Help! I have bed bugs and roaches and I'm moving. How to do it safely?
August 7, 2019 8:48 PM   Subscribe

A month ago I found 2 dead bed bugs in my tiny 350 sq ft. apartment and I haven't slept well since. There's also been an ongoing cockroach infestation downstairs. I finally bit the bullet and decided to give my notice to move because I've been stressed out living here for 2+ years despite the affordable rent. How can I ensure that I don't bring these awful little bugs with me when I move at the end of the month? I'm terrified and anxious in so many different ways. <

Just to preface: I have a massive, almost debilitating fear of bugs. I've been working on it and I can say I've definitely gotten better (braver?) since moving out on my own and having to "fend for myself". I've been living in this cute little apartment for a couple of years now, but problems were there since day one: obvious water damage in the walls, my bathroom ceiling collapsed from a leak upstairs, there were cockroaches infesting the garbage room downstairs (I'm on the 2nd floor) and now, my worst fear: bed bugs.

Last summer, my unit got a preventative pest control spray visit on very short notice because an adjacent unit was potentially dealing with bed bugs. At the same time, the garbage room downstairs was being sprayed for German roaches and one of them found its way up into my bathroom in the following days! I freaked out and purchased DE dust and sprinkled it everywhere I could after reading some advice online and spent a few sleepless nights worrying. Eventually things calmed down and I never saw anything and I continued to live here and deal with other minor annoyances, but no bugs at all!

Last month, while cleaning, I found 1 dead bug (female, old) in the carpet in between my bookshelf and clothing rack. I notified my landlord, got pest control to inspect and they only found droppings on the underside of my mattress. I convinced them to come back and spray my unit, and the night before they came by, I found ANOTHER dead bed bug, also on the carpet but this time on the other side of my apartment but along the same wall as the first one. I kept it in a plastic bag to show pest control. They turned my apartment upside down and sprayed Temprid everywhere, so it seems like they were thorough. I followed their instructions and bagged and laundered as much stuff as I could. There are still some clothes in my closet and on my clothing rack that I haven't been able to launder but plan on fully washing / dying on highest heat and then storing in plastic bins before moving out.

I've also purchased Cimexa, dusted the entire perimeter of my apartment with it, including baseboards/carpet ends, inside outlets, under furniture etc. I encased my mattress and pillows and isolated my bed away from the wall and I am somehow still getting bit. My SO sleeps over and doesn't experience any bites, but every few days or so ever since pest control sprayed and I took all the necessary precautions, I've been waking up with new bites. Before I found those dead ones, I never had bites. I don't know if this is a minor infestation or if they're coming from a neighbouring unit or what. I have no idea how they're getting to me, especially since I have no box spring or headboard and my encased mattress sits on a metal frame, which I've also dusted with Cimexa.

This is driving me crazy and I'm very eager to move, but the paranoia and sleepless nights have me feeling hopeless. I plan on throwing out my mattress, bed frame and most other furniture I own and thankfully I don't own much. The only things I am torn about are my couch (fabric) and TV stand (not wood, has a glossy smooth surface). The TV stand sits very close to where I found my 2nd bed bug, and the couch is close enough to my bed since my apartment is so tiny. How can I decide what to bring with me and what to leave behind? I want to keep my electronics, my computer desk, my books and records and record player but I also don't want to risk anything and want to start fresh. I'm throwing out my bookshelf because it was close to the first BB I spotted but how can I safely move my many books and art supplies? And with the ongoing cockroach infestation downstairs (my neighbour told me he has a nest of them in his unit), I'm even more worried that I'd bring those with me too! Every week I worry about bringing them over to my SO's apartment because he doesn't seem as worried or concerned as I am about the horrible reality of bed bugs. On top of that, I got myself worrying about OTHER pests that might live in my new apartment (ie centipedes, rats and mice, more roaches??), since it's a ground or garden level unit. I think I am going crazy with bug fear and don't really know how to calm down. I'd seriously appreciate any advice!
posted by hexenkunst to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you're doing everything right. One quick point, though - don't just use plastic *bins*. You need plastic bags, and they need to be airtight. "Space bags", with the air sucked out using a vacuum hose, would be very effective. You want to literally suffocate the bastards. The thing about bedbugs is that they have the uncanny ability to squeeze through any cracks in anything. So, a snap-top plastic bin won't help by itself.

So, just to be sure: As soon as you get to the new apartment, repeat the washing/drying/suffocation process. Otherwise, there isn't a lot else to be done. They're tough, but you're tougher!
posted by Citrus at 9:44 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]

With the German cockroaches around, I’d be worried about any electronics. I lived in a place that was infested by them once (the WORST!) and I just threw out my TV because they had laid eggs inside of it (sorry).
posted by Weeping_angel at 1:12 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

It's good that the bugs you found were dead. When you move, abandon your vacuum cleaner too.

I just went through a bed bug infestation in a cottage we rent out through AirBnb and agree that you're doing everything right per what the Orkin folks advised. Regarding moving to your new apartment, I expressed my fear of bringing the bed bugs back to my house to the pest pro, confiding that I felt itchy just thinking about it and was now examining my skin constantly (I live in the woods, so bites are common). She told me that bed bug bites are often in a line, so I could better judge if the culprits were bedbugs or some other pest (internet photos varied so much!). This info relieved me no end.
posted by carmicha at 6:37 AM on August 8

Oh, internet hugs. I'm so sorry; I have a similar fear of bugs and lived in a place that didn't have bed bugs, but did have a terrible, intractible roach problem. Much worse than what you're currently experiencing. And we moved without bringing hitchhikers, so you CAN do this.

