Help me nip an infestation of bed bugs
November 29, 2011 1:16 PM   Subscribe

omg, I think I have been bitten by bed bugs. Please help.

Here is my situation: Yesterday, I noticed a couple of bumps but paid no mind of it until today, when I discoverd 30-40 red, mildly itchy bites, all on the upper right side of my back. I didn't notice these before, nor did my husband. Friday night and Saturday night we stayed at a hotel, and returned home on Sunday. I have never had bed bugs before, or known anyone who has, so I've never really thought much about them.

I have thoroughly checked my matress, and mostly thoroughly checked my box spring (I didn't tear back the fabric cover on the bottom, but it does have a tear in it, so I just looked through the tear). I found no evidence of bed bugs. I have begun the process of washing all my clothes and bedding, drying it, and putting everything in plastic bags.

My bedroom is hardwood, with an area rug. However the hardwood has cracks big enough.... (thanks for the wood that shrinks, Lumber Liquidators) I intend to COVER my rug with diatomacious earth, and fill the cracks in the food floor with it. I do have carpet elswhere in the house.

Since I've never had bedbugs before, and cant find evidence of them, and I have learned that the bites don't always become evident right away, I am proceeding under the assumption that the bites occured at the hotel.

However, I have unpacked, and put away clothes from our suitcases which were not worn. I have also washed and put away the clothes that WERE worn. We really spread out while staying at the hotel, but I feel little of our things spend much time on the floor. (except dirty clothes). We had many bags of miscallany: kids books, snack type food. All of this has been returned to their usual places around the house. The suitcases were on the little stand or on a chair (upholstered).

Since I am the only one in the family with the bites, I am proceeding as if my suitcases are the "epicenter". I'm going to put them outside for a few freezing nights. I'm going to start washing the clothes which are currently in contact with them, until the whole family's clothes have been treated.

Here are my questions:

1. Is there anything else I should do that doesn't cost a fortune?

2. Should I just accept that this will cost me a fortune and let professionals handle this?

3. Must all the clothes be WASHED, or can they just go through the dryer on high heat a few times?

4. Once all of our clothes are in bags, how long must we live this way? when can we put our clothes back in dressers and closets?

Anything else you can think of will be appreciated!
posted by hollyanderbody to Home & Garden (19 answers total)
Oh yeah: 5. Where does one purchase diatomacious earth? thanks again!
posted by hollyanderbody at 1:18 PM on November 29, 2011

Do you feel pretty sure these are bites and not hives?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:20 PM on November 29, 2011

Most garden or hardware shops should have diatomacious earth. Sending good vibes that you had no little stow-aways in your luggage.
posted by goggie at 1:23 PM on November 29, 2011

The only experience I have is from working at a summer camp where one of the cabins was infested by these monsters. From what I know, 1: bed bug bites usually occur on the hands/wrists and ankles/feet. Although you can find bed bug bites elsewhere, this is where they are most commonly found (in my personal experience and from the camp nurse). 2: Washing/drying doesn't necessarily kill these things. Sucks, but its also why they are so rampant. I suggest putting anything that could be infested (if they are indeed bed bugs) in large *black* plastic bags, and put these outside in direct sunlight for a few days.

fyi, to my knowledge, below freezing temperatures don't necessarily kill these buggers off, especially if the temperature is near freezing. further, the cold has to be for an extended amount of time with NO interruption, so I am sorry to say the suitcases outside for freezing nights probably won't work, unless you live in a place where the temperatures are below freezing 24/7 for the next couple of months.

good luck to you!
posted by fuzzysoft at 1:26 PM on November 29, 2011

You can buy enormous bags of food-grade diatomaceous earth at for cheap.
posted by yoink at 1:33 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Personally? I would absolutely go to town on my bedroom and my belongings, plus as much of everyone else's stuff as I could.

