How to spot bedbugs?
August 24, 2006 7:03 AM   Subscribe

I am looking to save money by buying used furniture from Craigslist, but my sweetie is worried about buying used furniture with cloth because of potential for bedbug infestations. I have seen the previous threads about bedbugs, but have two different questions: (1) Is there a foolproof way to tell from inspecting the furniture before buying that it is/is not infested with the critters; (2) assuming not, is there a foolproof way to treat furniture before taking it home to make sure we don't bring the suckers home with us?

FWIW, we're aware of the "telltale" rust-like small spots that can appear, but my understanding is that they are not necessarily there, i.e., there could be a bedbug infestation without the spots.

All help appreciated!
posted by onlyconnect to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(2) douse furniture with kerosene. light match. run away.

Find better places to economize. I've seen too many people in my building destroy every nonmetallic object they own to suggest anything else.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:31 AM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Or you could cover all the furniture in airtight plastic wrap for a year or however long those things last.

Anyways buying furniture off craigslist is a huge pain!! Just buy cheap new stuff, ikea is really not that terrible.
posted by shownomercy at 8:01 AM on August 24, 2006

Your sweetie — and Kwantsar, and ShowNoMercy — is right. This is a stupid way to save money. Examine your budget and I'll bet you can find a couple dozen ways to cut back that don't involve the risk or aggravation of what you're talking about. Saving money doesn't require recklessly cutting corners.
posted by cribcage at 8:16 AM on August 24, 2006

If you have access to a large oven or heat-box, but the furniture in it for about 1 hour. Wiki says a dryer at 120°F will kill all forms of bedbugs.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:03 AM on August 24, 2006

You're not going to get bedbugs from coffee tables, book cases, shelving units or what have you. So go nuts on Craig's List - it's a great way to get stuff for you pad. Obviously be wary of sofas and mattresses. (Indeed, a mattress is one of those things you should probably buy new.)

I personally think that the great bedbug scare of 2006 is hooey... ymmv.
posted by wfrgms at 9:05 AM on August 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wow, I've never heard of this before. I'd be a little sketched out by a craig's list mattress, but we have two or three fantastic chairs (fully upholstered) from the alley by our house. It never occurred to me to worry about bedbugs...
posted by Squid Voltaire at 9:15 AM on August 24, 2006

You're not going to get bedbugs from coffee tables, book cases, shelving units or what have you.

Not true.
posted by footnote at 9:15 AM on August 24, 2006

You're not going to get bedbugs from coffee tables, book cases, shelving units or what have you.
SO NOT TRUE. Bedbugs like to lay theor eggs on wooden surfaces, not just in upholstery.
posted by Sara Anne at 9:26 AM on August 24, 2006

Stick the furniture into a house about to be tented for termites (works for beetle-infested antiques, probably would kill bedbugs as well). The harder trick is finding a homeowner willing to go along with the idea but maybe your friend's friend's cousin's boss knows someone.
posted by jamaro at 9:49 AM on August 24, 2006

See, there are two camps on this, the folks that think there is such a low risk of it happening that they don't bother about it, and the folks who don't want to be in the 1% of houses it affects because of nuclear bomb that it's rumored you have to drop on your house to get rid of bedbugs once they come to visit.

I'm trying to straddle the line between these two. Is there no way to tell for sure whether something has bedbugs? No litmus test? Smell check? Fancy electronic gadget that identifies them in the cushions by their body temperature?
posted by onlyconnect at 9:50 AM on August 24, 2006

The bedbug scare is not hooey, much as I wish it was. Here in Toronto there have been severe bedbug problems. I've talked to people who have had to get rid of a lot of stuff because of bedbugs, and then got re-infested. I am not squeamish and I'm very cheap, but no more used furniture for me, thanks. I'll economize in other ways.
posted by Melsky at 9:56 AM on August 24, 2006

Sweetie, people are giving us options to treat the furniture (your question #2), but you sound resistant to acknowledging that the options are worse than saving up for new furniture.

Except maybe that oven approach, but I wouldn't know how to pursue that.
posted by NortonDC at 10:01 AM on August 24, 2006

I once lived in a rat hole apartment that became infested with fleas from the place below. I set off a crap load of canister "bombs" and killed the adult fleas, but the eggs lived on and rehatched a week or so later, so I bombed again and threw everything with fabric on the curb and walked away.

As I walked away two guys pop out of their van and grab the queen sized futon I put out. It looked perfect, but in a week I wouldn't want to be in their place. (BTW they were the crack dealers who lived down the block and let their clientel harrass the neighborhood, so I didn't feel inclined to warn them.)

