Rock and Roll Bedbugs
September 13, 2010 8:19 PM   Subscribe

A rock band and their crew stay at my home whenever they have a show in our area. I look forward to it every time and would never refuse to have them. How do I prevent them from bringing in bed bugs? How can they prevent contamination during their long tour? Is there a prevention protocol for one night standers?

They are lovely and responsible young people and a joy to have. I feed them, give them full access to showers, laundry and all sorts of beds, chairs and couches. I'm a little nervous about their upcoming visit because of this bedbug business. What can I advise them to do to prevent contamination from their (unavoidably) grungy life on a 30 city tour? I can't hose them out in the yard and forbid them to bring stuff inside. I'm sure they won't mind precautions but I don't want to humiliate them. The whole point of the stop here is for them to feel at home and get clean and laundered. Will they know if they are 'carrying'? Is it enough to just ask them if they have been bitten at all? If they say no, can I assume they and their belongings are clear?
posted by Pennyblack to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can get mattress protectors which keep bugs out of the mattress. The ones my mom got when she had bedbugs were nice and cloth-like in texture -- and also protect mattresses from other stains like coffee.

to further reduce the chances of bedbugs moving over in the night (which is when they are most active) -- put all used bed linens into a plastic bag and seal before washing & drying. Bedbugs (including eggs and larva) are killed by 20-30 minutes in a hot drier -- and you can use that method for pillows as well.

As noted -- bedbugs can also live in luggage, so these are just ideas for reducing transfer.
posted by jb at 9:01 PM on September 13, 2010

Not an expert but some advice I heard - bedbugs can travel up to 5m each night for a feast (check that number, it might be 15, whatever), so if you keep your guests and their stuff beyond that range from your bedroom (and don't have pets), then a bedbug infestation is less likely to take root and become established, because a food source is not within range.

Unfortunately, the layout of your home may make this difficult.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:20 PM on September 13, 2010

If they have smaller (i.e., airline carry-on sized) luggage, you can buy giant Ziploc bags in which to seal the suitcases/bags. You can get these from Amazon, or from stores like WalMart. Ask your guests to put their luggage & shoes in the bags and seal them immediately upon arrival, and to keep them zipped whenever possible. And ask them to keep their gear in the van (if they have one) if possible.

If you have a special table or some furniture with skinny legs on which they can place their luggage, you can "isolate" that table so that any bugs theoretically can't get off it. One way to do this would be to place each table leg within a shallow plastic bowl that is filled with mineral oil. If the table isn't touchoing any surfaces other than the floor, the bugs won't be able to leave the table because they can't cross the mineral oil barrier. Under the same logic, you could also smear each leg with petroleum jelly, or line with double-sided tape instead of using the bowls.

It might be worth gently suggesting to the band members to try leave their luggage on tables or luggage racks at hotels, etc. when they travel. That should help minimize the chances of any bugs getting into their suitcases & bags, though of course it's no guarantee.

I'm focusing on luggage in my comments because, from what I've read, luggage is likely the most common way of unintentionally transporting bed bugs. Although it's definitely possible to transport them in clothes and such, it's less likely since clothes don't offer the same kind of undisturbed crevices that a suitcase would.

I do agree w/ Sanko though, that at some point it just becomes a little obsessive. Then again, getting rid of bed bugs is no light matter, so you're wise to be conscious of the possibility.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 10:22 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

The good news is that, no matter how grungy the band members themselves are, its unlikely that the bedbugs are hitching a ride on their bodies. Bedbugs almost invariably hitch a ride on your luggage, not your person.

The bad news is that the band members will probably have no idea if their luggage has bedbugs in it. Yeah, if they were in a badly infested hotel, they'll probably notice. However, if they just spent a night in a room that had a few bedbugs, they may not have even been bitten, but their luggage could have picked up some larvae or even a live bug or two.

The worse news is that you're simply not going to prevent them from showing up with bedbug-infested luggage. The protocol for preventing bedbug infestation requires such fastidiousness that most travelers won't follow it (i.e. keep your luggage off the floor and far from any beds, inspect mattress seams and check behind headboards every time you check in, etc).

Heat-treating their luggage (e.g. several hours at 120-140 degrees) or sealing it in a Vikane-filled chamber would give you a high assurance that their bags are bedbug free, but those probably aren't realistic options for you.

Vacuuming the outside of their bags upon arrival, paying particular attention to the seams, might reduce the chance of infestation. But let's face it: it's labor intensive and looks really weird. Not gonna happen.

