So far it seems like my sister and I might *slowly* be winning our war against the unwelcome intruders in our apartment that are bed bugs (with a lot, a lot, a LOT of hard work on our part). Both of our mattresses and box springs are covered in Allerzip’s Protect-a-Bed, the absolute #1 mattress covers out there. We have double sided carpet tape outlining our beds on the floor and around the walls (we couldn’t reach the ceiling, so ours is halfway up), and in our door frames blocking them from leaving our bedroom doors. My bed legs are each in cans of vaseline, soon to be replaced by ClimbUp Bed Bug Inspectors, which I’m going to leave on for months to come. Diatomaceous Earth is everywhere (which I’ll also leave for months to come)! And every little hole, crack, nook, and cranny has been sealed with clear packing tape giving any little buggies that have made it into the walls only one avenue of escape – base boards covered in bed bug poison! Everything else we own has either been treated and thrown away or is living in one of a million large black plastic trash bags in the middle of my living room floor.

As a Virgo, I like things neat and clean and in their own place, and the process of turning my apartment upside down in search of barely visible little bugs has had me majorly stressed out. At the same time, I’m not really mourning the loss of my things. It’s kind of freeing to start fresh and unload some of the things I’ve been moving around with me since college but haven’t really used. It’s NOT freeing to sleep on a hard mattress wrapped in blankets all mummy-style with no pillow. Spontaneous tears do happen.

But anyone who’s had bed bugs knows that getting rid of them once and for all is not an overnight process. And from what we’re told by the exterminator and the fine folks at bedbugger.com, we’re in for at least a one month “waiting period” until they get the message that we have no intentions of letting them stick around. In the meantime, there’s only one thing we can do – bait and kill. And in killing them, attack from every angle.

And, because sharing is caring, I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned about these terrible parasites and how to prevent and/or get rid of them if you ever have the misfortune of crossing paths with a bed bug.

Keeping Bed Bugs Out of Your Life:

Almost everyone at my office has a bed bug story – either from personal experience or someone they know. Bed bugs happen in New York City the way hurricanes happen in Florida, earthquakes happen in San Francisco, and tornadoes happen in Oklahoma (or Ohio for that matter… I swore I’d never live in a tornado state again.). They’re also running rampant through nearly every major city in the U.S. and their suburbs. You can’t necessarily predict them, but you can take steps to prevent them and prepare for them. And now that I’ve lived with them, I will NEVER be unprepared again. Here are some of the steps I’ve learned in preventing bed bugs:

- Cover your mattress. A good mattress cover is crucial because it not only keeps out allergens and dust mites, but should you ever bring home a stray bed bug from your travels (they love hotels, airplanes, trains, etc), it will keep the bug from moving in to the mattress and/or box springs, setting up shop for a nightly buffet (you), and having bug babies. You can find mattress covers at almost any good home store, but the best on the market are Allerzip’s Protect-a-Bed because of it’s double zipper protection and the fact that you can seal it shut for good. It seems pricey, but it’s way worth it and much cheaper than potentially having to replace your bed down the road. If you choose not to get the Allerzip (and I have no reason to suggest them other than they really, really work), buy a similar cover with a zipper and seal that baby shut. Do the same for your pillows.

- Isolate your bed. From a design standpoint, this can seem annoying at first. But in the scheme of things, keeping any pests out of your bed is way hotter than not. Before bed bugs, my bed was an Anthropologie inspired collection of layered linens and throw pillows. It was great to look at, but it also offered a lot for bugs to work with. And now that I’m sleeping on a hard mattress with nothing but an Allerzip beneath me and a blanket wrapped mummy style around me, I’m wishing I would’ve done this sooner. So how to isolate the bed: pull the bed several inches away from any walls. Tuck all bed linens between the mattress and box spring so that nothing is touching the floor. If you really can’t bear the sight of that, at least make sure none of your blankets hang low enough to skim the floor. This gives bugs an easy avenue into your sheets. Get rid of all dust ruffles/bed skirts. They do the same. Embracing the urban minimalist look is your new M.O. And if you realy want to be careful (and I will be from now on), throw some ClimbUps under the bed legs or discreetly wrap the legs in double sided tape. I just got my ClimbUps this morning, and I can’t tell you how excited I am for these things. I’m keeping them on forever.  All in, this can seem a little overboard to someone who’s never had bed bugs. But your bed is your sanctuary. And after losing nearly two weeks of sleep and suffering multiple anxiety attacks at the thought of being eaten alive in my own bed, I’m ready to isolate my bed for life.

