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We HAD bed bugs
on May 20, 2012
The first thing you need to realize when you learn you've got bed bugs is that you don't have a battle on your hands - you're in a FULL BLOWN WAR.
Bed bugs are very tenacious insects and they show signs of climbing the learning curve. You're going to have to annihilate them or they'll come back. Getting rid of them involves work and commitment. Fortunately, once you finally get rid of them, they're loathe to return. Diatomaceous earth will get the job done but if you want to succeed you have to be smarter and more persistent than the bed bugs.
I first learned we had bed bugs when I saw something like a brown pill bug, but a lot faster, charging at me across the sheets. I squashed it and it exploded in a dime sized blood stain. I realized to my disgust that we had bed bugs - and that was the reason for the small red marks on my wife's and my arms and legs. We had what I'd consider a small to moderate infestation - maybe 200 bed bugs total (for every full grown adult you see there are about ten smaller ones in various stages of development). We learned a few things along the way:
1) Forget about pesticides. PESTICIDES DON'T WORK WITH BED BUGS! Bug spray doesn't work. Bug bombs don't work. Pesticides just drive them into hiding... for a while.
2) Alcohol kills them, but only a few at a time. The survivors scamper off into more remote hiding places. Extreme cold kills them too but has to be applied in such a way that none are missed. Heat kills them VERY well. Bed bugs can't stand temps above 115 F for more than fifteen minutes. Exterminators are now using 200,000 BTU heaters to heat houses, apartments and rooms to 140 F for an hour. Bed bugs can run but they can't hide from heat. But thermal extermination is expensive and doing an entire house can cost over $5,000. Diatomaceous earth kills them too. It's the cheapest way to get rid of bed bugs - but you have to be thorough, persistent and systematic. DE won't kill them immediately as it's not a pesticide. It takes a couple days to start working - and it takes a while to get them all.
3) You're the bait! Bed bugs love us and take great risks to suck our blood. Many of them die in the effort. They're most active between the hours of three and four am but they'll change their schedule to whatever yours is if need be.
When I discovered we had bed bugs I bug bombed and sprayed them. But it quickly became clear that while they didn't like it, it wasn't killing them. That's when I finally understood we had a lot bigger problem on our hands than I first thought - our own personal hell. Fortunately for bed bug sufferers the Internet has lots of information about how to fight them. Maybe too much. After a day spent studying the problem I came up with a plan: diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous earth comes in two grades: pool grade, which is poisonous to people and pets; and FOOD GRADE, which is the stuff you want to use. It's very light and powdery, about like flour. It contains tiny, glass-like shards that work their way into the soft spaces of insect exoskeletons, cutting them up and causing them to dehydrate and die. Bed bugs don't seem to recognize it as a mortal danger and once it gets on them they can't get it off.
We dusted diatomaceous earth all around the bed, on the mattresses, underneath the bed and in the bed frame screw holes and any crevices, on the headboard, rails, legs and everywhere else. Then I dusted behind, inside and underneath the bedside tables and dressers, along the baseboards, in all the drawers, etc. Everywhere a bed bug might hide. Trust me, they're very good at hiding and if you make life hard for them around the bed they'll move their base of operations to a further corner of the room and bide their time.
We also put plant pot saucers filled with diatomaceous earth under each bed leg. This is real important because once you've defeated the ones hiding in your bed the only way those lurking elsewhere can reach you is by passing through it. As much as possible turn your bed into an island surrounded by an ocean of diatomaceous earth.
Use double sided tape around all the bed legs, on the headboard, etc. They won't try to cross it and will in fact turn back around as soon as they encounter it. What you want to do is create choke points that force the little buggers to have to pass through diatomaceous earth in order to get at you.
Mattress covers for the top and bottom mattresses. These are very important. Bed bugs like to hide in mattress seams - and in the hidden recesses of box springs. Leave the mattress covers on for a long time too because they can live up to a year without feeding; and check the covers periodically to make sure there aren't any holes or tears they can climb in or out of, because they will definitely find them. Also, if you've got anything: dust ruffle, sheets, blankets, bedspreads, etc. that touch the floor, take them off because bed bugs can and will use them as an avenue to get to you.
Light colored sheets - to see them better. The nymphs are light tan colored, tiny, and a lot harder to see than the adults - which are 3/16 of an inch long and dark brown. Dark sheets show up the little ones better. Light sheets show up the bigger ones. Also, after nibbling on you they poop little black spots. If you see these showing up on your sheets it's a good sign of bed bug infestation. I went with light green sheets which worked well as I could see both adults and nymphs, and any poop spots. Dark sheets hide their poop stains, so avoid them. Also, it's a good idea to wash your sheets daily for the first week or two because these things are laying eggs like crazy.
We got everything out from under the bed and put ALL our clothes, bedroom stuff etc. that bed bugs could hide in, into black garbage bags, then sealed them and put them out on the back patio to heat up for a couple hours in the summer Sun. Black garbage bags absorb the Sun's rays and turn the insides into an oven. I measured the temp inside and it was 132 F! If it's cold when you learn you have bed bugs you could probably use a blow dryer on low setting. You just have to get the temp in the bags up to 115 F for fifteen minutes. Eggs take longer to kill but they can't survive 115 F for more than an hour. The more heat you create the faster they die.
