The EPA’s Top Ten Tips for Dealing with Bed Bugs
by Tommy Underhill
April 17, 2018
I was surfing with purpose the other day and came across a page on the EPA’s website with their top ten tips for dealing with bed bugs. While I have directly reproduced their tips, the suggestions following the headlines are ours.
1. Make sure you really have bed bugs, not fleas, ticks, or other insects.
An ancient sage once said, know thy enemy. How you deal with the pest depends on the source of the infestation. Heat is 100% effective against all insects, even those that live in wood like termites. The type of insect causing your infestation will determine any additional treatment requirements such as synergized desiccants or perimeter barriers, as well as identify specific locations to probe.
2. Don’t panic!
Bed bugs are a nuisance. Generally they are not considered vectors, but new research shows they may transmit some diseases. As such, the likelihood they will be much more than a nuisance is low. Keep in mind that traditional bed bug treatments require multiple visits by the exterminator and repeat applications. You will be much better off following Angel Rivera’s suggestion for limiting bed bug activity until a professional can arrive for a thorough heat treatment. If my home was infested I would rather spend my time before a treatment setting myself up for success by de-cluttering the affected areas (especially in closets and under beds) and removing any heat-sensitive items like candles, wines, or chocolates.
3. Think through your treatment options—Don’t immediately reach for the spray can.
This statement goes hand-in-hand with number two. Last year I had a family member call me about their ordeal with bed bugs, and all the failed treatments they tried—most of them could be described as snake oil from old wive’s tales. Not only did they live with the infestation for nearly half a year, but all the attempts cost them thousands of dollars.
Remember that many pesticides can be toxic to humans and pets when inappropriately applied, and chemicals are not generally ovicidal. I’ll say this a number of times in this blog: if you don’t kill the eggs, you don’t eliminate the infestation. Don’t waste your money on feel-good sprays that only kill adult bed bugs. Kill them all with heat.
4. Reduce the number of hiding places—Clean up the clutter.
I agree with this suggestion whole-heartedly. bed bugs harborage in so many places, you don’t need to provide any more for them. The greatest issue concerning bed bug heat treatments in cluttered areas: clutter acts as an insulator. Get rid of the clutter, reduce your treatment times, increase the efficacy of heat treatments.
When looking at containment, mattress encasement is generally not as effective as one would think. bed bugs and other insects can squeeze through very small openings, and young bed bug instars can fit through even smaller openings. Even though we call them bed bugs they live in so many more places than just your bed. I guarantee that you will still be bit if you stick your mattress in a bag—the bugs that bite you probably won’t come from your mattress.
5. Regularly wash and heat-dry your bed sheets, blankets, bedspreads, and any clothing that touches the floor.
There are so many more health reasons to wash your bedding and clothing than just to mitigate bed bugs. Dead skin and mites. Dried sweat. Dirt.
6. Do-it-yourself freezing may not be a reliable method for bed bug control.
Let’s assume that your freezer gets cold enough to kill bed bugs. The Entomological Society of America reports on an article in Journal of Economic Entomology that 100% mortality in bed bugs is achieved by a minimum exposure time of 80 hours at -16°C (3°F) is required for all life stages. Temperatures below -15°C (5°F) are sufficient to control all life stages of bed bugs after 3.5 days, while temperatures below -20°C (-4°F) require only 48 hours. They also observed bed bug eggs surviving in short-term exposures to temperatures as low as -25°C (-13°F). If you don’t kill the eggs, you don’t eliminate the infestation.
Using cold as an effective treatment modality severely limits the amount of belongings you can concurrently treat, especially in warmer weather and climates. All your hard work killing bed bugs with cold will be undone if you bring treated items back into an infested area before everything is dead.
7. Kill bed bugs with heat, but be very careful.
I’ve blogged about the inappropriate or dangerous application of heat before, and cannot overstate the importance of not utilizing any form of open flame to treat bed bugs. Most residential electric space heaters cannot generate enough heat to be lethal. Inappropriate use of big, propane-powered heaters can damage furniture and other belongings. Heat source with open flames may generate toxic gasses and end up killing more than the pests you’re after.
Pre-heating a treatment area with an electric space heater or the building’s HVAC heater will reduce treatment times, but effective treatments require sustained temperatures above 120°F.
8. Don’t pass your bed bugs on to others.
Bed bugs are incredible hitch-hikers. It’s easy to spread the insects when you have a bed bug infestation. If you think you have a bed bug infestation, run your clothes through a hot wash and dryer cycle, and follow Angel Rivera’s suggestion for taking action until a professional can arrive. In the mean time, reduce clutter and prepare for a treatment.
9. Reduce the number of bed bugs to reduce bites.
Reducing the number of bed bugs is a noble thought. Keep in mind that vacuuming infested areas, applying chemical powders or sprays, or removing severely-infested items generally does not kill the eggs. If you don’t kill the eggs, you can’t eliminate the infestation.
10. Turn to the professionals, if needed.
Heat is the only treatment modality that is 100% efficacious across all life stages of insects, including eggs. The proper application of heat is 100% effective in killing all stages of insects in one treatment. A professional trained in heat may greatly decrease the inconvenience bed bugs can inflict on your home and family.