I don't want to be any bug's dinner!
June 28, 2010 6:46 PM   Subscribe

Bed bugs!! No!! Help! (I hope this is premature, but... ugh... bed bugs!)

This evening, my landlord stopped by and told me that my downstairs neighbor brought bed bugs into the building. That tenant is now moving out and the apartment will be vacant for a while.

So far, that I know of, I don't have any bed bugs in my apartment yet. The "yet" is what I'm afraid of - is there anything I can do to prevent the bed bugs from migrating from downstairs to my apartment? The building is old and the apartments are not insulated from each other (meaning that there are cracks in the walls that would let the bugs travel freely). I've read this: Bed Bug Infestation signs and none of the signs apply to my apartment.

Tomorrow, the landlord is bringing a bed bug-sniffing dog around (it's an actual company with a dog, not just some random dog off the street) to sniff out whether the infestation has spread. If they are in my apartment, do you have any advice for getting rid of them? I've googled around and came up with this "Results" powder. I haven't found any reference as to whether this is safe to use in the apartment with my cats around.

So, yeah, my questions are:

1) Is there anything I can do to prevent them from coming in/up from downstairs?

2) If they are here, what products are effective and pet safe? Would boric acid or diatomaceous earth work?
posted by LOLAttorney2009 to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh! And one more: Will the bed bugs feed on my cats or do they feed solely on humans?

(Now I'm all itchy *shudder*).
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 6:50 PM on June 28, 2010

The first thing I'd do (as the resident metagrandmother) would be to get a mattress cover like this PLUS something for your pillows. Bedbugs don't feed on animals, their interest is to consume your skin cells that you shed at night, then lay eggs to make more critters. I remember in my organic, tree-hugging hippie days I used Dr Bronner's peppermint oil soap for everything from tooth paste to pest control....it's wonderful stuff and won't hurt the non-target pests....sprinkle droplets in doorways, and around the bed. Awesome stuff, and if you don't like it for the pest control it has hundreds of other safe uses.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 8:03 PM on June 28, 2010

That is a supremely usable URL. You should copy and paste it into your browser's address bar. Or you can click here to cheat.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:15 PM on June 28, 2010

Bedbugs don't feed on animals, their interest is to consume your skin cells that you
shed at night

What? That is very incorrect. Bedbugs feed on mammal blood.

posted by ericost at 8:15 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Uh, not to dismiss what Sushma is saying, but having had bed bugs, I can tell you that they very definitely do feed on blood, whether animal or human. They are generally most active during the late night/super early morning, spend the rest of their time hiding in insanely tiny cracks, and like to live where they feed, so generally bedbug infestations center around mattresses and sofas. If you have an pet that has a cloth bed, or if your cats sleeps with you, they could totally get bitten.

Hope that didn't freak you out, but I just feel like peppermint oil to bed bugs is like ... well, sweeping back the sea with a broom. Having bed bugs made me reconsider how I felt about DDT (namely, that maybe we should bring it back).

Assuming you and your neighbor haven't been tromping into and out of each other's apartments and sitting on each other's beds, you're probably OK, since bed bugs tend to spread/travel to different locations by being carried on clothes/in suitcases etc. (Otherwise, they'll just stay in the same spot and multiply ... shudder.)

YMMV, but this is what I did to the apartments I've moved to post bed-bug infestation: I got a bottle of the diatomaceous earth powder (there's a bunch of different brands but they should be the same), which usually comes with a little bellows-like hand pump to help you "puff" the powder evenly into cracks. I pulled my bed away from the walls and spread a thin dusting of the powder along the floor seam; then I "puffed" it into the seams and any cracks/joints. (Keep in mind I live in an old pre-war apt in NYC, so there are a lot of cracks and seams that don't meet. If you're in a newer building, this might not work as well for you.)

Once the powder was in the seam (I let it settle overnight), I wiped the joint clean and caulked any open seams closed. (Actually, I used hot glue on some of them. Don't judge, it filled the gaps.) After the caulk dried, I wiped/Swiffered away any remaining powder on the floors.

From what I remember from pest control, the diatomaceous earth is supposed to kill bugs bv coating their exoskeletons with the crushed minerals (or whatever it is) and dehydrating them. It's not supposed to be harmful to mammals/skin, but I wouldn't want your cats licking it or whatnot, which is why sealing it into the cracks and then mopping might be helpful in your case.

