When I read a couple years ago that bed bugs had infiltrated New York, I went into hyper-vigilant mode whenever I traveled there. I inspected the mattresses and corners of my hotel rooms and never let my belongings rest on soft surfaces. I always checked my suitcase for bed bugs when I returned home and washed everything I’d taken with me in hot water. Now I do that everywhere I go. Bed bugs, which all but disappeared from this country in the last century, are back—and spreading.
In Ohio, bed bug infestations have become such a problem that the Environmental Protection Agency called in the Department of Defense to help. The pests—which feed on human blood and leave irritating bites—are nearly impossible to kill, and researchers aren’t sure what’s causing them to thrive again. Theories include the DDT ban, changes in pest-control spraying methods, and introduction from overseas.
One home remedy for killing bed bugs calls for dragging an infested mattress into sub-zero temperatures to try and freeze the bugs to death. Photo By Sheryl Yvette/Courtesy Flickr.
When my niece brought bed bugs home from Bolivia this summer, my sister roasted them—along with all of my poor bitten niece’s belongings—in a commercial dryer, smothered everything in heavy plastic bags and took it all to the dump before the nasties could reach her house. You don’t have to be quite as crazy as my sister and me, but prevention and vigilance are key to keeping them out of your home.
1. Clean thoroughly and often. Wash and dry all bedding in hot water. Scrub down and vacuum floors and other surfaces. Dismantle furniture so you can easily clean hard-to-reach surfaces where bed bugs could be hiding, such as the creases or underside of a sofa.
2. Caulk all cracks. Seal up any holes where bed bugs could crawl into your home—especially if you live in an apartment or townhouse and share common walls.
3. Buy less stuff, keep less stuff. Clutter is habitat for bed bugs. And the less you buy, the less your chance of bringing home bed bugs.
4. Inspect everything. Thoroughly inspect everything before you bring it home. This is true not only of flea market and secondhand purchases or Dumpster finds, but also of items from upscale retailers. Bed bugs infested Abercrombie & Fitch retail outlets in Manhattan. Don’t let them sneak in on your teenager’s hoodie.
5. Fumigate—with heat. Pest control company ThermaPureHeat offers a service that uses heat to kill bed bugs. After tenting off all or part of your home, the company will heat your house to about 130 degrees, killing any bed bugs that might be lurking inside without leaving behind a chemical residue.