Should I help a friend move who has had bedbugs recently?
February 13, 2020 6:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning on helping a new friend move this weekend. Tonight, I remembered that she'd mentioned about week ago that she had brought bedbugs back with her from a trip to visit family abroad. Ack, can I still go over to her place and help her lug her stuff around? Or does that sound like a recipe for successfully acquiring bedbugs?

More details: She hasn't mentioned it since last week, so I don't know how bad it was, what steps were taken to address it, and what the current situation is.

This is both a practical question and a social question:

If I shouldn't do this, how should I handle it? She's a new friend and I really like her and I don't want to leave her in a tough position. She only knows a couple people in the area and definitely doesn't have the cash to hire movers. I really want to just do it but I don't want to do something ill-advised either.
posted by Uncle Glendinning to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you can help her move her stuff. Hang up your coat, don't leave it on her bed or couch or whatever. If you are seriously worried about bringing home bedbugs (unlikely TBH, they come out at night) just bring a change of clothes, change into them at her place, help her move, then change back into your first set of clothes. Put the second set of clothes in a plastic bag. Run them through the dryer, shoes too, this will kill any bedbugs that hitchike (again, unlikely, but this may bring you peace of mind. You can see them, though, they're not invisible.) You can make up a polite excuse about having "moving clothes" or whatever.

The stigma around bedbugs sucks. You're a good friend for helping her move.
posted by ProtoStar at 6:34 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]

Personally, I would not do this. Bedbugs are notoriously hard to get rid of and even if she took immediate action, it would not mean her place is in the clear.

There are some things that both you and she could do which would minimize the risk of you getting the bugs (and her taking them with her to the new place) but I guess I'd hope she'd be proactive about mentioning what the status of her home was before you got there?

It's tough because I'm very sympathetic to not having a lot of friends or money as well as to not wanting to leave someone in a bind... but I once dated someone who had bedbugs and... no. I'd never put myself through that again.

I don't have a neat solution to the problem but there's my two cents.
posted by sm1tten at 6:40 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]

you should do it but you can take steps if you're worried. bed bugs can't survive in extreme freezing temperatures, extremely hot temperatures, or direct contact with alcohol.. (there are other things that kill them, but for your purposes they're probably not necessary bc you just have to keep your person and vehicle bug free, not treat your whole home.) you might consider bringing an additional set of clothing and sneakers. bedbugs are a pain and an expensive problem to get rid of, this is what i did when i helped a friend in a similar situation (it will sound crazy, but.. oh well. it's better than losing your mind and lots of money to treating for bedbugs):

double bag your uncontaminated clothes in some trash bags, add in a couple additional uncontaminated trash bags, and a container of alcohol wipes (they have these at walgreens, etc - the kind that comes in a cylindrical dispensing container, usually found in first aid section) and close the bags with all this inside securely. Before you leave her place change into your second "uncontaminated" outfit, and put your "contaminated" clothes in a bag, being sure there's an "uncontaminated" bag on the outside. Grab a few alcohol wipes so you're ready to wipe the bottom of your shoes (bc you walked through her house to get out of it) before you get back in your car. Or i suppose you could keep the alcohol wipes in your car, if you don't want her to know how anxious you are. Er, i suppose this assumes you're driving there...

So now you're in the clear, new outfit - no risk of critters getting into your car. to treat the "contaminated" outfit, you can shove the whole bag in the freezer for a while, or put it all in the dryer on extra super high heat for several cycles (no need to wash, water isn't necessarily what kills them, it's the extreme temperatures.)

I'm sure to the innocents who have never had to deal with this at close range the above might sound a little over the top, but.. it's what friend and I came up with after much research. If you can't find the alcohol wipes you can buy some rubbing alcohol and put in a spray bottle and use that. And hey, if it all is overkill, it's a small price to pay for peace of mind.

If friend has anxieties about bringing bedbugs with her to new place, there's a particularly good video out there on the interwebs from around.. hmm.. circa '09 or '10 or so, featuring an entomologist from Virginia Tech talking about their VERY THOROUGH research on treating for bed bugs - what works and what will not kill them because it doesn't treat all the life stages of the bugs - i don't have time to dig around for it right now but.. it was the best resource we came across.
posted by elgee at 6:44 PM on February 13 [8 favorites]

I hate to be a dick about bedbugs, but there's a stigma about them because they're a huge expensive stressful pain in the ass to get rid of, and very easy to bring into your home.