Vacuum your floors - 3-5 times a week for a couple of weeks or more depending on how many there are. You want to suck up any eggs that have fallen to the floor or any bed bugs that are crawling around. Concentrate on the spaces under and around your bed and base boards. If you've got hardwood floors it'll make your job easier as there are fewer places for them to hide and you can see them, and signs of them, better. Also, if you have a canister type vacuum it'll give you an idea of how many you're killing. Re-apply the DE as necessary. I used a paint brush and turkey baster. DE's very powdery and floats like dust but it doesn't take much to cover a large area. Some have complained about how dusty it is, but ask yourself this: what would you rather have to deal with, a little dust or bed bugs?
Even after all this we were still getting bitten - though much less. We found a few hiding between the new mattress covers and killed them. A few days later we were bitten again. Taking the bed apart we found a half inch hole in the mattress cover surrounding the box springs. It had some little black poop stains near it. The bugs that'd been trapped inside found the hole and came out to feast. We sealed it with some scotch tape.
We next found some crawling up a table lamp cord and marching across the bedside table! I've no doubt they were headed for the sheets that were brushing against the table. I moved both bedside tables a foot away from the bed then thoroughly dusted the table tops, cords, electric receptacle boxes (which they use as hideouts), etc... but we still got some bites - though less than at any time in a month. We then took the bed apart and using a flashlight, magnifying glass and dentist's mirror, searched every nook and cranny. Sure enough, some were hiding in screw holes. We'd already treated the bed frame and screw holes with diatomaceous earth, but it hadn't stuck to the tops of some of the screw holes... and that's where they were hiding. I killed these and we put the bed back together.
About a week went by without any bites but we were still suspicious and took the bed apart again. Lo and behold two adolescents were hiding in a small worm hole in one of the slats. I killed these and prayed we were finally nearing the end our disgusting problem. But just to be sure we took the bed apart and thoroughly inspected it weekly another four or five times. By now we were familiar with every nook and cranny of our bed. We also checked all possible hidey holes around the bed. All told we spent around a month and a half in our bed bug war and the mop up missions... BUT WE WON THE WAR! And we've been bed bug free since September 2011.
We didn't think we'd ever get bed bugs but we learned better. They're everywhere now. If you're waking up with unexplainable red marks, and/or your sheets start showing little black spots, you need to ACT FAST. At the first sign of an infestation take your bed completely apart and INSPECT EVERY INCH OF IT: mattress, frame, inner box springs, headboard, legs... everything. A flashlight and magnifying glass are helpful here. You may be shocked at how many you find. You can vacuum them up and/or squash them with paper towels. Squashing them is messy but hydrogen peroxide will clean up any blood stains. Toothpicks work well on the ones hiding in crevices and holes. You'll learn to be impressed by how cleverly they hide. Don't go light on the diatomaceous earth either - this really is total war.
Once you've cleared your bed of them the ball's back in your court. But you can still pick up eggs on your feet and carry them back into the bed - thus the importance of vacuuming religiously. If you go a week without getting bitten it shows you've made progress, but the war ain't over yet. Many are still lurking around, so you need to keep checking for them. If you go a month without getting bitten you've probably won the war but it's a good idea to leave some diatomaceous earth in the plant pot saucers under the bed legs, and along the baseboards too, for several more months - in case some are still hiding out. And inspect your bed a few more times too, if only for peace of mind.
I might add that if any of your family, friends or visitors report bed bugs at home - or at work - you should immediately buy some diatomaceous earth in anticipation of when they show up at your place. Pre-emptively dust your base boards, especially in the bed rooms, because they use base boards as highways and hideouts. Most of them stick pretty close to the bed but for some reason some go solo and you can find them anywhere in your house.
I can only surmise that the people who neg diatomaceous earth are less intelligent and/or persistent than bed bugs. Or maybe they're exterminators. Who knows? Diatomaceous earth is a real deal killer for exterminators if it's used properly. It just takes a while to get them all.
The key to defeating bed bugs is to understand you're up against a wily and resourceful adversary who's not going to leave without an ugly fight. A hit and a miss doesn't work with them. The sooner you get started the better because the more there are the harder they are to get rid of. If you decide to go with diatomaceous earth you learn their habits and hideouts. You make life at your place dangerous for them and kill them off by percentages in a series of running battles until all are gone. There may be multiple battlefields: your bed/mattress, framework, under your bed, the baseboards, bedside tables, chairs, blanket boxes, behind picture frames, electric boxes, loose wallpaper, lamps, dresser drawers and everything that's in them, closets, curtains, etc. Like I said, the main thing is to first get them out of your bed and turn it into an island sanctuary; then go on ruthless search and destroy missions for any others.
Remember... you're the bait! But by using yourself and your loved ones as bait you'll lure bed bugs into a diatomaceous deathtrap. It's a great feeling to be able lie peacefully in your bed again without worrying if you're being silently stalked.