You have bed bugs (or you think you might have them). As someone who dealt with a bed bug infestation, I can tell you this: it's traumatic, it's stressful and it is a lot of work. There is a huge amount of cleaning, a vast amount of preparation & in sum: it's tiring, exhausting and all consuming.
It took me a long time to recover from the experience. Honestly, it took me around 3 years until after my experience that I finally was able to stop flinching at every little piece of lint and dust in my apartment.
For me, the hardest thing was the physical exhaustion that surrounded my bed bug infestation. I was sleep deprived, paranoid, and I thought I was going crazy. And while more often than not I was going crazy, it was those rare occasions when I *really wasn't* that were enough to plague my sleep, my dreams, my mind, my body.
Wait, is this an episode of American Horror Story?
Almost. I’ll admit there were times that it felt like I was living in Apocalyptic New York - especially when my apartment was turned upside down with sprays, powders, garbage bags, plastic tubs, ziplock containers. Even walking the streets I felt contaminated, scared that I would spot a bed bug crawl out of my bag onto the subway (that never happened – but I couldn’t stop it from being one of my fears).
In a short period I became a Bed Bug aficionado, reading every single website, article, and message board I could find in search on anything & everything about handling these little monsters. I thought of myself as Buffy the Bed Bug Slayer as my life transformed into Bed Bug Domination.
So here are my tips, my advice, my encouragement. I am not a professional, so I’ll offer this disclaimer: always, always, always follow the advice your exterminator tells you (more on why that is below).
The best guide I found on the web (there may be others) was this website put together by Cornell University.
Step 1: CHECKING
Before you start checking for ’em, here is what you need to know about bed bugs:
- They don’t carry diseases (one small relief)
- They are around 1/8 inch in size so are definitely visible to the naked eye.
- They don’t like light
- They don’t like to move, or to be moved.
- They move slowly
- They like warm places
- They like the dark
- They are expert hiders
When you know what they like and dislike, you can see that they are called bed bugs for a reason. Like all New Yorkers, they want an easy commute. A bed is the best spot for these pests as it checks all the requirements for their perfect home: they don't have to travel far for their meals, they can easily hide from light, they’ll stay warm in the dark & are oh so close to their feeding source (yeah, that would be YOU).
Because they move slowly, they work their way from the bottom up. The box spring is where they like to start so that is the first place you will want to check as well as anything you might store underneath the bed. Remember, bed bugs are expert hiders. They like creases, seams, folds, anything to keep them "snug as a bug in a rug." They like fabric to hide in. I missed them in my initial check. A quick look under the bed or lifting a mattress up is not enough. You’ve got to give all your attention & energy into thoroughly checking.
You can spot their trail by their droppings (a nice way to refer to yep, their poop), which looks like black or brown spotting. You could also find it seeping through the corner of a box spring and/or along the seam. You might have to lift up the fold by a seam to spot them. You might even see their shell, which looks like a translucent skeleton of their body (so it looks like a dead, clear-ish white bed bug). FYI, as bed bugs mature from baby to adult, they shed their skin/ casing & that’s another indication to be on the hunt for.
I also discovered that bugs can live in the walls and can travel out of light sockets. That was how we speculated/ determined how the bugs spread between rooms as 2 of the bedrooms in our apartment were contaminated and shared a light socket/ wall. And because each bed shared the same wall, it made for minimal travel for the bed bugs to move from one host to another. We duck taped the sockets until the exterminator came. Much later in my clean out, I found droppings on the seam of my bedside lamp (which I rarely used).
So check everywhere.
Every little corner, piece of fabric, pillows, seams on your bed.
A note on Mattress Covers:
Now, you might be thinking you’re OK because you have a mattress cover – and one especially designed for bed bugs. I hate to break it to you, even if you bought a mattress cover, that doesn't protect you from an infestation because they will just find another home to nest in nearby. I read about some people finding bed bug nests in their night table drawer & even in the bedframe. Like I mentioned above, when I had my infestation, I even found a little home in the seam of my bedside lampshade.
Also note that your mattress cover might not be the same cases that are used to stop bed bugs from spreading. There are special cases meant just for bed bug use that are indended to trap, suffocate and starve off bugs already living in your mattress. You can buy these online at Amazon fairly cheaply. They are also available at Target. When I went to buy one, Target was sold out but I was able to find one at the Sleepy’s Mattress store in the Atlantic Center. It ended up costing over 3 times the price than it would have gotten at Target, but I was desperate.
So basically a mattress cover is a pointless deterrent for bed bugs. A mattress cover is only useful after an infestation.
Step 2: CHUCKING
Once I knew we had bed bugs, I went on a chucking binge. I know I took precautionary measures to the extreme (to the extent that I didn’t even want my mattress anymore, even after I put the special $125 bed bug mattress case on it.* Knowing they were still living underneath gave me the heebie jeebies).
*you can find much cheaper cases on Amazon, I was desperate and wanted one immediately so I got an overpriced one in the Atlantic Mall.
