I have bed bugs. Can I salvage my knitting supplies?
October 1, 2010 10:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm pretty sure I have bed bugs. I've kept my considerable stash of knitting yarn next to my bed. Can I salvage it?

I'm pretty sure I have bed bugs (endemic to New York, sigh). I have bits and have found a few shells around my bed but no signs of infestation in or around my actual bed or mattress. I think they're living in the tiny gap between the wall and the floor on one side of my bed, but I haven't seen any live ones. I've kept my knitting/crochet yarn next to my bed on the side opposite the wall and I was hoping there was a way to salvage it. Does anyone happen to know if I can throw the yarn into the dryer without washing it at high heat to kill any bugs or eggs that may in the skeins? I read that 30-40 min in the dryer can kill these things in clothing, but I'd really like to not flush the several hundred dollars' worth of very nice yarn I have around. Any crafty people have tips?
posted by mishamashes to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
The Ravelry crowd has tons of advice on general bug-contamination if you look at the forums (AND YOU ARE ON RAVELRY RIGHT???), but:

If you have access to a chest freezer, put everything in ziploc bags and stuff it all in the freezer for a few days. A month later, do it again. A month later, do it again.

A dryer will still agitate natural wool fibers and they may well felt anyway; I'd be super paranoid careful about that.

Keep everything in those aforementioned ziploc bags until you're actively knitting with them, to keep out further bugs.
posted by Heretical at 12:13 AM on October 2, 2010

Seal it in an airtight container for about six months. This will starve all of the bugs to death. *Then* throw it in the dryer just to be on the safe side.

If there are any bugs in it, though, you might find yourself picking them out as you knit.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 12:15 AM on October 2, 2010

Sorry, six weeks, not six months.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 12:16 AM on October 2, 2010

Six weeks is not enough time to make sure all viable eggs have hatched. I have heard estimates of at least a year.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:22 AM on October 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I've heard as long as 18 months. Basic deal is that neither bugs nor eggs can survive temps below 32 degrees or over 120 degrees for very long. So you can freeze em to death, or heat them to death. Once your wool is in containment bags, there's no reason not to do lots of small batches in a small freezer, but be aware that it can take a few days to be sure that they've frozen to death, so leave each batch there for a while. Repeating the process is definitely a good idea.

I really don't know how well this would work with regard to felting, but I'm thinking another option might be a food drier or oven on super low setting with the door open. At least in that case you wouldn't have the tumbling effect of a drier. (I'm assuming you'd use some oven safe bags here).

And finally, is there any reason not to use some kind of pesticide as well? Perhaps you could put a bit in each containment bag, and keep the wool there until you use it, so that anything that does survive freezing or heating hatches and promptly gets poisoned. I'm guessing the big issue with this one would be color fastness of the dyes v. the medium of the insecticide. So go for something water based and test first.
posted by Ahab at 1:52 AM on October 2, 2010

IANAE. IANYE. Call your local health department. My understanding is that putting objects in an enclosed space, heated to 150 degrees for about 24 hours, will work.

But don't take my word for it.
posted by megatherium at 4:19 AM on October 2, 2010

If you have an oven, I suggest using that. It won't take as long, so you won't have to deal with emptying your freezer to store yarn for days.

Heat works at 140°F for two hours or 130°F for three hours, so you want the over temperature quite low. I'm confident the yarn would not be damaged even at a higher temperature.
posted by exogenous at 4:53 AM on October 2, 2010

you want the over oven temperature quite low
posted by exogenous at 4:54 AM on October 2, 2010

I totally recommend the Packtite. It is extremely effective, and saved everything my boyfriend had that couldnt go into the dryer (papers, books, shoes, etc.) It comes with a thermometer so you can be sure you are heating things at the correct temperature for the correct amount of time. Pricey but extremely effective. Sadly, it seems to be on backorder nationwide, but get one if you can find one.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:27 AM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am a fiber artist who creates yarn so I have experience here. the answer is yes you can fix your yarns but it is critical to fix them in a certain way depending on how and what each yarn is made of. One key is whether your yarn is superwash or not. Superwash yarns are processed in a way that allows the yarn and garment to be agitated without felting. Traditional yarns are not superwash and thus they felt under agitation and heat. Superwash yarns could be heated and agitated in hot water on the stovetop/washer then left to cool to room temperature and should have little to no felting. Non-superwash yarns should not be agitated and have a risk offelting at hot temperatures, but if you're delicate and pay attention to the yarn you can use hot water and a small bit of dish soap, let the yarn sit in the hot water unagitated for 20 mins, repeat with more hot water, let it cool in the water then hang to dry. You could try it in the oven but don't boil the yarn or it'll felt. This is how I process my fleeces to yarn including dyeing them and I have yet to felt any fleece or final yarn; admittedly I've never had to debedbug yarn but if it involves hot water then it's the same steps as making the yarn. You can take a sample of the yarn and try to felt it (hot water, soap, agitation) to determine which method of processing to follow. Start with your least valuable yarn to get a hang of the method. Good luck!
posted by Meagan at 6:51 AM on October 2, 2010

