Bed Bugs: Assured Destruction

Because our infestation consisted of a relatively small number of bed bugs, our primary goal was to prevent any instars from reaching maturity and breeding. The secondary goal was to eliminate any existing adults, one of which seemed to be an egg-laying female.

An ordinary house, ours included, presents an essentially infinite number of harborages suitable for bed bugs. Despite what the references will tell you, it’s impossible to remove / seal / stuff all of the cracks and crevices in which bed bugs may reside between meals. We didn’t make extraordinary efforts along those lines.

On the other hand, here’s a simple truth that I haven’t seen anywhere in the literature: The numbers are on your side! To wit:

  • You have many opportunities to kill any given bed bug during its progression from egg to adult

Each of the five instar stages must have at least one blood meal before molting to the next stage. If you have only a 50% chance of killing the bug at each feeding, only 3% of the eggs will reach maturity: 0.031 = 0.55. That’s still too many, but if you’re 75% effective at killing the bug that just bit you, you can reduce the odds of having an adult bug to essentially zero: 0.001 = 0.255.

You do that by:

  • Making your floors inhospitable
  • Isolating your furniture
  • Calling down the angelfire every single time you get bitten

Bed bugs may crawl on walls as well as floors, but most of your furniture stands on the floor. Spreading diatomaceous earth along the floor, covering a few inches from the baseboard, ensures that bed bugs will pick up a lethal coating of sharp dust particles. This won’t kill them immediately, but it’s cumulatively quite effective. Best of all, diatomaceous earth isn’t poisonous to you.

With all of your furniture isolated from the floor, using cheap and effective home-brew traps that I’ll discuss later, you know that the bed bug that just bit you is in one of two places:

  • on the furniture
  • on you

Sterilize both locations and you’ve most likely killed the bug.

Repeat as needed.

Because bed bugs inject an anesthetic while they withdraw blood, you probably won’t feel a thing during the bite. Indeed, you probably won’t feel an early instar crawl along your skin, even though you’d swear you should. We generally notice the itching sensation shortly after the bite, while we’re still sitting in the same position. If you don’t react to bites, this technique won’t work.

At that point, we stripped down, put all our clothes directly into trash bags without letting them touch the floor, sealed the bags, and took a thorough shower. Bed bugs prefer living in clothing to living on skin, but a smaller instar may not have made the leap and you want to be certain you got rid of it.

You then wash your clothing and run it through the dryer to be certain you killed the bug.

During one particularly trying day, I took four showers. This will be rough on your skin and your clothing, but … consider the alternative.

You must then make a decision: try to disinsect (a new term to us, too!) the furniture or discard it. After reading the process required to kill insects in upholstered furniture, we chose to discard (after acquiring bites while sitting on each item) a pair of rather old Barcaounger recliners, the living room couch (which is currently isolated and abandoned in place, pending a spring pickup), three office chairs, and sundry other bits and pieces.

While we were not certain that those furniture items contained bugs, nuking them from orbit was the only way to be sure the bug wouldn’t grow up and reproduce.

Our living room furniture currently consists of a rocking chair, a footstool, some straight chairs (one serving as a desk chair), three pole lamps, a table, two desks, and very little else. What remains is easily sterilized, offers few harborages, and can be (is!) isolated from the floor.

I told you this would be expensive.

You must be certain you kill the bug that just bit you and we think there’s no other way to make that happen. Spreading the type of insecticide required to kill bed bugs all over your furniture seems neither practical nor desirable. You could bag the furniture up and wait for a year until the bugs die from natural causes, but that’s simply not practical.

Repeat as needed. With any luck, you will run out of bugs before you run out of furniture.

Then there’s what we did to our bedroom. But, first, I must digress into pesticides.