TREATING BED BUGS 101
Know or suspect that you have bed bugs in your home? Don’t delay dealing with the problem, because it can get bigger very fast. There are many ways to handle a bed bug infestation, but for lasting results and peace of mind, a bed bug treatment using insecticides is the sometimes the best way to go.
Of course, it’s going to cost money. You can take several routes to rid your home of these creatures, from buying products yourself to hiring a bed bug exterminator. The question is: how much time do you have to devote to the project?
HOW TO TACKLE THE BED BUG PROBLEM WITH PESTICIDES
DO IT YOURSELF BED BUG TREATMENTS?
If you take the self-help route, you’re looking at a smaller cash outlay, but a huge investment of time. You’ll need to study more about bed bugs to familiarize yourself with the products available and how to use them safely. Most importantly, you’ll have to come up with a plan to utilize those products effectively. There is no one silver bullet in the bed bug battle. It takes a combination of insecticides and application strategies to kill these bugs dead. Keeping them away from your home also requires your attention far into the future.
Don’t forget that insecticides are chemicals, sometimes very dangerous chemicals. Using them yourself in your home exposes you and your family to some risk. There is always the chance that you’ll misinterpret the directions, or make a mistake in application. This can have serious consequences to the healthy environment you want in your home.
Despite how dire that warning sounds, the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) makes available a searchable database of products that have been approved for bed bug use—over 300 of them. And the site says that the vast majority can be used by consumers. That’s great news if you’re determined to tackle this problem without the help of a professional pest management specialist.
BedBugs.net will have a comprehensive DIY Bed Bug Treatment Guide in the near future.
HIRE A PROFESSIONAL?
No doubt this would be the route most people prefer, but it comes down to money. Prices vary by geographic location, and also by how extensive the infestation is, so it’s not possible to give an estimate of this cost. Suffice it to say that people have reported spending as much as $5000 to eradicate bed bugs and apply follow-up treatments to destroy eggs and hatchlings that may have survived.Then again, others have found professional solutions for as little as $1000. The pricing structure of an exterminator will vary, but you are probably looking at least several hundred dollars a room. Treating an entire house could set you back thousands.
If you can’t afford that kind of money, perhaps you can take advantage of an exterminator’s expertise for a smaller fee, to help you design your own eradication plan or just to verify that you’re going about it the right way. Most will offer a free in-home consultation—this would be an ideal time to propose such an arrangement.
But make sure you’ve prepared thoroughly for the visit by educating yourself about bed bugs and bed bug treatments using insecticides. You should have identified the problem areas in your home to get an accurate idea of how big your infestation is. You should also have taken steps to make monitoring easier in the future. Finally, you need to read up on the chemical and non-chemical solutions to bed bug problems so you can communicate knowledgeably with the exterminator.
BED BUG PESTICIDE OVERVIEW
INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT
The most important thing to realize about bed bug treatments is that no one thing will work. And no combination of things will work all at once. Bed bugs have a life cycle from egg to hatchling to adult, and each step in that cycle requires a different approach.
For instance, it’s highly unlikely that you’ve identified the bed bug problem when the first adults marched into your home. Within a few days eggs will have been laid. Another week and they will have hatched, in addition to new eggs being laid. What that means is that within 10 days of the arrival of the first bugs, you will have bed bugs in all stages of growth in your home.
The reason it’s not likely you will know you have a problem is that you need to confirm visually the presence of bugs. People may or may not have reactions to bed bug bites, so that’s not a reliable indicator. Even if you did have the itchy red marks on your legs, feet, arms or neck, would you immediately assume it was bed bugs? You might think you had a mosquito bite or that fleas had become a problem.
Bed bugs are large enough to be visible to the naked eye, but they’re still quite small. The eggs and young bugs are especially hard to see until they’ve accumulated. For this reason, you probably won’t be sure you have bedbugs until there are enough to have deposited eggs and the discarded shells of growing bugs in a quantity that you can find easily.
Feeding bugs (which includes hatchlings in all stages of growth right up to the adults) are quite good at skittering away when they sense movement, so it’s hard to catch one “in the act”. This is especially true because humans typically don’t feel the bed bugs when they bite.
What all this reinforces is the need to develop a smart plan for bed bug treatments using insecticides. Some products will kill adults on contact, but will have no effect on unhatched eggs. Others may kill eggs or prevent them from hatching, but leave untouched the hatchlings and adults. Many will be effective against their targets, but will do little to prevent any survivors or new arrivals from starting an infestation all over again.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) means two things:
- That your treatments using insecticides do not rely on one product, or two, or even three. Your treatments use as many products as necessary to destroy existing adults, eggs and hatchlings in an organized and repetitive cycle that does not encourage resistance to the chemical. That might require two treatments over a month, or five treatments over 3 months, or whatever it takes to get rid of all the bugs and bugs-to-be.
