“Good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” It’s a phrase most of us grew up with. Maybe you heard it from your parents, as they tucked you in. For years, most of us were also blissfully unaware of what a bed bug actually was. That’s because we were living in a golden age as far as bed bug problems are concerned.
According to some sources, bed bugs predate humans and evidence even suggests we have been battling the bug for millennia. Then in the 1940s we got some help. Perhaps for the worse, it came in the form of DDT, a pesticide used to combat insect-borne diseases like malaria and typhus. DDT also proved to be highly effective against bed bugs and we hardly caught sight of the critters for nearly 30 years.
Today, they’re officially back and many in heavily populated areas worldwide are not sleeping tight at all. A 2013 survey of pest control professionals conducted by the National Pest Management Association found that 99 percent of respondents had encountered bed bug infestations in the prior year. Over the last decade we have seen a staggering surge in the population of the pests.
Ever the opportunists, they spread rapidly, hitching rides along with unsuspecting travelers. As anyone who has encountered a bed bug infestation can attest to, they are notoriously difficult to eradicate. They multiply rapidly, with a single pregnant female potentially producing more than 5,000 bed bugs within a six-month period! They hide in seams, mattresses and dark corners, coming out only at night to feed. You likely won’t feel them or see them though, as they inject a dose of anesthesia along with their bite to avoid the vengeance of a woken victim. Intense itching, lesions and allergic skin reactions will likely follow.
Okay, is your skin crawling yet? Here’s the good news: We have a five-step action plan to help you reclaim your life if bed bugs have crawled into it.
1. Identify the enemy
The first step is to confirm that you are, in fact, dealing with bed bugs. Early detection is critical to preventing more costly treatment down the road. Bed bugs hide away during daylight hours (and scurry away rapidly if you shine a light at night), so if you spot more than a few you are likely dealing with an advanced infestation. They’re small; about the size of an apple seed and reddish brown in color. If you do capture a bug, place it in a plastic bag or glass bottle for closer inspection. The adult is broadly oval, flat and wingless.
Bed bug droppings are a tell-tale sign of an infestation. They usually consist of a cluster of dark spots in one area. Look for black residue along the seams of your mattress and on your bedding.
2. Eliminate clutter
If you suspect you have an infestation, it’s time to start your elimination plan. Bed bugs love to steal away in nooks, crannies and crevices. Reduce their hiding spots by getting rid of any unnecessary clutter. Remove, vacuum and bag any personal items like soft toys, stuffed animals, shoes, bags and knick-knacks.
3. Treat living areas
Bed bugs are resilient and difficult to kill. There are few products on the market that can destroy them effectively. We like the lineup of products from Live Free both for their strength and safety. The company offers an array of tools that use a toxic-free, plate-based powder to essentially pull the bug apart at the skeletal level. They make for a potent barrier system around the house and offer protection for couch cushions, furniture legs, cabinets, cracks and corners.
4. Launder regularly
While washing alone won’t eliminate bed bugs, a dryer goes a long way toward killing them off. They don’t like high heat. To finish the job, though, you’ll need an added weapon. Treated dryer sheets like this one disperse a non-toxic powder throughout the dryer that’s formulated to attacks bugs. Be sure to regularly wash all bedding and clothes with treated dryer sheets on high heat.
5. Prevent future infestation
Once you’ve returned your home to a bug free sanctuary, there are a few steps you can take to minimize future risk. Invest in treated mattress and box spring encasements, which not only protect your bed from migrating bed bugs, but also actively kill them.
Bed bugs are also great travelers and are happy to take a ride home with you in your luggage. Protect yourself by doing a visual inspection of your hotel bed. Examine the mattress, box spring, edges of the headboard and sheets for signs of bed bug droppings or the bugs themselves. Be sure to keep your luggage on a luggage rack and never on the floor or bed.
If you do suspect that you’ve been exposed to bed bugs, launder all your clothing with treated dryer strips, bag personal belonging and consider treating your home with a bed bug response kit.
Finally, remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Dealing with a bed bug infestation can be an extraordinarily frustrating and uncomfortable ordeal. We hope you never have to encounter it. But if you do, we will have you armed for the battle.