- Travel Carefully. Vacations are a necessity, but they’re also something bed bugs bank on in moving from host to host. Hotels, airplanes, train, and suitcases are some of their favorite hang outs, and because they can be barely visible to the naked eye (I can only see mine when armed with a flashlight, a fine tooth comb, and the patience of a saint), it’s super easy for them to hitch a ride without you ever knowing. So taking some basic precautions when traveling can save you some major headaches and the thousands of dollars you’d spend if you got home and realized you unknowingly brought back a few more souvenirs than planned. When you travel, pack a couple white or black plastic trash bags, an empty spray bottle, and a bottle of rubbing alcohol (if you’re checking your bag. If not, have your host pick one up for you or grab it on your way from the airport to wherever you’re staying). When you get to your destination, spray the suitcase thoroughly with rubbing alcohol before bringing it inside (it’ll dry almost instantly and won’t ruin your bags), move all of your clothes/contents to your plastic trash bags (especially if you’re at a hotel) before putting them in drawers, and wrap your suitcase in one of the big black bags. This will keep any bugs from crawling onto your suitcase or your clothes from the hotel furniture. Remember, unless you’re dealing with an all out run-for-your-life infestation, chances are you’ll never see the bugs. So better safe than sorry. An even better step is leaving a trash bag inside your door at home so that when you get back from your trip, you can strip instantly, throw your clothes in the bag, and tie it up for the wash so that on the off-chance a baby bug crawled its way onto you on the plane (maybe from someone who DIDN’T wrap their suitcase up at their hotel), you can make sure it doesn’t set up shop in the house you love coming home to.  It’s best to wash anything you wore during travel on high heat and then dry on high for at least an hour or drop it off at the dry cleaner.

- Arm yourself. While they won’t take the place of the precautions above, there are several natural oils that bed bugs hate to mess with. Tea tree oil and neem oil have been shown to “disenchant” bed bugs and make them think twice about messing with you or your pets. I’ve been using Neemaura‘s pet spray for my cats and my sheets, and while it hasn’t fixed the problem, it did keep them away for a couple of days the first time I sprayed it. NeemKing.org also looks like they have a ton of different products.

- Clean house. Bed bugs have nothing to do with cleanliness or lack thereof, and even the most spotless room could be harboring a few in its walls. That being said, using a natural pesticide a couple of times a year and eliminating any sort of clutter makes it that much harder for them to work their way in and spread out. I’ve been told multiple times (including once by our exterminator) that a mixture of 40% alcohol, 40% water, 20% dish soap, and “as much food grade DE” [as the water can hold] can act as a natural pesticide and can be sprayed a couple times a year (wearing a dust mask or home repair respirator thingy) . 91% rubbing alcohol plus Murphy’s Oil Soap is also a common DIY means of killing bugs. I haven’t tried either of these, but I’ve heard success stories about both. I’m also really excited about CedarCide’s Best Yet, which shows a lot of promise but the jury’s still out. And once again, the price is nothing compared to the cost of hiring an exterminator for bed bugs. It’s also really important to seal all baseboards with caulk and all holes or crevices with clear packing tape or spackle and then a fresh coat of paint so that any bugs hiding in your walls stay there (and die) and any bugs that do get in your house have nowhere to hide. And a regular vacuuming also helps as long as you throw the vacuum bag away in a sealed plastic bag as soon as you’re finished.

- Wrap it up. Bed bugs don’t like plastic bags or plastic containers, so one of the best ways to keep them away from your things (and spare yourself a laundry bill in the hundreds should you get them) is to keep your clothes and stored items in sealed plastic. The Container Store has plastic clothing covers or storage bins perfect for bug-proofing your closet. While it might seem unnecessary at first, throwing sweaters, dresses, and jackets as well as any items currently being stored under your bed (and really, it’s best not to store things here at all), in clear plastic cases will save time, money, and energy when you are treating for bugs. There are also special BugZip containers on the market perfect for lining drawers or suitcases. And from all accounts, bed bugs aren’t fans of mothballs. So picking up a few natural versions of these at Bed Bath and Beyond and throwing them in your hall closet or in your plastic clothing covers can’t hurt.

And that’s the basics. Honestly, after going through all of this I can’t see myself ever traveling or living the same again. I don’t plan on living out of black plastic trash bags for the rest of my life (even two weeks has been too long!), but I’m definitely investing in some plastic shoe and clothing covers for the closet once it’s safe to put my things away. And I have a new appreciation for keeping my mattress covered and my bed isolated as well as for regular once overs with a natural pesticide.  Here’s to a bug free future!

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