Vacuum your bed really carefully along with the rest of your bedroom and throw away the vacuum bag (if you have a bagless vacuum, don't do this - you could spread bugs that way). Vacuum your suitcase. If you can't vacuum your suitcase (and it's rigid so it can't be tumble dried) scrub it in the tub with soap and water - this won't actually kill bugs, but washing them down the drain will get rid of them. Bedbugs are not invisible, but the nymphs are small and transparent and can be missed.

Heat-treat all the fabric you possibly can. Anything that can't be washed and then dried on high should be tumbled in the drier on high until you're certain that its core temperature has reached ~120F - so a silk shirt would take less time than a sweater would take less time than a coat.

Don't start out with the diatomaceous earth - it's bad for your lungs, needs to be applied super-carefully and may be a folk remedy (I'm agnostic on this). People spritz it around like crazy and really shouldn't. Check out's advice on DE.

At this point, you may not have brought any home with you - you could have been bitten at the hotel and have had a delayed reaction. Or if you did bring one home you may be able to kill it in the course of cleaning, or it may not be a pregnant female. I'd suggest watchful waiting.
posted by Frowner at 1:55 PM on November 29, 2011

Do you and your husband share a bed? If so, and he's not showing any signs of being bitten when you've got so many spots, I don't think you have bedbugs.
posted by mkultra at 2:06 PM on November 29, 2011

Do you and your husband share a bed? If so, and he's not showing any signs of being bitten when you've got so many spots, I don't think you have bedbugs.

Some people don't react to the bites. I am allergic (or reactive, or whatever) and get huge, itchy welts that last for several weeks. My partner can sleep in the same bed and show no signs. She presumably gets bitten as well, but on her they don't leave a mark.

For your suitcase and other things that you can't put in the washer and dryer, I would take the added step of fumigating with dry ice. Put the suitcase in a large plastic bag with a block of dry ice. Close the bag and let it sit for several days. The CO2 will kill the bugs.

When my partner moved out of her infested apartment, we washed all of our clothes and bedding and ran it through the dryer. We also got rid of her furniture. No bedbugs were transferred from the old place to the new. Thank. God.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:20 PM on November 29, 2011

30-40 bites sounds like a lot for bedbugs from my experience. I've had bedbugs twice: once at a hostel I stayed at for a few weeks, and once more recently in my apartment. I never woke up with more than 3-5 bites. The first thing I would do would be to either find some evidence of bedbugs or have a doctor confirm what the bites are before you start freaking out (and even then I wouldn't freak out, since bedbugs are not the end of the world).

If you want to find evidence of bedbugs, the best idea I read was to put the legs of your bedframe in bowls of water. This should catch any critters trying to come and go from your bed (they often live elsewhere in your room and just come find you in bed when you're asleep).

I recently got rid of bedbugs (knock on wood) with nothing except a 10 dollar canister of DE and a lot of persistence. I bought the DE at a home and garden center, but I know you can get it a lot cheaper online.

I started half-assed. I bought a mattress and boxspring cover and washed/dried all my clothes and linens and thought that would do it. But they came back a week later. YMMV, but the mattress cover didn't seem to do any good.

What worked was a combination of DE and persistent drying. I ran all my clothes through the dryer a couple times a week for a couple weeks. I don't have many clothes, so this was easy for me. I sprinkled DE around my bed, along floorboards and in any cracks/crannies I could find. I didn't just spray it indiscriminately.

Don't freak out. Bed bugs are a pain in the ass, but most of their power is psychological. Be careful, be persistent, and you'll get rid of them in no time (if you have them in the first place).

Do you and your husband share a bed? If so, and he's not showing any signs of being bitten when you've got so many spots, I don't think you have bedbugs.

This is not true. Some people don't have any reaction to bedbug bites.

Good luck!
posted by auto-correct at 2:20 PM on November 29, 2011

2.5 words: double-sided tape. It is your best friend when you are not sure you have bedbugs but you're still freaking out.

Surround your bed with it. Tape around your bed legs. Tape around any furniture you think the bugs may have possibly been hiding out in. You will either wake to see nothing and breathe easily, or you will find a small army embedded in adhesive.