And protecting the mattress is kind of beside the point. If the bugs show up in your house, they'll happily live in any dark crevice near where a human routinely lies still, not just the mattress. In fact, when bedbugs first establish themselves in a bedroom, the back of the headboard or the bedframe is usually the first to be infested, not the mattress itself. I have to believe that the "bedbug-proof mattress protector" vendors are somewhat disingenuous when they imply that their wares will keep the bedbugs away.

If you're committed to housing the band, you may just have to accept the risk of bedbugs.

If you do get a bedbug infestation and you live in a single-family home, there's a pretty quick and effective treatment to rid yourself of the bugs: spend a few thousand dollars to have your home tented and fumigated with Vikane. If you're in a multi-family home, this "nuclear option" probably isn't available to you, and getting rid of the bedbugs will likely be a months-long ordeal; if all the occupants in the building don't fully cooperate, you may never get the bedbugs out entirely. So don't accept the risk casually.

In ten years, technology may have given us better answers for bedbug prevention. But today, our options are all pretty miserable.
posted by Dimpy at 10:43 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

On-shoulda-previewed, miss_kitty_fantastico has a much more useful take on things than I do.
posted by Dimpy at 10:46 PM on September 13, 2010

We have had fantastic luck with Ortho Home Defense Max as a perimeter treatment - at least in our case, once that stuff was laid down, bugs did NOT make it past the invisible chemical fence. Not sure if it's effective for everything under the sun (and it is DEFINITELY a gnarly, bad-ass chemical... no organic citrus oils in that stuff), but you might want to look into it.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:16 AM on September 14, 2010

Not to suggest you shouldn't do what you can, but since we've all been kinda overexposed to fear stories, I found this piece calming...
posted by mdn at 7:14 AM on September 14, 2010

Bedbugs have nothing to do with living a "grungy" lifestyle.

The best precaution they can take: do laundry often and wash and dry (very thoroughly!) on the hottest settings available. If they can machine-wash their luggage or throw backpacks/duffels in a hot dryer from time to time, that might not be a bad idea.

I had a bedbug situation while traveling, and I really only realized what it was when I started noticing exactly how many bug bites I'd acquired. Have them monitor themselves for that sort of thing - especially paying attention to how bites behave and how they may be different from mosquito bites, ant bites, etc. (especially bug bites when they have not seen any bugs around!) If they are touring in the fall/winter and are going to be in the USA, this should not be too difficult. It was harder for me to notice because I was in pretty remote parts of South America, where it would not be unusual for there to be creepy crawlies in the youth hostel.

I've also heard not putting your luggage on the bed is a precaution, but since bedbugs can infest anything and they may not be sleeping in a lot of beds, that might be less worthwhile.

If they have smaller (i.e., airline carry-on sized) luggage, you can buy giant Ziploc bags in which to seal the suitcases/bags. You can get these from Amazon, or from stores like WalMart. Ask your guests to put their luggage & shoes in the bags and seal them immediately upon arrival, and to keep them zipped whenever possible.

I wouldn't do this sort of thing unless you know that they are having problems with bedbugs. It is extremely possible to travel around the USA without carrying vermin with you - in most parts of the country this whole bedbug thing is totally overblown. And even in cities with problems, there are plenty of places that don't have bedbugs.

Your guests are human beings, not filthy criminals.
posted by Sara C. at 7:19 AM on September 14, 2010

Sara C. brings up a good point -- it sounds like you have a really good relationship with your guests. Unless you know that they are as concerned about potentially spreading bed bugs as you are, it might be difficult to ask them to do things like bag their luggage, or alter their lifestyle on the road. Bed bugs, unfortunately, still have a lot of stigma attached to them. If you get the feeling they might be insulted by your asking them to bag luggage, etc., it might be better (for your friendship!) to stick to the preventative measures you can do yourself. :)
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 8:03 AM on September 14, 2010

Thanks for all the helpful replies. I would never, ever want to hurt or humiliate these kids. We need to encourage our artist and respect them. Their mission in life is to bring joy. not bugs. I think I might forward this thread to their mothers and let them lay down the rules. They all have lovely homes and don't want them contaminated by bugs they bring back. Maybe the best prevention is to have them bring only the bare essentials inside, make sure their clothing and pillows head right into the laundry and keep unpacking and repacking outside. Can larvae get inside computers?
posted by Pennyblack at 10:13 AM on September 14, 2010

Timely info from the CDC (via Consumer Reports): Bedbugs, bedding and baggage: What travelers need to know now
posted by misterbrandt at 11:24 AM on September 14, 2010

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