Bedbugs on trash day?
February 10, 2011 4:07 PM   Subscribe

How dangerous, bedbug-wise, is picking up discarded luggage off the street?

I came home today to find an ancient leather suitcase in the living room of our Manhattan apartment. My woman, on her walk home, had discovered it in a pile of discarded things ("in a nice neighborhood!"), and took it with her.

I immediately thought "OH NO BEDBUGS" and took it out into the hall, where it is awaiting further judgement.

It's got a fabric inner lining. I don't see any bugs in it, but there's dust n' specks. It's not particularly clean.

How risky is this thing to keep?
posted by Jonathan Harford to Home & Garden (19 answers total)
 
I was under the impression that bedbugs are big enough to be visible. If you thoroughly searched it and didn't see any, it's probably fine.

You could also seal it up in a garbage back and tie that off and keep it like that for a while -- eventually any hypothetical bugs in there would die.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:12 PM on February 10, 2011


I was under the impression that bedbugs are big enough to be visible.

Well the adults are. How about the eggs?

It's risky, even "nice neighborhoods" are shedding belongings left and right because of bedbugs.
posted by hermitosis at 4:15 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of that NYTimes article from last year where an entomologist confesses he keeps his suitcase in the bathtub when he stays in hotels. Apparently, bedbugs love to stow away in luggage. Another entomologist in the same article says he heat treats his luggage after traveling.
posted by jamaro at 4:17 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anecdotal: I was with a good friend of mine when picked up a nice-looking guitar case from off the street. It had blue velvet interior, and she did a visual inspection. Saw no bed bugs. I told her not to take it due to potential buggies, but she did anyway, and had a HUGE bedbug problem a few weeks later. She blames the guitar case, though of course it could have been something else.

...Which is all to say, is it worth it?
posted by egeanin at 4:22 PM on February 10, 2011


You could also seal it up in a garbage back and tie that off and keep it like that for a while -- eventually any hypothetical bugs in there would die.

You might have to wait quite a while. Bed bugs can go up to a year without a blood meal.
posted by JiBB at 4:25 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was under the impression that bedbugs are big enough to be visible. If you thoroughly searched it and didn't see any, it's probably fine.

You could also seal it up in a garbage back and tie that off and keep it like that for a while -- eventually any hypothetical bugs in there would die.


PLEASE DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS ADVICE. I know you mean well J.Wilson, but...

Bedbugs are tiny, and as hermitosis says, their eggs are even smaller. Also, I'm guessing you didn't cut the lining out to inspect between the lining and the leather.

Also, putting the suitcase in a bag is mostly useless - they can live for over a year without food.
posted by ripley_ at 4:26 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


might be okay if you bombed it with something and sealed it in airtight plastic for 2 months?
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 4:28 PM on February 10, 2011


oh scratch that, apparently you aren't supposed to use the poisons on stuff you come into contact with, and as ripley_ says, isolation alone is not enough.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 4:32 PM on February 10, 2011


If you heat it, it will kill the eggs.

Stick the luggage in your oven at a low setting (200F) and leave it there for an hour. That ought to kill anything that's living in there while still not getting hot enough to burn it.

Probably, anyway. I have no idea how prolonged heating will affect leather. You may want to treat it with some sort of restorative wax or oil after it gets out of the oven.
posted by kdar at 4:35 PM on February 10, 2011


Do not put a leather suitcase in the oven.
posted by hermitosis at 4:37 PM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Please don't leave it out in the hall. I would be fairly annoyed if I was your neighbor and learned you had left a suitcase in the common area because you feared it might be infested with bedbugs.
posted by lalex at 4:41 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Throw it away.

Failing that, fill it with diatomaceous earth and dessicate the fuckers.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:48 PM on February 10, 2011


I think (and please please double check this) that freezing will also kill bugs and eggs - since it's winter - can you leave it outdoors for a week - maybe you have a balcony it can live on for a bit?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:48 PM on February 10, 2011


I was under the impression that bedbugs are big enough to be visible.

Indeed they are. The semi-weekly AskMe questions on the topic ascribe magical properties to them, but they are insects, not viruses. The adults are a little smaller than an apple seed and they move fairly slowly: say, at about a third to half the speed that an ant does. Pretty easy to spot, if you know where to look for them.

The real issue, as other above have said, is the eggs. But yes, freezing them for a week will render them inert. Problem: the weather forecast for NYC has it above freezing by tomorrow and staying that way in the daytime and most nights fr the next seven days.

As an aside, "├Čn a nice neighbourhood" means a squat named diddley when to comes to bedbug infestation. Five-star hotels are as likely to harbour them as b'n'bs and youth hostels.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:51 PM on February 10, 2011


yes, 5_13_etc:

Bedbugs also succumb to cold temperatures below freezing, but the chilling period must be maintained for at least two weeks

via
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 5:51 PM on February 10, 2011


If the suitcase has a lining--well, bedbugs are very flat when they haven't fed. If one of my housemates brought home a suitcase from off the street, we would not be keeping the suitcase, no way no how. But I'd be taking it outside with a flashlight and a tarp and slitting the lining open and taking it apart to look for bugs and eggs, just so that I could have some peace of mind once the thing was gone or else go into full on anti-bug mode right away.

Seriously, don't pick stuff up off the street unless it is super-cleanable, and even then bag it tightly until you can clean it! Very often it's on the street because it has something wrong with it.
posted by Frowner at 7:27 PM on February 10, 2011


How risky is this thing to keep?

Decide if you want it, or if you just have it because it was free and looks pretty.

If it is something that you want, then buy one from an antique store or ebay.

If you don't want to pay that much money for it, then you don't want it sufficiently to justify taking such a risk with bedbugs.

Why do you want it? You shouldn't use it for travel, because the battering that airlines give luggage will put your possessions at risk if you're using old luggage that is no-longer as robust as it once was.
Do you want it as a storage container? As material for an art work?

Once you figure out what you want it for, you can think about what else you could do to satisfy that function that doesn't risk bed bugs.

If you want it because you like acquiring things. Throw it back. You have no genuine use for it and it could take away everything you own.

When I say "you", I am referring to you as a couple, not you individually
posted by -harlequin- at 7:42 PM on February 10, 2011


To freeze bedbugs out, you'd need consistently freezing temperatures for ~two weeks. Unlikely to happen before next winter.

If you have enough storage space, you could bag the suitcase (I would do two layers of trash bag, with both of them securely taped, with the good packing tape) for more than 18 months. That will certainly kill any bedbugs. Of course, that's assuming that the problem IS bedbugs, and not that they spilled something toxic on it, just for example.
posted by anaelith at 9:23 PM on February 11, 2011


The suitcase is long gone. Thanks, all.
posted by Jonathan Harford at 4:35 AM on February 15, 2011


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