A warning before you read further: this post will make your skin itch. A good friend of mine aptly pointed out that bed bugs are like the adult version of head lice. I never had head lice as a child, and I never imagined that I would have bedbugs as an adult, until it happened to me. I had heard about the great bedbug epidemic in New York back in 2010, but my personal nightmare with bedbugs began last fall.
Sometime around 3AM Halloween morning, I awoke to what would become my very own Halloween nightmare, to last months. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a bug crawling next to me in the dark, and, not typically squeamish, I smashed it between my fingers. When I got up to wash my fingers it appeared as if I had cut myself, and my fingers had blood on them! Suddenly it hit me — what if I had bedbugs? That might explain the mysterious rash I had been suffering from all month. I frantically Googled images of bedbugs and spent the next two hours reading up enough to realize that yes, I had bedbugs.
The more that I read, the more I realized that my nightmare was just beginning. The amount of work that it takes to get rid of bedbugs is overwhelming and costly. We were lucky to catch the infestation early on, thanks to my highly sensitive skin. Only 10% of humans have a reaction to the bites, so even though my husband and I were both being bitten he wouldn't have known that he had a problem until they were crawling out of the walls.
If you think you might be playing host to these dreaded critters, here's what you need to do.
EXTERMINATE: Call an exterminator to identify and confirm the bedbug diagnosis. Once you know what you're dealing with, you can figure out your individual treatment plan. It is a good idea to start treating the bedbugs right away, so our exterminator sprayed the same day that we had the diagnosis. Our extermination plan changed as we studied up more and weighed various costs. We started with a spray treatment that was supposed to be followed up every two weeks for six weeks. The follow-ups are very important to kill any eggs that start to hatch.
We switched extermination companies for the follow-up two weeks later, and went for an in-home heat tent treatment in addition to a powder pesticide sprinkled around our baseboards. You can see our heat pod set up in the photo above. It is a tent made out of hot air balloon material — everything you want treated is placed inside, and the tent is heated above 60°C. We treated our bed, mattress, sofa, and luggage. Since our infestation was low to begin with, our mattress wasn’t ruined, and this heat treatment gave us piece of mind. The heat treatment is one of the costlier treatment methods, but as my husband saw me frantically throwing away nearly everything we owned out of fear, he decided on something drastic to calm my nerves.
LAUNDER: Launder every piece of fabric in your home. This is the most daunting task, but start with the epicenter and work your way outwards. Generally the epicenter is the bed, hence the name, as these bugs like to come out at night and feed on human blood. Despite the early diagnosis, even the upholstered furniture in my living room and dishtowels in my kitchen were laundered, just to be safe.
Guidelines for Laundry: There are many conflicting reports out there about what temperature the wash needs to be at, and my exterminator made a good point by saying that bedbugs can’t swim, so they will drown in any water temperature. However, extreme temperatures are necessary to kill the eggs, which cycle and hatch every 2 weeks. You must either place the fabric in a hot dryer for 15 minutes, or freeze the item for 72 hours.
ORGANIZE: Just doing laundry isn’t enough — there needs to be careful organization and separation between what has been laundered and what could be infested. I set up a triage center on our dining room table with plastic bins, and once an item was removed from the dryer it immediately went into a plastic ziploc bag and was sealed off. It is best to start living only out of the clothes that are sealed, so that you know you aren’t carrying bedbug eggs around with you.
VACUUM: As the bugs are killed off by the poison over time, you will find carcasses that resemble dry lentils. Vacuuming is key, and when you empty the vacuum make sure to get rid of the trash immediately in case any eggs are vacuumed up that you don't want them in your house any longer.
These steps are my personal recommendations, and I can report that we are bedbug free now and hope to remain that way.
(Image credits: Claire Bock)