Got a Bedbug Bonanza?
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Update: oh, the holiday horror

Posted: December 28th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

I am sure you are all wondering with baited breath to find out if I got bedbugs from our hotel! I am happy to report that I saw nary a sign of those little suckers. But I did get double charged! We can’t have nice things, obviously. If they don’t reverse the second charge, then I guess I’m going to have to find a bedbug and drop it off for a walkabout.

It really could be an eye-opening experience peeling back the sheets on a hotel bed, but I am happy to say these mattresses were pristine, as were the areas around the beds. Is it ever conceivable that you might spot a mattress that was stained from a past infestation but since heat treated and bedbug free? Is the only acceptable option for a hotel to destroy any mattress that has been implicated in an infestation? I am curious. We shlubs at home can’t always afford to toss a mattress, but a hotel should have a budget for total replacement, no? I would think there should at least be an encasement on the mattress, for added protection.

If you found an encasement on a hotel bed, would you demand another room just to be on the safe side, or would you assume they were aware of the problem and had it under control?

Oh, the holiday horror

Posted: December 23rd, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

It was bound to happen: I have to stay in a hotel tonight. In a moderately cruddy small town where the Hampton Inn is the premier choice. Yes, bedbugs can lurk at any level of finery, and they do get to go some pretty fancy places, but as a rule I get a little hinky when a luxury brand isn’t available. This trip to the frozen tundra of Maine is not my idea of a good time, and if I return with bedbugs, I’ll be even more irate.

I just instructed my husband that NOTHING is to be set on the bed or floor until I have conducted a thorough white glove inspection. Luggage and the child will be placed on the luggage rack or in the tub. Coats will be hung in the closet. Outlaws will be hanged.

I will strip back the sheets and check the mattress for spots, streaks, bedbug casings, dead bedbugs, or heaven forfend, live bedbugs. Hotel bedspreads are some of the most disgusting pieces of fabric on Earth, so you bet I’ll be removing that as a matter of principle. I may skip the luminol check since it’s Christmas. Peace on earth and glorious ignorance to blood spatter from dead hookers and all.

I’ll also be poking around the night stands and baseboards and under the bed with a flashlight. If I find anything, we will march to the lobby and demand to be moved to another room. I’ll take photos first, because it’s always nice to threaten to put things on Trip Advisor if anyone sasses me with his mouth hole about getting a new room or a refund. I like to plan ahead. I’m not above picking up a sample with packing tape and sealing it in a Ziploc either. And of course if I can snag a live bug, we can finally start our Nix Bedbugs Science Research Colony.

I’ve also disabused my husband of the notion that all we have to do to prevent bringing home bedbugs is to leave the bags in the car in the cold for a day or two. The suitcases are getting bagged, and everything’s going straight into the washer when we get home. And the suitcase will get vacuumed within an inch of its life. If I actually found bedbug signs in the hotel room, I might spring for a PackTite just to be on the safe side. If you follow that link, be sure to use coupon code PT1217 at checkout to get $10 off PackTite Heaters through 12/31/10.

Have a safe and bedbug free holiday, everyone! What do you think the bedbugs will say when the animals talk at midnight on Christmas Eve? I imagine them using rather rough language.

‘Tis the Season for Murder

Posted: December 19th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sweet, sweet bedbug murder, that is. Ingenious Instructables.com contributor marcgr brings us the project Kill bedbugs with your Christmas lights. And to think we’ve just been using Christmas lights to spell rude words in the yard.

We all know that the holidays yield opportunities for unpleasant little gifts like fruitcake and travel-related bedbug infestation. Marcgr was inspired to create a bedbug death chamber for luggage after his own brush with bedbugs during business travel. His first project, Kill Bedbugs in Your Luggage, is a DIY version of the PackTite, but he was looking to simplify the amount of wiring required.

Why Christmas lights? I needed a heat source that could put out between 350-400 Watts of evenly distributed heat. Hotplates and hairdryers put out too much heat; and things like room heaters don’t have thermostats that go up to 125F. Christmas lights are perfect for the job!

Your goal is simple: heat your luggage or other awkwardly sized item to 125 F, sit back, and imagine the tiny screams of any bedbugs latched onto the seams and crevices of your luggage.

You’ll need a large metal trash can, Christmas lights, thermometers, a Christmas light timer, and various other simple electrical implements, as detailed here. Bear in mind you are using electricity and repurposing the lights for a situation the manufacturers did not intend, and you should read all steps carefully and proceed at your own risk if you want to try this, at least dialing the 9 and the 1 on your phone. Our money is on the regular PackTite, but this is certainly a novel seasonal alternative.

Hat tip for the link to my dad, who apparently still holds a grudge against bedbugs.

