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…