Since the summer travel season is upon is, I think it’s time for me to write about how we got bed bugs, how we got rid of them, and how you can protect your family from getting them. Getting bed bugs was a truly horrific experience –I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t stop obsessing, and it really affected me psychologically. Of course it was so much more worse because Charlie was a baby at the time! I did an obscene amount of research into the eradication and prevention of bed bugs, so hopefully you can learn from our story!
Two years ago, Mr. Bee went on a business trip to San Francisco. A couple of days after he returned home, I woke up with several bug bites. Since I’m generally delicious to mosquitoes, I thought they were mosquito bites and thought nothing more of it. The following morning, I woke up with even more bug bites. Since I hadn’t left the apartment all day, it was pretty unlikely that I was getting so many mosquito bites.
It was around this time that everyone in New York was freaking out about the bed bug epidemic. The thought that we might have bed bugs flashed across my mind, and I started panicking. That’s when I saw it — the shell from a bug on our mattress.
I didn’t know much about bed bugs then, but I saved the shell in a ziploc bag and started googling obsessively. I found out that bed bug bites often appear in sets of two or three, which is what my bites looked like. I also found out that not everyone has a reaction to bed bug bites, which would explain why I was getting bites and Mr. Bee wasn’t. Oftentimes bug bites turn out to be caused by a bug other than bed bugs, but the shell I found and Mr. Bee’s recent trip is what convinced me that we needed to consider the possibility of bed bugs seriously.
I read up on how to determine if you have bed bugs, and searched our mattress for telltale signs. I couldn’t find anything because if we did have bed bugs, it was a very recent infestation. Since they weren’t visible to my untrained eye, I found a highly regarded bed bug extermination company to come to our apartment with their bed bug sniffing dog right away. Apparently bed bug sniffing dogs are supposed to be very accurate in smelling live bed bugs and their eggs.
When the dog and his handler arrived, they asked me not to tell them where I thought the bed bugs were. The dog went from room to room, sniffing for bed bugs. We waited out of sight so as not to distract the dog, but we could hear him barking periodically — a sure sign that he had found bed bugs.
The dog found the bed bug scent in our entryway (where Mr. Bee hung his bag), our bedroom (in the chair where he took off his clothes), and in Charlie’s room (the first place he hung out when he came home from his trip). I also gave the shell casing to the company as they offer a free bug identification program. They took it back to their offices and looked at it under a microscope. Evidently bed bugs go through several developmental stages where they molt their outer shells, often after a feeding (shudder). I got a call later that day confirming that it was indeed a bed bug.
At this point we were certain that Mr. Bee had brought the bed bugs home with him from his business trip because I never left the apartment, and we also looked up the place Mr Bee stayed at on the Bed Bug Registry; there were several accounts of bed bugs by past guests.
The worst thing you can do when you discover bed bugs is to move rooms because you’re just going to spread the bed bugs to another room. But I just couldn’t sleep in my room knowing that I was being bitten by bed bugs. We ended up wrapping up our mattresses in plastic and throwing them out, along with the chair where the dog had identified bed bugs, and a hamper in Charlie’s room. Knowing what I know now that was definitely unnecessary, but when you discover you have bed bugs, it’s hard not to freak out and you want to be able to do something to get rid of them right now.
The extermination company explained our options and told us not to make a decision right away. They told us to do our research because a couple more days wouldn’t make a difference. But I wanted to get the ball rolling asap. I barely slept at all those first couple of days after finding out we had bed bugs because I think I read everything there was to read online about bed bugs and how to get rid of them!
The company we hired to do the dog inspection offered an organic pesticide option in combination with cryonite – a freezing technology that kills bed bugs on contact and can be used on furniture and electronics. We decided to go ahead and hire them. They would come and spray our apartment with the organic pesticide and treat our electronics and furniture with cryonite. The pesticide only kills live bed bugs however, and they would have to come back in two weeks to spray again to kill any eggs that hatched during that time. We had to remain out of our apartment for at least 4 hours after they sprayed, but preferably overnight since we had a baby. We also had two cats that we had to kennel.
There was so much preparation that was required, and we only had 3 days to get everything completed before the extermination company was coming out. The first thing we had to do was put all our fabric items like clothes, blankets, sheets, etc. in the dryer on high for at least 30 minutes, as the heat kills bed bugs. Then we had to dry clean or steam clean all our dry clean only clothes. Once that was done, we had to keep everything in sealed plastic bags to prevent reinfestation. We would have had to do dozens of loads of laundry! And we had an entire walk-in closet worth of dry clean only clothes — the bill for that alone would have probably been in the thousands. Even if we had our clothes dry cleaned, would we tell the dry cleaners that we had bed bugs? Would they even accept our clothes then? But how could we not tell them and risk infesting other unknowing customers?
We decided to have our fabric items treated with Vikane gas, a nontoxic gas that is used to kill termites, and is really the only 100% guaranteed way to kill bed bugs. If we lived in a detached house we would have been able to cover our house in a tent and have the whole house treated with Vikane and be done with everything. But since we lived in an attached brownstone, that wasn’t an option. I found a company that actually came out and put all our belongings in a pod, treated the entire pod with gas on their facilities, and then returned it to us. I couldn’t fathom how we might wash/dry/dry clean everything, so we had our fabric furniture and clothes treated with Vikane, as it was the only 100% guaranteed method that everything was bed bug-free. I needed that peace of mind.
The extermination company then came out and sprayed our entire apartment and treated it with cryonite. Cryonite only kills on contact so pesticides are still necessary to go into all the walls, cracks, and crevices. We returned home a couple hours after they finished spraying to open all our windows and air out our apartment. The organic pesticide smelled very strongly of rosemary and peppermint, and had a much stronger scent than regular pesticide would. We then left and stayed at a b&b that night. Instead of being scared of getting bed bugs, we were scared of bringing bed bugs with us and took every precaution we could!
We repeated the process in two weeks, and then we were completely bed bug free. The paranoia didn’t subside for weeks, and we lived out of plastic bags for months. It was truly, truly horrible. There are tons of details I’m leaving out because I could probably write a 20 part series on this, but no one needs to know as much about bed bugs as I do (I was even going to start a website on it at some point!). But if you get bed bugs, it’s definitely treatable and I promise that you don’t need to freak out as much as I did.
Two years later I am much more cautious about travel and buying used things, but life is pretty much back to normal and I don’t really think about bed bugs anymore. In my next post, I’ll go into how you can protect yourself from getting bed bugs this summer travel season!
Have you or anyone else you know ever had bed bugs?