Bedbug & Beyond

Posted: December 4th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Well, it was bound to happen. For all your holiday giving needs, Bed Bath & Beyond is featuring a “Bedbug Protection” badge on their home page. It links to their bedbug protectors section.

Most of the products are typically accepted as handy and dandy, like mattress encasements and pillow encasements (although some experts note these are not specifically necessary since bedbugs tend not to congregate in areas that get squished and squashed about). They offer some detection products, including the ClimbUp Insect Interceptor. They also offer a number of sprays, which we have not evaluated. Let’s just say we approach such things with a dose of skepticism, especially the magic travel sprays.

They’re offering Space Bags and BugZip luggage encasements. But what really piqued our interest was this: the Allergy Luxe Bed Bug Storage Bag. It’s nice to know that when we finally get our scientific bedbug colony, our little darlings will have a swanky home! At last, a place to store your bedbugs! Isn’t that what we all really need? Stop using your beds; that is so 2000 and late. If only Prada would throw a hat in the ring and create one.

Thanks to alert reader LBC for the tip!

But What Would Steve Jobs Say About Traumatic Insemination?

Posted: November 1st, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Well, nerds, now the New York Times tell us there is in fact an app for bedbugs. Wish I’d thought of that one! It’s a Google map using GPS to identify bedbug-riddled areas, informed by media reports, governement agencies, and users of the service.

Will seeing little red pins all over New York make you any more cautious than you already are? I say semper paratus, like a good scout. You don’t need a map to tell you bedbugs are everywhere. Of course they are! You should use the same caution no matter where you go, from the fancy places bedbugs like to go like nice hotels to the dive theater where you take the date you don’t like to take out where real people are.

Am I the only one above carrying a tiny Maglite on my keychain for a quick look-see into the potential habitats of bedbugs? Spend that $1.99 for the app on your poor hideous date instead.

Science Corner: Eastside, Westside, Carbon Dioxide

Posted: October 17th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

By now we all know bedbugs come running for the great taste of people juice, but do you know how our new blood sucking overlords find us in the dark?

In a line so precious I had to lift it straight from one of our source articles, those parasitic little bundles of fun are attracted to us gravy trains by our exhaled “plumes of concentrated carbon dioxide” (PLUMES oh I love you bedbugs).

But JRN, I hear you mumbling between gooey handfuls of drug store mac & cheese, what can I do with this information? Well don’t you worry your pretty little head, that’s what smart people from other countries come to American universities for! True to form, Wan-Tien Tsai and Changlu Wang of Rutgers have taken this fact and created a makeshift bed bug monitoring rig worth a look.

Dry ice; check. 1/3 gallon jug; check. Cat food dish; check. Talcum powder; check. Paper to make itty bitty bedbug ramp (for serious); check.

What do I have to work with?

We're trapped in a bedbug infested bedroom with a fire extinguisher and 18 tampons...but the lease isn't up for MONTHS!

By placing the dry ice in the jug and keeping the spout just slightly open, the small carbon dioxide stream of an exhaling mammal (PLUMES!) may be simulated. This jug is placed atop the overturned cat dish, the inside walls of which have been treated with the talcum powder for extra slipperiness. An adorable ramp is added, half to assist the bedbugs up the side of the dish and half to assist you in narrowing your eyes and cackling away in anticipation of luring dozens of small ignorant creatures to their deaths. Well, capture anyway.

If this detector comes across as a little too…Rube Goldberg for your tastes, consider the cost: a startling $15. Add to that the possibility that this little number may actually outperform professional monitors, and I’m sold.

For complete instructions to the bed bug monitor devised by Wan-Tien Tsai and Changlu Wang, visit the Detecting Bed Bugs Using Bug Monitors page at the Rutgers University website, and download the accompanying 3 page PDF.

For instructions that have nothing to do with bedbugs yet still may prove useful in life or death situations, try this: MacGyver – The Complete First Season

Sand in the Vaseline, yes; Vaseline on your bedbugs?

Posted: October 13th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

True, disgusting story ahead! When I was a kid, we used to remove ticks by putting a smear of Vaseline or clear nail polish over them while they were embedded in the skin, happily supping. They would almost immediately back out, and we would pick them off and flush ’em, secure in the knowledge that the nasty little heads weren’t left attached to skin. The theory was that the Vaseline or nail polish would suffocate them, giving them no choice but to try to get away. This is probably not recommended by health experts the world over for some reason, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Plus we lived in a nest of ticks.

So we were wondering if it’s possible that a layer of some sort of goop or unguent would play hell with bedbugs too. We may have entertained the idea of people sleeping in a thin coat of Vaseline, protecting and moisturizing. This could end up being a public service! We’re not the only ones with this idea, as there is no original thought left in the world, as per usual.

