It was a silly bedtime rhyme we said when we were kids—a line that meant nothing to me other than it was funny. Goodnight, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite!
Years later I would learn that bedbugs are real and they are no laughing matter.
Bedbugs are parasitic insects of the cimicid family that feed exclusively on blood. They’re tiny, nocturnal and able to hide in cracks and crevices. They’re also really good hitchhikers, jumping into luggage from an infested hotel room or hiding in the seams zippers of clothing manufactured in an infested factory.
A problem worldwide, bedbugs are resurging, causing property loss, expense, and inconvenience. The good news, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) is bedbugs do not transmit disease. But they can torment their blood hosts in ways I won’t go into here. The best way to prevent bedbugs is with a regular inspection for signs of an infestation—droppings, bite marks and mysterious blood stains on bedding.
While hiring a professional pest control service that specializes in bedbugs might appear to be the best way to go, it can be very costly. You can do this yourself with remarkable and long-lasting success. It takes diligence, tenacity and somewhere around $50 to do the job right—far less than the thousands you’ll end up paying a professional bedbug service.
To get started you will need food grade diatomaceous earth and a powder duster. Make certain you are getting food grade product, not the type of DE used in swimming pools, which has been chemically altered to be ineffective for pest control. Food grade diatomaceous earth is a natural pesticide that’s cheap, free of harmful chemicals, easy to apply around the house and safe to apply near food, pets, and children.
Step 1: Steam clean your home with a good portable steam cleaner. Bedbugs cannot tolerate heat above 130 F. (or cold below 32 F., for that matter). If you do not have a steam cleaner, perhaps you can borrow or rent one for now.
Step 2. Launder all washable fabrics including curtains, bedding, pillows and clothing in hot water—above 130F. You may need to adjust your water heater to accommodate. Dry on high heat and then store all washed fabric items in sealed plastic bags or containers.
Step 3. Vacuum the entire home—even crevice, crack, corner and place a teeny tiny bug could be hiding. Vacuum carpets thoroughly and steam clean the carpet as well. Dismantle furniture as much as possible, then steam clean and vacuum every surface. Pull the drawers out, turn items upside down to vacuum underneath. Looks for cracks in the wood and get into all the tight spots with a good hose attachment. Consider a total encasement mattress cover for every bed that is or may become infested.
Step 4. Apply food grade diatomaceous earth for both treatment and prevention. Use the powder duster to get the fine powdered DE into every crack and crevice; behind appliances, along windowsills and door jams. Remove electrical switch and outlet faceplates and spray in those areas. Work DE into furniture, mattresses, and carpeting.
Step 5. Leave the DE undisturbed for as long as possible, even up to a few weeks, before you clean it up. Even then, leave as much of the DE in place as possible—especially in areas that are not visible or bothersome like windowsills and baseboards.
Step 6. Repeat as necessary. Bedbugs are persistent. Your situation may require more than one treatment. Just know that repeating these steps is necessary to break the cycle of infestation. If you are diligent to use diatomaceous earth in your home, it will prevent future infestations.