end, spraying everything. If you think you missed something, go back and do it again.

Spray behind the outlet and light switch covers. Spray in the central heat/air vents. Take pictures off the walls and spray the back of them and the wall behind them. Take the bed apart. Bed bugs love wood frame furniture. Don’t forget the undersides of tables and dressers and the backs and bottoms of dresser drawers. They hide in books, too. You will get to know your house better than you ever have. They like baseboards and the edge of carpets. A tile floor with no baseboards will give them fewer places to hide.

Bag every item in every room and spray in the bags. Wash every dish and every piece of clothing. The heat of the clothes dryer kills them. You will need to apply the insecticide again in 7 to 10 days when the next round of eggs hatches out. Right now there’s no chemical that kills the eggs.

Heat above 120°F will kill bed bugs and their eggs. Pest control professionals can heat treat your whole house at once. The downside to that is that some of your stuff will get ruined by the heat. Some people use a steamer. The Vapamore MR-100 steamer gets good reviews. It costs $300, but you can keep using it over and over. It requires distilled water. Buying chemicals many times will soon add up to more than $300. On the other hand you have to apply the steam by hand yourself. A bug bomb will go everywhere at once, including behind baseboards and in the furnace ducts. I believe a combination of methods will work best.

There is some buzz on the internet that 91% rubbing alcohol will kill bed bugs. They have to be completely saturated with it for it to kill them. Someone I know tested this. She captured a bedbug in a glass jar, alive and kicking. She poured rubbing alcohol on it and it died immediately. You could pour this along the seams of a mattress or box spring, around the feet of the bed frame, down behind the baseboards or on a nest under carpet. Rubbing alcohol is very flammable. If you use it for this, don’t allow anyone to smoke in the house and don’t have any candles burning, nothing that could create a spark.

Once you get bed bugs and exterminate them you have to keep a close watch for months afterward and treat again the minute you see one. They can go for months without eating, so they can stay hidden for a very long time.

Bed bugs are 500% more common than they were just a few years ago. They’ve gone upscale. They’re found in 5 star hotels, public transit, taxicabs and movie theaters. They stow away in suitcases, purses, backpacks, anything you carry from one place to another. If you live in a multi-unit dwelling, when you treat they will move into the neighbor’s apartment. And then back into yours. It’s best if you can convince everyone in the building to treat at once.

The good news is that bed bugs don’t especially carry disease. The bad news is that because they don’t usually carry disease, the CDC and most local governments have not started eradication programs. In many communities landlords are not required to treat for bed bugs. That leaves individuals sleeping with the enemy and feeling all creepy in their own home.

To feel a bit safer in your bed, you can set up a kind of moat. Pull the bed away from the wall and make sure bedclothes aren’t dragging on the floor. Take four dishes and fill them with a mix of water and a little dish detergent. Put each leg of the bed in a dish. The detergent breaks the surface tension of the water so if the bugs climb the dishes they’ll fall in and drown instead of possibly crossing the water to get to the bed leg. If the bed is on carpet the dishes will be under a lot of pressure. I haven’t tested this so I’m not certain what type of dishes would be strong enough for this. If you or anyone you know tries this, I’d love to hear the result.

There are bug-proof mattress and box spring covers available. If you leave the mattress continually covered for 18 months it should kill any that are inside it. It will keep bugs from getting in to the mattress and box spring too. Check the reviews, some of the cheap ones fall apart quickly. Although this keeps the bugs out of their preferred housing, they may still settle for other places like upholstered furniture or under the carpet, so you still have to treat the whole house. But you won’t have to buy a new mattress. I don’t know if bedbugs are like many other insects and dislike bay leaves. If so, a person could put crumbled bay leaves all around the bed and maybe all around the cracks and edges of the rooms. I’d be interested to know if there’s a way to use bay leaves (or other plants such as cayenne pepper) to drive them out. If you or anyone you know tries this, I’d love to hear the result.


When you first arrive at a hotel room, put your luggage in the bathtub and pull back the linens to check the mattress and the nooks in the frame. Look for bugs, and also look for the red or black smears that show they’ve been there. If you find signs of bugs ask for a different room and repeat the test. In light of the bedbug epidemic I would never take home a mattress or box spring or any upholstered furniture from the side of the road, nor buy one used.

Likewise, if someone who has been staying in a hotel comes to your house, put their luggage in the bathtub and watch like a hawk as it is unpacked. If you see a bug, either crush it or pour rubbing alcohol on it. Check the inner seams and pocket of all luggage including laptop cases, purses and backpacks.



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