Before you panic and pack everything away or risk damaging hundreds of dollars of yarn or even commit to the time consuming process of saving each skein, I would try to confirm that you have an infestation first. Do you have the little blood comets on your sheets? Do you see the fecal stains? If possible, try and find a live bug. There are unnerving ways of doing this, like keeping a flashlight in your bed and then turning it on to look under the sheets. Or there are less unnerving ways. If you think they're coming up from the floor rather than in your bed or mattress, try something like the ClimbUp interceptors to see if you can catch one.

I'm not trying to discount your hunch or anything. I had a hunch that I had them based on the bites alone, and ended up confirming my infestation by finding a live one shortly after. If you think you have them because you keep getting consistent clusters of bites, you're probably right. But if you find a live one, you'll know for sure and you have definite proof to present to your landlord (if you rent) and to the company who will handle your pest control.

Having bedbugs is a very psychologically trying experience. (One year and no new bites later, I still can't sleep without a light on.) There is going to be freaking out and a lot of work to do if you confirm it, but for the sake of your mental health, I'd try to hold off on actually doing anything until you know for sure.
posted by houndsoflove at 8:18 AM on October 2, 2010

But for what it's worth: I stored my own yarn away in Ziploc bags for the year and ended up buying new yarn that I was absolutely sure was safe to tide me over in the meantime. This is expensive if you tend to take on larger projects, but I was so fatigued from all of the other packing and treating that I had to do that it was just easier that way.
posted by houndsoflove at 8:34 AM on October 2, 2010

Seconding the advice to heat the yarn in a low-heat oven. Bedbugs die when they reach an internal temperature of around 120 F; a couple hours in a 140 F oven should pretty much guarantee that every bedbug in there dies (assuming you have a reasonable amount of yarn, not packed super-tight, so that the interior temperature of each nook and cranny exceeds 120 F). Just don't start a fire.

Under some conditions, bedbugs can survive without feeding for 18 months; storing your yarn that long is a solution, but an inconvenient one.

Killing bedbugs through freezing isn't a sure thing, unless you have access to a -20 F commercial freezer. Freezing at 0 F (usual home freezer temps) has not been shown to consistently kill bedbugs.
posted by Dimpy at 1:32 PM on October 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Killing bedbugs through freezing isn't a sure thing, unless you have access to a -20 F commercial freezer. Freezing at 0 F (usual home freezer temps) has not been shown to consistently kill bedbugs.

Seconding this. 32F is not cold enough, it has to be well below zero, and for a good long time (not a day or two). Probably not your most practical option.

Heat is the easier way to kill bedbugs, so I'd use your oven.
posted by torticat at 8:02 PM on October 2, 2010

Also, on the heating subject--if it turns out you do have bedbugs, you might want to look into whether any form of thermal treatment is available to rid your whole place of the little bastards?

(I live in Queens, too, and a few years ago when we were dealing with bedbugs in a building we owned, this treatment was not yet available here. But it is such an elegant, non-toxic way of dealing with the problem that I would hope it'll be legal soon, as this epidemic doesn't seem to be going away.)

Best of luck to you, in any case.
posted by torticat at 8:07 PM on October 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice. I'm still waiting on an exterminator to confirm whether I even have the little guys and there is a healthy debate among my friends or family regarding whether I have bed bugs or am crazy delusional. In any event I'm keeping my stash in a closed garbage bag and knitting with new stuff for now. I'll probably use the oven idea for most of my yarns if it comes to that. Any idea if heat will damage acrylic yarns?
posted by mishamashes at 3:51 PM on October 3, 2010

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