But, as with all open relationship and bedbug-related matters, it turns out the answer is “It’s Complicated.” Vaseline on the bed legs is a messy endeavor, and while it reportedly does work as a barrier, there is some controversy on isolating the bed, and this may actually prolong your ultimate bedbug infestation. The bedbugs will steer clear of the bed, but you are more likely to get bitten at other times throughout the day. While largely nocturnal bed lovers, bedbugs still never met a Barcalounger they didn’t like if the need to follow the food presents itself. So you avoid bites in bed, which is certainly a noble interest, as who likes being a captive audience, but the bedbugs are likely to disperse beyond the area nearest the bed, so you’re looking at treating a larger area.

Some people swear by traps for the legs of beds, like the Climbup Insect Interceptor Bed Bug Trap, and if you want to use those, it’s important to let the trap functioned as designed and actually trap the bugs. Think about it: would you rather the bedbugs die a hideous death in a little cup of mineral or tea tree oil in one of these traps, or just shrug and retreat to the TV room? If preventing bites is extremely important because of a severe bite allergy, then it might be possible to add the vaseline as a fall-back method on the bed frame if you think the critters are doing something besides marching up from the floor.

Frankly, the Vaseline does nothing to kill the bedbugs and seems exceptionally messy. Imagine trying to use that if you also have pets? If I were going to be spreading something around, I’d be more inclined to try diatomaceous earth, which actually destroys the exoskeletons of insects. There are a lot of different brands, and you can get it in an easy  Diatomaceous Earth Shaker

Scarred for Life: Healing Embarrassing Bedbug Scars

Posted: September 29th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

BedBug bites both arms (24 May 2009)

As if bedbug bites aren’t itchy and uncomfortable enough, they also serve as very public advertisements that you are suffering from an infestation. Although actually being infested says nothing about your health or hygiene status, people still don’t want to take any chances. You may find yourself a victim of social isolation, shunned by friends and romantic partners.

Definitely forget the romance. A recent highly unscientific but probably passably realistic poll stated “56% of responders would leave their date if they noticed bed bug bites on his/her skin.

“They’re just mosquito bites,” you say gamely. “I must have gotten eaten alive in the Catskills.” But people just aren’t having it. Even once you get rid of the bugs in your life, you may find yourself with lingering scars.

People have sued hotels over receiving scarring bites.

“According to DeRoche’s attorney, Steven Igou, the bedbug bites have left DeRoche with approximately 35 permanent scares, mostly on her legs and midsection. He says the scars and damage are so bad that DeRoche no longer wears shorts.”

The scars are a reminder of a very traumatic experience and can forever link you in some people’s minds to a nasty problem. You are even worse off if you work in a profession with emphasis on appearance, such as modeling, acting, magazines, sales, or, oh, hell, most everything you could possibly do. Our face is our fortune!

The catch-22 is that the best way to be free of scars is never to get bitten at all. See our advice about avoiding bedbugs in a hotel. You must keep your eye trained on potential threats, since they can pop up in offices, schools, and even on park benches.

Let’s say you get noshed on one night.  The initial bites may go unnoticed at first because the sneaky little buggers inject an anesthetic as they feed. But you will suffer a:

“localized allergic reaction to antigens/proteins that the bed bug releases into the skin. This is mediated through IgE antibody pathway, causing a wheal-flare response. The bites vary greatly between people, as there are differences in the immune status in individuals. The more bed bug bites you get through your life, the stronger the reaction/redness of the bite.”

That wheal-flare response accounts for the unsightly swelling and redness. That part about reactions getting stronger is bad news, and it underscores the importance of preventing or rapidly treating an infestation.

Audrey Kunin, M.D., points out that “Scratching can easily be complicated by a secondary bacterial infection, particularly in less than sanitary environments.” Cut nails short and frequently wash hands to prevent damage during scratching. Some people wear gloves to bed to avoid scratching unconsciously. Keep any open sores clean to avoid infection.

Most bites can be initially treated by:

  • Washing the area with soap & water, then applying ice
  • Internal itch relief products like Zyrtec
  • External relief products like Caladryl, Aveeno, and baking soda baths
  • Prescription medications in severe cases, including topical steroids and antihistamines, oral antihistamines, and very rarely, systemic steroids
  • See your doctor if you feel a bite is infected. Further treatment may be required

Properly cleaning and treating the bite’s itch is your best chance to prevent scarring. There are a number of natural bite treatments out there as well. While they may not reduce scarring that has already occurred, they may be able to prevent it by treating the bite so you don’t claw yourself to pieces.

If you have suffered scars already, your options include:

  • Scar treatment ointment or cream such as Mederma, which can be purchased at a drugstore
  • Vitamin E application can be helpful
  • Silicone scar treatment sheets, which can be purchased at a drugstore
  • Massage the scar with a circular motion several times a day to promote healing

In extreme cases, seeing a dermatologist may be in order. A dermatologist can supervise methods like

  • Skin bleaching
  • Chemical peels
  • Laser treatments

Obviously some of these methods are potentially painful and very costly. One scar-specific natural treatment involves applying a paste of turmeric and coconut oil to a cleaned area, then letting the paste sit for 8 hours.

