Eco-Tip: It’s Hard to Like a Bed Bug

If you had a contest to design an obnoxious critter, the winner might very well be a bed bug.

They feed on our blood.

They make us itch.

They hide out in (or near) our beds, which after all should be places for rest and relaxation.

And there’s more. In the US, we’re having what the Environmental Protection Agency calls an “alarming resurgence” in bed bug problems. And although the bugs don’t spread diseases, some people are allergic to their bites.

So maybe it’s not surprising that there was a standing room only crowd at a recent bed bug workshop in San Francisco sponsored by Californians for Pesticide Reform.

The workshop room was full of a half-dozen bedbug-killing heat machines. They were part of one of the most important take-aways from the meeting – pesticides are not needed to eliminate bed bugs, if you do have a problem. For bed bugs and eggs on clothes, sheets, and similar items, twenty minutes on high heat in a dryer is fatal. Pest management companies can use heat machines like those on display to kill bed bugs in items like beds, carpets, or furniture.

Here’s a quick summary of some of the other important tips I learned at the workshop:

* Lots of people think that bed bug problems happen only in dirty rooms or decrepit apartments. This isn’t true — even high-end hotels have bed bug problems.

* Just like the old cliche says, an ounce of bed bug prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t bring bed bugs into your home, let them come in on their own, or spread them to others! Easy steps you can take if you live in an apartment include caulking baseboards, window trim, and door trim near a bed (so bed bugs can’t get in from your neighbor’s apartments). You’ll cut down on your heating and cooling bills at the same time. Also, seal any cracks in the walls or floors.

* Be cautious about buying used furniture; inspect it carefully before you bring it home. Signs of bed bug problems include: dark spots, which may be bed bug excrement; eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and white; reddish skins shed by bed bugs as they grow, live bed bugs, or rusty or reddish stains caused by bed bugs being crushed.

* When you travel take a few special precautions: pack your stuff in plastic bags and keep your luggage off the floor and away from your bed; check your bed and nearby furniture for signs of infestation. When you get back from a trip, unpack your luggage over white sheet or paper and look for bedbugs.

* If you’re moving to a new apartment check to see if people have reported bed bug problems in your new building. Also ask the landlord about bedbug problems.

For more detailed information about bed bugs, most of the information from the UC Statewide IPM program is great ( CEH does not recommend the use of any pesticides.