Bed Bugs: Disinsecting the Bedroom

We discovered our first bed bug bites one morning, shortly after we returned from our vacation, which meant at least one bed bug had taken up residence in our bed. That should come as no surprise: why do you think they’re called bed bugs?

For historic reasons, we have an oak California King platform bed with a Select Comfort air-bag mattress in the middle of the room. An oak dresser stands at the head of the bed, with various cords from the power strip screwed underneath the bed. An oak wardrobe stands a few feet away, with closets on either side of the room. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves line one wall.

A bed bug can find an essentially infinite number of harborages within easy walking distance.

We dismantled the bed:

  • Everything washable into bags, then to the washer & dryer
  • Pillows directly to the dryer
  • Mattress & air bags to the attic
  • Compressor & wiring to the attic
  • Wood parts to the driveway, baking in the sun
  • Foam padding to the driveway, plus an alcohol spray

The woodwork reached a surface temperature of 150°F and, after a few rotations to let the interior parts heat up, got stacked on sawhorses in the garage. Some smaller wooden parts of the bed didn’t collect enough energy to get hot enough, so we sprayed those with alcohol.

We sorted clothing in the dresser & wardrobe & closets into bags, tagged the bags, and moved to the attic. When it’s needed, we first wash and dry it; we’ve been activating the “winter clothing” bags in the last few weeks.

Hint: you must tag the bags as you seal them. The attic is a sea of black plastic trash bags, piled two and three high after their initial heating, and there is no way you can remember what’s inside a particular bag without a label.

The dresser and wardrobe got hauled to the driveway, heated, and stacked in the garage. You must keep rotating the pieces so the desired surface gets sufficiently hot; the driveway resembled a tag sale for several days.

We took bags and suchlike to the attic during the hottest part of the day, to ensure that any bugs couldn’t just walk away without being toasted.

If the weather had been cool and wet, this whole process would not have worked. As it was, we had reasonable confidence that any bugs were either dead or isolated in a bag.

Mary decided this was a good time to give the room a thorough cleaning, so she vacuumed the books and washed the shelves. She also washed the floors and walls, leaving the place immaculate… after which, I poofed diatomaceous earth around the edges of the floor.

Now, how would you go about demonstrating that there were no bed bugs left in that room? Obviously, you’d set out a baited trap and see what it collected.

Next up: lures and traps…

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  1. #1 by Matt on 9-December-2010 - 05:45

    What about using a high-powered hairdryer or heat gun for thermal treatment of furniture? So long as you’re not trying to penetrate a deep crack, it seems to me that wood’s generally low thermal conductivity should be good for the kind of surface heating that you need.

    I think a hairdryer might also be useful for flushing bugs out of cracks, though the Behavior of bed bugs in response to heat suggests that the heat should be delivered through the surrounding material, rather than focusing a hot airstream directly into the crack. Though it’s a false analogy, I’m reminded of the soldering advice: “heat the work, not the solder”.

    • #2 by Ed on 9-December-2010 - 06:47

      a high-powered hairdryer or heat gun

      Absolutely a terrible idea. The air stream blows the bugs all over, so you scatter the problem across the room, not solve it. All the references are in firm agreement: no hot air guns!

      So long as you’re not trying to penetrate a deep crack

      Which is exactly where bedbugs hang out when they’re not feeding.

      Applying a vacuum cleaner fails the same way: anything in a deep crack will remain there.

  2. #3 by Matt on 9-December-2010 - 05:48

    Regarding your point about tagging bags, some sites (e.g. PestMall) sell clear bags as another way to address this problem. Their bags are 3 mil thick, which strikes me as overkill.

    • #4 by Ed on 9-December-2010 - 06:53

      sell clear bags

      Until you’ve gone through this, you cannot imagine how many bags you will use. Cheap, large, reasonably durable, and readily available trumps everything else: buy big boxes of big bags at your local big box retailer and be done with it.

      There’s an argument that you shouldn’t use black plastic because bugs can hide in the folds. News flash: you’ll never see the instars in a clear bag, either, so there’s not much point.

      And you must treat used bags as contaminated, at least until they’ve been heat-treated. We collected a bag-of-bags, squashed the air out, and heated them all at once. Repeat until victory…

  1. Bed Bugs: Furniture Isolation « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  2. Bed Bugs: Overview « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning
  3. Bed Bugs: Wrapup « The Smell of Molten Projects in the Morning