If you want to chuck your beds (I get it, I was there!) you have to dispose of all beds in plastic bags. And you need to put a sign on the case that the mattress is contaminated. This is the New York City law & it’s the decent thing to do to stop them from going into someone else’s home. You can buy plastic bags for beds easily enough – I bought mine at a U-Haul and I have also seen them for sale at Home Depot. They cost around $7.
I also tossed all my pillows, bedding, duvets – stuffing them into black garbage bags and sealing it up tight so as not to spread them further.
Step 3: CLEANING & TREATING
To prepare for the exterminators, there is a ton of prep work. IMPORTANT: this is where it’s imperative to listen to what your exterminator tells you what to do. Depending on the type of treatment you get will determine how you need to prepare for the extermination.
For example, some treatments are through a fumigation method while others with a spray. Some are heat based, others steam focused. There are even ways treat with a freezing solution. Some treatments require everything (books included) to be packed up before treating. Others need household items left out.
Don’t try to treat it yourself… When I went to buy my mattress cover, a fellow customer told me about a method he uses to treat them with chemicals you can buy at a hardware store. And other person told me about a natural powder I can buy to put around the bed & in doorways to stop spreading. I heard so many conflicting stories & honestly, I was unconvinced by all of it. Some things are meant for the professionals and this is one of them.
Anyways. Back to cleaning.
Bed bugs die of extreme heat or extreme cold. Steam cleaning as well as dry cleaning also works. Another New York City law is you have to tell the dry cleaners that you are bringing items that might be contaminated. So do the decent thing and let them know.
I was able to tumble dry most items (they say 30 minutes – I erred on caution and did 45), or freeze others that couldn’t go into the dryer (like shoes, purses, delicates). You should be able to freeze soft toys.
These were the steps I was told to follow – but again follow your exterminator’s advice:
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Step 4: BED BUG PREPARATION GUIDELINES
AGAIN - these were the steps I was told to follow - PLEASE follow your exterminator’s advice. This is just to give you an idea of what is involved and how seriously it needs to be taken.
Please be aware that treating Bed Bugs is an all-together different treatment than most household pests. The success of the treatment is especially dependant on tenant preparation and cooperation with the guidelines presented below. Due to the nature of a Bed Bug, and the treatments available to eradicate them, it is normal for there to be a possibility of multiple treatments needed.
***We recommend a follow-up treatment after the initial treatment approximately 2 weeks after the initial treatment. It is the responsibility of the tenant to make the follow-up appointment with our office***
Preparation Before Technician’s Arrival:
- If you plan on discarding your mattress, do so before treatment. Wrap the mattress in plastic securely before disposing of the mattress. Leave markings on the cover that it has “BEDBUGS” so that someone else on the street or in your building does not pick it up. If you purchase a new mattress, leave it in the factory-packaged cover until after you are sure that the infestation is gone.
- Remove all sheets and pillowcases from the mattress and put in a sealed bag.
- Remove all mattresses from their frames in the rooms being treated. The mattresses should be lined up against the wall in order that the mattress can be treated correctly. If the bed has a box spring, it should be removed from the frame as well.
- Remove all clothing from dressers and closets in the rooms being treated, and put them in sealed bags.
- All furniture, including headboards should be moved away from the walls.
- Preferably, all curtains should be taken down to be washed or steamed.
- Be prepared to leave the premises for 3-4 hours.
- If you or someone in the household suffer from asthma or are pregnant, the management office or our office must be notified before any action is to be taken. We will need written consent from a doctor before treatment.
- Purchase a plastic hypoallergenic mattress cover to be used for post treatment.
- Children under the age of 1 should be out of the apartment for 24 Hours after treatment. Pets should be removed for 6 hours after treatment. Birds should be removed for 48 hours.
Instructions For After Service Has Been Rendered:
- Wash all clothing and bedding sheets, curtains and area rugs (in hot water where possible, and with detergent). This will kill any eggs attached to these garments. (This may be done prior to treatment, however, items shall remain in bags and out of the furniture)
- Delicate items that can’t be washed should be dry-cleaned. Items may also be put into a freezer for 24-48 Hours.
- Once the mattress has been treated, place the mattress in the hypoallergenic cover and leave the cover on until the problem has been totally eradicated.
- If you bought a new mattress, leave the plastic on until you are sure the problem has been eradicated.
- If you have carpet, it is recommended to have it steam cleaned as well, to be sure there are no bed bug eggs nested there.
- Vacuum carpet often and immediately dispose of the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag.
Things to Avoid:
- Buying used furniture.
- Buying refurbished mattresses.
- Buying Foggers (Bug Bombs) to treat the Bed Bugs yourself. Foggers do not work for Bed Bugs.
***ALL OF THE ABOVE-MENTIONED STEPS ARE NECESSARY. OUR TECHNICIANS WILL NOT TREAT UNLESS THESE STEPS ARE TAKEN BEFORE THEY ARRIVE***
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