The Bed Bug Menace
Aside from just being creepy and scary, their presence and growth in population have and continue to present a huge problem for people throughout the United States. Not only do they bite and propagate wildly, but they are almost impossible to eradicate once they have taken hold in a location.
What was once a limited, isolated issue has now exploded into a massive problem confronting homeowners and businesses alike, with their infestation rising to epidemic proportions in certain areas such as New York City.
No place is immune: they have been found in homes, furniture, hotels and motels, mattress stores, clothing stores, movie theaters, college dormitories, and just about everywhere else one can think of. They have been reported in every state in the union, including Hawaii.
Reports on the Rise
Since the year 2000, calls to exterminators exterminators have increased up to 80%. Between the years of 2000 and 2004, complaints of these bloodsucking insects to extermination companies have increased over 500%. This is surprising, but more understandable due to the fact that a single female can produce up to 400 individual offspring.
In the United States, they are running so rampant that there are even lawyers who specialize in litigating the abounding legal cases. The problem has hit people at the worst possible economic time, as eradication can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 or more.
Aside from the horrible irritation of receiving bites on the skin, they may also carry of disease. Many people are unaware that they may carry Lyme disease and other co-infections.
Most people know that ticks are carriers of Lyme disease, but any insect that takes a blood meal is and can be a carrier for these vector-borne illnesses. Other infections that can be transmitted from the bite of an infected blood-sucking insect include but are not limited to: Bartonella, Babesia, and Erlichiosis.
Lyme Disease is the fastest growing vector-borne illness in the United States, and has struck millions of people. The eradication of these bugs is helpful in assisting with the stop of the spread of illness and disease, and makes it that much more imperative that the situation is dealt with before the increase their population rages further out of control.
Aside from the potential of disease spread, their bites can be painful and irritating. Their fecal matter can build up and cause an extremely unhygienic environment. Not to mention that no one wants to live in a house or sleep in a bed that is infested with bloodsucking insects.
Many people become so frustrated with their presence that they end up throwing away or burning nearly everything they own that is not nailed down.
Companies are doing whatever they can to use preventative practices to halt their spread. They have become such a large problem in the U.S. that many mattress companies are required to use separate vehicles to transport their old mattresses so that they do not come in contact with new mattresses.
Often this is not enough, however, and other solutions besides toxic pesticides have been sought. Thankfully, steamers are available to treat infestations.
It has been found that heating the area of an infestation will kill both the bugs and the eggs. Steamers are used for this process. In certain states like California, the Structural Pest Control Board must license those companies who provide this service to people.
What Steamer Treatment Entails
Steamers are a powerful and effective tool when it comes to treating an infestation. Normal steamers will not work to fully eradicate the problem and should not be tried.
A professional pest removal service is one way to go for this type of removal, but you can also purchase special steamers which will work to kill the bugs and their eggs. However, it is important to make yourself familiar with how to use these steamers properly.
In order to kill them with a steamer, the object has to be steamed with a heat that is at or above 140°F for two hours, or 130°F for a period of three hours, which will successfully kill most of the bugs and their eggs. After steaming, it is a good idea to chill the item to below 32°F for several hours and keep this temperature maintained for several days.
If you are suspicious that you have bugs in your clothing, you can actually use your regular clothes dryer to kill the bugs and their eggs by tossing the infested clothing into the dryer and running it for approximately ten to fifteen minutes.
Effective Use of the Steamer
When you are using the steamer, make sure that the steam hits the object you are treating directly. The steam has to come in direct contact with the infested area or it will not work properly.
You may wish to purchase and use an infrared thermometer, which you can then hold at the tip of your steamer to determine how hot the steam is that is coming out of the unit.
Make sure to regularly check the tip of your steamer to ensure that it is producing steam at the right temperature that is hot enough to kill the bugs and their eggs. Do this frequently as you are performing the steaming of your items.
Some bug steamers are called “continuous” steamers. This means that they have two separate water tanks, and that can be used without the need to let them cool down. Even though they can be used continuously, you still have to add water to the unpressurized water compartment to keep it going without stopping.
What Can You Steam?
You can steam just about anything in your house, including floorboards, furniture, baseboards, walls, ceilings, and nooks and crannies.
What Can You Not Steam?
You cannot steam electrical outlets or anything that is connected to electricity such as lamps, stereos, televisions, and the like. Water and electricity are a dangerous combination.
What to Look For in a Steamer
When you are purchasing a bug steamer, it is important that you get one that is big enough and strong enough to adequately perform the job of killing the bugs and their eggs. There are many steamers on the market, and not all of them are used specifically for killing bugs, This is why you need to make sure that it lives up to certain requirements so that you know that you got the right one.
