Bed Bugs: Overview

Back in July, we returned from our bicycling vacation with a few bed bugs in our luggage. We have our suspicions about where they came from, but that’s not really relevant: bed bugs can come from nearly anywhere. You can bring a bed bug home from a classy hotel just as easily as from a sleazy dive… and you will!

After three months, we think we’ve eliminated the last bed bug: no bites for the last three weeks. One can never be absolutely certain, but that’s definitely a good sign, particularly in combination with the monitoring measures we’re using.

We accomplished this on our own, without the use of a licensed PCO (Pest Control Operator) and without the use of toxic chemicals. It was, however, extremely expensive in terms of time, materials, and furnishings, as well as completely disrupting our family life.

While our methods definitely do not scale to the level required for a major infestation, most likely you’ll be in our situation: you return from a vacation with one or two, um, guests. If you understand what we’ve done and why we’ve done it, you’ll have a better basis for your own decisions and actions.

So.

Most of what you’ll find in the usual Internet forums comes from (possibly) well-meaning folks who haven’t done any reading or experimentation: it’s raw anecdotal experience. Not to slander them, but it’s better to start with the basics, which you get from the primary sources.

To that end, here are the better sources we’ve found and used:

With those references in hand, I can describe what we did and how it worked. If you’re the sort who can’t drive past a nasty accident without gawking (and we are all that sort, really), then the next week or so should be good for at least that level of amusement…

A note to the potential purchasers of our house, when you read this in what’s currently our future: yeah, bed bugs. The only difference between this house and the next one on your list is that you know what happened here, what we did, and how it worked out. Trust me on this: no other homeowner will tell you anything about their bed bug experiences, to the extent of lying to your face.

Believe it.

Update: Here’s a quick index to the rest of (this chapter of) the Bed Bug Story:

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  1. #1 by Raj on 2010-11-08 - 11:17

    Ed, when we return from a trip we sun our baggage, clothes and all.

    • #2 by Ed on 2010-11-08 - 12:27

      That, I suspect, works a lot better for you than for us, particularly in the winter!

      I’ll go into the grisly details of perpetrating a thermal kill in a few days…

  2. #3 by Pest Control on 2010-11-08 - 14:10

    A number of health effects have been known to occur, as the result of a bedbug infestation. These effects include skin rashes, psychological effects and allergic symptoms.

    • #4 by Ed on 2010-11-08 - 16:02

      Indeed… and it doesn’t take many bugs at all to let the craziness loose!

  3. #5 by John Rehwinkel on 2010-11-09 - 11:32

    The last link (bedbug traps) is broken.

    [Ed: Fixed! Thanks...]

  4. #6 by Brian Schnell on 2010-12-02 - 14:59

    I have been looking through the internet for two months concerning bed bugs where trying to educate myself on their behavior and researching other individual’s experience with these pests. Your website has been the only one I have found so far, which entails more information and I feel is more truthful about ones experience with bed bugs. You have documented everything very well. Thanks for taking the time in being detailed oriented. Your information is very helpful. It is saddening and alarming at the same time, to know what all you had to go through to eradicate them from your home.
    I have been experiencing an invisible pest in my home for two months. I have had two different professional pest control companies come and do their type of bed bug treatments. One did perimeter heating and the other did freezing. Each time, neither company could find any evidence of bed bugs harboring anywhere in my home. No casting, feces, dead or live bugs were found. The only evidence have been the bites and an occasional excrement on the bed sheets, which could be anything.
    I am writing to ask, what type of DE (diatomaceous earth) did you purchase to use? Did you mix it with anything else or just use the food grade DE by itself? I have purchased a food grade. Thanks in advance.

    • #7 by Ed on 2010-12-02 - 15:28

      entails more information and I feel is more truthful about ones experience

      That’s what pushed me over the edge: the amount of total mis- and dis-information to be found. The number of totally bogus claims made by companies pushing magic products really annoyed me, too.

      I can’t claim to be an expert on bed bugs, but I can relate what we did, why we did it, and how it worked out. Maybe we didn’t make the best or smartest decision at each point, but you can certainly learn from our adventures…

      what type of DE (diatomaceous earth) did you purchase

      Haven’t a clue, because the box it was in seemed just slightly younger than dirt itself. Mary bought ten pounds of diatomaceous earth, probably two decades ago, as slug deterrent for her gardens, so it’s most likely whatever DE you’d find at your neighborhood big-box garden supply place.

