Avoid These Common Mistakes When Dealing With Bed Bugs
Article by Joseph Salvatore Knipper
A year into my stay at a Bronx boarding house, one of the worst things which can happen to a New Yorker happened to me: I got bed bugs.
Here are 7 mistakes I made dealing with bed bugs, to help you avoid making them yourself:
Mistake #1: I lived like a slob.
It wasn’t my fault I got bed bugs. They can thrive anywhere from a hospital to a homeless shelter.
However, clutter gives them places to hide. My floor was a mess of papers, books, and dirty clothes. As a result, I didn’t discover my bed bugs until the infestation was much larger than it needed to be. To be more specific, I didn’t discover them until I started packing to move.
Mistakes #2 and #3: I panicked, and I put others at risk.
In the wee hours of moving day, strange apple seed-sized bugs began fleeing in surprising numbers from every piece of furniture I moved.
When family arrived to help me pack, my sister declared them to be bed bugs—a diagnosis later confirmed by a professional exterminator. She advised me to throw out my mattress and anything I didn’t really need.
I began to dispose of lamps, books, and folding chairs in the communal trash down the hall, which I now know could have spread the infestation to other rooms. There’s also a high possibility a scavenger grabbed the mattress or some of the other discarded furniture, and thus carried the infestation to other areas of the city.
But I did do one thing right: I told my building immediately.
It was one of the hardest things I had to do. There is an unfortunate stigma around bed bugs that causes people to try to conceal information. This shame and secrecy allows the infestation to spread. However, when people have knowledge, they can take precautions.
My building assured me they would spray my room the next morning.
Mistake #4: I moved.
As I was in a week-to-week boarding house rather than a traditional lease, I could have delayed my move. I foolishly went ahead with it anyway, rationalizing that any bed bugs I happened to bring to my new apartment would be easy to get rid of.
I was wrong. Bed bugs crawl fast—three to four feet per minute. Within hours my parents were helping me catch bedbugs crawling through my new roommate’s possessions.
Mistake #5: I misunderstood bed bug treatment cost.
According to New York City’s Housing and Maintenance Code, Subchapter 2, Article 4, landlords are legally obligated to eradicate bed bugs.
As a tenant, I didn’t have to pay the direct bed bug treatment costs for either of my buildings. Nevertheless, getting bed bugs was still one of the most expensive things to happen to me.
First, I panicked and threw out many things that needed to be replaced later. For instance, because I didn’t have the time to bed-shop, I bought a $90 cot to sleep on temporarily. Of course, I bought a new bed eventually, which ran me another $600.
Secondly, there was the laundry. Every cloth possession my roommate or I owned needed to be laundered. Running clothes through the dryer on high temperature kills bed bugs (estimates vary on the time required for this, but NYC’s official guide says 20 minutes). Everything I washed got taken straight from the dryer and put into plastic trash bags ($10-$20 a box) until I could fold them and put them into freezer bags ($5-$15 a box). This was to keep clean laundry from getting reinfested. What couldn’t be washed needed to be dry cleaned (definitely call ahead if you are bringing bed bug-infested clothes to your dry cleaner).
Thirdly, I bought various DYI supplies for supplementing the work of exterminators, such as caulk and isopropyl alcohol. Despite not having to pay for the actual extermination costs, I estimate that getting rid of bed bugs and keeping them away cost around fifteen hundred dollars. Of course, if you don’t throw away your furniture out of panic and you already own proper prevention equipment (such as mattress covers) your costs will be less.
Mistake #6: I used a treatment best left to the professionals.
There is a product used in bed bug treatments called diatomaceous earth, which is a powder that forms during the fossilization of microscopic creatures called diatoms.
This powder can cling to pests who are exposed to it, shredding their exoskeletons and killing them over a period of 10 days. However, because bed bugs have to crawl directly through it for it to work, it’s most effective when used in conjunction with other treatments.
I went to my local hardware store and bought a bottle of diatomaceous earth, figuring that I’d be helping the bed bug exterminators. What I didn’t know is that there are two types of diatomaceous earth: amorphous silica and crystalline silica.
Crystalline silica diatomaceous earth is incredibly dangerous. It can remain in the lungs and cause respiratory ailments down the road. Many over-the-counter diatomaceous earth products mix amorphous and crystalline silica diatomaceous earth. In the hands of professionals with special equipment, the right type of diatomaceous earth is a wonderful tool. However, I may have done permanent damage to both my and my roommate’s lungs by trying to apply the wrong product with no precautions beyond a shirt pulled over my face.
I eventually brought the correct grade of diatomaceous earth (100% amorphous silica, food grade is recommended), and learned to apply it safely (sparingly, with a professional dust applicator or spray bottle, while wearing a mask).
Diatomaceous earth still provides me with peace of mind, knowing that certain areas of my apartment (such as my shoe tray) are death for bed bugs to crawl through. However, if you are in the middle of a bed bug infestation, you are likely too sleep-deprived to absorb all the information on how to use diatomaceous earth correctly. Thus, I recommend you leave it to the professionals until the infestation is solved.
Mistake #7: I thought I could handle it alone.
During the five weeks I had bed bugs, my mental health was a mess. I constantly obsessed over every mark on my body in the morning, wondering if it was a zit or a bed bug bite.
I sought and received support in online bed bug forums, but I needed professional guidance to process the massive amount of information out there. Eventually, I searched “Bed Bug Inspectors in NYC” and discovered M&M Bedbug Inspectors, a subsidiary of M&M Pest Control.
M&M Bedbug inspectors helped me get the right information. They were not my only source, but they were the most understanding. I called M&M Bedbug Inspectors whenever I had a question, no matter how paranoid.
After my building’s bed bug treatment, I hired M&M Bedbug Inspectors to make certain they were gone. M&M Bedbug Inspectors performed a canine bed bug inspection for me that weekend.
Forty minutes later, we received the word: no sign of any bed bugs or bed bug eggs. I managed to avoid hugging either the dog or the inspector (barely), and began my post-bed-bug life.
Getting bed bugs was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I desperately want to make the experience easier for others than it was for me.
Keep your space clean so they don’t have a place to hide. If you get them, remember not to panic, or you’ll just put others at risk. Instead, inform your building immediately, get professional advice, and take measured steps to remove the infestation.
Above all, remember you do not have to do it alone.
This blog post was written by Joseph Salvatore Knipper from New York City, a satisfied client of M&M Bedbug Inspectors and MMPC.