After attempting to fight a bed bug infestation on my own for months, armed with earth- and pet-friendly pesticides, a vacuum cleaner, a bottle of bleach water, and a handheld steamer, the bed bugs won. As it turns out, I was outmatched, outgunned, and outsmarted by tiny, brainless, crawling insects. So I called in the professionals. A previous post I wrote on this devil-spawned pestilence offered several options for treating bed bugs on your own. Mea culpa, but fuck all that noise. You need real poison, and you need a professional.
I ended up heat treating my house, for about $1.25/sq. ft. Heat treating involves using large heat units and industrial fans to bring the interior temperature of the structure to over 130° F. Our heat techs got it up to 150° F in all but a few spots, which means every life stage of bed bug, from eggs to fully grown adult, died horribly. Dracaris, motherfuckers.
In addition to the heat treatment, the basement, garage, and car were treated with a canister of magical kill juice called Bedlam. It's been three weeks since the treatment, and while I've vacuumed up a lot of corpses (while laughing maniacally) I haven't seen a live bug. My bites are starting to heal, so I don't look like I have chicken pox anymore, just in time for t-shirt weather. I made it to the other side of the nightmare.
If you've found this article through a search in the middle of the night, likely on the eleventy-first page of Google results, and you have your own bed bug apocalypse going on, I need to tell you two things.
- You are not alone.
- The Internet is full of bullshit about bed bugs.
It's not all bullshit. There are some very smart people who know what the hell they're talking about, the Bed Buggers, for example, are a haven of kind, gentle people who know exactly what bed bug infestees are dealing with. This link, from NYC, is smart and recommended by our friends at UfYH. But not all of the information you'll find on the rest of the web is so helpful. Let's highlight some of the biggest lies the Internet is telling you about bed bugs.
1. Bed bugs are easily visible to the naked eye. This is true if you have the vision of a fighter pilot. Adult bed bugs are pretty easy to see. Adults range in size from comparable to a flax seed to a large grain of rice. Adults are rust colored when they're hungry and black when they're full. Larval-stage bed bugs are tiny wisps of red, and are nearly invisible on anything but a bright white background.
2. The vacuum is the bed bug's enemy. This is true, but only if you carefully inspect the beater brush, the tubing, the attachments, and the filter (if applicable) each and every time you empty it, which should be every time you've vacuumed up bed bugs. Otherwise, the vacuum cleaner is now the new townhouse for the critters you sucked up. Keep in mind, bed bugs have spiny legs that allow them to scale your bedclothes, so they can hold on pretty tightly, even faced with the crevice tool of your Hoover. I was vacuuming so much, my machine kept clogging, so when I was carrying the vacuum from room to room, even after carefully emptying the canister and quadruple tying the bag, the bugs were hanging out on a bunch of carpet fuzz and cat hair in one of the tubes. Until, that is, they'd crawl out into the new room and start tormenting me from there.
3. Diatomaceous earth is the answer. Again, this is only partially true. Diatomaceous earth, which is a powder made of finely ground diatome fossils, can be an effective deterrent against crawling insects. Most crawlers breathe through a series of tiny tubules in their legs, which allow their bodies to absorb oxygen while moving without the need for cumbersome lungs. The DE clogs these tubules, theoretically leading to a terrible, horrible, very bad death that couldn't happen to a better species.
Problem: It can take up to ten days for them to die. Problem 2: Bed bugs aren't stupid, and will figure out a way around your DE traps, no matter how well you think you've established your defensive perimeter. DE also absorbs moisture, so any perimeters have to be refreshed frequently, as clumpy DE isn't nearly as effective as powdery DE.
4. Bed bugs can jump. Nope! This is a lie. I figured we all needed a boost. They will crawl to places from which they can drop on you, however. It was only a little boost, this is an article about bed bugs.
5. CO2 traps will solve your problem. False. CO2 traps will give you a hint as to the extent of your problem, they won't solve it. Your fragrant meatsack is still going to smell more like dinner than your thermos full of dry ice.
6. It's easy to beat bed bugs. Anyone who tells you this is has never met a bed bug, or they're trying to break you, MK Ultra style. Listen, it's easy to underestimate the power of these creatures. They're a goddamn bug, FFS. We're miles above them on the food chain. We invented flight, vaccines, coffee, and Internet quizzes. Yet! Bed bugs have evolved to become immune to the effects of most conventional pesticides, including DDT, which has been outlawed for nearly 75 years. If that's not enough to blow your mind, bed bugs can carry over three dozen types of human pathogen, but they don't transmit any of them to their victims. I hate the tiny vermin with the heat of a thousand suns, but even I am more than a little impressed by this trait.
7. Bed bugs are therefore not a public health threat. Having bed bugs is a shitty, scary experience, and the psychological effects of living with bugs can be difficult for lots of infestees to cope with. Education, talking with other people who've been through it, and taking action can help, as can reaching out for support from the mental health community if the effects become overwhelming and interfere with your daily life.
8. You don't need a professional. You might not. You might actually be able to defeat them without a pro. If that's you, I tip my hat, because I could not.
9. Only dirty people get bed bugs. False! Also a little rude. Bed bugs eat blood, not dirt. That's not to say it's not more difficult to get rid of them in a messy environment, more hiding places make it harder to be sure you catch them all. But bed bugs don't care how you live. Tidy people taste just as good as messy people. Rich people taste just as good as poor people.
The good news is this: There is life after bed bugs. If you've beaten an infestation, you're eventually going to get back to normal, even if you jump every time you see a fleck of dark lint in your sheets. (I do!) You'll stop wanting to sleep in a beekeeper suit in your tub. You'll stop thinking every tickle or itch is a sign that the bugs are back. You'll also probably never stay in another hotel without a print-out of the establishment's bed bug prevention and accountability policy, but that's just good sense.
Be strong, be smart, and like Churchill so eloquently said, if you're going through hell, keep going.
A version of this post appeared on Persephone Magazine.