      I doubt that it’s “food grade”, whatever that is, and I know it’s not pool filter media, which is entirely different stuff.

      Not much to go on, I’ll agree, but at least you can weed out some possibilities.

      We applied it straight up and haven’t a clue how well it worked on the bed bugs, other than the anecdotal evidence that we seem to have killed ‘em all by some means…

      • #8 by Brian Schnell on 2010-12-02 - 23:38

        Thanks for the feedback, it is appreciated. What were your bites like? Did you experience the classic “breakfast, lunch and dinner”, “clusters” or single? You commented it was like an itch you have never had before. Please elaborate more if you can.
        Mine will seem like a rash which pops up during the day. It itches some at first, but then dissipates. Others seems to be single bites sporadically on my body, primarily on the chest, shoulders and arms. I have never had the large welts which you see on the internet.
        Also, how did you actually catch the specimens you did find? What do you recommend for capture if it is a very light infestation like yours? Sorry for all the questions. I am just a desperate researcher looking for any ideas….Thanks again.

        • #9 by Ed on 2010-12-03 - 07:06

          Please elaborate more if you can.

          You’ve got the essentials: a discrete puncture that itches like crazy. For us, at least, the bites had a small, hard core that’s distinct from the usual random zit. The affected area is maybe 1 cm in diameter and only the central dot remains after a day.

          Obviously, that’s just our own reaction; not at all like the raging allergies in the horror stories.

          how did you actually catch the specimens you did find?

          The backgrounds tell the story: the lumpy off-white gunk is masking tape and the fluffy white grit is talcum powder. Everything we caught came from those traps; we never saw other evidence of an infestation. The details are in the Planet Powder and Planet Sticky posts.

          I can’t make much of a what-to-do recommendation, other than what I’ve written up… which is just what we did. Your mileage will definitely vary!

          Good luck…

  5. #10 by Janet on 2011-05-11 - 01:52

    Looking forward to reading through your entire bed bug blog (unfortunately). We have a newly discovered bed bug infestation.

    We had them two years go, at which time I did A LOT of research much like you (learned more than I ever wanted to know and our kitchen turned into a lab, labeled specimens, experiments in what killed them most effectively, etc. At that time, the CO2 traps were not yet being discussed. We discovered DE (also not widespread yet) and that is what we did…BIG TIME. It worked. It was summer, and we used a combo of DE’ing our entire apartment, bagging up items and washing and drying with heat at laundromat, storing all clothing in giant ziploc storage bags for several months, 91 percent rubbing alcohol, and possibly MOST effective (a tie with the DE) – placing items in our car in the sun to heat treat. We also did not use a professional, spent a few hundred dollars, and never saw them again for over 2 years.

    About a year after our infestation we moved to the place we live now…very nice…no sign of bugs, but we blew DE in through the entire place while it was empty, before we moved in (we made our own blower out of an old bath tub bubble massager!).

    Long story short – we were free of them for two years. We recently started to suspect we may have them, couldn’t believe it was possible, denial, PTSD from last time, but the other day I actually caught one with a piece of tape, examined it under microscope, etc. It was an adult – didn’t really need the microscope. We don’t believe that it is a dormancy issue since the amount of time that passed is by all accounts excessive, though we live in New York City which has unfortunately become Bed Bug City, and I now believe anything is possible regarding them in this town.

    In our new research, we came upon the Rutgers study and the dry ice traps. Made those today out of pet bowls, fabric and tape. Sourced dry ice dealer (we live in Queens, NY). We will be picking up dry ice tomorrow and beginning that process tomorrow night. We will be kicking it up a notch and using a very light coating of DE rather than talcum powder. After this initial dry ice cycle (we hope to get 3 days out of dry ice by storing it in a cooler, a friend at a lab says that they normally get at least 3 days), we may try other CO2 methods i.e., sugar/yeast.

    We are VERY curious about this item — Exhale CO2 Cultivator Bags — but still trying to determine how much CO2 this emits compared to the dry ice — too much or too little or just right. If you or anyone else reading this has any data on this – MUCH appreciated.

    Finally, thank you so much for this intelligent, thorough and refreshing site. As I say, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable, but am actually looking forward to reading thru this and learning a bit more. Peace.

    • #11 by Ed on 2011-05-11 - 07:35

      couldn’t believe it was possible, denial, PTSD from last time

      We know that story… but if you don’t act immediately, the situation won’t get better by itself!

      Good luck on your new project!