If you don't want to do all the laundry now, just put everything in bags to quarantine it.

If you do have bugs, do yourself a favour: caulk your life. Seriously -- seal every crack and it will make the extermination process easier and your life more fulfilling.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 2:26 PM on November 29, 2011

So bites dont alwys show up the next day. you may have gotten bitten at the hotel ad tracked none home.
posted by beccaj at 3:03 PM on November 29, 2011

Regarding the question of whether my husband and I sleep in the same bed....We frequently do not (due to children's demands only :) ). I think we slept in separate beds at the hotel, but we have slept together since our return.

Thanks everyone!
posted by hollyanderbody at 3:08 PM on November 29, 2011

You should figure out if you actually have bedbugs for real. Double sided sticky tape around the bed legs is a good idea but if you want to be thorough, get a bed bug sniffing dog. A family member, who actually did have bugs, had a guy come with a dog to inspect his apt to make sure the treatment had been effective. He felt that was the only way to know for sure, short of waiting around to see if any more bites turned up. This was in NYC and cost about $300 at the time.
posted by Sylvia Plath's terrible fish at 4:07 PM on November 29, 2011

If it's bedbugs, it's nearly impossible that you would spontaneously have that many bites and not be able to find evidence of the bugs. What you're talking about would be the result of a serious infestation, with many bugs feeding over the course of the night, and there would be some trace of that somewhere.
posted by hermitosis at 4:22 PM on November 29, 2011

Please don't use diatomaceous earth. You can use bug killing pet safe spray. I usually bring a bottle of flea and bug spray I get from the pet store with me when I travel. If your dog or cat can eat it, it is safe enough for you to use. I would suggest you use that instead. If you insist on the D-earth, you can get it at your local Lowes or Home Depot.

If you are the only one with them and your husband doesn't have any or as many bites, you may have had an allergic reaction to a few bites. I would vacuum the sheets and mattress if you think you may have it in your bed. Wash your pillows and dry them for at least 45 minutes. That will kill anything.

Take some baby benadryl and it should go down quickly. I say baby benadryl because it has just the active ingredient that you need.

Good luck!
posted by Yellow at 4:48 PM on November 29, 2011

Yellow, there are no sprays on the market that have residual bedbug-killing effects. Sprays you can buy will either kill bedbugs on contact only or will repel them, which is of limited use in trying to get rid of an infestation.

Whether diatomaceous earth is 100% safe is another story--I ended up being too worried about breathing it in while applying it, myself, to use it.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:37 PM on November 29, 2011

I found no evidence of bed bugs.

Yeah, I'd stop right there. It's pretty much impossible to tell a bedbug infestation just from looking at bites. I mean, just do a google image search on bedbug bites. They literally look like anything from a rash to a mosquito bite to whatever.

In other words, BUGS OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:36 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

A jackass in my apartment building attempted to treat his own bedbugs using spray and managed to infect 8 other apartments when they fled to juicier pastures. Don't use spray.

I looked everywhere for bugs and found none--thought I had escaped home free. Then the inspectors came and immediately found bugs in my office, bedroom, and couch while I was standing there. Maybe I'm a blind idiot, but I wouldn't necessarily count on your ability to spot bugs on your own. I wouldn't panic, either, but if you end up with more bitey marks, consider calling in an expert. Try using a white sheet for a few days to make spotting blood squishies easier.
posted by xyzzy at 4:06 AM on December 1, 2011

Oh, forgot to add--our bedbug guys told us that drying everything on high heat was better (and easier) than washing it first. And he said that if it made me feel better to use DE I could just stick all the legs of my upholstered furniture in shallow cups of the stuff.

To be safe I left everything in bags for 3 months and put covers on my pillows, mattress, and couch.

My insurance policy didn't cover any damage to furniture as a result of the amelioration process, but you might wish to check your policy in case you do have to call in the experts.
posted by xyzzy at 4:15 AM on December 1, 2011

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