Make sure that you take a look at the PSI of a steamer. This is the pounds per square inch, and relates to the intensity of the pressure at which the steam comes out. The higher the PSI, the more pressure the steamer is able to use, and the more effective the machine will be in getting into places where they live.
You will want a steamer that:
- Produces a dry or â€œDry Vaporâ€ steam from the unit
- Produces a level of heat at the tip of the unit that is less than 200°F
- Has a big water chamber to hold the water which will lessen the amount of â€œstartsâ€ and â€œstopsâ€ during the steaming process
- Has a long cord to reach farther (alternatively, you can buy an extension cord)
- Has a sufficient warranty that covers the boiler
When you are using a steamer, there are a few different attachments you can utilize, depending on what kind of surface you are steaming.
- Steam Lance: Use a steam lance, which is a pointy stick-like attachment which is ideal for getting into small and tight areas such as cracks, baseboards, and other small areas.
- Triangle Tool: This is a triangle-shaped attachment with a microfiber fabric attachment that is ideal for cloth surfaces such as mattresses.
- Rectangle Tool: This is another attachment that is also good for steaming mattresses and other cloth surfaces.
How to Use a Steamer
Before You Begin Steaming
Make sure to remove all garbage and clutter from the room. This gives you fewer things to steam, and also eliminates their hiding places.
Wash and dry all of your bed linens and items of clothing. When you are done, store everything in sealed, plastic containers or plastic bags.
Vacuum everything to get rid of debris and dirt this includes your bed, mattress, carpet, furniture and box springs.
Open the receptacle on your steam cleaner and fill it with the proper amount of water.
Begin with the drapes. You will want to work from the top of your home down to the bottom. Go slowly and carefully and make sure you have gotten everything.
Make a checklist of items to steam and check them off as you go. This way you will be absolutely sure that you have gotten everything and haven’t missed anything, it will also give you a record of what was cleaned.
Make sure you allow all the surfaces that you have steamed enough time to dry.
Wrap your mattress, box springs, and all furniture in plastic wrap and seal it completely with tape so that there are no openings. Do not remove the plastic until two weeks have passed. This will give you the right amount of time for any remaining bugs or eggs in the furniture to die and drop off.
After you are done, complete a thorough examination of all the surfaces you have steamed. If you notice the presence of any bugs, repeat the process until you are sure they are gone.
Why Steamers Work to Kill
Steamers are very effective in killing these bloodsucking insects. The intense heat penetrates their habitat and kills both adults and the eggs. Killing the eggs is an important step as new ones won’t hatch and infest your home all over again.
One of the most important things to remember when using a dry steamer is that you must be thorough. Use your steamer on every possible surface and do a complete job. Even one tiny little section that is missed can mean the difference between clearing an infestation or not.
More than heat and water, the steamers are a pressurized system. This means that they are able to spray the steam into areas because of the intense pressure that helps move the hot steam into the openings.
The Cost of Using the Steamer Method
Steamers can range in price anywhere from $40 to up to $2,000. In this case, you get what you pay for. It is important to weigh all the costs involved with getting rid of these tough to kill bugs. $1,600 may seem like a steep price to pay for a steamer, but when you consider what you will be paying an exterminator to get rid of them, the price seems much more reasonable.
The cheaper steamers may work a little, but remember the cardinal rule: If you don’t get rid of ALL of them, then you will never get rid of your infestation. A cheaper steamer may save you money in the short run, but the cost of getting rid of an infestation again after this method doesn’t work will be very high.
Cheaper steamers require much more time to use. They cover a much smaller surface area and that means hours more labor for you to use them. And again, the risk of missing certain areas is too great even one missed area can cause the problem to rise up all over again.
Should I Consider Hiring a Professional or Using Other Methods?
You will have to research the cost-benefit analysis of using a professional pest control service versus a steamer. If you do the steaming yourself, it can save you a lot of money, but you have to be willing to put in the time that it takes to do all the steaming. It is a laborious process that takes quite a bit of physical effort on your part. If you have people to help you though, it makes the job much easier.
Remember, too, that using a steamer means that far fewer, if any, harmful chemicals need to be used in the extermination process. A good, high-quality steamer is a wonderful option if that is what you choose.
You have to examine the cost of other methods, not only in the time they take, but also the expense, and most importantly, if they are effective.
Here is a list of other removal options that you can review and compare:
- Heat treatment
- Bug spray
- Insect growth regulators
- Professional exterminators
When to Use a Steamer?
