Attack of the bed bugs!
September 5, 2014 4:36 AM   Subscribe

My warehouse space is infested with bed bugs and, it turns out, they are just the worst.

I'm in a unconverted warehouse space, about 5,000 square feet. Most of the rooms were built by previous tenants and we have six people here. It's sort of a Lost Boys hideout with slightly more women and slightly less blood but, that being said, it's our home and this is a real goddamned bummer. Vacating the place isn't an option, and neither is getting the place tented. We're not the only people in the building, either. I'd rather not go to the landlord with this, for various reasons.

We've tried foggers and sprays, but that just seems to annoy them. Our plan right now is to burn them out room by room, using a few of those portable propane heaters that look like jet engines, combined with heat guns to use in the walls and a diatomaceous earth barrier around the rooms, witch-stopping salt circle style.

So I'm looking for the best way to pull off the heat death thing. Or, if you have any other ideas for dealing with them. We're in kind of a unique situation, but I like it here and I'm not ready to hand the place over to these little blood-drinking interlopers. We're calling an exterminator today, but we're poor, and I'd really prefer another solution.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Propane heaters and heat guns in the walls? This is nuts. An exterminator is cheaper than burning the building down.
posted by jon1270 at 4:39 AM on September 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yeah, if you're going to do the heat thing, have a professional do it, someone who knows what they're doing and will be sure to plan it such that you'll get the entire space up to the necessary temperature. Aside from the fire risk, which is significant, if you end up with uneven heat distribution then you won't kill them all and it'll just get re-infested. It's not cheap, but it's cheaper to do it once properly than to do it a dozen times poorly.
posted by Sequence at 4:56 AM on September 5, 2014

Ugh bedbugs. I just had them. Moved out Sept 1. Don't have them anymore(??!!??!!)

Anyway, I would NOT try a DIY heat treatment unless you really know what you're doing and no offense, but it doesn't really sound like it. People do burn their houses down doing this and if you don't do it right it doesn't work.

If you're going to DIY I think chemical or manual (inspect/wash/vaccuum/steam everything over and over again) stand the best chances of working. I'd search the forums at with the tag DIY and formulate a plan. Especially with chemicals, if you're going to actually get rid of them AND be safe, you need to know what you're doing, what you're applying, how to apply it safely, what chemicals you can use together, and how to apply it so the bugs don't just scatter elsewhere.

I see you're in RI. Me too! Our exterminators (we're in Providence) were Griggs and Brown and The Blue Bug. I wasn't particularly impressed with either (memail me for details.)
posted by geegollygosh at 5:04 AM on September 5, 2014

Your plan could turn out to be fantastically effective against the bedbugs, by destroying your entire building. As a career firefighter, I'll weigh in to say this sounds like a recipe for setting your building on fire or asphyxiating the occupants/other tenants. There is significant and unnecessary risk involved in doing this yourself. It's definitely one for the pros. Don't do it.

I hate to challenge the underlying premise of the question, but your landlord probably needs to be involved with developing a solution. If there are other tenants, the infestation probably spreads beyond your occupancy, and even if you eliminate the bugs temporarily from your immediate surroundings they will be back.
posted by itstheclamsname at 5:32 AM on September 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

Yep, I've been dealing with them recently myself (not in a warehouse) and unfortunately it's really a job for a professional. I've read many accounts of people trying to fix it themselves and it just turning into a months/years-long, miserable, fruitless unending battle. Bedbugs are resilient, hide and spread well, and can come back if even one or two are left. In a warehouse, the odds are even more in their favour. Wish I had more solutions but I really haven't heard of any that would work in this sort of situation.
posted by Drexen at 5:46 AM on September 5, 2014

Response by poster: Okay, point taken, we'll call an exterminator.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 6:57 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just want to second what others are saying. Bedbugs are super tenacious. They will crawl through absolutely tiny cracks, spreading room to room and unit to unit. Unless you get your neighbors to cooperate and exterminate at the same time, they will likely be back quickly. Even if you do, you will likely have to go through multiple rounds with a professional.
posted by Phredward at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2014

Things to note/ask when you call an exterminator.

1. If they tell you they can get rid of the bugs chemically in one visit, they don't know what they're doing, The sprays do not kill the eggs. The exterminator needs to come back 7-10 days later after the first spray to get any bugs that hatched.

2. Get some diatomaceous earth and spread it around in cracks, crevices, between walls, etc... It is non-toxic, lasts for up to 6 months and will cut the exoskeleton of the bugs and makes them dry up. It wasn't until exterminators put diatomaecous earth between our walls that our apt. building was finally rid of them (after 18 months of trying).

3. Bed bugs live in any crack or crevice that is close to warm human blood. Not just your bed. You should check books, book cases, drawers, nightstands, etc... Vacuum them out and throw away the vacuum bag immediately or wash out the cannister thoroughly.

4. Wash clothes in hot, hot water. Run thing that can't be washed in hot water through a few dryer cycles.

5. As the exterminator to put up gentron tabs. These basically act like bed bug birth control and interrupt breeding.

6. Get dustmite rated mattress covers and pillow covers to keep bugs from reinfesting your bed.
posted by brookeb at 10:06 AM on September 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oh god. I hate to depress you, but I've been exactly there. Shared a warehouse space with 5 other people, it was literally the size of a huge open plan office and we had a basketball court in the middle of it and used to use a skateboard to get from one side to the other.

