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CleaningMatters logo sm March/April 2011

Bedbugs, Be Gone

How to Deal with Bedbugs

When moms of yesteryear said, "Sleep tight ... don't let the bedbugs bite," we gave it nary a thought. But today that bedtime wish has become more like a nighttime caution. Bedbugs are back – with a vengeance. These unpleasant parasites look to resting humans and animals as their food source. Dirt and unsanitary conditions do not play a part in attracting these pests. Rather, they are drawn to the carbon dioxide and body heat we emit. Once they've had their meal, they scurry off and hide, an attribute that makes them difficult to control.

Signs of Bedbugs
Despite their propensity to hide, bedbugs can sometimes be seen by the naked eye. Adult bugs are 1/8"-1/4" long, tan to reddish in color, with an oval shape that resembles an apple seed. Because they are translucent until maturity, young bedbugs are harder to spot. Signs of bedbugs include tiny bloodstains, eggs and live or dead insects on bedding, mattresses, headboards and other fixtures that are close to the bed, such as night tables, curtains and blinds. You may also notice a sweet, pungent odor.

If you are bitten, red welts or a rash on the body will also indicate their presence. Since bedbugs have not been shown to transmit disease, the main side effect of this rash is extreme discomfort. Washing with soap and water can help ease the reaction. Avoid scratching. It will make the reaction much worse. If you continue to experience discomfort, consult your doctor or pharmacist.

Preventing Infestation
Before DDT was banned in 1972, bedbugs were easy to control – and to eliminate. Today, the process is much more challenging. If caught in the very early stages of infestation, it is possible to eliminate them. At later stages, or if early intervention doesn't work, professional extermination is usually required.

Preventing infestation is the best form of bedbug control. Nancy Bock, Vice President of Consumer Education at the American Cleaning Institute® offers these suggestions:

  • Usually bedbugs come into the home by hitching a ride on your luggage or personal items. When staying in a hotel, check the room, particularly the bedding and around the headboard, for signs of infestation. Change rooms immediately if you see any sign of the insects.
  • Even if the room has no signs of bedbugs, do not put your clothing or luggage directly on the bed. Don't put your luggage on the floor, either. Use the metal luggage rack or put it on top of the desk.
  • Don't accept secondhand furniture or bedding unless you are certain that the source is bedbug-free. Antique furniture should also be carefully examined.

If Infestation Appears
Before calling a professional exterminator, here are some steps to try:

  • If you have clothing that has become infested, undress on a hard-surface floor. Wipe the floor to capture any bedbugs that have fallen off the clothing.
  • Place the clothing in a plastic bag so it can go directly into the washing machine without the bugs escaping. Wash and dry them at the hottest settings that are safe for the fabrics.
  • Infested bedding should also go directly into a plastic bag and then into the washing machine and dryer.
  • Vacuum bedding and furniture thoroughly. Use a crevice tool to get into all the hard-to-reach places. Vacuum floorboards, the wall behind the bed; take the bed apart and vacuum the headboard and the bed frame. If luggage has been exposed to bedbugs, give it, too, a thorough vacuuming. Remove the vacuum bag, seal it up and dispose of it.
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Cleaning Matters® is compiled by the American Cleaning Institute and is not copyrighted. Such information is offered solely to aid the reader. The American Cleaning Institute and its member companies do not make any guarantees or warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to the information contained in Cleaning Matters and assume no responsibility for the use of this information.