What Should I Do With My Bed?

  • It is usually not necessary to discard bed bug infested beds
  • Discarding of infested beds is rarely a solution
  • New beds that are purchased to replace discarded beds often become infested
  • It is not necessary to treat beds with pesticides
  • Non chemical methods can be a very effective way of dealing with bed bug infested beds
  • Mattress and box spring encasements are among the most effective methods for bed bug infested beds.
  • Encasements can be used to protect replacement beds or to salvage existing beds

One of the biggest misconceptions about bed bugs is that infestations are limited to the bed. For this reason, many people throw their bed(s) away believing that this will solve their problem. Unfortunately, discarding the mattress and the box spring rarely solves the problem and new beds that are purchased and brought into the home often become infested by bugs that were still present in the structure. This can obviously become very expensive and raises the following question: Just how many beds can you afford to throw away if your new beds keep getting infested? There are a number of factors that you should consider when deciding how to deal with infested beds. Each of the options is discussed below:

Discarding Beds

You should not discard your bed because you feel you have to. However, there are benefits to getting rid of infested bedding if you decide that you want to. While it is true that in most situations bugs will be located in areas away from the bed, the majority of bugs will in fact be associated with the mattress and box spring. As a result, discarding the bed is a very effective way of immediately eliminating a large percentage of the bed bug population. It may make even more sense to discard the bed if the bed is severely infested, it is old and in need of replacement or you emotionally can’t deal with leaving the infested bed in the home.

If you choose to throw infested beds away it is important to be careful how you go about getting rid of the bed so that you don’t create an even bigger problem. First think about what is going to happen to the infested mattress after you discard it. Is it going to be sitting out on the curbside or by a dumpster? How long will it be sitting outside before it is collected and will some unsuspecting person pick it up before the collection truck arrives? It is important to take measures to prevent your bed bug infestation from becoming someone else’s infestation. Steps that can be taken include coordinating the discarding of the bed with the trash collection schedule to minimize the time it is left outside. Once outside of the home the bed can be spray painted or marked indicating that it is infested. Regardless of how you choose to deal with the bed think about the problems that the bed could create for someone else and try to take some type of action to prevent it.

It is also extremely important to consider how you are going to get the bed out of the structure so that bugs and eggs are not dispersed during the removal process. Just imagine dragging the bed across the floor and down the stairs or carrying the bed and having it bang into a wall by accident. One option is to remove as many of the visible bugs and eggs with a canister vacuum or shop vacuum. The problem with this is that you run the risk of infesting the vacuum (see Remove Bugs). Even if you do try to remove the bugs with a vacuum, chances are, you will not get all of the bugs and may still disperse them as you carry it out. It is a good idea to contain the bugs by thoroughly wrapping the bed in shrink wrap or plastic before removing it from the structure. Even after it is wrapped the infested items should be handled carefully to avoid unnecessary bumps or jolts while carrying it out of the structure.

Now you need to protect the new bed from becoming infested once you bring it into the home. This is the easiest step, as new mattresses and box springs can be encased in mattress and box spring encasements immediately after they have been delivered. Protect-A-Bed BugLock® encasements are the highest quality product that we have examined to date and are a critical component of every bed bug job performed by Cooper Pest Solutions. By using Protect-A-Bed BugLock® encasements, newly purchased mattresses and box springs will be protected from re-infestation as long as the encasements have not been compromised (ripped or torn). As bed bugs that are still in the structure migrate to the bed in search of a blood meal their movement will be restricted to the exterior of the encasement where they can be easily detected and eliminated.

Treatment of Beds with Pesticides

Never treat a bed with pesticides unless you are using a product that has been specifically designed and intended for such use. It is equally important that you follow all pesticide label directions carefully and that you never use a product in a manner that is inconsistent with the label directions. Very few pesticides are allowed to be used to treat beds due to the obvious concerns associated with pesticide exposure. However, there are some EPA registered pesticide products that do have label directions permitting various types of treatments to mattresses and box springs. However, just because you can treat beds with certain products doesn’t mean that it is a good idea to do so.

We do not recommend treating infested beds for the following reasons. First, most pesticides work well on contact but not nearly as well as a dry residual. This means that bugs you spray directly will typically die, but many of the bugs that encounter the treated surfaces after the chemical has dried are likely to survive. The question must be asked; why spray bugs that you can see when a vacuum cleaner or steam can accomplish the same thing. In addition, because many chemicals are not very effective when dry, repeated applications will need to be made to deal with the new bugs as they arrive at the bed from surrounding areas. Thus it is our opinion that the repeated use of pesticides on sleeping surfaces results in an unnecessary level of pesticide exposure that could have been avoided through the use of effective non-chemical measures.

Mechanical Removal or Destruction

Non chemical measures such as the use of vacuums or direct treatment with steam can be used very effectively to remove or destroy visible bugs and eggs that are associated with mattresses and box springs. It is very important to note that these methods are very effective for removing the majority of bugs however it is unlikely that 100% of the bugs and/or eggs will be removed. Following the physical removal of most of the bugs it is strongly recommended that mattresses and box springs be encased. The use of an appropriate encasement (Protect-A-Bed BugLock® encasement) will trap any remaining bugs inside the encasement where they will eventually starve and die.