The fact that your friend is being so casual about it is a red flag to me that she hasn't done anything close to what's needed to address the problem. Unfortunately, since she's a new friend you don't know well, I don't really think there's a whole lot you can do to help her out with a potential bedbug problem specifically unless she asks you.


If I were you, I'd go with the plans described above -- change of clothes, dry everything you were at her place on very high heat, and then quarantine it for a few months, etc. Don't take anything from her apartment if she's giving things away.

You can be kind to your friend without setting yourself up for trouble.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:45 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]

Also absolutely do not hang your coat up in her house, leave it in your car. Take as little in with you as you can.

I'm sure I sound nuts here but I live in NYC and I have had a few friends go through this shit, and been told it is one of the most stressful and disruptive problems they've ever had to deal with. My last friends to have them found bedbugs inside their Nintendo Switch. Bedbugs are the absolute fucking worst.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:50 PM on February 13 [15 favorites]

Yeah, do it, following the procedures suggested (though I think wiping the soles of shoes with alcohol might be a bit excessive--if they're on the soles of your shoes, they're going to be squished!) and then give yourself a treat for being brave and loyal. Bedbugs are no joke.
posted by praemunire at 6:59 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]

The young ones are TINY like black pepper.
posted by Freedomboy at 7:01 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]

When I lived in a rent stabilized apartment in NYC i successfully dealt with bed bugs coming in from a neighboring building. You can be fine with the basic precautions mentioned above. Second pair of clothes including shoes you change into immediately after. Seal first pair (including shoes) in zip locs and immediately throw them in a dryer and dispose of the bags. 2 hours at high heat will be plenty. You take a hot shower with soap.

While bed bugs are very difficult to eradicate, they do not get transmitted easily. In NYC, given the density of the city and use of the subway, if they transmitted easily, everybody would have them eventually. That's not the case.

The stigma attached to bed bugs also has aggravated the problem as folks don't report when they have them and lots have disinformation has spread.
posted by AaRdVarK at 7:14 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]

I did home visits (not moving people) fulltime in other people's homes in a large metro area with known bedbug issues.

What people are saying is what I did: change clothes and shoes preferably outside, but if you must change inside take off shoes outside and change clothes in a contained area like shower or bathtub (this did save me once, as I found a hitchhiking bedbug which I killed and actually did not lead to a bigger infestation). Immediately dry clothes and shoes on high heat for at least 20 minutes. Store in sealed bags for any transportation/storage purposes. Even from the bathroom to the dryer. If no dryer at home keep in sealed bags until you get to one. Don't bring any extra bags or items with you.

That's enough. You'll be fine. Because I was at known risk for them I checked my bed once a week for signs , as if you do catch them the earlier you treat them the better. I also have a bedbug mattress cover on my bed, which are relatively inexpensive and saved me lots of anxiety.

I did not get bedbugs in the five year period I worked that job.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:41 PM on February 13 [13 favorites]

As someone who had bedbugs (from a friend from out of town who stayed with me while he was travelling and his pack had bedbugs) and spent a bunch of time on forums to get rid of them: take precautions and you'll be fine. I am forever grateful to my (different) friend who helped me take my bedbug infested bed and couch to the tip, and my other friend who still let me drive with her and come on a camping trip with appropriate precautions while I was dealing with the problem (neither got infested).
Dont put anything down in her place, change clothes and shoes and decontaminate them (the freezing suggested above) and you'll be fine.
posted by hotcoroner at 8:07 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]

One option I have not seen mentioned is the purchase and wear of a disposable tyvek suit. They zip on and have built in booties, it's typically light colored so it's easy to see any bed bugs. Professionals who work in bed bug ridden environments are generally advised to wear them when they have to interact with objects in a bedbug infested home (PDF).

The social implications of wearing that during a move could be tricky to navigate, but it's a good safety measure.
posted by Karaage at 12:15 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]

I have had bedbugs. I second Narrative Priorities’ comment that your friend’s casualness means she has not adequately dealt with the bedbugs. Getting rid of them is a Grade A life stress and takes incredible amounts of time, unhappiness and money. For this reason, I would not help a friend move in this situation. (Nor would I ask a friend to help move in this situation.). Your friend is not being a jerk, but she doesn’t understand how bad this situation can be.

