Last week I shared a dirty secret: I had bedbugs. Now here’s how I got rid of them.
I had three things on my mind when trying to figure out how to wage war against my bedbugs: efficacy, cost, and environmental health. Getting rid of the bugs was clearly my first priority, yet I certainly didn’t have the throwaway cash to dry clean every item of clothing I own and re-outfit my bedroom, from mattress and bedding to rug and drapes in order to speed the process along. Perhaps the only big of slightly good news was that I quickly eliminated bug-bombing and fumigating from my list of solutions for one simple reason: poisoning your living quarters doesn’t add up to much when you’re dealing with bugs that can hide in between floorboards, inside your alarm clock, or in the back of a framed picture on the wall — places where not even a poison dust cloud can reach.
First, a few helpful things to remember: bedbugs need oxygen, just like you, and they can’t survive extreme heat or cold. When in doubt, think like a geek. Basic bedbug biology dictates how you get rid of the things effectively and efficiently, and it allows you to you feel like you still have your head screwed on straight in the face of a truly maddening situation.
Most exterminators will tell you to dry clean or wash and dry (on hot and super-hot, respectively) everything you own. That is either super expensive, or super destructive, or both, depending on your wardrobe. Or it’s just impossible — how do you dry clean a Gucci handbag, Marc Jacobs flats, and a book of poetry that you really want to read at night? You don’t.
After a thorough scouring of the apartment, my exterminator determined that the bedroom was the only room affected. That was a huge relief because it meant that our treatment could be confined to that one single room. I felt lucky on that front.
Another unexpected plus was that my exterminator turned out to be a very friendly and exceptionally helpful guy — just the kind of guy you want to have around when you’re trying not to cry and watching everything in your bedroom go into plastic trash bags for laundering or other bug-busting treatment. As we tore through everything in the apartment, I set up bags for each type of item: stuff I could wash and dry on super high heat was the easy part. But what about the rest? I categorized my stuff as follows to streamline the process:
- clothing that can be washed and dried on very high heat
- clothing that requires dry cleaning and is in-season (further subdivided into “stuff I really want to wear” and “stuff I can live without for several weeks”)
- clothing that requires dry cleaning and is out-of-season
- non-washable, wearable items that are in-season (shoes, handbags)
- non-washable, wearables that are out-of-season
- non-wearable fabric items (bedding, drapery, etc…)
- non-wearables that I can live without for a while (most books, pictures, and other tchotchkes)
- non-wearables that MUST be accessible soon (books and work files)
Each category had a labeled trash bag. As soon as it was full, I tied it off and double bagged it, then labeled the outer bag. Only once the bag was totally sealed — no holes in the bag through which a bedbug might steal away — could it be moved into the living room to clear workspace in the bedroom.
The bedroom had to be scoured top to bottom. Every gap in the floorboards was caulked. The space around the heat riser was caulked. No gaps anywhere for bugs to creep in from other apartments. Then we laid down diatomaceous earth. It looks like a bag of sand, but it’s actually filled with the pulverized shells of aquatic microorganisms. When the bedbugs crawl over the stuff, the little shells slice into the exoskeletons of the bedbugs. It kills them by physically maiming the buggers, so you aren’t poisoning yourself in the process. I wore a dust mask when I laid the stuff down, and some people suggest you mix it with a bit of soapy water and paint around the inside of your dressers, along the bed frame, around the windows, floorboards, and any other wood joint you’ve got in the room.
Now, back to the bags of clothes: the washables were washed in the hottest water possible and dried on the highest heat: gym clothes, cotton underwear, socks, plus bedding and my cheap cotton drapes. Done.
The rest was trickier. I started with items I needed to access in the near term: work clothes, a few dresses. Those went to the dry cleaner. The rest I left bagged for later.
The non-dry cleanable items like shoes and handbags? I put those in those “as seen on TV” vacuum-sealed bags and sucked the air out using our old vacuum cleaner. (I bought the bags at Bed Bath and Beyond, by the way.) I then cleaned out the freezer. Each vacuum-sealed bag then had a two-week run in the freezer — no oxygen and freezing temperatures for two weeks. No bug came out alive.
I slowly made my way through the piles — two week cycles in the freezer for everything. The whole process took several months, but the careful persistence paid off. The bugs were gone.