I know this sounds like a lot of work and kinda crazy, but bed bugs are OF THE DEVIL and after moving out of my old apartment (and buying new, cheapo furniture), it was worth it for me in the two apartments I've been in since for the peace of mind alone.

Since you're getting a bug sniffer in tomorrow, it sounds like your landlord is up to speed on things, and I wouldn't be too worried. A couple of "easier" preventative measures you can take, however, are to pull your bed & nightstands away from the walls a couple of inches; and to encase your mattress in a zippered (not elasticized) mattress protector. Bed, Bath & Beyond sells good-quality ones at a pretty high price (as well as pillow covers), but you can also go to your local dollar stores and get cheaper plastic ones which do the job just as well, provided you're careful not to rip the bag when putting it on the mattress.

Good luck! I hope you don't need any of this info at all, but feel free to memail me if you have any other Qs.
posted by alleycat01 at 8:29 PM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

It's not supposed to be harmful to mammals/skin, but I wouldn't want your cats licking it or whatnot, which is why sealing it into the cracks and then mopping might be helpful in your case.

It's inert -- think seashells or clipped human nails -- but it's crystalline and works by shredding the carapace of insects. There's probably little risk with ingestion, but breathing it does not seem like a good idea, so I'd wear an N95 mask in enclosed spaces like an apartment. (This is, in fact, recommended by the MSDS for a brand or two.) For my money, DE is the best bedbug treatment hands down.

bed bugs tend to spread/travel to different locations by being carried on clothes/in suitcases etc.

This is how they spread, to be sure, but they can definitely travel through the walls and structure of apartments (or hotel rooms) until they infest the entire building. Caution is definitely warranted. I'm pretty sure the bedbugs I got in '08 traveled from next door when our new tenants moved in.
posted by dhartung at 9:13 PM on June 28, 2010

If you do in fact find bedbugs, you should do all of the things recommended above, plus a few more. Wash and dry every piece of fabric in your home. Get a metal bedframe. Bedbugs like to lay eggs on wood and other porous surfaces. Metal furniture reduces the places they can live in. Also, you will want to have your landlord pay to have your apartment sprayed. Any exterminator who knows what they are doing will spray twice within a two week period. This will break the egg cycle, killing any adults the first time, and then any new hatches before they can reproduce on the second go.

I learned about this the hard way. You will probably get super paranoid and think that every little itch you have is a bedbug bite. If you really want to know for sure if you have them, when you wake up randomly at 4am, turn on the lights. If you have bedbugs, you'll find a few crawling on your sheets and pillows.

Good luck.
posted by soy_renfield at 10:08 PM on June 28, 2010

EmbarrassmentFilter: I stand ***corrected***, thanks for the clarification.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 4:50 AM on June 29, 2010

Was thinking of dust mites.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 4:52 AM on June 29, 2010

Ah, dust mites! I used to think they were squicky ... and then I met real bugs ... haha. :)

Yes, just to clarify: the steps I took above were to prevent a bedbug infestation in a new, clean apartment -- the idea being that I didn't have any bugs myself (my furniture was new and all my textiles/belongings were bug-free), and that if I got bugs, they were likely to come through the walls from another apartment. By powdering and sealing the floorboard cracks, I was hoping to a) keep the bugs from easily crawling into my apartment, lured by my tasty C02 exhalations in the night (seriously. they're of the devil), and b) to kill any that did venture into my wallspace.

If you find that you DO have bedbugs now and are looking for ways to exterminate them rather than prevent their entry, you'll need to take more stringent measures, such as what soy_renfield describes above. But if your apt has them, your landlord will need to get a professional pest control company to come treat the apartment -- likely multiple times -- and they should be able to guide you with specific treatment measures.

Good luck again! I wish they'd had the sniffer dogs widely available when I had bedbugs; I don't think I breathed properly again until I'd been bug-free for 18 months.
posted by alleycat01 at 7:33 AM on June 29, 2010

Response by poster: Woo! No bed bugs were found in my apartment!

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions and advice. I'm currently trying to locate diatomaceous earth in the NYC area - I think the ACE Hardware near me might carry it, so I'll pick it up on Saturday.

I have a metal bed frame and the mattress (but not the box spring) is already encased in vinyl. I'm going to set up 'moats' around the frame's legs and get a beefier weight vinyl for the mattress and box spring, just in case any bugs come crawling upstairs. Alleycat, like your place, my place is an old, pre-war type place, so I have lots of cracks and nooks to powder and caulk. The side bonus: this should get rid of any roaches in the apartment.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 5:22 PM on June 29, 2010

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