Point Being: you never know.
posted by Kensational at 10:19 AM on August 24, 2006

Now, of course, since you marked MonkeySaltedNuts (true) answer as best, I hope I needn't remind you that you have to transport the furniture to the oven.

You can infest either your own vehicle or that of someone else.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:43 AM on August 24, 2006

MSN also linked to the wikipedia article, which had a helpful (though not foolproof) section on bedbug detection.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:41 AM on August 24, 2006

Also, can I just say a big "holy crap" to the wiki's section on bedbug reproductive habits?

"All bedbugs mate via a process termed 'traumatic insemination'. Instead of inserting their genitalia into the female's reproductive tract as is typical in copulation, males instead pierce females with hypodermic genitalia and ejaculate into the body cavity. This form of mating is thought to have evolved as a way for males to overcome female mating resistance."

posted by onlyconnect at 11:48 AM on August 24, 2006

I've never heard of this problem and buy used furniture often (in Toronto, from CL). However, I usually buy high end stuff from people in massively expensive condos who I can't imagine having bugs, but I guess it's possible.

As an anti-news person, is this bed bug thing something that just got exposed as being rampant or something?

Indeed, I do it to save money (I find the rich people with good stuff don't care how much they get for stuff so you can save thousands on a couch, for instance--like, last week there was a $9k montauk couch that went for $2k. That's a considerable savings on a quality piece of furniture. I myself bought a pair of Takahama Suzanne loungers on CL for $150. They're about us$1500 each, new.)
posted by dobbs at 12:02 PM on August 24, 2006

It's because all the good pesticides have been banned or fallen out of common use.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:15 PM on August 24, 2006

Wow. Just read the NYTimes article. Interesting.
posted by dobbs at 12:16 PM on August 24, 2006

Yeah, Dobbs, articles I've read make a point of saying that very high end NY hotels are being hit, i.e. that wealth is no barrier.

As for the prevalance, as of this instant Google News pulls up 578 current stories for bed bugs, just since July 20.

Hey, Sweetie, the oldest story that search returns includes this:
The city, which recently purchased the building, is actually freezing tenants' furniture in trailers for a day to destroy the bugs and their larvae.

It's a strange-but-true event during the hottest week of the summer.
That might be easier to find than a giant kiln. I guess we'd need giant plastic bags to encapsulate items during pickup and transport, freeze them for a day, then transport home and unseal.

Or save up and buy new furniture.
posted by NortonDC at 12:21 PM on August 24, 2006

But then the wikipedia pretty directly contradicts the reasoning behind freezing items:
Contrary to popularly disseminated information, extreme heat or extreme cold is usually not effective in eliminating bedbugs. Pest control professionals receive reports of infestations even in the dead of winter, and manufactured environments of extreme heat or cold (such as encasing a mattress in a bag and placing it in direct sunlight, or placing a suspect piece of bedding or clothing in a freezer) usually cannot stay consistently hot or cold enough to sufficiently kill bedbugs, which are not particularly sensitive to temperature extremes.
This also seems to contradict parts of the same article. This is not reassuring.
posted by NortonDC at 12:31 PM on August 24, 2006

Or save up and buy new furniture.

Except the NYT article clearly states you could get bed bugs because a previously ported infested piece of furniture was in that delivery truck.

Also, the fact that people carry these things around in their pant legs or whatever, leads me to think that even furniture store'll have them.
posted by dobbs at 12:39 PM on August 24, 2006

One South Texas folk remedy that always amused me, but was impractical because I was living in NY at the time, is to set the mattress on top of a fire ant pile. You can then proceed to watch the fire ants devour the enemy. Throw in a beer and you have an afternoon's entertainment.
posted by Sara Anne at 1:15 PM on August 24, 2006

When you pick up the furniture (but before you hand over the money) ask point-blank why they're getting rid of it. If they don't have a good answer, you might want to think twice.
posted by desuetude at 4:57 PM on August 24, 2006

Don't risk it. Just don't. I could tell you a horrid bedbug story, but honestly I'd rather put it behind me.

Let's just say that you don't want to be trying to "save money" and then have to throw out half of what you own and replace all of your furniture (VERY expensive) and vacuum your apartment every single day and wash all of the clean clothes in your drawers and closets and spray toxic chemicals everywhere...and then continue to find bedbugs for months and years afterwards. Because that what could happen.
posted by mintchip at 7:29 PM on March 28, 2007

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