Related Reading on Park Slope Parents:
One stressed out Mom asks the PSP Group common questions any family dealing with Bed Bugs have wondered before:
The dog from Bed Bug Super Dogs came and sniffed bedbugs in and around my daughter's crib. I have booked an exterminator, but need help figuring out what to do in the meantime since they're not coming until Monday. I understand that you are supposed to dry all clothes on high heat for an hour. That process has begun. Here are my questions:
1. Is dry cleaning also acceptable for clothing that can't go in the dryer?
2. Do you need to do anything with items in the kitchen and/or bathroom?
3. How do you clean items around the house that can't be put in the dryer - i.e. fabric toy baskets, toys that are a mix of hard and soft materials, shoes, purses/bags, books?
4. Is it true that rubbing alcohol or ammonia based cleaning products should be used on hard surfaces?
5. What about sending my daughter to day care? What sorts of precautions should I take so that we aren't putting the other children/workers at risk?
6. As for myself and my husband… is there anything we should do when we arrive at work? Bag our coat? Change clothes?
Last questions: How long do you live out of plastic bags for? My husband seems to think that we'll be back to normal in a week or so, I guess I'm more of a pessimist than he is...
I am completely freaked out and am over thinking things, I know. But any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!
We were "diagnosed with" bed bugs late last spring, and I really identify with your misery. I'm not quite sure why finding out you have bedbugs feels so incredibly awful, but I know it does. Like you, I had to keep actively reminding myself to keep perspective - it's not cancer; my house didn't burn down. And you'll get through it! I promise. From diagnosis to being "back to normal" - everything unpacked, etc. - took about three months for us.
One of the reasons it's so hard, especially in the beginning, is that you feel like a leper. I dealt with my self-consciousness by being very open about it, since rationally I knew it was crazy be ashamed or embarrassed. A bed bug infestation, as you know, can happen to anyone, and is in no way a reflection of your personal habits! Whether or not you choose to be as outspoken as I was (and one woman did look at me in horror and say, "Wow...I wouldn't tell anyone that...aren't you embarrassed?"), I do believe you're ethically obligated to inform everyone in your building, as well as anyone who comes into your home. I found that since it was clear I was being extremely aggressive about dealing with the problem, once the whole ordeal was over, our friends and our children's friends were confident that we were bed-bug free.
You probably should not have playdates inside your home, but if you have a nanny or a cleaning person, or other people coming into your house, they can take precautions by leaving their shoes/bags at the door. If you/they want to be extremely careful, they can put their clothes in the dryer on high heat for 20 minutes before they leave your house, and there's no way they'll be taking any bugs with them. You can do that, too, when it comes to going to work and sending your kids to school - just make sure everything you put on has been heat-treated first. Things that can't go in the dryer, like shoes, can be sprayed or wiped down with rubbing alcohol, which also kills the bugs.
A few things to know:
1. You need to hire an exterminator. We used M&M Environmental, and we were happy with them, but there are lots of places out there. Once you hire the exterminator, they will walk you through the process of what you need to do. Although this problem has a way of taking on an incredibly urgency, there truly is NO RUSH. It doesn't matter if you have bedbugs for another couple of weeks while you do what you need to do to prepare for the extermination.
2. Although our infestation was limited to our children's bedrooms, we dismantled our whole apartment - the recommendation is that you can't really treat bed bugs effectively if you just spot-treat. You have to proceed as if they are everywhere.
3. You should choose the clothes that you and your family will need to use for the next few weeks and put them in plastic ziploc bags (this whole thing, of course, is an environmentalist's nightmare!). I found that, as far as my kids were concerned anyway, it was easiest to group items and label the bags - I had a plastic bag full of underwear, one full of long-sleeved shirts, one full of PJ's, etc. That made mornings much easier.
4. The bedbugs are eliminated through a handful of different tactics, and this is one of the confusing parts of the process.
*You have to run all clothing, sheets, and towels through the clothes dryer at high heat (high heat for 20 minutes kills bed bugs).
*If you can, it's helpful to send some stuff out to be cleaned, just to ease the burden of all that laundry. You have to put all cleaned items in sealed plastic bags so they can't get re-infested. Target sells huge plastic bags.
*We decided to send a bunch of stuff out to be fumigated off-site - things like toys, which felt impossible to clean by hand, and I didn't want them treated with toxic chemicals. The company we used was called Moving Right Along.
*Your mattresses and pillows need to be enclosed in bed bug-proof cases, so any bugs or eggs that are actually on the mattress will die in there, and no new ones can get in.
*We sent our rugs out to be cleaned, but I think some exterminators will do that for you.
*When your exterminators come, they will freeze (treat with Cryonite) electronics like your computer(s), stereo, etc.
When you're ready - that is, everything in your apartment has been cleaned and packed up or sent away to be cleaned - the exterminators come and inspect your home for nooks and crannies, blocking up all possible hiding places. Then they spray stuff all over the place. They claim that this spray is non-toxic, though frankly I was never completely convinced of that. This all sounds really complicated, and it sort of is, but your extermination company walks you through everything.
5. When the exterminators come, you should plan to sleep somewhere else for a night or two. If you have any pets, they need to be removed as well. No people or pets can be in your apartment during the extermination, or for several hours afterward.
6. After the first treatment, you'll spend the next two weeks living out of plastic bags. Your couch will be covered with a plastic tarp. Two weeks after your first treatment, your exterminator will come back and do it again. They might tell you at this point that you shouldn't unpack for the next three months. We were told, off the record, by a representative from our exterminator, that the three-month recommendation is something that applies more strictly to situations where a building has a mass infestation (and neighbors who aren't dealing with the problem responsibly). We did NOT wait three months, but slowly began to unpack and restore our lives to normal.
7. Many bed bug prevention/elimination websites have sprung up, and they actually can be useful - it's much cheaper to buy mattress encasements online, for instance, than from your exterminator (www.bedbugsupply.com is one). You might consider getting interceptors, too - they're little saucers that you put your bedframe legs on. The bugs get trapped in there, because they can't climb on slick surfaces.
I realize how dreadful this sounds. And truly, it IS dreadful - it's sort of like moving, but worse, because you have to clean everything, and no one wants to have anything to do with you, so you won't get much help from friends. But you will get through it. It did help to keep reminding myself that it's JUST BUGS - no one died, nothing bad really happened. It's just a huge, huge nuisance. And while it's going on, you feel strangely transformed into someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder, because you have to do things that seem so irrational. Also, even though I never got bites (my daughter was the only one who reacted to them, but she reacted intensely), I used to wake up at 4 in the morning thinking about bugs, wanting to turn on the light to catch them.
One saving grace for me was that my next-door neighbor, who is also a good friend, had them too - our kids had been carrying toys back and forth between their apartments, and we think the bugs were probably hitchhiking on Thomas the Train or one of his friends. I hope you can find someone to reach out to for support, to help you through the whole thing - it really made a difference for me.