Then a backpacker bought in bedbugs, so we bought in the exterminator. His eyes fell out of his head when he saw the size of the space he was looking at, all old wooden floorboards with bugs hiding in thousands of cracks. He shook his head and told us it could cost us easily $20,000 to fumigate and he would probably still have to keep coming back because all it takes is one living bedbug to start the whole thing again. I asked what he thought we should do. Burn your furniture, he said, bag up and dry clean all your clothes and leave. So I did. I'm really sorry, I see no way out of this - there certainly wasn't for me.
posted by Jubey at 3:24 PM on September 5, 2014

Response by poster: Yeah, I did a little research and it would be stupid expensive, and the heat thing just wasn't practical. We're getting a giant dumpster and just throwing out every piece of furniture.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 4:27 PM on September 5, 2014

Ugh, i hate to be on the side of jubey with this but i totally am.

I've dealt with bed bugs in a small apartment and it was a nightmare to get rid of them. Friends have dealt with them in big shared houses and i've never heard of anyone actually getting rid of them in the house, just moving out.

Like, i've heard lots and lots and lots of stories and all of them just ended in moving, not in "and then we got rid of them XYZ way and it was fine".

I got really really mad at all the "throw out your furniture and burn everything!" catastrophizers when i was dealing with my situation, but i don't even really see how even getting rid of the furniture will solve the problem here if the place is that big. So you trash all that stuff, now what? they're not just in your furniture.

I think the best you could hope for is the whole sealed mattress/lots of diatomaceous earth around your bed and your room and your stuff solution of trying to minimize them on your stuff. And that's not really a solution.

My friends in these kinds of situations were doing silly stuff like spraying their mattresses down with high concentration rubbing alcohol every couple days, and shit like that.

Without the landlords involvement, and months of gassing the whole building repeatedly and shit and probably trashing(or bagging, with strips in the bags, for a month or so) all your stuff this isn't ever really going to go away.

I moved out of a place years ago because i was dealing with the same thing with roaches, where the landlord absolutely refused to do the whole place at once and a restaurant on the ground floor refused to do it in concert with the apartments so it basically came and went in waves.

Either putting up with it to some degree or leaving are the only real solution here, unless the landlord is on board. And even then, it seems like a long slog.
posted by emptythought at 6:03 PM on September 5, 2014

I got rid of them in a fairly large house with 5 occupants myself years ago, but it took 6 months of diligent effort.

Any furniture or dressers with inaccessible crevices and all upholstered furniture had to be tossed. Wooden bedframes too. Bye bye couches

Put all mattresses in bed bug proof covers and keep on the floor. Laundered everything in hot water, hot dryer. All clothes hung up immediately. All toys and belongings in Rubbermaid bins.

Every second day, I'd open all the windows and run the fans and I'd use a spray bottle with 99% rubbing alcohol to spray all surfaces in the home (be careful with ventilation or you can give yourself alcohol poisoning by inhalation) and wash bedding. After 6 weeks, I cut it back to once a week and continued for 6 months.
Diactemaceous earth powder was applied liberally around the perimeter of each room on top of and under the baseboards.
I probably went through hundreds of dollars of rubbing alcohol and diactemacious earth, but they were gone after that and stayed gone.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:59 PM on September 5, 2014

You don't have to throw out anything. Make an insulated box out of 1.5 inch thick silver lined foam boards, put a radiant heater inside and a probe on a wire thermometer to monitor temperature. As long as your stuff reaches about 140 degrees for an hour or so it will eliminate the bugs. Then you can store it in contractor bags.
posted by Sophont at 7:17 AM on September 6, 2014

I'm not so pessimistic that you won't be able to get it treated assuming you have a good exterminator. Pace emptythought, I've heard a bunch of stories that end with "and we treated the place and now it's fine." I think people just tend to keep that on the d/l because they don't necessarily want people to know that their building once had a problem (this is something people get paranoid about). But you need to know what the scale of the infestation is and you need professional help with it. Exterminators think about this kind of shit for a living and I guarantee that they have decontaminated large spaces before (complete with furniture, etc).

You will probably need repeated visits/treatments over the course of months, and you will need to do a lot of stupid but rigorous shit like heat-treating all your clothes and living out of plastic bags for a while. But it is not impossible, because bed bugs need to feed and people are delicious to them, and if you can get them to walk through pesticide on their way to doing so then they will die. Whether you want to subject yourself to a long-term war of attrition like this rather than "move, salt the earth" is an open question and depends on how much money you guys can scrape together for treatment plus your tolerance for going on lockdown for an extended period of time, but I think if the space is valuable to you and you don't feel you're likely to find something as good elsewhere, it's worth trying to fight. (The other good thing about fighting vs. moving, of course, is that it's possible to move and have "hitchhikers", at which point you've just wasted a ton of time and money trying to salvage your shit.)

Also, depending on the situation your landlord may be required to foot the bill here -- look up state and local laws for tenants (I know this is the case in NJ and NY). If the space is only quasi-legal to begin with I can understand why you'd want to solve the problem yourselves, but if you guys are there legally and just don't want to deal with a flaky/slumlord/invasive landlord, I'd think about it a little longer because this shit can get expensive fast and you guys may have some legal protection if they have a shit fit about it. (IANAL, etc.)

Just FYI, clothes can be de-bedbugged by putting them through the drier or through a Packtite (this 2nd option also works on books, shoes, etc). If you move you can salvage your stuff by getting it Vikane'd (you load up a truck with your stuff, making sure that you don't enclose anything in plastic so that the gas can permeate everything). A U-Haul's worth of stuff costs from $750-$1500 depending on the size of the truck. will make you paranoid but is informative and can be a good source of recommendations for treatment specialists.

Best of luck to you.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:20 PM on September 6, 2014

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