Boston. Bedbugs. Do not want.
April 1, 2009 12:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving back to Boston. I hear there is a bedbug epidemic. What can I do to minimize my chances of getting bedbugs?

This may be scaring me more than I need to be scared, but I have a friend whose house became invested via their next door neighbors and they may be losing their tenants because of it. Coupled with the This American Life episode from last year, I'd really like this not to be an issue.

My main questions are:
1) are their neighborhoods in Boston where this is a bigger problem than others?
2) Is there a type of building that is less susceptible? My friends have a sort of brownstone...I'm wondering if seperate houses are less likely to have bugs?
3) Is it just stupid now to trash pick furniture? That used to be where all of my furniture came from but now I'm afraid I might get the bugs.
4) Anything I can do when looking at a new place to see what the bedbug chances are?
5) Should I just forget about worrying about it?
posted by sully75 to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any info on Boston, but I'm looking at apts in Brooklyn and taking precautions. I didn't take an apartment recently because the address came up on this site:

Definitely do not dumpster dive for furniture anymore. The best way to kill these suckers is to freeze the items of concern, easy enough to do with clothes but you can't with furniture obviously.
posted by anthropoid at 12:23 PM on April 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of it has to do with college kids scavenging mattresses off the street on trash day. A few years ago, if I remember correctly, they even had to put signs up around Allston and Brighton warning people not to do it, or it might have been tags on the actual mattresses perhaps.

Allston/Brighton is the main place to worry about them. Probably anywhere where a lot of students live, I would guess -- a lot of the landlords in those areas are your archetypal slumlords who won't do much to prevent or exterminate them. I'm not sure if the problem is as bad across the river -- I haven't heard anything about bed bugs over here in Somerville.

The City of Boston has a page on its website about bed bugs, and there's a little PDF flier linked at the bottom of the page.
posted by toxotes at 12:45 PM on April 1, 2009

Is it just stupid now to trash pick furniture? That used to be where all of my furniture came from but now I'm afraid I might get the bugs.

Apparently people have gotten bedbugs this way. I think it is not a good idea in areas with significant infestations.
posted by caddis at 12:51 PM on April 1, 2009

There has been a rash in New York as well--it's made me look a lot more closely at furniture on the curb. I've still nabbed a desk and a kitchen table and chairs set in the last year, but I inspect them really closely now, and I would never grab anything to go in my bedroom. And I wouldn't grab anything that was set out at the same time as a mattress, just in case. I certainly don't count on furnishing everything for free like I could in college. has often been cited as a useful source in the New York forums I frequent.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 1:13 PM on April 1, 2009

Places with wallpaper are, anecdotally, more likely to host bedbugs than places with painted walls. Apparently the bedbugs hang out in the wallpaper. YEEEEEEEE!

If I were moving into a new apartment, I would pre-emptively have it fogged for bedbugs before I moved in. But that's me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:49 PM on April 1, 2009

I'm wondering if seperate houses are less likely to have bugs?
Yes, absolutely. What can happen in multi-family dwellings is that if one apartment uses an exterminator to rid their apartment of the bed bugs, they can migrate to other apartments through the walls and floors.

Is it just stupid now to trash pick furniture?
Yes, unless perhaps if it's made of metal it could be okay. If you pick up something wood, be sure to inspect it very carefully. Absolutely nothing "soft" like padded chairs or rugs should be picked up if you care about bed bugs.

Should I just forget about worrying about it?
No. I was slightly obsessed with bed bugs because I live in a neighborhood of Brooklyn that's practically the bed bug capital of NYC. One morning I woke up with three bites and flipped out. I tore apart my bed and saw a couple of the tell-tale poop stains (for lack of a better term). I got the exterminator in immediately and took all of the precautions they talk about on, and never had another problem. Not even one more bite. So maybe you don't actually need to worry, but I think you're wise to learn as much as possible about how to avoid getting them, and what to do if it happens.
posted by heliotrope at 2:54 PM on April 1, 2009

One way to avoid them, even if the apt.
you live in are infested with them:
get 4 small pans and fill them with oil,
like mazola, or cooking, and lift the 4
legs of your bed and put the pans underneath
the feet of the bed. If the bugs try
to get to you at night, they will drown.

Make sure that the
mattress you are sleeping on have no
bugs. If you can't be sure of that,
get yourself a zippable, breathable
cover for your mattress. Even if the mattress
has bedbugs, they will be trapped inside
the zippable cover and not get to you.

Then sleep in pajamas
that are not infested with bugs. Any bugs
in the place will die because they
can't get to your blood. Period.
During the day, bedbugs hide.
At night, you are protected.
This is a worse case scenario.
posted by Sully at 11:31 PM on April 1, 2009

I've survived 'em. Scared is probably too strong, but a strong case of the heeby-jeebies did set in, because the bites are really annoying. But they aren't a known disease vector, for instance.

In addition to the above advice about furniture I would make sure that I avoid hotels, or really carefully inspect when entering a hotel room and when leaving. Don't unpack clothing into drawers; use the metal luggage rack to hold your suitcase.

To some extent, though, it really is random fate. It's only an "epidemic" by comparison with recent decades of bedbug-free urban areas. People have actually lived with bedbugs for, probably, millennia. I certainly had a peak of freak during mine -- it was like my body would not physically permit me to sleep in my bed, precautions be damned -- but that subsided pretty quickly once I stopped getting bitten.
posted by dhartung at 12:06 AM on April 2, 2009

Learn how to inspect for signs of bedbugs ( has a good section on that, IIRC), and do it before you move in and at least weekly afterwards. I inspect my bedroom every night because I've had them twice (I live in a rowhouse, and will never get rid of them completely because of that). Don't shop at curb mart, inspect hotel and hostel rooms when you travel and call a good exterminator who is familiar with bedbugs the second you suspect one might be there.

They are wicked difficult to kill, legally exterminators cannot use the very nasty poisons necessary to kill them without proof they are there (so, no preventive fogging) and they can live for over a year without feeding. They aren't a disease vector, but, damn, the little bastards are creepy. I don't creep easily, either.

I have cats and an elderly dog, so Sully's method won't work for me. You see, if you don't sleep in the infested bed, they move to animals or to other areas in the house where you spend time (like your computer chair). Nasty, sneaky, sleep stealing buggers!
posted by QIbHom at 8:11 AM on April 2, 2009

Is it just stupid now to trash pick furniture?

My god, you should never pick up anything you find sitting out near the curb. Anyone who thinks this is even a remotely reasonable idea has never had bedbugs, and has never had a serious bedbug scare. Once you've been through this, you will NEVER take a risk like that again in your life. Hell, whenever I pass by old furniture on the street, I make sure to put at least a couple feet of distance between me and it.

Do yourself a favor, go to Ikea. Its cheap and guaranteed bedbug-free.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:57 PM on April 2, 2009

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