Phew. I think I’ll just start wearing a full body suit. That looks comfy.

Disclaimer: always consult your own doctor as part of your health decision-making process. The authors of this site are not doctors, although they sometimes play one with the consent of an informed partner.

Bedbug Stowaway

Posted: September 27th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Lower Manhattan, 2008.  It was the first day of spring truly warm enough to sit outside for lunch.  I left the office tower overlooking ground zero and headed over to Centre Street to get a cup of soup.  The weather was fair, so I ate seated on a park bench in City Hall Park.  At the end of the day, I passed through the park again, and boarded the M train back to Bushwick.  The train was not crowded at Chambers St., so sat down on the slick, cold, powder blue bench and began to rummage through my bag in search of my phone.  On the black surface of the bag’s exterior, something amber caught my eye.  I forgot about the phone, wondering about the tiny seedlike spot on my bag.  I looked more closely.  Some kind of insect, nestled in the velcro closure.  Gross.  I grabbed a pen from my bag and used the tip to prise it off and onto the empty seat beside me.  It was small, but much too large to be a bedbug, right?  I mean, aren’t they supposed to be the size of a pepper flake? (As it happens, bedbugs are about the size of an apple seed).  I had no problem making out its horrid little details as it sat there, inert and ugly.  A tick or some kind of beetle, I thought.  I took a photo that I might consult the internet.

The train filled up and everyone kept their distance from the unwanted passenger.  Not knowing what it was, I let the ugly little fellow be and promptly forgot all about it.  Two months later I was greeted by the A.M. paper at that station, its shrill cover announcing “Epidemic!” and covered with a dozen huge copies of my little stowaway.  The ICK traveled forward through time.  Bedbug!  My innocence was thus lost.  No mere accidental tourist, that was a villain, a saboteur cleaving to the fibers of my bag’s closure, hoping to smuggle itself into my bedroom to feast on me at night.  “I had a bedbug!  And I nearly brought it home!”, my mind shrieked and chattered.  But where had it come from?  Subway cars are likely culprits, due to the volume of human traffic.  But I had just boarded the train.  My recollection flew back to the park bench, also suspect.  City Hall Park is host to travellers, office workers, walkers of large breeds and crazypants vagrants alike.  It is definitely possible it came from the office , but it seemed unlikely to me in this case since the space was very new, I sat in an isolated area entirely by myself, and had never been bitten there.  The park bench was definitely a variable element in my day.  City Hall Park.  Where is America’s Mayor when you need him??  Probably off whispering “9-11” into the ear of a prostitute.  It is lucky I dispatched the loathsome fellow myself.  I never sit on park benches now without giving a good little once over.  These days, even my office chair gets a periodic check.  Shudder.

Is there a connection between Bedbugs and Hoarders?

Posted: September 24th, 2010 | Author: | | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Hoarders and bedbugs have something in common- they are all the rage!  Since we are no longer throwing Christians to the lions, generic we like to tune in and watch the mentally ill struggle with the consquences of their obsessions.  Often these are filthy dens of despair.  We hope for, we long to see vermin.  For we delight in a little gross-out,

and wish to assure ourselves that as long as we spring clean and do not let our Lionel Ritchie gatefold collection get out of hand, We Are Not These People.  Apartment dwellers who detect bedbugs are always looking for the ground zero of the scourge, a single unit in the building where they expect to find an elderly person cowering behind a wall of newspapers, or a family of illegal immigrants living in squalor.  Bedbugs do not have the same prejudices that we do.  Blood is blood.  Poverty, mental illness and crowded conditions do not attract bedbugs. 

That is not to say there is no connection between hoarding, extreme poverty and bedbug infestation.  Hoarders (and hipsters!)  have the unfortunate compulsion to trashpick, which is tantamount to a bedbug importation business.  Their deep sense of shame  at the way they live (the hoarders that is, hipsters are shameless) will characteristically prevent them from seeking outside help for an infestation.  Crowded living conditions can also aid in the spread of bedbugs and make them nearly impossible to treat.  And so, we sometimes have instances of extremely vile conditions.

Old box spring, underside of canvas strap 2

But more often this is not the case.  Most calls to the exterminator come from very ordinary homes.  There might be bedbugs on the bookshelf and the seams of the mattress.  Not enough to see, but enough to keep you awake at night watching “Hoarders” on demand. 

The moral of the story is NEVER dumpster dive, even if and especially if you are crazy.  And be sensitive to your neighbors, even if they are insane and unkempt.  They may not be the cause of your problems.