So where I was when I left off in my last post was a pretty bleak place. We had bed bugs in our house, and since they had come from my roommates’ work, it seemed like there was no way we could get rid of them permanently. Even if we went through the enormous trouble and expense of treating the entire house (a process I knew well, since I’d already had to go through it once), it seemed inevitable that they would be brought back in, rendering all that effort entirely pointless. There were some things I could to to limit my exposure (i.e. isolating my bed), but for the most part I was just going to have to live with it. I thought it might not be so bad. It seemed like the main areas that were affected were Johnnycakes’ room and the futon in the living room. As far as I knew, I hadn’t gotten bitten in my bed, so it looked like it hadn’t traveled to my room, and I didn’t think they’d gotten into the sewing room. This was a huge relief, since the idea of having to treat all the yarn, fabric and sewing supplies in that room didn’t bear thinking about. Maybe I could find a way to live with this.
And then I saw one in the sewing room.
That was when I flipped out. I called up my Guru, crying and freaking out. She helped me through that and got me calmed down. When I got off the phone with her, I called Aunt C. She’s the only person I know who has had to live with bed bugs. Some years ago she got them in her Greenwich Village apartment. Even though they did everything possible to get rid of them, they were never completely successful since it was an apartment building. A few years ago, she and my uncle moved to Brooklyn, and were able to avoid bringing any with them, so she’s been bed bug free for a couple of years now. Still, I figured that if there was anyone who could tell me how to survive this, it was her. To my surprise, she didn’t tell me how to live with them. She told me that I had to get rid of them, right now. That we had to do whatever was necessary to make sure the house was bed bug free, that we could not live with them. She told me what we would have to do to make sure they didn’t get in again, and then told me that she would even be willing to pay for the exterminator.
And just like that, we had a plan.
The thing is, that there are four ways to kill bed bugs:
- Poison – this one is problematic because there are a lot of strains of bed bugs that have grown resistant to the most common poisons used against them. This means that poisons often don’t work, or don’t work very well. The only poison that still works 100% of the time is DDT, which is illegal in the United States. Still, poison will get rid of most of your bugs most of the time, so it’s still the weapon of choice for most exterminators.
- Extreme Heat – if you can wash something in hot water and put it through the dryer, congratulations, you’ve just killed any bed bugs that might have been hiding in it. High temperature steam will also do the trick, though it takes a professional-grade steamer to really get to the right temperature quickly enough that you’re not just chasing the bugs from one area to another. Also, this only really works on the surface of things – the heat doesn’t reach far enough into upholstered surfaces to kill whatever might be lurking in the interior. You can also hire an exterminator to tent your house and carefully heat everything inside of it up to a temperature that will kill anything inside while not harming the house or its contents (they do protect electronic appliances so they’re not harmed). On the plus side, not only will this kill bed bugs, but it will get rid of any other pest that might be afflicting you. On the negative side, most of the places that do this seem to be in California. Also, it’s pretty expensive. Bagging your stuff up in plastic bags and leaving it in the sun doesn’t work unless you live somewhere far south with consistent 100°F+ days because you can’t guarantee that the inside temperature will get hot enough, or stay that hot long enough.
- Extreme Cold – There is not as much research done on the effects of cold on bed bugs, but if you can freeze them below 0°F and keep them there for a length of time, they will die. Some people say that three days is long enough, but to be safe I recommend a week. This requires a deep freeze, since the freezers that are part of most commercial refrigerator/freezers don’t get cold enough. This is one of the major ways that Johnsy and I used to treat all the things that can’t be put through a washer and dryer. Johnsy bought a deep freeze, we stuck it in the garage, and over the course of months, put almost everything we owned through it. It worked. Bagging up your stuff and putting it outside for the winter does not work unless you live in Alaska, for the same reasons that putting it outside in the summer doesn’t work either.
- Starvation – if you can seal bed bugs away from any available source of nutrition, and keep them that way long enough, they will eventually die. The problem with this is that bed bugs are tough. An adult bug can live for up to a year with no food or water. Eggs can survive for up to two years. So if you can seal your stuff air tight and walk away from it for two years, you can be pretty sure that there will be no bugs left on it when you come back. There are some items (delicate antiques, upholstered furniture, mattresses, etc.) that cannot be treated any other way.