A steamer is a good choice for people who have pets and small children or who are extremely chemically sensitive. Many people become very ill when exposed to even a small amount of insecticide, and have to find other alternatives to bug spray or pesticides.
Although there are certain situations where using a steamer by itself will work, generally people use the steamers in conjunction with other methods. This is because there are some places the steamer cannot go, including electronic equipment.
It is a good idea to work with a pest control professional to determine whether or not you can use only a steamer or what proportion of the house can be steamed or requires other abatement measures.
Good for the Environment
Another great feature of steamers is that they are a very green option in comparison to other eradication methods. They work using water and heat, and bring no harmful or toxic chemicals into the home.
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, and many people are choosing steamers because of their low impact on the environment.
Good for Treating Precious Belongings
Although some people choose to throw out a lot of personal items when they have an infestation, often there are some items that have a lot of sentimental value and are difficult to part with.
In these cases, using a steamer is a good idea because it leaves no toxic residue, and the item will be safe to handle and use after the steaming is done. Perhaps this is a beloved stuffed animal, or a vintage, expensive, or antique piece of furniture. In any case, using a steamer is a good way to preserve things that you do not want to part with.
Should this Method be Used in Combination With Other Techniques?
There are some cases where using a steamer with other techniques is a good idea. Often, it is not enough to simply use one. These insects are tough to kill and require a multi-stage course of action.
Steamers are very good for getting into certain areas and killing the bugs and their eggs when used properly, but there are some places that the steamers cannot be used. With an infestation, all bugs must be killed or else they will just propagate again from wherever they were not eradicated.
This is why it is a good idea to work with a pest control expert to determine what else you should use in your home. Often a good thing to do is to use the steamers in conjunction with insecticide and other methods.
Health and Safety Precautions
Using a steamer is a simple task, but it bears with it certain responsibilities and requires a commitment to safety when operating it. It is very important to follow all safety procedures and if you are at all unsure of how to use it, consult an expert.
Take these safety precautions when using the steamer method.
Consult the Experts
It is important to consult with a pest removal expert before you use the steamer so that they can tell you where and how to use it properly in your home. The reason for this is that if you use your steamer, you might inadvertently be washing away the insecticides that they have used already and make the problem worse.
Another problem with using steam is that it is obviously very hot, and you can risk burning yourself or others around you if you do not use the machine properly. Always make sure to read all of the safety instructions and make sure that you are comfortable using the machine in the way that it is meant to be used.
Do Not Invite Mold Growth
The overuse or misuse of steam can also lead to mold growth, which can be another health hazard in your home. Make sure that your steaming does not create an environment that will lead to the propagation of mold in the house, as this can lead to disastrous health and environmental consequences for you and your family.
If you use a steamer labeled for Dry Steam this will help reduce the danger of mold becoming an issue in your home.
Use a Respirator
It is very important that you have some sort of covering over your mouth and nose. Note that a simple face mask is not enough: you should have some sort of respirator.
The steam itself is not toxic, as it is just water and air, but when you steam items that have been treated with pesticides or other harmful chemicals, it can stir them up and you can breathe them in, which is very dangerous. You want to get a face covering that is specifically labeled for Paint and Pesticide Vapors.
Stay focused on the job at hand and do not let your attention wander or become distracted. This may seem like common sense, but even with a second’s slip you could seriously injure yourself.
Although the term Dry Steam is used, no steam is actually dry. There is always some amount of water that is used in steam, and as such you should always take precautions to ensure that your room is properly ventilated when you are using the steamer.
How to Keep From Recurring
Once you have eradicated the infestation from your home or business, it is important, actually crucial, to take steps to make sure that the problem does not crop up again, which would entail yet another nightmare of having to remove the threat from your home.
The most important thing to realize is that when you take steps to eradicate them from your environment, they should all be killed without any of them remaining alive or any eggs being left that can hatch.
If there is even one area in your home that still has these bugs, they will come back with a vengeance. Make sure that you do everything you can and leave no stone unturned, as it were, when getting rid of the bugs.
The Use of Bug-Proof Encasements
Some people purchase special bedding and encasements for their mattresses that are bug proof. These encasements effectively seal up the bed mattress so that the bugs cannot get in and establish residence. While this will not prevent an infestation in your home, it will keep them away from your bedding.
If you should happen to come across signs of these bugs again, do everything you can to nip the problem in the bud. The sooner you can attack the problem, the easier it will be, before they breed and repopulate in your premises.