Eliminating bed bugs with a vacuum cleaner can be a very effective method but be cautioned that vacuums can readily become infested by bed bugs (precautionary measures are discussed below). Lightweight, portable, battery charged vacuums are not likely to have the suction power needed and are not recommended. Instead standard electrically powered vacuums should be used, but avoid using upright vacuums that are intended for use on floors or carpeted areas. Instead use a canister type vacuum or other vacuum that is equipped with a hose (crevice tool attachments can also be useful). Avoid the use of attachments that have brushes or bristles that bugs and eggs can easily cling to.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of using a vacuum is the risk of the vacuum becoming infested. If you choose to use a vacuum to remove bed bugs, it is ideal to use a different vacuum than the one that is used in the routine cleaning of the structure. After each use the vacuum can be stored and sealed tightly in a heavy contractor grade plastic bag (>3ml) or stored in an air tight storage container. Vacuum bags should be discarded immediately by placing the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag and then discarding it into an outdoor trash receptacles (double or triple bagging the vacuum bag prior to disposal is a good idea). As mentioned above, having a separate vacuum that has been “dedicated” solely for removing bed bugs and is carefully stored in a sealed container after each use will help reduce the likelihood that the vacuum will create additional problems in the dispersal of bed bugs. It is also recommended that you advise you pest management professional where your vacuum is stored so they can pay special attention to that area during their services.

The effective removal of bugs/eggs using a vacuum requires that the nozzle or tip of the hose is very close or in direct contact with the bugs or eggs. Bed bugs have small claws at the tips of the feet that enable them to cling tightly to surfaces enabling them to resist the suction of a vacuum to some degree. Eggs are attached to surfaces with a cement-like material that can make them difficult to remove. For this reason, when vacuuming, it is important to use a back and forth scraping motion directly on the surface where bugs and eggs are present in order to remove as many bugs/eggs as possible. It is important to realize that no matter how thorough you are with the vacuuming effort it is unlikely that you will remove 100% of the bugs and eggs. Some will not be pulled out of cracks or crevices associated with the inside of the box spring; others may be too small and go unnoticed. The point is you cannot assume the bed is free of bugs after vacuuming. Encasing beds after most of the bugs have been removed is becoming a very common practice.

Steam is another highly effective method for destroying bed bugs. Twenty minutes of exposure to temperatures in excess of 120oF is lethal to all stages of bed bugs, including the eggs. Direct exposure of bed bugs to steam can kill all stages of bed bugs in seconds. Like most things in life, this sounds simple and in many ways it is, but if not used correctly steam will not kill the insects and may do little more than give them a warm bath. It is important to remember that when working with high temperatures it is very easy to suffer burns. As a result if you are using steam you should read all follow manufacturer directions and safety advice.

There are many inexpensive steamers available in retail stores. We have not worked with any of the consumer grade steamers and thus cannot comment on the effectiveness of these products. It is possible that some of the less expensive steamers may work just fine however there are a number of reasons to caution against using these products:

  • The steam may not be hot enough to reach lethal temperatures when only contacting the insects for a second or two.
  • The pressure may not be great enough to maintain the output needed
  • The steam that is produced is very wet and may soak the surfaces being steamed

Commercial grade steamers are much more expensive (often $500 or more) but are worth the cost. We have worked with commercial steamers manufactured by Amerivap (http://www.amerivap.com) and by Hi-Tech Cleaning Systems (http://www.hitechcleaningsystems.com) and have found both to be highly effective for use in destroying bugs and eggs on contact. Advantages to these steaming units are that they can produce very high temperatures (> 190oF) which will kill all stages within just a second or two of direct exposure. The steam produced is considered a dry steam meaning that the total water content in the steam is less resulting in less moisture on surfaces contacted.

While steam can be a very effective method, it is one that may best be left to professional pest management professional as there are many details that go into the effective and efficient use of this method. Additionally, if steam is used on the mattress or box spring, encasements should only be utilized after the bed has been allowed to completely air dry to prevent the onset of mold from moisture trapped within the encasement.

Encasement of Mattress and Box Spring

There are many encasements available in the marketplace, but few are effective against bed bugs. The encasement that we believe is the most effective is the BugLock® encasement, manufactured by Protect-A-Bed of Chicago. The encasements can be used to salvage beds that are infested with bed bugs. Once the encasements have been installed any bugs or eggs that are still associated with the mattresses and box springs will be trapped inside the encasement and will eventually die.

There are several recommendations when using mattress and box spring encasements:

  1. The physical removal or destruction of as many bugs and eggs as possible before installing the encasements is strongly recommended but not absolutely necessary.
  2. Encasements are only effective if they are completely intact so it is important to periodically inspect the encasements to be sure that the integrity of the encasement has not somehow become compromised (ripped, torn or worn through). Areas where the encasement is in contact with sharp edges or protrusions (i.e. bolts bed frame) are particularly susceptible to becoming damaged. Placement of some type of padding (i.e. felt) over these areas may help increase the longevity of the encasement.

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