If you’re still part of the population that thinks bed bugs are part of an old bedtime saying or that they only infest dirty, unkempt households, well, reality check: You’re just as much a target as anyone. If you’re reading this because you do have bed bugs, then you’re in luck and so is your wallet. The first step is to know your enemy.
Step 1: Know your Enemy
Bed bugs were thought to have been generally extinct in the U.S. after DDT, but in the last ten years, have made a startlingly huge comeback. Bed bugs, unlike mice or other “dirty” pests don’t care how neat your room is or if you sleep naked or if your refrigerator is organized by shape, color and size. They are tiny parasites that function much like mosquitos without wings. They have several stages of life from egg to adult. They appear tick-looking and have a very flat abdomen, often white while young and redder as they grow older. (Note: Red means it’s got your blood in it) From birth, they seek out warm and blood filled things on which to feed. (Note: You) They cause bite marks much like mosquitos but tend to last around 24 hours or so and tend to be a lot less annoying. It takes them a little under 10 minutes to feed so unfortunately, every time you shuffle in your sleep and disturb them, they’ll have to try again in a slightly different spot, leaving what appears to be a rash.
Fortunately, while carrying all the perfect signs for disease carrying blood-suckers, they actually remain relatively harmless… however, that in no way means they are good bed mates. In addition, they are only active between the hours of midnight to four or five in the morning, meaning any bite you get in the sunlight was most likely caused by something else. They like to hide in all the places you’d never look, such as in tiny crevices in and underneath your mattress and box spring. An initial look might not uncover anything, when in reality, you’ve got hundreds of bed buddies.
Step 2: Fear your Enemy
“So just spray something and let that be the end of it,” you say. Well, it’s not quite that simple. After a nuclear war, the only things left will be the cockroaches… and the bed bugs. Those critters are more resistant than you could possibly imagine. Most regular sprays don’t work and those that do have to be applied directly, as in you see it, you spray it. Spraying and praying won’t work because they won’t die from residual insecticide. In addition, the eggs aren’t affected at all by sprays.
“Just sleep somewhere else for a bit and starve them,” you say. Bed bugs are like miniature camels. They can go months without feeding. Sleeping at your significant other’s for a few days won’t do anything except delay them. In addition, you may be carrying a few stray ones with you. Happy anniversary, dear!
“I’ll crush them one by one,” you say. Since bed bugs inject a bit of fluid into you like mosquitos, and it is that fluid that causes the marks and itch, you’d think you’d know the moment you have them. Sadly, it is suspected that a few bites worth isn’t enough to cause a reaction. The marks only begin to show when there is enough of their saliva in your system… which means by the time your marks are showing up, you’ve got more than your fair share.
Another “too late” sign is black splotches. Your mattress and box spring might appear to be growing black mold, but it’s really bed bug feces. They tend to excrete more than you could imagine and by the time it’s overtly noticeable, it’s been going on for way too long.
“Just throw the mattress out,” you say. Don’t waste your money. Once a female mates, it’s mated for life and can lay up to five eggs a day for the rest of its life. Just one left behind alone for a month can spawn 150 new friends in your nice new $500 mattress. Talk about the rest of your life….
Step 3: Fight your Enemy
So you’ve got a problem. And you’ve Googled it and you’ve read all about it and you wandered into fifty Web sites that sell packages for over a hundred dollars and things you’ve never heard of and they list huge undertakings to kill them. Your wallet probably jumped out of your pocket and out the window and you probably thought you’d have to demolish your home and rebuild. It isn’t so!
If this problem has been going on for months and your infestation is beyond manageable, then you might want to invest in some professional pest control but in the event you own a small apartment or your infestation seems centralized, there are a few secrets that the people who sell the products don’t want you to know.
Bed bugs are like movie villains. They have strange weaknesses. The first of which is their grip. Your bed is made of wood or metal. Your mattress and your box spring are weaved fabrics. These things bed bugs have no problem scaling. But I bet you didn’t know that bed bugs cannot for the life of them scale vinyl. That’s right. Those stupid covers all those college dorm beds have on them. They’re not there to make your sleeping experience suck.
Don’t go out and buy one online at some bed-bug-be-gone Web site. They’ll charge you almost $200. All you need is a vinyl mattress-sized case with a tight zipper. You can get one at any store like Target or Sears. Enclose your bed and you’ve done two things. A) Trapped any bed bugs under the folds of your mattress in the bag and B) made those and any others that have taken up residence elsewhere unable to reach you in bed. They just can’t climb the vinyl which means they can’t get you in bed.
The second thing is, for extra protection, double-sided tape your bed legs. The idea is to stop them from getting to you first. Instead of your bed being a platter, make it a citadel. Make it your fortress. Another odd thing bed bugs will do is even though they can’t jump, they like to climb up a wall near your bed and then let go, dropping onto your bed. Place a strip of double sided tape against the wall along the length of your bed. If they really want you, they’re going to have to get stuck and rip their legs out first!
Second to last, wash your things. All of them. Wash on hot, dry on hot. Fry every last bug and egg. In the beginning, do it frequently just in case. Vacuum every crevice, make sure there’s no where they can hide.
Step 4: Kill your Enemy
Lastly, here is your secret weapon. You can try all the expensive Internet products you want, but nothing will ever work like…. ready? DE. That’s right, diatomaceous earth. Crushed sea shells. It is sort of like the kind you use in your pool filter, however using pool-grade DE is not safe. There are DE types specifically used for pest control and those are the kinds you need to use. Pool-grade DE is not safe and can be harmful to breathe. But the pest-control ones are exactly what you’re looking for. How does it work? Simple! DE does two things:
1) It is a very fine powder. For that matter, I highly recommend a mask and open windows. Despite being natural, it’s still not something you should bathe in. Avoid breathing directly. Remember: Do not use pool-grade DE. Pest-control DE is still very cheap and the best part is, you really don’t need that much of it. In any case, this powder will get stuck to everything, including your little friends. And your little friends love to try and squeeze through small crevices. With all that extra mass and junk stuck to them, they will end up grinding themselves to death while trying to squeeze through things.
2) More importantly, DE will dry your hands out. And you’re most likely over 5 feet tall and 100 lbs. Imagine how dry something a few centimeters long can get if covered in it. The DE will rip the moisture out of them and eventually kill them through dehydration. It is important to note that they will not die instantly. It might take a few days or maybe longer, but assured a bug covered is a dead bug assured.
Laying of DE is important. Put some in your mattress bags, then seal them. Place in crevices, under wall moldings, and anywhere else they might hide. Pretend you’re laying land mines. After some time, vacuum up the DE, along with dead bugs and eggs, and reapply. Obviously the worse your problem, the more you might want to do this. Eventually, you can just leave DE in those key places and not vacuum it up as a “Never Come Back” sign.
A final word of advice: Treat bed bugs like something you take anti-biotics for. Regimental treatment is important. Failure to follow through may cause bed bugs to retreat to other hidden areas and continue their havoc. Do it right the first time, and seal the deal. Humans 1, bed bugs 0.