Be Able to Identify Them
In order to be able to prevent an infestation and get rid of them, you must know what they look like. Adults are usually a reddish brown color, and their bodies are flat and oval-shaped. They are generally about a quarter of an inch long. Some people say they resemble an apple seed.
During different stages of their life cycle, they can be different colors. Right after they molt, they are a whitish color, and they can also be tan or brown or orange in color as well.
Despite their name, these bugs can hide just about anywhere in your home, not just in your bedding or mattress, although that is one of their favorite places to live and reproduce.
Know How They Get In
It is also important to know how they have arrived in your home. Make sure that you check your property to see if you can determine any cracks or openings where they have been able to come in from the outside.
Often, they hitchhike, and can come into your home from other places. They can come in on luggage or bags, or even hide themselves in moving boxes and trucks. They can be picked up from public transportation vehicles. Because they are so small, they can hide just about anywhere and are very difficult to spot at first, even when you are looking for them.
Where They Are Most Likely to be Found
These bugs are more likely to be found in places where there is a large amount of human turnover, i.e. where many people are coming and going. This makes places like hotels and motels a very popular place for them, but dormitories are also high-risk locations. They have also been found a lot in places where there are many people sleeping.
They can also wander from apartment to apartment using minute cracks in the seams of walls or even pipes. Any opening from one dwelling to another is fair game for them and they will use it to travel from one location to another.
Although they can be found in other places, they really do gravitate towards beds and bedding. Always make sure to thoroughly check your bed, mattress, bedding, and box spring and headboard for their presence.
Because they are so flat in shape, they can squeeze into the smallest cracks and crevices where you wouldn’t think a bug could fit. They can burrow into seams and very small indentations. Make sure that you check every possible nook and cranny for their presence.
Prevent Them from Settling in Your Home
Make sure that when you purchase used clothing or furniture that you thoroughly examine the items for their presence. Wash all clothing that you have purchased immediately prior to wearing it. Wash all of your soft furnishings such as blankets and curtains before you use them.
Do a perimeter check of your residence and make sure that you caulk or appropriately seal up any cracks or openings where bugs can get in. Pay special attention to where pipes or wires go into or come out of the wall, as those small openings can allow their entrance.
If your house is cluttered, now is a good time to clean it up. Any extra items lying around are potential homes for them. The cleaner your home is, the harder time the bugs will have being able to hide.
How to Check for an Infestation
- There are certain things you should do if you suspect an infestation or are doing preventative maintenance to ensure that they never return.
- Start looking if any member of your household is complaining about being bitten at night.
- A house that is heavily infested may have the odor of coriander (cilantro).
- Check your bed for signs (see below).
If you find what you think is one of the offending insects, you can take it to an entomologist (a person who studies insects) or a pest control expert and they will be able to help you identify if the insect.
Tips For Checking A Mattress
Often, a good way to tell if you have them is to look for their excrement. This can take the appearance of black dust. You can also check for blood spots, which are another telltale sign of bed bug presence.
- When you are examining a mattress, pull back the sheets and look at the mattress, paying special attention to the seams of the mattress itself. If you notice any dark-colored dust or blood spots, this may indicate their presence.
- Check all the seams of your bedding and examine the very edges of the box spring for the same signs.
- Take a look at the headboard, and don’t forget to check behind it as well, as they can also be on the back of it.
- Do not place your luggage or bags directly on the bed itself. If you are in a hotel, use the luggage rack provided to hold your suitcases. They can crawl from the bed to the luggage and get in that way.
- Avoid bringing home used mattresses at all costs. Even if you examine them, there is that chance that the bugs are hiding where you can’t see them, and the risk is too high. Used mattresses are a huge risk and you should do everything you can to not purchase old or used ones.
They also like places that are warm to set up residence. This makes computers and data ports, as well as certain electronics that heat up, very attractive living locations for them. Make sure to check all your electronics, especially portable electronics that are moved around to different parts of the home as well as taken outside the home and brought back in.
In some cases, other animals such as bats or birds can bring these insects into your home, so it’s important to remain vigilant and make sure your pets or other animals are not hosts.
Trips for Traveling
Since these bugs enjoy travel, it is very important to check all of your bags and luggage when you return from a trip. If you do this successfully and thoroughly, you may be able to stop an infestation before it starts. Always examine items and clothing that have been brought into a home, no matter how short the trip was.
If you are traveling at a hotel or motel, make sure to check for bugs and if you see the presence of any, alert the hotel staff immediately and change rooms or change hotels if you have to.
They prefer surfaces that are wooden or made of fabric over metal or plastic surfaces, so pay extra attention to wood and fabric when you are examining surfaces for their presence.