Bed Bugs: Furniture Isolation

After we dismantled our bedroom, Mary got bitten while sleeping in the guest bed. That bed, a much smaller, more-or-less standard double bed mattress and box spring on a metal frame, was much easier to disinsect:

  • Wash and dry all the bed linens
  • Toast the pillow in the clothes dryer
  • Vacuum the mattress and box spring
  • Encase the mattress and box spring
  • Heat the frame to killing temperature
  • Reassemble everything
Encased mattress and isolated foot
Encased mattress and isolated foot

However, there’s not much point in doing that if a bed bug can simply crawl from the floor up a bed frame leg. We put powder traps under each bed foot, using tall containers to prevent access.

Although the traps collected a fair amount of dust, we didn’t find any insects of any kind in the powder.

Yes, that’s a length of Kapton tape on the mattress encasement. Mary discovered that heating the encasement with a hair dryer isn’t a good idea: the fabric is actually a non-woven plastic film that melts at a surprisingly low temperature. Kapton sticks to the fabric and the adhesive doesn’t promptly turn into goo.

Powder traps work well for stationary furniture like beds and tables and desks, but they aren’t useful for chairs. I applied a ring of tape (masking or duct, as you prefer) around chair legs, folded lengthwise so the sticky side is outward. The tubular steel legs on this office chair terminate in fishmouth welds on the central pillar, so the bugs can’t crawl up through the inside:

Isolated desk chair
Isolated desk chair

That’s the chair I pulled out of storage after scrapping out my homebrew car-seat chair. Turns out I installed the replacement seat about a week before sustaining a bite while sitting at my desk. Calling down the angelfire on that comfy chair was more annoying than expensive, but … no more bug bites in the basement!

For historic reasons, I use an ancient Balans chair at the Electronics Workbench. Four strips of masking tape isolated it from the floor:

Isolation tape on Balans chair leg
Isolation tape on Balans chair leg

Isolating the chair from the floor obviously doesn’t prevent a bed bug from crawling up your leg, but we never had a problem with that. They’re not really hunters and vastly prefer to lurk in furniture than track and pounce on a moving shoe…

As it turned out, we never trapped any bed bugs on chair legs, which is most likely a testament to how few bugs we actually had. However, larger tape barriers were quite effective in another context: isolating entire regions of a room.

Up next: Voyage to Planet Sticky

9 thoughts on “Bed Bugs: Furniture Isolation

  1. I’m trying your planet sticky approach. On furniture legs, around the edge of my mattress (as I attempt to sleep in a sleepingbag in the middle without contacting it myself), in squares around doors to protect the coats and bags hanging on hooks… So far I haven’t caught anything so I’m wondering if the tape I’ve got is less effective than yours. It’s not blue but it’s Scotch and not 3M. I tried a couple of tests with bugs I’d caught, making a little square arena of inward facing tape.

    The first was a silverfish. He refused to step onto the tape. He kept probing it but refused to try to cross it, even when being “chased” with a q-tip.

    Second was what I had first been afraid was a bed bug, but which when I brought it down to my local pest control office, they ID’ed as a “tobacco beetle”. He was bolder but never got more than half of his body on the tape before backing off. Finally, he spread his wings to fly over, further reassuring me of his non-bedbugness. Luckily I had anticipated this move and had covered the arena with a clear pot lid. He careened off the lid and landed on the tape. He struggled a bit, but was able to make it the 1/4 inch to the edge and get free.

    So I’m left wondering if my tape is inadequate, or perhaps beetles are stronger / less stick prone (less flat?) then bed bugs… I’ve ordered some of the 3M 3 day stuff for comparison. I assume the “3 day” means leave on longer than that at the peril of ripping off the finish when you take it off?

    1. wondering if my tape is inadequate, or perhaps beetles are stronger

      I’ve watched a spider tiptoe across a few inches of masking tape, so it’s certainly not a guaranteed insect trap. I also have a wide variety of smaller critters permanently mired in masking tape (and duct tape!) adhesive, which suggests it works pretty well.

      Paradoxically, longer-lasting tapes (blue or “3 day”) seem less sticky, because they’re intended for long-duration painting projects that require masking tape which won’t ruin the underlying finish. Ordinary (i.e., the usual yellowish color) masking tape seems more sticky and works much better for trapping insects. You must change the tape every day or two, before it turns to goo and can’t be peeled off.

      You probably want wider tape, even though the pictures in this post show common 1 inch tape on furniture. The top picture there shows a 2 inch barrier on the floor, with the other pix showing narrow tape.

      I’ve used nearly every common variety of tape and can confidently state that any tape is better than no tape at all!

      Good hunting…

  2. Another alternative for under furniture legs is those sticky traps / glue traps that they sell for all sorts of pests (including mice). In my last bed bug experience we hired pros to treat my girl friend’s place, and they placed these under the legs of the beg after treatment to catch any stragglers. (This was a fully successful treatment, BTW, they knew what they were doing. The used only a vacuum, a steamer, and a special purpose spray that was designed to be residual and not be detectable by the bugs, called Phantom, but they only used that inside of outlets, switches and other such wall openings. These were about 5″ x 6″ and VERY sticky–nothing is going to get across these. The benefit of these is they don’t have to be changed twice a week and they are easy to stick under the legs of things (with a little bit of paper between the foot and the sticky trap). The downside is you might accidentally step on them.

    1. As far as the tape, it turns out 3M and Scotch are the same company so I’m not sure my tape (1.5″ btw) was any different than yours. It is hard to tell, the way they play fast-and-loose with the branding and labeling. They also make “3M 2060 Scotch Masking Tape for Hard-to-Stick Surfaces” which is extra sticky (and green). I think I may try a combination of that with the blue least-sticky tape, affixing the blue to the surface and the green to the blue to be the trap area.

      I’ve also managed to find some (15/16″) double-sided masking tape which promises to be very convenient. It seems to be about the same level of sticky as the off-white Scotch / 3M stuff.

      1. 3M and Scotch are the same company

        At least at the start, 3M produced industrial strength adhesives and Scotch was the home-use brand. I’m sure those boundaries have blurred over the decades…

        extra sticky (and green)

        Must be a reaction to the “frog” tapes I’ve seen elsewhere. Since there are only so many different adhesives, I suspect the pads you mentioned elsewhere bear a striking resemblance to a large sheet of that goo… and that a sheet made up of frog tape would work just as well.

        If we ever go though that routine again, I’ll try a different collection of tapes to see what works; thanks for the summary!

    2. after treatment to catch any stragglers

      That makes sense; you get both an early warning of a problem and some indication of which way the bugs were headed at the time.

      The only benefit of changing the tape / sticky pad on a regular basis is that you have a reason to check them; after a few weeks, they’d be covered by the usual fuzz and lose their effectiveness. At least around here, anyway… [grin]

      Glad to hear your pros knew what they were doing!

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