That said, if she just picked them up while traveling she probably has a light infestation, and the chances of you picking up either a male/female pair or a pregnant female at her house are pretty darn low. She also may have stayed in a place with some other kind of biting insect and casually misidentified the culprit as bedbugs. Further, if you do what’s suggested here (take off your clothes and shoes and put them in a zip loc before entering your house, then run on high heat for two hours and take a hot shower) you rationally reduce your chances of infesting your own house with bedbugs to super-duper low.

If you do go to hers, don’t drive her or her stuff in your car. Don’t wear the clothes you used to help move into your car. Don’t bring a backpack to her house. And be prepared to heat treat your clothes, shoes, and anything else you had at her house, once you get home.
posted by hungrytiger at 2:02 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]

I had bedbugs several years ago and, as others say above, it was truly stressful and upsetting. Even after I escaped them (which took months of unsuccessful eradication attempts, and finally a move during which I jettisoned a significant share of my belongings), I spent another ~1 year with interrupted sleep and high baseline anxiety. It was Not Good and I would, sorry to say, not help someone with bedbugs move now... especially someone so cavalier about the situation.

Now, the measures suggested above would almost certainly keep you safe (eg, AlexiaSky’s tips). I personally would still find the risk (or rather the stress about the perceived risk) untenable, but maybe you are more logical/reasonable than I am, since you don’t have Bedbug Baggage.
posted by shb at 2:51 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]

I think everyone has it covered with the clothes. If you have some work clothes or old clothes lying around I might just wear those and trash them at a gas station dumpster rather than stressing about containment and cleaning. I wouldn't wear a tyvek suit if you have any intention of keeping this person as a friend.

Don't bring a coat or bag in if you can help it, if you can't help it try to hang it up. Definitely don't use your car to move anything of hers.

That said, a little perspective: bedbugs suck, and they're relatively easy to spread, but if you follow the advice here there's no risk to you. One of the things that sucks about them is the stigma, much of which is unwarranted. If she had them after a recent trip, there's probably very few in her apartment to begin with-- it takes time to build up a bad infestation. And they're just bugs. They're good at hiding but they're not invisible or magical. They're not going to hide on your skin or in your hair (I mean, take a shower after, but they're not like lice). Also, you're not going to get bitten while moving her, that's very much not their MO.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:32 AM on February 14 [5 favorites]

I’ve had bedbugs and I would help; just take reasonable precautions and you’re very unlikely to get them. The stress/stigma far outweighs the actual facts of the risks in terms of transmission for most instances, IMO. (Bedbugs are typically pretty dormant in daytime, don’t move fast, and not all that likely to climb into clothes of an awake and moving human for typical home infestations. Also very easy to mistake something else for.)
posted by advil at 6:10 AM on February 14 [3 favorites]

I've not had bedbugs but we once thought we had bedbugs (turned out to be carpet beetles). The entemologist/exterminator who came out told us bedbugs aren't as big a deal/hard to get rid of as everyone says. On the other hand, the anxiety you feel when something is bitting you in your sleep is very real and very disruptive. So if you get bedbugs it would be extremely unpleasant at the least. Also, I'm in the camp that says this new friend is being much too casual about asking favors without being open enough about your possible risk. I think that's a deeply yellow, really more orange, almost red flag. If you do this, do not feel bad about openly taking any precautions you feel you need to. If this person is really a friend, they will totally understand and just be grateful you are still helping.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:20 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]

The precautions everyone has outlined sound good. I'd add that two of my exes have had them and managed to treat them easily with diatomaceous earth, a slightly annoying but cheap and easy home cure.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:35 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]

Follow what everyone above says, but especially: Do not move any of her stuff in your car! Nothing from that house. Not one single thing.
posted by clone boulevard at 9:00 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]

If you're planning to put your shoes in the dryer, keep in mind that some shoes -- especially those that have foam layers, which many sneakers do -- will be permanently damaged by the dryer heat. If you have an old pair of Converse, those would be good to use.
posted by ourobouros at 9:33 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]

Thank you so much everyone for all the great help!

Based on the responses, I'm going to help her do the move tomorrow. And will do a combo of a bunch of these precautions.

I've definitely taken a lot bigger risks to help out a friend :)
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 10:39 AM on February 14 [4 favorites]

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