      Exhale CO2 Cultivator Bags

      The fungus-in-a-bag CO2 generator sounds like flim-flam to me. The tipoff is “This mycelial mass cultivates 20,000ppm CO2″: pure bafflegab. The concentration may be that high inside the bag, but that’s not where it counts. What you want to know is the production in, say, milliliters per day, but I’m absolutely certain that’s so close to zero as to make no difference. If it were high enough to matter, the bag would puff up, valve or no valve…

      My back of the envelope + experiments indicate that gallon-jug yeast reactors don’t generate enough CO2 to make any difference. If you find bugs in the traps, it’s because they were wandering by on their way to another appointment and sniffed something, not because they were drawn from across the room by the gas.

      I took the liberty of injecting some paragraph breaks into your comment; it came through as one long uninterrupted text block.

  6. #12 by Melissa S. on 2013-06-23 - 21:32

    Okay, so I just read through your bedbug posts after several days of reading 2-8 hours per day. I found you when I Googled “diatomacious earth success stories” so you can imagine how many other things I’ve Googled to finally get to that point. I really just needed some support and reassurance at this point, haha. We(me and two kids) came home to Dallas from a road trip (had just been in 3 different hotels over 3 days) around 9pm and plopped down on the couch to watch a movie(Ferris Bueller’s Day Off–Yep, we’d been in Chicago, which I learned in my research is one of the top bedbug infested cities). We all began itching halfway through the movie and I got the bug cream out, thinking fleas had gotten us. The next morning our bites looked kinda like ant bites and were very itchy. As they were still extremely itchy the next day(day2), I realized something wasn’t right so I Googled some pictures and realized what we probably had were bed bug bites, as they were in nice, little rows and clusters on our torsos and legs. Of course we had already emptied our suitcases and rolled them all over the house at that point and I had to work a double shift the next day(day 3). When I got home I began washing and/or drying everything I could but there were only so many hours before I had to be back at work. And when I noticed two tiny blood marks on one kid’s pillow(she had slept on the couch), that sealed the deal, I knew exactly what I might have to deal with and that I’d better take some serious action before things got out of hand.

    On Day 4 I began the dusting of my house with food grade diatomacious earth and continued the washing and drying of everything. I went ahead and threw out the suitcases, as only one was a $50 bag and what’s fifty bucks to chance an infestation?! My house looks like a bottle of baby powder exploded inside. On Day 5 I put plastic containers under the bed feet filled with DE. We all have white/light sheets and haven’t gotten any more bites yet and no more blood marks, but my 10 year old did kill a small clear(baby nymph?) bug of some sort in her room yesterday on her dresser but she freaked out after squishing it and flicked it away so I never saw the critter. I am not taking any chances so am going to leave the DE all over for at least a month. It’s so nerve-wracking, the waiting and worrying, ya know. We’re on day 6 and I have hardly slept at night. We still haven’t dared to sit on the couch at this point although I turned it over and dusted every crack and crevice. At this point all I can do is hold my breath I suppose and keep dusting. I dusted my car but it gets 95 degrees here every day so hopefully anything in there is long dead.

    I’m a bit worried after seeing your comment about pets. We have a cat(i dusted him, too) and I sure hope any bugs here don’t use him to advance to the next stage of maturity!

    Thank you for blogging about this!!!!!
    M

    • #13 by Ed on 2013-06-24 - 07:41

      looks like a bottle of baby powder exploded

      Nothing exceeds like excess, but you really don’t need much more than a barely visible thin film… breathing powder isn’t good for you, no matter how much baby powder my parents used on me.

      It sounds as though you’re doing about as much as can be done without pesticides. Over the next few weeks, if our experience is any guide, you’ll discover just how psychosomatic illness works: remember that not everything which itches is a bed bug!

      Good luck on your hunt…

  1. Bed Bugs: Infestation and Breeding « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  2. Bed Bugs: Pesticides « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  3. Bed Bugs: Thermal Kill « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  4. Bed Bugs: Lures « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  5. Bed Bugs: Traps From Planet Powder « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  6. Bed Bugs: Wrapup « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  7. Blog Impulse Response « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  8. Blog Summary – 2010 « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  9. Bedbugs Redux « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  10. The Beached Librarian » Blog Archive » Bedbugs scare the crap put of me
  11. Bed Bugs: Living on Planet Sticky « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  12. Bed Bugs: Hot Box Disinsector « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  13. Blog Summary: 2012 « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning