Bedbugs 101 (aka: My Deepest, Darkest Secret — Well, One of Them)

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I don’t remember who got bit first but eventually, everyone did. You could play connect-the-dots on our son’s midsection. My husband’s neck and ears blossomed with thumbprint-sized welts that itched ferociously. In time, both girls also suffered with itchee-owies. I was bitten a time or two.

At first we weren’t sure what was going on. Maybe the culprit was mosquitos: big, honking mosquitos.

And then one morning Junior-Man showed me the tell-tale smear of dried blood on his pillow case.

When we whipped the bed clothes back, we found an apple-seed-looking insect carcass. Junior-Man Googled it. “It’s a bedbug.”

You mean, dread bug.

My stomach tumbled. Not bedbugs. Please, no. I knew from a friend’s experience, how bad bedbugs could be.

I’d driven to Washington, DC one weekend to testify on her behalf in a custody trial, but hadn’t stayed the night because her apartment complex was infested with bedbugs. She’d read online that several hotel chains were infested as well.

“No worries,” I told her, raking my scalp with my fingernails. “I’ll just round-trip it in a day.”

So how had the bugs invaded our house? Had they hitchhiked home with one of our daughters on a break from college? Had one stowed away in Tony’s luggage when he traveled to officiate a college football game? Had the vermin crawled into Junior-Man’s duffle bag when he went on an overnight field trip with his middle-school TSA club?

Research

When I Googled “how to get rid of bedbugs,” it didn’t take long to decide this was going to be a do-it-ourselves project. On average, exterminators charge $250 per bedroom, but the price can go higher with more furniture, more clutter, or a more severe infestation.

Instead, for a few hundred bucks, I was able to purchase several items on Amazon, the things other bedbug survivors recommended.

Committed to eradicating the infestation naturally, these were the steps we took.

  • We stripped all the beds and washed the bedding in hot water, then tumbled it in the dryer for a very long time.
  • We bagged up all rugs and stuffed animals. Some we threw away.
  • We scrubbed all (hardwood) floors and wood trim with 91% isopropyl rubbing alcohol.
  • We steamed all hard surfaces (floors, walls, bed frames, dressers, etc.) with a steam-machine.
  • We sprinkled all floors, window sills, wood trim, etc. with diatomaceous earth, which is safe to use around animals.
  • Tony slid our mattresses into micro-zippered encasement covers. Once zipped, bedbugs at any stage can’t get out or in.
  • Beneath each bed leg, on all our beds, we placed a bedbug trapping cup.
  • Finally, life returned to normal.

But only for a short time. In the spring, one of the girls brought a friend home from college. At breakfast on Saturday, the girl asked what kind of laundry detergent I used.

“I think I may be having an allergic reaction to your sheets.”

When she lifted the hem of her shirt a few inches, her midsection resembled Junior-Man’s a few months prior.

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Furtively, everyone in my family exchanged horrified glances. Junior-Man whimpered as he left the room.

During our eradication efforts, he’d slept on the sofa in the living room for weeks. It seemed he was doomed to couch-surf once more.

After the girls left to go back to college, I gathered my guys for a meeting. “I’ve had a change of heart,” I announced, “with regards to the bedbug battle.”

“It’s time to change tactics. No more Mr. Natural Guy.”

Though my initial bedbug-riddance research covered pesticide options, I had hesitated to go there. We had kids. We had pets.

But the look on Junior-Man’s face that morning, at the prospect of additional weeks or months of his bedroom being quarantined, pierced me. I couldn’t doom him to that fate again. And possibly, again and again.

Our Chemical Romance Warfare

For the sake of due diligence, I read at least one hundred of the Amazon reviews for the recommended insecticide, and I took notes of the suggestions offered by the reviewers. Then I purchased the chemical, a spraying gizmo, gloves, goggles, and a respirator mask for Tony to wear.

Basically, he sprayed every single thing on the second level of our house: the hardwood floors, the wood trim, the walls and anything hanging on the walls, the furniture (especially the bed frames), etc..

While we waited for the chemical to dry, our son stayed outside in the yard and I kept all the animals in the basement. It took maybe two hours.

Finally it was over, the bedbug reign of terror.

It was a horrible season in our life. We all were miserable from the itching and the lack of sleep. Every night once the lights went out, we waited to see if we could hear them coming, feel them crawling, biting.

Not only that, we were miserable from hiding our secret. In my life, I’ve kept some pretty awful secrets, but this one was right up there.

I was so embarrassed, I told very few people about our pest problem. It somehow felt like it was our fault. Like maybe it happened because we’re dirty people.

It felt similar to the times our kids had lice. But worse. Much worse.

To me, lice are fairly easy to deal with. Treat the affected head, maybe twice. Do six loads of laundry. Bag some stuff up and sit it in the blazing sun or freezing cold for two weeks. But man, are bedbugs different.

Lice tend to stay on their “hosts.” Bedbugs dine and dash.

Lice cannot survive for more than 24 hours off of their food source. By contrast, bedbugs eat and run. They feed then hide on or in the mattress. Or inside the cracks of a bed frame, or in wall-to-wall carpet, switch plate covers, loose wallpaper. Even in books!

Though I heard bedbugs can live 18 months without feeding, this article says it’s more like two to six months. Either way, bedbugs suck (Pardon the pun.).

Not on my watch: How to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

  • Since my husband travels frequently, he suggests NEVER placing your luggage on the floor or bed in a hotel room. Use the luggage rack instead.
  • A friend of mine also used to travel a lot for work. Before she even carried her things into a hotel room, she’d go to the foot of the bed and take off the coverlet and sheets to examine the mattress for signs of infestation. To me, bedbug evidence resembles a patch of mildew, or if black or gray powder was sprinkled over an area. Spots, smears, cloudy-looking areas.
  • I know someone who works in the hotel industry. To protect his luggage, he always keeps it in the bathroom where everything is tile.
  • This from my long-time gal pal mentioned above: When making travel plans, consult this website to find out which hotels in various cities have had recent bedbug incidents.
  • Another source, who shall remain unnamed, says if you are ever checking into a hotel and hear the term “bluebirds” used by staff, immediately find a different place to stay.

That’s my story, folks. Sad but true. If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, you have all my sympathy, all my empathy. If you need to know the exact products I used, check out this blog post with embedded links.

Like what you read here? Click here to read more of my “Lessons from a Life Half Lived.”

Howdy-hey from Almost Heaven, West Virginia! Here in my 110-year-old Sears kit-house, I drink coffee, write many words, snuggle soft mammals, repeat.

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