The most important thing that I did and was glad I did was to rent plastic moving boxes. Try not to use or move any cardboard if you can. Roaches love cardboard. The company that I have now rented from repeatedly is called BungoBox, but there are probably similar services. They drop off plastic boxes at your old place however early before your move you like, and then pick them up after you move from your new place at the date you set. It also forces you to unpack in a reasonable time frame.

Thoroughly shake/clean out any bags/purses/suitcases (sorry! sorry, it's gross to even think about, but SO MUCH grosser to find something dead later. Or alive) before packing them. If you can, open and check inside electronics, especially any you don't want to lose. It sounds like your infestation isn't that bad yet, but it'll reassure you.

Also, you can go over your new place with a fine toothed comb to look for signs of roach or rodent droppings. There's plenty of advice on the internet about what to look for, but the key is to get a flashlight and get into dark corners, especially in the bathroom and kitchen. And ask your new building to treat for pests BEFORE you and your stuff get in, so that it's less disruptive. Lots of property managers also maintain schedules of prophylactic pest treatment/prevention, so talk to your new landlord about what they do in that area and see what you're able to take advantage of. Most responsible landlords would prefer to prevent infestations, rather than treat entrenched ones. It sounds like you have a unit already, but in future, the higher off the ground you live, the better you'll be in terms of common pests (aside from bedbugs) in most well-maintained buildings.

And just remember that this isn't your fault, you aren't dirty or gross, and don't let this make you feel bad. It can really get in your head, but some of these pests just follow humans wherever they go and have for millenia and it is NOT a reflection on you as a person and you won't have to live with it forever.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 7:01 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

I strongly recommend freezing small electronics before you move, especially kitchen ones like toasters and hand mixers. 24 hours should do it.
posted by tangosnail at 8:38 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]

One thing that kills bedbugs is heat, and you can buy these devices (used to be called Packtite, now apparently called Zappbug) which are basically zippable luggage ovens to heat your belongings to 120 F. So what you do is you pack some of your stuff in a giant ziploc “space bag,” then put it in the Zappbug and once it’s cooked long enough, you lock the Ziploc, and it’s ready to sit in the corner until it’s ready to go to your new house.

Alternatively, there are some kind of poison strips that you can put in ziploc bags also, I think they are called Nuvan, which generally allows you to do a similar thing in a quicker (but higher poison using) time.

It’s normal for some people to react to bedbug bites and other people to not react. My partner and I had the same thing going on as you and your SO, where I got bite reactions and he didn’t. This also means that if your partner were to bring bedbugs back to their place, they might not realize it until the bugs started biting you (or someone else). One way to monitor for that is to make what’s called a passive bedbug monitor. Basically you cut out two cardboard rectangles, one about the size of a credit card and one slightly larger. Lay the small one in the center of the larger one and glue it there, then affix the whole thing to the wall right behind the head of the bed (bedbugs’ favorite spot). They love that spot and they love sleeping in cardboard, so if you have bedbugs, the cardboard monitor will eventually get little black marks from their poop. It’s a cheap way to catch an infestation in an early stage.

Personally, I would not bring the couch to the next place. You can wash and dry the couch cover on hot, which kills bedbugs, and maybe there’s a way to heat treat the rest of the couch (steamer?) but it would make me personally uncomfortable.

Hang in there. This totally sucks, but it will pass.
posted by hungrytiger at 11:14 AM on August 8

Diatomaceous earth is very effective on bugs of all kinds. It is a powder made of fossilized diatoms, like microscopic little razors that chop bugs up from the inside. No harmful chemicals or toxins.

You can dust it pretty much anywhere, even on pets' food to keep ants away, and it is safe. The diatoms are too small to affect larger creatures (except can be irritating to breathe or get in eyes while applying so take precautions then.)

I use a roach powder made of Boric Acid, Corn Starch, and Diatomaceous Earth. It's all I've ever needed for my home pest control.

It is an indiscriminate killer, so I am careful to use only where no critters should ever be. Figure that applies to your moving boxes and the like.
posted by cross_impact at 12:21 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]

Oops, I see you've already tried diatomaceous earth. Never heard it referred to as "DE." Sorry.

Still great and effective though.
posted by cross_impact at 12:28 PM on August 8

For German cockroaches in (smaller) electronics: you can kill them by putting the device into a freezer. Freezing temperatures outside don't kill them, as they have time to adjust. But a sudden freeze should kill them.

Obviously, you probably wouldn't have space in a regular home freezer for a TV, but it might work for a radio, laptop, etc., if you are concerned about them.

In general, good shaking and good box sealing with tape on all seams works for German cockroaches, as they are both larger than and not as resilient as bedbugs.

/have moved in the past from cockroach infested to not, and didn't take them with us
posted by jb at 1:09 PM on August 8

Since you're getting bites but not seeing other evidence of bugs, I'd make some interceptor traps for the legs of your bed to further test if you're actually getting bitten by bed bugs or potentially there are other insects or you're having a skin reaction to something else. If you catch new bedbugs, that's evidence to take to your landlord that the previous treatment didn't work and/or a neighboring unit is infested.

Not everyone reacts to bedbug bites, it's possible your SO is one of those unaffected.
posted by momus_window at 1:59 PM on August 8

Cockroaches love the soil in potted plants, so don’t bring those.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:30 AM on August 9

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