- IPM also means that insecticides won’t do the whole job. Like any other household project, preparation is probably more important than the final act. You have to identify every nook and cranny where bed bugs are hiding to make sure they are treated. You need to “de-clutter” the areas of your home that are susceptible to bed bugs. You need to eliminate environments attractive to the bugs. In short, you need to do a lot of work to make sure that you don’t miss any bed bugs when you begin your treatments using insecticides.
DON’T USE OTC FORMULATIONS
If you are going to try to organize a bed bug treatment using insecticides, don’t waste your money on over-the-counter sprays or, especially, “bug bombs”. Most of these rely on pyrethroid chemistry, which is considered one of the safest for indoor use against pests.
However, bed bugs have been exposed to this chemical so much that they have developed a resistance to it that negates the effect of these commercially available consumer products. In a word, they don’t work. Unfortunately, that spurs many people on to buy more and more of the product and apply it at unsafe levels, contrary to label instructions, which can sicken people in the home.
If you’re certain you’ve understood the instructions for applying the serious stuff, and have a plan of attack that will get all the bugs, your money is much better spent on the professional formulations.
THERE IS NO EFFECTIVE REPELLENT
Along the same lines, be aware that there is no effective repellent against bed bugs. There is no product you can spray on your bed, body, baseboard or hearth that will make bed bugs turn around and go somewhere else. They simply do not react to repellents in the same way as other insects might.
You must use insecticides that actually kill the bugs and their larvae. Some insecticides have no residual effect (meaning the chemical has to physically hit the bug to work), while others have a modest residual effect. There are not yet any that have a completely satisfying residual effect, so that you could spray your home indiscriminately and know that any bed bugs that enter will be killed.
ONE NON-CHEMICAL IDEA
There is, however, at least one non-chemical element that works this way. It’s not perfect, butdiatomaceous earth is quite effective when applied in areas that bed bugs transit. They pick it up on their feet and it’s transferred to their bodies, which become dehydrated and thus die. But this option is a little messy, and it requires some control over the level of humidity in the home. Keep it in mind for post-insecticide treatment, once you’ve bed-bug-proofed your home.
WHICH INSECTICIDES WORK?
There are only a few types of chemicals that work to kill bed bugs. Bed bug treatments using these insecticides are formulated in different ways, sometimes alone and sometimes in combination, and for different application strategies. There are liquids meant to be sprayed with a wand, aerosols, and dusts or powders.
Some of the products can be used close to humans and animals, such as those formulated for use on beds and fabrics; while others should be used in places where mammals are not likely to come in contact with them—along baseboards, inside small cracks and crevices, along wall-ceiling joints. They will all have varying instructions regarding the coverage amount, whether the home must be vacant during or after application and for how long, and what types of protective gear are needed for the person applying.
BED BUG PESTICIDES THAT ACTUALLY WORK
In general, you will find products that use:
- Pyrethins—this chemical occurs naturally in the chrysanthemum flower. A synthetic version has been manufactured to mimic the potency of the natural version, but with a higher residual effect and using a water base (which is less damaging to furniture and other objects found in homes). This is the most-used weapon against bed bugs, and the fact that they have developed resistance means that the formulations must constantly evolve. The EPA websitecited earlier is a good resource to find new products that have been approved.
- Insect Growth Regulators—these don’t kill the bugs, but they inhibit their ability to reproduce successfully.
- Synergists—these are chemicals that do not have an insecticidal quality. They are “additives” that enable the other components and chemicals in the product to work together effectively.
If that doesn’t seem like a very strong arsenal against the growing onslaught of bed bugs—it’s not. Bed bugs were effectively eradicated from the United States and other Western countries over 50 years ago, using the now-banned chemical DDT. Little research had been done until recently because, naturally, nobody was paying attention to a pest that didn’t really exist.
But with the resurgence of bed bugs and their likely rising prominence in our daily lives, you can bet scientists are scrambling to find new ways to conquer these critters.
FINAL TIPS ON AVOIDING BED BUGS
But until they do, there really is no choice but to adopt some of the common-sense strategies we’ve learned from earlier generations to monitor for and control bed bug infestations. Once you’re sure your home is bed bug-free, you will want to take the following bed bug preventative steps to fortify your residence against a reoccurance:
- Seal up cracks and crevices between walls and floors, and walls and ceilings.
- Remove or repair peeling wallpaper—bed bugs can easily find a place to hide out under loose seams near a bed or sofa.
- Declutter your home, especially the bedroom. Make it easy to inspect under, behind, and inside furniture, and also make it easy to vacuum the entire carpet including edges and corners.
- Seal up your mattress and box spring, either with a bed encasement that you buy, or with plastic and duct tape from the hardware store. This will force the bugs to concentrate in fewer areas of the whole bed assembly, and thus make it easier for you to monitor those areas.
- Carefully inspect any clothing, furniture or baggage that enters your home. Many people empty their suitcases directly into the washing machine when returning home from a trip. A hot wash and dry session will kill the bugs before they have a chance to find your bedroom.