Whatever the reason cited—the ban on DDT, increased international travel, or just bad luck—one thing is clear: bed bugs are making a comeback in the U.S. Like the pestilent, suited agents of The Matrix, these little insects can seem nearly impossible to destroy. They lurk in your mattress or your baseboards. They feed on human blood, but more stealthily than fleas, sticking hosts with a local anesthetic so the bite goes unnoticed until after they have safely retreated. They can survive over a year without feeding. The appearance of bed bugs can ruin the joy of a new apartment, and require an unwanted friendship with your local exterminator. Given that they’ve wreaked havoc on human rest since Ancient Greece, they’ve learned a thing or two about sticking around—but never fear! Below are some suggestions for how to beat nature at its own game.
Steps to Prevent Bed Bug Infestations
1. Beware of used beds and furniture
We’ve all slept on dorm beds, or inherited a couch from a previous tenant—such hand-me-downs are usually harmless. But, as their name suggests, bed bugs can live in mattresses or other furniture, hopping from one host to the next. If you choose to go second-hand, make sure you know who owned your furnishings previously, and that they have no history of infestation. It’s also advisable to immediately wash any clothing you pick up at the local consignment store.
2. Stay clean
Bed bugs hide in nooks and crannies, but they can be vacuumed up. Use any paranoia inspired by this blog as an excuse to keep your apartment clean. If you have cause for concern, check your vacuum bag for bed bugs: usually red-brown, ¼ inch long, with a flat, oval shape. Avoid clutter, as bugs love to hide behind stacks of stuff, waiting to strike.
3. Don’t have infested friends come visit
…at least not before hot showers and clean clothes. Sounds obvious, but navigating a route between caution and courtesy can be tricky. If you know your friends have bed bugs, talk to them about what precautions they’re taking to halt the bugs’ spread, and assure them your concern isn’t personal. While having bed bugs does not necessitate becoming a pariah, some people practice more vigilance than others, and you don’t want to fall victim to a friend’s lax attitude.
4. Check for bed bugs after returning from vacation
Hotel beds, especially in other countries, sometimes provide the perfect transport from one traveler to another. Before hitting the sack, check sheets and mattresses for evidence of bed bugs (tiny fecal stains or spots of blood). Upon returning, examine your clothes and luggage carefully before you fully unpack.
5. If you’re concerned, throw it in the dryer
Bed bugs are hardy fellows, but they cannot survive temperatures over 120 F. Most dryers reach that on their “low” setting; the clothes you wore to the open house of that slightly sketchy apartment can be sanitized by 20 minutes in the machine. Possessions such as computers are trickier, so if you’re worried, look into freezing your gadgets instead. Vacuuming items like luggage can also reduce risk.
Read up on bed bugs, but be careful of the source; there are plenty of online horror stories, and the best way to stay bug-free is to stay calm and rational! Also, keep your ears open for bed bugs in the news. Units Magazine reported in July on proposed legislation that would fund bed bug research, and possibly expedite approval of certain pesticides. As we learn more about bed bug prevention, rules and recommendations will likely change, so stay up to speed on the best ways to keep yourself safe.
Want to chime in? Have a horror story of your own to share? We’d love to hear about it, here or on our Facebook page!