Bed Bug Series: Extermination

By Josh Kattenberg

Hopefully this never happens, but it is quite possible that a rental becomes infested with bed bugs. If this does happen, an exterminator will need to be hired to take care of the problem. In addition to the exterminator, the tenants are also a crucial participant in ridding the unit of bed bugs.

While some tenants may have the urge to throw all their infested belongings away, this usually isn’t necessary. Heat will kill bed bugs, so laundering all washable items, like clothing, bedding, stuffed toys, etc. will kill any bed bugs present in those belongings. If using common laundering area in the property, or a laundromat, the tenants should double-bag their possessions as they transport them to avoid contaminating other areas.

Of course, not all items can be laundered. Mattresses and box springs, of course, cannot be laundered, and sometimes need to be thrown away. However, in many cases, if the tenant simply slips bed bug-proof encasements (available at retail stores) around the mattress and box spring, they won’t need to be thrown away. These bedbug-proof covers are shut tightly with specialized zippers, preventing bed bugs from escaping.  Over time, the bed bugs will die of starvation. Alternatively, tenants could wrap the mattress and box spring (and any other large items) in plastic and place them outside on a hot day. If the entire item reaches 120 degrees F for part of the day, the bed bugs will die.Tenants should also vacuum all surfaces, then promptly throw the vacuum bag away and wash the vacuum cleaner attachments.

Finally, in preparation for the exterminator, tenants should move all possessions to the center of the rooms. This will allow the exterminator to access the walls, corners, and cracks, where the bed bugs are most likely to be living.

Exterminators generally use either insecticides or heat to eliminate bed bugs. When using insecticides, the exterminator will apply professional-grade insecticides to areas where bed bugs are most likely to congregate, like between a mattress and box spring, behind pictures, and in any other cracks and crevices in the house. Anything able to be laundered won’t be treated with insecticides, as the process of laundering the items will kill the bed bugs.

When using heat to eliminate bed bugs, the exterminator will have specialized equipment, including large heaters, and fans to circulate the heat through the house, and sensors placed throughout the house to ensure even, consistent levels of heat are reached. Temperatures of 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit will kill all bed bugs and eggs. Because household items warm up along with the air in the house, it’s not necessary to launder bedding, clothing, etc.

There are pros and cons to each method of extermination. The drawback of insecticides is the fact that moveable items need to be laundered. On the positive side, insecticides are usually cheaper than heat application, and they have a residual effect; if bed bugs are re-introduced days after the treatment, those new bed bugs will be killed by the leftover insecticide.

Heat treatment is more convenient–no extra laundering of moveable items–and some people might prefer to avoid having insecticides in their homes. However, heat treatment is usually more expensive than insecticide application, and it doesn’t offer residual protection; bed bugs introduced after a heat treatment can happily take up residence again. For this reason, most heat treatments are followed by limited insecticide treatment to prevent re-infestation.